Can we house seniors in buildings made of wood?

In a new white paper, JSA principal Christine Castaldo, AIA LEED AP looks at the latest IBC code updates for Assisted Living facilities.

IBC White Paper

Senior residents

When constructing buildings to house senior residents, concerns include how much physical effort the residents are expected to exert and how much stress they are expected to endure in the event of a fire.

But in Poland...

Many years ago, before I graduated from architecture school, I visited my cousin in Poland. In her crowded dormitory room, after a few beers, she and her fellow math majors asked, "Do you really live in a house made of wood?" They were worried about me and my answer did not alleviate their concerns.

How does this affect assisted living?

When a client recently asked if we could build the assisted living portion of the project with wood framing, I was reminded of that night in my cousin's crowded dormitory room. Can we house seniors who require assistance in a building made of wood? To answer that question, let's take a deep dive into the building code requirements.

There's ambiguity

The 2015 International Building Code (IBC), which is now being adopted by some states and municipalities, provides clarification...

Read the white paper.

Christine Castaldo, AIA, LEED AP is JSA's specialist in housing, both for senior living communities and for privatized military ventures. Her understanding of how buildings function results in projects with high operational integrity, bringing numerous repeat clients who rely on her expertise. She is an instructor of architecture in the Civil Technology program at the Thompson School of the University of New Hampshire and is a graduate of Pratt Institute.

'Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?' …like building codes?

Borrowing a line from New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s best selling graphic novel about aging seems as applicable to building codes as it is to aging parents. This Jim Warner white paper analyzes the impact of the 2015 International Building Code on assisted living facilities.

IBC White Paper

What is it?

The International Building Code is a code providing a template for design and construction, ensuring occupant health and safety.

Why is it relevant?

Buildings are defined or classified according their use because building uses vary widely. Similarly, safety requirements vary along with each individual use and are reflected in the application of the code to that specific use. Most uses are fairly straightforward with one very big exception: Assisted Living.

How will this affect you?

For those hoping to reduce construction costs there is some very good news: you can now build Assisted Living, including Memory Care, to a maximum of three floors with Protected Wood Construction, Type V-A. The drawback being under I-1, condition 2, corridor doors require a 20 minute rating and need to have closers, therefore the resident unit doors would not be allowed to be left open in Special Care. Additionally, compartmentalization requirements of an I-1 Use Group may limit some openness in household designed living, dining, kitchen spaces.

Where do we stand and what should we do?

Providers, developers, operators, architects, code officials and AHJ's alike need to become familiar with the new code as it will become law by the end of this year. The vast majority of Senior Living projects should fall neatly into either R-2 for Independent Living, where Aging-in-Place is not an option, or; I-1, Condition 2 for all Assisted Living including Memory Care or communities where Aging-in-Place is anticipated. But there is much confusion and a need for global clarification...

Read the white paper.

A founding principal of JSA, James Warner, FAIA has helped lead the company's evolution into a national firm, and established the Studio structure it maintains today. Directly involved in Healthcare, Hospitality, Housing and Senior Living, he has most recently led the Senior Living Studio to national prominence.

There are no slump tests when you mix concrete by hand with river water

Jay Haiti In October of 2016, JSA architect Jay Longtin traveled to Haiti as part of a volunteer building crew. In just seven days, he and a ten-member crew, with help from the local community, built a house for a Haitian family. Here, he tells his story:

I volunteered with the Fuller Center for Housing, an international, Christian nonprofit that builds and renovates houses in partnership with families in need. Homeowners work hand-in-hand with volunteers to build or renovate their homes, which they pay for on affordable terms, interest-free at no profit.

Our construction site was in Pignon, a town of 30,000 about five hours north of Port Au Prince, the capital of Haiti. Haiti, a Caribbean country that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, is still recovering from a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed 230,000 people in 2010. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% living in abject poverty.

As an architect, it was fascinating to build in a region so very different from the east coast of the United States. There are no slump tests when you mix concrete by hand, on the ground, with river water! Even with a bare minimum of tools and supplies, the construction went well. This family has a new concrete block house, a substantial improvement from their previous mud structure.

This was my first volunteer trip and I was not sure what to expect. I was concerned that I would feel uncomfortable with the religious nature of the organization, but there was no religious tension in this group. Would I do it again? I have to say yes, although I struggle with the inefficiency of flying eleven people (ten volunteers plus a team leader) to Haiti to perform manual labor. It felt more like cultural tourism than actual aid, but then again, not many people are willing to send money to a far away project, including me. All in all, a positive experience.

Jay Longtin, AIA is an architectect with JSA Inc in Portsmouth, NH. He specializes in environments for senior living.

A ‘bit’ of healthy office competition

wheelchairIt started one spring with just two employees, one a young new hire, the other an older associate. “Is that a Fitbit you’re wearing? Do you want to walk?” All summer the two walked three-mile circuits of the office park over lunch and did laps in the building corridors on rainy days. That fall they walked the entire coast of New Hampshire, 22 miles, just because they could. The data charts and pop-ups of encouragement from the smartphone app became oddly addicting. Other employees were intrigued.

Over the winter, the activity tracker phenomenon grew. The following spring, a dozen employees were sporting trackers. Colorful bracelets, discreet clip-ons, were seen on walkers everywhere.

One principal, a fifty-something man with a family history of weight issues triggering health problems, looked at the trackers and shrugged it off. “My phone has a built in activity tracker. I’m all set.”

An architect with a new Fitbit was noodling around the Fitbit phone app. “What’s this Workweek Hustle?" It was a special challenge, new from the folks at Fitbit, a competition that allows Fitbitters to compete Monday through Friday using a nifty smartphone app. The leader board displays everyone’s progress in real time, a winner is declared on Friday night, then the slate is wiped clean and a new competition begins the next week.

The architect signed on and invited other office walkers to sign on too. A bit of competition might be fun. Within weeks it escalated. Some went off the charts with mileage. A husband and wife duo competed behind the scenes: “I poured her extra wine at dinner, she fell asleep early, I took the dogs out for a late night walk and crushed her step count.”

Remember the principal who scoffed at the trackers? About this time, he had a medical checkup and left with sobering news, “You’re diabetic. I'm putting you on metformin, a diabetes medication that helps control blood sugar levels, and you need to lose weight.” His glucose reading was 220 mg/dl, the healthy goal is under 100 mg/dl. He was pissed, and committed to changing his prognosis.

The next week the Fitbit-scoffing principal was sporting the fanciest of all Fitbit trackers and signed on to the challenge. The tone of the competition changed. We were all walking for fun. This guy was walking to save his health, his life. He walked every lunch hour. He walked an hour, sometimes two, again in the evening. He raised the bar high, pushing the rest of the competitors to new levels. The weather was turning into perfect New Hampshire spring and step counts were climbing to never-seen-before levels. Forty-five miles in five days, 90,000+ steps? No problem.

The group joked that the competition needed a trophy. With a budget of zero, a trophy was crafted from office cast-offs. It was a beauty, and moved every Monday morning to the new winner, as coveted as the Stanley Cup.

Weeks went by, step counts continued to rise. Participants took recovery weeks when over-worked knees and shins became balky. New, better walking shoes appeared. Water bottles were added as accessories. Some walkers were hitting the streets at 5:30 in the morning, others added after dinner strolls. Some lost weight, some firmed up and everyone felt better. The trophy moved around the office every Monday. Each week, it seemed, someone different stepped up and walked and walked and walked. Step counts of over 100,000 in five days became the norm. The real-time leader board became a lie-detector of accountability.

Back to the newly-diabetic principal. Once he hit his stride, he won the trophy more weeks than anyone else. He became fiercely competitive, frustrated when someone trumped his step count at the last minute. But his real win was much more important than the trophy. Coupled with changes in his diet, the exercise was improving his health. His weight was steadily dropping. Four months into his walking frenzy he had lost over 50 pounds and his glucose dropped to a healthy 80 mg/dl. A three-month hemoglobin check showed no signs of diabetes. The metformin prescription was history.

Six months later the competition continues. The participants morph a bit from week to week. So far, the changes to our all too sedentary lifestyle seem to be sticking. It took the motivation of an entire office to help change one employee’s long-term health prognosis, but in the end, we’re all winners at this game.

Anne Weidman is JSA's marketing guru. Her latest initiative is Access Portsmouth, taking the mystery out of accessibility in historic Portsmouth.

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