The concept of Universal Design consists of integrating unique features into home plans in an effort to enhance comfort and convenience for today’s lifestyle, combined with the ability to adapt to changing needs in the future without extensive remodeling. The features are virtually invisible and are certainly not obvious, but these homes make life much easier for everyone in the household. Because opening doors with arms full of groceries is as difficult at age 30 as it is at 70, for example, universal design homes use lever-type door handles. There is a long list of universal design features that homeowners can pick and choose from as they design a home that is safe, comfortable, visitable, and easily used by people of almost any age or physical ability.
What makes a home ‘ageless’? It simply means that it was thoughtfully designed considering the comfort and needs of people of all ages and physical characteristics! It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, short or tall, healthy or ill. You might have a disability or be a prize-winning athlete. You may have experienced a recent surgery or sprained an ankle or hurt your back. You may be a personal trainer in perfect health working at a local fitness center. It doesn’t really matter. Because of universal design, people who are very different can all enjoy the same home. And that home will be there for all its inhabitants even when their needs change.
Homebuyers today are searching for homes that are a refuge of safety and comfort. Whether it’s inviting a couple of friends for an intimate dinner or whole gang for a Super Bowl party, most us like to use our homes to entertain. We delight in welcoming guests and making them feel comfortable. Think about the home you live in now. Is it truly hospitable? Is it ‘visitable’ by friends and loved ones regardless of age or physical limitations?
Universal design makes a home so much easier to live and entertain in. Moreover, the features increase the safety and comfort of every occupant. From the day you move in – when the movers maneuver your precious belongings without banging into walls and doorways – you will appreciate the sense of openness. Move furniture, luggage, shopping bags, strollers, even sleeping babies around your home with ease. And as we age, you won’t need to make expensive modifications. They’re already here.
Some of the more common universal design features are:
o No-step entry. No one needs to use stairs to get into a universal home or into the homes main rooms. There are no steps going from the garage into the house or out onto the patio, making the home ‘visitable’ by friends and family that may have a physical limitation.
o Even in a 2-story home the kitchen, living room, dining room, a bedroom, and at least one bathroom would be on the main level with minimum barriers.
o Doorways that are 36 inches wide let furniture, luggage, laundry baskets, people, and even wheelchairs pass through freely. Wide doors also make it easier to move big things such as beds, couches, and appliances in and out of the house.
o Hallways should be at least 42 inches wide. Wider hallways allow everyone and everything to move more easily from room to room.
o Open floor plans makes everyone feel less cramped and allows people traffic to flow more smoothly. It also makes the house feel larger, lighter, and brighter.
o Large windows placed strategically allow you take advantage of the views and allows more sunlight to enter the home to help chase away those winter doldrums.
o Cabinet hardware can be chosen that is easily grasped as well as being beautiful.
o Other helpful features can be planned into your home as well, such as a work area in your kitchen where children or grandchildren can help make cookies, or add an instant hot water dispenser for a quicker, safer and more convenient way to heat water for soups and mixes. You could build a desk near your kitchen where kids can do their homework under your watchful eye. You might even identify an area in the home design which could be easily sectioned off as a mother-in-law suite or caregivers retreat in the future.
Features for Comfort
Most universal design features just make good sense. Once you build them into your home, you’ll wonder why every house isn’t built this way. For example:
o Floors and bathtubs with non-slip surfaces help everyone stay on their feet. They’re not just for people who are frail.
o Raised dishwashers minimize bending to load and unload the dishes.
o Good lighting helps people with poor vision. And it helps everyone else see better, too.
o Lever door handles and rocker light switches are great for people with arthritis or poor hand strength. But everyone else likes them too. Try using these devices when your arms are full of packages. You’ll never go back to round knobs or standard light switches.
Features for Later
Universal design gives you great home features you can enjoy now, but also helps you plan for the future. Good universal design strives to create an attractive, non-institutional looking home that is comfortable and safe for all regardless of age or ability. Done properly, universal design becomes a virtually invisible element, adding to the market appeal and never detracting from the overall design. In fact, many of the features seem so intuitive that most people never even notice them until they are pointed out.
While the concept of designing homes for ease-of-use and life stage enhancement has been around for a few years, it is just now attracting strong interest. The reason? Most everyone agrees that universal designed homes can better keep the young and the mature living safely and comfortably where they prefer to live – in their own homes and neighborhoods.
Universal design homes also offer advantages to caregivers. Many of the design features, such as curbless showers with integral seats and hand held sprayers, better equip the resident to participate in their own care reducing the amount and/or frequency of assistance from caregivers. Bathroom injuries are reduced for all users and maintaining some reasonable degree of self-care can help people retain a sense of well-being and self-determination.
The best opportunity to incorporate universal design is in the design process for new homes. When integrated before construction, universal design can add as little as four percent to the cost of a new home. Most agree that the elimination of just one fall in the home or the reduction of at-home care will more than offset the initial investment. And the increased potential for satisfying independence is priceless.
The possibilities are endless. When choosing a new home or a home plan, look for some universal design elements to insure a more convenient, safer, and more cost effective lifestyle in your new home.