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Hearth & Home November 2015

Easily accessible Outdoor Room by Cornerstone Landscape Group.

Trend Report: Accessibility

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Few – very few – manufacturers of barbecue and outdoor living products have created designs that meet the needs of the elderly or handicapped, although that market is 30 million strong.

Americans are getting older. According to a U.S. Census report, there will be an estimated 83.7 million Americans aged 65 and over in 2050, almost double the number of seniors in 2012. Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates 20 percent of the U.S. population will be elderly by 2030, up from 13 percent in 2010. The group predicts that in fewer than 50 years, the senior population will reach about 40 percent. 

As actress Bette Davis famously said, “Old age is no place for sissies.” She was likely referring to the mobility issues and other physical challenges that come with growing older. Given that 89 percent of seniors wish to stay in their own homes to “age in place,” according to a study by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), many will want to modify their home’s indoor and outdoor living spaces for better accessibility. 

In fact, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reports 75 percent of its members are seeing an increase in inquiries related to aging in place; it estimates the aging-in-place remodeling market could reach $20 billion to $25 billion in the coming years. 

It’s not just seniors who are interested in modifying their homes for greater accessibility. An estimated 30 million Americans of all ages rely on a wheelchair or walker, and many of them require adaptations to their indoor and outdoor living spaces to remain at home. 

These trends have implications – and opportunities – for the barbecue and outdoor living industries. 

Landscape architects are already reporting increased interest in accessible outdoor design. According to the 2015 residential survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects, 31 percent of landscape architects say handicap-accessible outdoor living elements are becoming popular requests, up from 20.7 percent in 2012, and steadily climbing. 

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry reports 24 percent of remodelers have worked on accessible outdoor remodeling projects, and that number is expected to increase in the next three years.

The lower-profile Sedona by Lynx allows wheelchair-bound people to enjoy the fun of grilling.

The potential of this niche market segment has largely gone unnoticed by the barbecue and outdoor living industries. Currently, there are few grills and outdoor kitchen products available that meet the design standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a series of guidelines to protect the civil rights of the disabled population by ensuring universal access in public places. However, those manufacturers that are in compliance report the segment is growing. 

“We’ve seen substantial growth in both interest and sales of our ADA-compliant products, both residentially and commercially,” says Stephanie Muraro-Gust, Residential Product Marketing manager for Perlick, a manufacturer of indoor and outdoor refrigerators, beverage centers, ice makers and other products.  “In the last three years, sales have increased 66 percent.” 

Although, initially, the company’s ADA-compliant products were mainly used in common spaces in multi-family residences and in luxury suites at professional sports stadiums, Muraro-Gust says in the last 18 months they have seen a significant increase in specifications for single-family residences. In response, the company recently introduced its Signature Series Sottile, an outdoor line of ADA-compliant, UL-rated refrigerators, beverage centers and wine refrigerators, measuring 32-in. tall and 18-in. deep. 

“As the general trend of outdoor living – specifically outdoor kitchens – increases, we are seeing a similar demand for ADA-compliant products,” says Muraro-Gust. “We expect continued growth in ADA-compliant products for outdoor use.” 

Daniel Chin, director of Marketing for Lynx, says the company’s Sedona by Lynx ADA Accessible Grill is believed to be the first grill of its kind on the market. A wheelchair-bound friend of a Lynx product designer, as well as the company’s close proximity to a large physical rehabilitation center, “made us more aware of the disabled community,” according to Chin, and inspired the design team to ponder ways to make their grills more user-friendly.

“In addition, we saw more military veterans returning home with injuries and disabilities,” he says. “These are young men and women who would otherwise expect to be grilling in their backyards with their families. We wanted to make this experience available for them, and that helped inspire us to create this product.

“We felt there was a need that was not being addressed. We believed there was a market for (handicap-accessible grills), but more than that, it was the right thing to do.”

The company extensively researched ADA-compliant indoor kitchen appliances, and requested input from the design-team-member’s wheelchair-bound friend. 

“Michael acted as a consultant on the project and helped to guide the development,” says Chin. “He gave suggestions on improvements which led to key changes in the product design. He has become the face of our ADA grill and, in fact, his picture is featured in the product brochure.”  

The Sedona by Lynx ADA Accessible Grill sports an eight-in. toe-kick clearance on the cart base, and a side-mounted handle that makes it easier to lift the lid and eliminates the need to reach directly over the hot cooking grid. It also has significantly increased insulation at the front of the grill, and repositioned the propane tank for improved access, among other features. 

Chin says the company has received “many requests” for the grill in the approximately two years since it has been available. He says sales are currently evenly split between private residences and multi-family communities. To date, sales have mainly come about from online inquiries. “Customers become aware of our product after researching ADA-accessible grills online, and that leads them to us,” he says.

Potential in Multifamily Communities

Getting the word out about ADA-accessible products requires a more targeted marketing approach than for traditional grills and outdoor kitchen products. Chin says Lynx has promoted its ADA accessible grill online and through media targeted to people with disabilities. However, the company hopes to eventually develop an educational program that would connect directly with specifiers.

Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens is a leader in complying with ADA and Fair Housing guidelines.

That would be a smart move. Architects, landscape architects and designers are at the forefront of ADA-compliant outdoor living design. This is especially true of multifamily residences where all common spaces must conform to the accessibility requirements of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Act.

Mitch Slater, president and founder of Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens, says his company works frequently with developers and designers on handicap-accessible outdoor living spaces. The company offers lines of outdoor kitchen cabinets that comply with ADA and Fair Housing Act guidelines under the Danver and Brown Jordan brand names. 

At 34-in. high (including countertop), the outdoor kitchens are lower than traditional versions and can be customized with handicap-accessible grills, under-counter refrigerators, and greater under-counter knee space to accommodate a wheelchair at the sink, among other features. 

“They are being used in club houses, rooftop gardens, pavilions and other outdoor common areas at 55-plus communities and other multifamily communities,” says Slater. “The growth has been phenomenal over the past year. I never imagined the market for ADA-compliant outdoor kitchens would be as big as it is, but there is great potential there. (Accessiblity) can’t be addressed with a rock (masonry) island, but our outdoor kitchen cabinets meet these needs.”

Jessica Griggs, RLA, senior Project manager for Dix Hite, a landscape architecture firm with offices in Longwood, Florida, and Birmingham, Alabama, says the goal of the outdoor spaces they design for multi-family residences is to, “always make sure every type of outdoor experience is accessible so everyone can enjoy it.” That means outdoor sinks, under-counter refrigerators, and at least one of the grills in outdoor kitchen areas meet ADA height, depth and reach requirements. 

She says at least one area of counter seating must be at the 34-in. maximum allowed height, and one dining table universally accessible in communal outdoor spaces. Wheelchair ramps, and landing pads next to bench seating, are also incorporated into the design, according to Griggs. “We try to make these elements look special and part of a cohesive design, rather than stuck off to the side as an afterthought,” she says. 

Griggs says many of her company’s clients have third-party reviewers to make sure everything in their design meets ADA standards, both indoors and out. “The reviewers check out everything from slope grades to walkway and doorway widths, as well as all elements in the outdoor living spaces, and get back to us with comments so we can alter the design before proceeding with construction,” she says. 

Landscape architect Erez Bar-Nur, RLA, ASLA, managing principal of Landscape Design Workshop in Boca Raton, Florida, says outdoor living spaces at the luxury multi-family communities his firm designs also are ADA compliant. 

“The goal is for these spaces to be where everyone can gather and spend time together,” he says. According to Bar-Nur, projects such as the recent Las Olas Beach Club, a high-end waterfront condominium in Ft. Lauderdale, features elements such as cabana courts and trellis areas offering protection from the sun, “summer kitchens” with built-in grills, and fire pit areas, all designed according to ADA standards. 

Design Considerations

The tricky part, according to the experts, can sometimes be figuring out what those standards are, as they pertain to outdoor living spaces. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which administers and oversees the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are no guidelines specific to outdoor kitchens and outdoor living areas. 

However, the DOJ indicates that outdoor spaces should comply with the corresponding ADA design standards for indoor kitchens and living spaces in terms of appliance height, configuration and control panel placement; floor, knee and toe clearances; cabinetry and countertop height; sinks; and other applicable elements.  

In the last three years, sales of Perlick’s ADA-compliant products have increased 66 percent.

Aging-in-place experts suggest that outdoor living modifications include proper lighting of patio areas and pathways, as well as protection from sun and rain through use of pergolas, covered pavilions, awnings or other solid-roof structures. In addition, they recommend creating seamless elevations between indoor and outdoor living spaces to eliminate the need for transitional steps. Bar-Nur says flooring surfaces must be smooth (no gravel,) and be designed with a wide turning radius for wheelchairs.

For retailers, architects, landscape architects and others involved in Outdoor Room design, training and certification as a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) is available through the National Association of Home Builders. Developed by the NAHB and AARP, the three-part training course covers marketing and communication strategies for aging and accessibility; design/build solutions for aging and accessibility; and business management for building professionals (although professionals with AIA, Professional ASID, CKD, CBD, a Master’s degree in business administration, or select other designations may be exempt from this third part). 

Final Thoughts

Specifiers such as Griggs offer a challenge to manufacturers: increase the number of ADA-compliant grills, outdoor kitchen components, and other outdoor living products available today. “We wish manufacturers offered more accessible appliances,” she says. “As outdoor spaces become an increasingly important part of a residence, and as the population ages, there will be an even greater need for these products.”

For more information on:

Americans with Disabilities Act and ADA design standards, (800) 514-0301.

Fair Housing Act design and construction requirements, (888) 341-7781

Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) training and certification  or  


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