THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION: Determining Senior Living Project Costs

“We love the design concept, but what will it cost to build?”

Cost estimating has always been a critical component in the planning process for senior living projects, which in the not-for-profit world have often involved bond financing. In today’s economy it is that much more important to answer this question early. But at the same time it’s increasingly challenging due to market volatility, worker shortages and lingering supply chain issues.

So how can you budget, and ultimately control costs, for your next senior living project?  It starts with understanding a few fundamentals. 

What Goes into a Cost Projection?

Cost projections are so much more than a standard cost per square foot.  There are a myriad of factors that must be taken into account:

Project Scope: is the foundational program menu of spaces, functions, capacity and sizes.  It’s when goals and aspirations are merged with quantitative requirements.

Project Size: is calculated in terms of gross and net square footage.

  • Gross floor area includes everything within a building’s exterior walls.
  • Net floor area is the usable square footage excluding walls, columns, lobbies, corridors, stairways, elevators, closets and utility chases.

Grossing Factor: refers to the ratio of revenue generating (living units) to common areas, utilities and wall spaces. It is impacted by building shape and program components.

  • A straightforward linear building typically has a lower grossing factor than a structure with bends or curves.
  • Smaller building types have a higher grossing factor than a larger building with more living units, such as a hybrid home versus a larger apartment building or a small house versus a larger care setting.
  • Social spaces on each floor of an apartment building increase the grossing factor. For senior care settings, a medical model typically has a lower grossing factor than a household model which tends to have more common spaces.

Download the Senior Living Project Cost White Paper:

To continue reading  about what goes into project costs, as well as factors that drive costs, strategies to control project costs and the cost of doing nothing, download the Whitepaper via the form below.

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Additional Resources: 

For more senior living topics, trends, projects and information about Hybrid Homes, Memory Care, Reinvention and more, check out our Resources Page.

Interior Design: Understanding the profession and the value of NCIDQ Certification

RLPS recently celebrated an interiors team member passing the National Certification for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam and earning his professional competency and expertise in the trade. If you’re unfamiliar with the industry, you might not understand the importance of this milestone.

Stacy Hollinger Main, RLPS partner, shares that

“anyone who studies Interior Design should value his/her education enough to take the next step in the process which is [NCIDQ] examination. At RLPS, one of our missions is to help mentor young people in both architecture and interior design to take the leap into being a professional. This is one of the key goals of our practice – to cultivate personal development. Interior Design is a young profession, so it is imperative that we also educate the public to the level of standards that NCIDQ Certificate holders possess.”

Dorothy Draper, pictured above, Elsie de Wolfe and Louis Comfort Tiffany were pioneers of the industry.

While some professions are centuries old, the term “interior decorator” was first used in the United States in the early 1900s.  It was not until the 1980s that the first legislation was passed about interior design. Certifications like the NCIDQ help provide structure and accountability for the interior design profession. But what exactly is the NCIDQ Certification and why is it valuable to professionals and project owners?

What is the NCIDQ Certification?

According to the Council for Interior Design Qualifications (CIDQ) website, the “NCIDQ Certification is the industry’s recognized indicator of proficiency in interior design principles and a designer’s commitment to the profession.” An interior designer who holds this certificate has passed a series of rigorous, objective exams to prove his/her expertise in understanding and applying codes created to protect public health, safety and welfare.

RLPS interior designer, Matthew Funk Barley, recently passed his NCIDQ exam. He shares that the content covered on the exam is everyday knowledge such as understanding contracts, codes and construction documents. At RLPS, 92% of our interior design staff either holds the NCIDQ Certification or is currently undertaking the examination process.

This map shows the different types of interior design legislation throughout the United States and Canada.

Does the NCIDQ exam meet legal standards?

The NCIDQ Certification adheres to legal and regulatory standards for the interior design profession as established by more than half of the states across the United States. The CIDQ website provides a visualization of different types of regulations adopted by each North American jurisdiction.

What is the role of an NCIDQ interior designer?

The role of an NCIDQ Certified interior designer is multi-faceted and spans a project’s timeline. The CIDQ website states that “interior designers contribute to the interior environment with knowledge and skills about space planning; interior building materials and finishes; casework, furniture, furnishings, and equipment; lighting; acoustics; wayfinding; ergonomics and anthropometrics; and human environmental behavior.” Anthropometrics is the science of understanding the human body as it relates to the design of furniture.

NCIDQ Certified interior designers provide direction for surface level changes to an interior environment. They also analyze, plan, design, document and manage interior non-structural construction and renovation projects. The graphic on the right, from the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) website, provides a visual representation of the role of an NCIDQ Certified interior designer compared to an architect.

Jessie Shappell, a senior interior designer at RLPS, is an ongoing volunteer and former board member of the CIDQ. in 2018 she participated in an advocacy roundtable about interior design. She shares that “the professional responsibilities of NCIDQ Certified interior designers parallel those of registered architects” and will help shape a project from start to finish. 

What is the value of hiring an NCIDQ Certified interior designer?

An NCIDQ Certified interior designer is an integral member of a project team. As Jessie Shappell puts it, “When an interior designer is involved from project conception to completion, clients benefit from a holistically designed and coordinated interior that greatly benefits the owner and all building occupants.”

NCIDQ Certified interior designers have an important working relationship with architects in creating healthy, safe and beautiful spaces.

When considering hiring an interior designer, look for a qualified professional with the NCIDQ Certification. The value of hiring an NCIDQ Certified interior designer means the owner can trust that the professional will adhere to industry and legal standards. It also means that he/she has the knowledge and skills necessary to create a welcoming, safe and beautiful environment.

The NCIDQ Certification is a valuable accreditation for interior design professionals.

“While the examination process is difficult and involves emotional highs and lows,” says Matthew Funk Barley, “the sense of accomplishment that comes with the completed process is worth it.”

Interested in learning more about the interior design profession? Check out these videos from the CIDQ and this joint report from the CIDQ and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

Interested in learning more about the history of interior design? Check out our blog highlighting pioneers of the industry.


Stacy Hollinger Main, IIDA, Partner, leads the RLPS Interiors team.  A graduate of the University of Delaware, Stacy has 28 years of commercial design experience. Stacy appreciates any opportunities to apply her interior design background to help our clients and friends create joyful environments!

Blog Editor, Erin Harclerode





Cheers to New Interior Design Trends This Year

Interior design trends at Village on the Isle (Venice, FL), Phoebe Berks (Wernersville, PA), The Vistas at Willow Valley (Lancaster, PA) and Southern Market (Lancaster, PA)

The start of a new year means there are new interior design trends to explore and incorporate into living, learning and working spaces. The adage “What is old is new again” is a theme woven throughout this year’s interior design trends. These styles put a modern spin on classic ideas while others draw inspiration from the natural world. Vintage-inspired warm colors and natural floral designs appear in textiles, tile, paint colors and wallcoverings. Natural materials, such as the use of wood in caning and woven surfaces, elicit imagery of artisan makers who predate the industrialized production of goods.

We sat down with some of our interior designers to discuss interior design trends and how they are incorporating the trends into their projects.

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How Lovely Are Your Branches? Tips For Decorating The Tree

tree design The center of attention and activity, the Christmas tree embodies the unique combination of nostalgia, good will and hope associated with the holidays. Many of the same ideas that apply to decorating your home are also important to keep in mind for a beautiful tree that expresses your style while fostering holiday spirit for everyone who sees it.

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Interior Renovations: Budget-Friendly & Brand-Building with Big Benefits

Interior Designers discuss options for an upcoming project

Higher education institutions understand the importance of evolving and changing with the times; making campus updates is among the top priorities from year to year. Rather than initiate a large construction project, institutions are staying current with small-scale interior renovations to underutilized areas of campus that need reimagining.

Combining interior renovations with upgraded furniture can provide a large impact through projects that can be completed in a shorter timeframe and don’t exhaust the annual budget. These quick-hitting projects aim to improve the value an institution provides to its students and reinforce the branded experience intended for campus.

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Moving Day

Dropping Your Child Off at College: A Parent’s Perspective

Parents and student getting ready for college moving day

The end of summer brings many things: shorter days, cooler weather and the first day of classes. For first-time college students, moving day and the prospect of living away from home for the very first time can be an exciting time. From the rush of receiving an acceptance letter to the campus that was first choice to the hours spent shopping to get the perfect accessories to decorate a new room, it’s a non-stop adventure.

As a firm that provides higher education planning and design, we focus on the campus experience and how it affects students, faculty, staff and parents. Lessons learned from our own teams’ experience offer insights that we can apply to future design. Two of our RLPS team members who recently dropped off their children at college for their first year were nice enough to share their experiences. Along with recounting how moving went, they also let us know how their kids… and they are adjusting.

The parents on our staff began with completely opposite levels of experience with preparing and dropping off children at college. One parent was moving their youngest of three children to an out-of-state university, a few hours’ drive away. The other was moving their oldest child to a college closer to home. Despite the marked difference in the distance travelled and parental familiarity with moving kids to college, they had similar experiences and feelings.

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Should You Consider A Satellite Community?

senior living satellite community trend Satellite communities are popping up around the country in many shapes and forms. Life Plan Community (LPC) sponsors and other senior services providers are increasingly turning to this expansion option when current campuses are built out, partnership opportunities emerge or new markets are explored.

As senior living providers seek creative opportunities to maintain vitality and market presence, satellite community campuses can offer distinct advantages for attracting a new generation of older adults.

  1. Growth opportunity
  2. Expanded market reach
  3. Distinct alternative product such as living in a more urban setting
  4. Unique partnerships such as University-Based Retirement Communities
  5. Leveraging existing campus resources and services
  6. A new value proposition – from Care Model to Vitality Model

Research conducted by Ziegler’s Senior Living Investment Banking team shows that of all of the new not-for-profit communities currently in the planning or development phase, roughly one out of three are satellite campuses that will be in close proximity to an existing, full-continuum community.

“This is a very attractive growth strategy for providers who are looking to build upon their existing brand and bring forth an alternative choice for seniors in their market”, says Lisa McCracken, Ziegler’s Director of Senior Living Research.

With proper planning, satellite communities allow for incremental growth and expanded market reach. They can neighbor a main campus or be located in another geographic area.  A satellite can appeal to a new market group or meet a need for more of what already exists at a Life Plan Community.

Download the Satellite Community White Paper:

To continue reading and learn more about potential benefits and future planning considerations for this continuing growth trend for Life Plan Communities and other senior living services providers, download the Whitepaper via the form below.

Item Acquisition Form

Additional Resources: 

For more senior living topics, trends, projects and information about Hybrid Homes, Memory Care, Reinvention and more, check out our Resources Page.

Campus Redevelopment, Revitalization, and Resiliency

How Community Partnerships Can Benefit Your Institution and the Surrounding Community

Student meeting in library – Teamwork

This topic was the focus of a panel discussion at the AICUP Campus Leaders Forum held in Harrisburg, PA on June 15th.

“We need to see ourselves no longer as an ivory tower surrounded by walls or fences but in the midst of the economies of which we exist and upon which we depend.” – Dominic DelliCarpini, Ph.D., York College of PA

While higher ed and industry have very different missions and cultures, there is a symbiotic relationship between the two. Finding a common ground for collaboration, research and work partnerships benefits everyone. As campus recruiting becomes more competitive, community partnerships serve as a positive differentiator and a valuable resource for long-term vitality.

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