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More freedom in the home

Disabled-accessible and elderly-appropriate housing – what you need to know

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According to the German Federal Statistical Office, already 25 per cent of the people resident in Germany are 60 or older – and that figure is rising. Yet a survey in December 2019 found that just two per cent of all the apartments and single-family homes in Germany are close to being appropriate for disabled people and the elderly. Even among recent new builds, only one in five properties have no steps and other obstacles.

What needs to be taken into account when building disabled-accessible and elderly-appropriate housing or converting existing properties? And what funding is available? We answer these questions in this article.

Sign on a wall for a disabled-accessible entrance

Disabled- and elderly-accessible entrances to residential buildings are still rare in Germany. Around 85 per cent of all 65-plus households do not have step-free access to their home. (Image: Daniel Ali, unsplash)

Disabled-accessible and age-adapted housing: Why it’s needed

For the elderly and those with physical limitations, but also for families, disabled-accessible and age-adapted housing offers many people benefits. And even those who feel that the label doesn’t apply to them will have nothing against being able to reach many things more easily in the kitchen or bring their shopping in without having to climb a flight of stairs. For them, a home that is suitable for disabled or elderly people can provide more comfort. But for others, disabled-accessible, wheelchair-adapted or age-adapted housing can mean the freedom to live independently in their own homes for as long as possible – and hence a very sensible investment for everybody involved.

However, the statistics for Germany paint a completely different picture. The latest bfb Trend Study on Accessible Construction found that 85 per cent of all German households with persons aged 65 plus living in them do not have step-free access to their home. And that’s despite the fact that, already today, one in five people are in that age group. When it comes to disabled-accessible and age-adapted housing , a huge gap exists between rich and poor, as is so often the case. Households with a net income of around 6,000 euros per month are twice as likely to have sufficient space in their bathroom (62 per cent) than people with a monthly income of 900 euros (36 per cent). The percentages are similar for space in the kitchen and level access to the shower.

An old lady stretches to water flowers outside on a windowsill. Beside her, there are four large steps to the front door

A typical image: Several steps lead up to the entrance to the house. This can be an obstacle for many elderly people and those with physical limitations – but many people seem to be unaware of it. (Image: Ian MacDonald, unsplash)

What needs to be taken into account when building disabled-accessible and elderly-appropriate homes?

Despite these figures, there is in fact a German standard for disabled-accessible, wheelchair-adapted and age-adapted housing. It sets out precisely what needs to be taken into account when building or converting properties. The requirements that disabled-accessible and elderly-appropriate homes need to fulfil are described in detail in the standard. From the width of the doors and windows to the right handrails on the stairs all the way through to the flooring, DIN 18040 covers everything that makes a living space suitable for disabled or elderly people. But there’s a catch: The standard is merely a non-binding recommendation and not a statutory set of requirements. Which building regulations ultimately apply depends on the federal state.

Funding and advice

However, anyone looking to build a disabled-accessible or elderly-appropriate home or convert an existing property to this end can apply to various funding programmes. A wide range of advisory services is also available. For example, the German development bank KfW has two programmes to support the conversion, construction or even the purchase of a disabled-accessible, wheelchair-adapted or age-adapted home. The grants under KfW Programme 455 are aimed at private individuals of any age who are currently renting or own a property. The programme primarily funds building alterations.

KfW Programme 159 by contrast is aimed at home buyers and property development companies. It typically covers the purchase or new construction of disabled-accessible or elderly-appropriate homes. In addition, funding for conversion measures is available from the so-called Riester home financing schemes and other institutions, such as housing offices and development banks. Another advantage: Up to 6,000 euros of the labour costs (not the costs of materials) are tax-deductible.

Anyone unsure which funding programme is the right one for them can get information from an advice office. Many towns and municipalities have housing advice offices that can answer queries about disabled-accessible and elderly-appropriate construction or conversions, including questions about funding. You can find a list of the offices in every federal state on the website of the Federal Working Group for Home Adaptations (Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Wohnanpassung e.V.) .

Is your home already age-adapted?

You don’t have to wait until the time is right to convert your home into an accessible property – especially as many simple changes can provide numerous benefits. It doesn’t have to be an elderly-appropriate or disabled-adapted new build. Age-adapted furniture or intelligent, well-planned building alterations are a great way to start. Whether it’s for yourself or a property you rent out, the investment is already worth making today.

What else is already worth it? Registering for imm cologne 2024 – sign up here to exhibit at the next edition of the Interior Business Event .