A home is a lifelong investment. As people age in their home, they should consider how ADUs, universal design and aging-in-place design and build strategies can be effectively applied to meet their needs for accessibility and comfort over the years.

ADUs, short for accessory dwelling units, are either stand-alone or attached dwellings limited in square footage and built on a property with another house. Universal design refers to very specific improvements intended to allow anyone, in any physical condition, to live in a home. And aging in place, one facet of universal design, is a design strategy that allows people to remain in their home as long as possible, taking into account safety and accessibility for the elderly.

Typically built to generate rental income, ADUs are often designed to maximize the homeowner’s investment. Evan Fujimoto, president of design/build firm Graham Builders, which specializes in renovations, remodels and new construction, urges homeowners considering aging-in-place home renovations to think of the ADU as an alternative to remodeling their existing home.


“The key is keeping your options open. We call it flexibility in design,” said Fujimoto. “At some point in time, every structure will go through a renovation or modification. We design and build in such a way that it won’t be difficult in the future to alter or adapt the home to your changing needs.”

Fujimoto believes that ADUs can provide rental income in the near term and transition to the right type of dwelling for aging in place in the long term. In many instances, aging homeowners will move into the smaller ADU requiring much less cleaning and upkeep, while family members move into the main house.

Fujimoto suggests building the ADU with aging in place in mind. The dwelling should be designed with an open floor plan without steps if possible. Minimizing the hallway helps to maximize space and well-ventilated, well-lit living spaces are a must for a healthy indoor environment. Kitchens should be free of peninsulas or islands, and feature lower-set wall cabinets. In the bathroom, walk-in showers are easily accessible and solid backing should be built into the walls for easy grab bar installation when the time comes. Fujimoto even suggests an exterior door in the bedroom that doubles as an emergency exit.

Attend Fujimoto’s seminar on aging in place and ADUs at the BIA-Hawaii Remodel It Right Expo, set for Sunday, Aug. 14, from 2 to 3 p.m. in the Hawaii Suites. Homeowners interested in learning more about the latest trends in design and renovation can attend Graham Builders’ upcoming “Building Your Home for Life” seminar Saturday, July 23, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Honolulu Country Club. Seminar are free, but reservations are required. To register, visit or call 593-2808.

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