senior living design trends

Senior Living Design Trends to Implement Today

It’s easy to see that senior living facilities are thriving: just look at the demographics and industry numbers. The anecdotal evidence is there too – I pass three new senior living construction projects during my commute to work. As the Vice President of Business Development, my personal knowledge of senior living design has become limited to attending conferences and reading articles. While these are great opportunities to gain insight at a broad and higher level, there is a large difference between that perspective and what goes on in day-to-day designing. In an effort to stay well-rounded, I recently sat down with two of my Project Managers to get specific details on the current state of senior living and how we at VP Engineering are preparing for and reacting to the “boom.”

What different senior living projects have you worked on during your career at VP Engineering?

Zach: “I have participated as both a designer and project manager for senior living, memory care, and independent living for about eight years. The most memorable projects I have worked on are The Blake at the Grove, The Veranda, Mebane Ridge, and Chatham Ridge.”

Sanjay: “The first senior living project I worked on was in 2009/2010. It was Westinghouse, an independent living facility designed with Narmour Wright. I have also worked on Mebane Ridge, Chatham Ridge, and multiple Wellmore projects. We have been designing for senior living consistently ever since I started at the company about nine years ago.”

What makes senior living projects different from the multi-family buildings that we design?

Zach: “The life safety aspect is very different. With limited care facilities, you are required to have an essential electrical system with a life safety branch and critical care branch.  The code is specific with regards to what goes on each branch, so care needs to be taken to design them properly. That also includes the nurse call system as well as a generator for emergency power.”

Sanjay: “The amenity areas are a lot like multi-family, but it also has a lot of back-of-the-house necessities such as a full kitchen. It’s a lot more like a hotel than it is a multi-family building.”

What new trends are you seeing in senior living design?

Zach: “The number of projects is increasing because of the baby boomers. A lot more projects are coming in because of the need.”

Sanjay: “The facilities are becoming increasingly nicer. Even when comparing to the one the project that I designed in 2009, it’s much more luxury and top-of-the-line. Owners are asking for dining areas with dance floors, almost like a cruise. They have nice hair salons, therapy rooms, awesome gyms, entertainment areas for movie nights, and bars.”

What are we at VP doing to make sure we stay up-to-date with the latest technology available to senior living design?

Zach: “We’re attending conferences and reading industry white papers. We are constantly looking for and learning about systems that will give owners the optimum balance between life-cycle and cost. Best bang for the buck.”

Sanjay: “We focus on comfort. Owners are leaning to more high-end systems than they’d even have in a hotel. Instead of just putting a PTAC on the wall, in assisted living units they are putting VTAC units similar to hotels. They really care about the comfort. I could foresee eventually going with VRF systems for higher-end buildings. They are willing to spend the money necessary to ensure comfort for their residents.”

How has designing for senior living changed in the last 5 – 10 years?

Zach: “We are designing a lot more because of the baby boomers. Also, the operators are much more involved than they used to be. They now participate in meetings and give us insight on their needs and new trends. Facilities are also much larger because of the number of amenities.“

Sanjay: “The designs are no longer institutional. It has the same requirements, but it is now more of a luxury resort-style. These new senior living facilities are larger buildings with fewer floors. We’re designing for nicer finishes, so you have to take particular care when designing – especially in the common spaces. We meld our systems to coordinate with interior designers. Interior aesthetics are extremely important now to the extent that they affect the MEP systems and where they go. They don’t dictate the function, but they do dictate the location.”

What do you imagine for the future of senior living design?

Zach: “It doesn’t seem to be slowing down. It’s getting nicer and nicer. It’s become more like resort living. People are living a lot longer, so we’ll be building for longer stays.”

Sanjay: “The end of the baby-boomer generation isn’t for another 12 years. They will continue building up new facilities until that time. Following that, I think we’ll move on to renovation. Even after the baby boomer generation, people will continue needing facilities. Perhaps they won’t be building as more, but I expect a lot of renovating.”

Zach Joyce is one of VP’s Project Managers is an Electrical Designer. Zach has been in the industry for 16 years and has been a part of our team since 2009. (link to bio)

Sanjay Patel is one of our Project Managers and a Mechanical Designer. Sanjay is a Professional Engineer in NC, has been working in the industry for ten years, and has been a member of the VP team since 2008.

senior living mep engineers

How Lighting Illuminates More Than A Room

Picture this: you’re at your desk, working on a project, stressing about the deadline. The phone rings, emails come in; it’s a typical day at the office. At some point, you look up from where you’re hunched over and glance outside. It’s beautiful. Cloudless and sunny. Instinctively, you feel the pull to go outside, to get away from the chaos of the office for even just a few minutes.

So out you go.

The sun is bright; the air is warm, the rich green color of the trees contrasts amazingly with the sky. Within seconds you feel better, more alive, a bit more at peace, and the stress seems to ebb a bit. What you’re experiencing is biophilia, the hard-wired human need to connect with nature.

Thirty years ago, we didn’t have the technology to conduct the studies to acquire the data to tell us what we already knew – that being outside is good for us. Now we do, and the information coming out is fascinating. Interacting with nature, even in an indoor environment (think greenhouse and bio walls), provides a great many benefits. Lower blood pressure, better sleeping and eating habits, greater cognitive abilities, reduced stress, stress hormone reduction and improved cognitive performance are just a few of the quantifiable effects of exposure to nature.

How does this happen?

One way is how the body processes natural light. Natural light, with its spectrum of wavelengths, causes specific hormonal cascades in the body which we perceive as emotional and physical well-being. Fluorescent lighting doesn’t come close to replicating this outdoor environment. Color changing LEDs and other specialty light sources, with the proper controls, can be used to better reproduce the outdoor environment for seniors. This is a bit of the knowledge that has come out of the biophilic design field and was presented at EFA (Environments for the Aging Conference).

Savvy senior living designers are starting to incorporate biophilic design principles into their projects, and savvy developers and operators are starting to insist on them. Biophilic design bridges the gap between the holistic, aesthetic, and touchy-feely mentality of architects and the focused, quantifiable mentality of engineers.