Universal Design: A Home for All Generations

Universal Design: A Home for All Generations

Jul 10 2014

While not all homes are created with safety and comfort in mind, houses with "universal design" provide an attractive, stylish space that can accommodate everyone as their lifestyles and needs change.

Universal design has gained momentum based on the concept that all home design products, technologies and the environment should "serve the broadest range of people, regardless of levels of ability or mobility, age, gender or physical stature without the need for adaptation or specialized design," according to the American Society of Interior Designers. Two-thirds of homeowners age 45 and older want to remain in their homes as long as possible, and that percentage increases up to 90 percent as people age, according to an AARP national survey. If you're looking for the flexibility to age in place, seek out these seven universal design features--no matter how young, old or active you feel.

Top 7 Features for a Universal Design Home


1. Wide Access Doorways and hallways 36 inches wide will allow a wheelchair to pass through and also make it easier to move furniture around. Moreover, the wider floor space will make the home feel more spacious. Open floor plans are trending right now, as well.

2. Stair-Free Accommodations Look for a home with at least one bedroom and bathroom on the main floor. In a survey of Baby Boomers, 54% said they want a master bedroom and bath on the first floor. In fact, a ranch-style layout--where the entire house is on the ground floor--is both easily navigable and modern. In addition, make sure your home has at least one stair-free entrance (through the front door, back door or garage). This entry should be covered to protect you and visitors from inclement weather.

3. Accessible Bathrooms Thoughtful and well-placed amenities can turn a bathroom into an oasis. A larger bathroom will provide room for a wheelchair. A walk-in shower with multiple water sources--a rain shower placed in the center of the stall in addition to a handheld shower head--as well as a shower bench and waist-level water controls can accommodate people with varying levels of mobility.

As you evaluate your water controls, be sure to use only anti-scald or pressure-balancing valves. Young children, as well as older adults, are more susceptible to burns from hot water. Offset single-level faucets operated with one hand, as well as motion-sensor faucets, are more modern as well as easier to operate. Pay attention to the floor, too. Small tiles are less slippery than larger tiles, and nonslip flooring for bathtubs and showers can prevent accidental falls.

4. Ample Lighting Proper lighting improves visibility, allows you to accomplish tasks more easily, and can prevent tripping at night. There are several ways to maximize light in your home and make it easy to adjust lighting levels:

    • Automated and adjustable lighting systems with remote-control fixtures

    • Easy-to-operate rocker light switches

    • Appropriate task lighting, especially in kitchen areas

    • Natural light through a window, skylight or solar tube

    • Easy-to-open-and-close windows and treatments--like curtains, blinds and shutters--to maximize natural lighting

    • Amenities like French doors or large windows providing a view of the outdoors even when one cannot go outside



5. Kitchens for All Cooks Even if mobility is not an issue, kitchens can accommodate cooks of all sizes with multi-level countertops and open space underneath so someone can work while seated if they wish. This is particularly useful in families where a parent and child work together to prepare a meal or someone uses a wheelchair.

Most kitchen storage should be within arm's reach. Look for easy-access features such as adjustable-height cupboards and lazy Susans. Everyday items should be placed between knee and shoulder level. For storage below the knee, pullout shelves can reduce the need to bend down and reach for items in the back of the cabinet. Cabinet pulls are also helpful.

6. Easy-Open Doors Doors with lever-style handles instead of knobs are easier for people with poor hand strength to open, but they are also preferred by people of all ages because of convenience--especially when your hands are full--according to the National Association of Home Builders.

7. Remote Controls and Automatic Features High-tech gadgets are not just for the young. The GSEI survey indicated 46% of Baby Boomers are interested in a single remote control to manage everything in the home, and 58% said they would be interested in stovetops or ovens that automatically shut off.

Don't be afraid of new products that could improve your quality of life. If you follow these seven tips, creating a safe and comfortable home with universal design does not need to be costly or difficult. Something as simple as changing the furniture layout can improve your emotional well-being significantly. And everyone, regardless of age or mobility, wants their home to be a haven.

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