Back when I designed my home it was important for my wife and I to be able to grow old in it and as my parents get older it has become more important for me to design for others with that in mind. So, whether you’re planning on new construction or a remodeling project, incorporating barrier-free and safe Universal Design (UD) features is a sure way to create a home you’ll remain in and enjoy indefinitely.
UD incorporates room design and products that almost anyone can use. From foyers and bathrooms to kitchens and laundry rooms, this adaptable design gives you options that allow you to remain in your home if you or other family members encounter challenges of mobility or other age or health-related issues. These issues can include accessibility design that meets the needs of handicap access, ergonomic design that allows efficient and safe usage, adaptable designs that can look and work normally but are modified at a later date, and green design for environmentally friendly living. There are lots of design ideas you can incorporate into your new building plans. Many of these ideas don’t cost any more to include in your new home construction, or the cost is minimal for the increased safety and convenience they provide.
Universal Design and One-Floor Living
Living in a house in which you have limited access is a waste of space and money. If your basement and upper floors are hard to get to, what good are they doing you?
Even single-story homes that have different levels between rooms can be a challenge for toddlers or folks who use crutches, a walker, or a wheelchair. Main floor laundry, bathroom, and bedrooms on one level make life so much easier and safer without stairs to navigate.
Universal Design and Accessible Entry
A home should have at least one exterior entrance with no stairs or steps. This doorway should be 36-inches wide and covered for protection against rain and snow.
Drainage around this doorway is important to maintain a dry, ice-free entrance since it’s at ground level. A package shelf adjacent to the doorway is handy for everyone and particularly helpful for people with physical limitations.
Universal Design and Halls And Doorways
Doors should be a minimum of 32-inches wide (but 36″ is better) and hallways should be at least 42-inches wide to accommodate wheelchairs. Walking next to someone using a walker requires at least that width for a hallway.
While we’re talking about doors, if the swing of the door interferes with the room, you can use pocket doors or modern versions of barn doors. When choosing hardware for door handles, a lever is the easiest to use for someone with limited agility. However, that doesn’t work for pocket doors, so door hardware takes some consideration and planning.
Universal Design in Kitchens
There are so many things you can do with a kitchen to make it UD friendly, it’s unlikely that you’d consider all of them. Many of these ideas are useful whether you have physical limitations or not. Some features you may add to your plans include:
- Multi-Level Counter Heights
- Task Lighting On Counter Surfaces
- Eat-At Counter With Knee Space
- Storage Pantry With Pullout Shelves
- Full Extension Drawers
- Lever-Style Faucet Handle
- Range Controls On Front Or Side Of Unit
Universal Design in Bathrooms
Bathrooms can be a dangerous and difficult place for everyone, so making sure they are safe is very important no matter your age or health. Some of the safety and accessibility features to consider include:
- Adequate Floor Space To Maneuver At All Fixtures
A 5-foot square open floor space ensures adequate space for wheelchairs.
- Anti-Scald Faucet With Lever-Style Handle
Elderly and young children have very sensitive skin. Scald protection devices prevent thousands of burn accidents each year. These units should be installed at both the sink and shower or tub.
- Grab Bars – Safety bars should be placed in both the shower and next to the toilet. They must be properly installed on studs.
- Curbless Shower – A curbless shower is a practical solution that’s safer than stepping in and out of a bathtub shower. Children have problems clambering out of a tub and folks with knee or leg problems find a standard bathtub a challenge as well. This type of shower allows people with wheelchairs, crutches or walkers easy access and independence. Just be sure to use slip-proof tiles on the floor of both the shower and the rest of the room so wetness doesn’t make the room an accident just waiting to happen.
- The shower controls should be offset to allow operation outside the space.
Universal Design in Laundry Rooms
A laundry room has its own set of challenges. Many times these spaces are little more than afterthoughts, but keeping up on the wash goes on no matter what difficulties one faces.
- Accessible, Adequate Storage
- Front Loading Washer And Dryer
Not only should the units be front loading, but they should also be hinged on the side. If stooping or bending is less-than-comfortable, they can be raised on a 12-inch platform for easier access. Controls, filters, and dispensers at the front of the units are much easier to access.
There are lots of other UD features that you can include in every room of your home. We’ve just touched on a few of them, and if you’re considering new construction, they will add very little to the cost of your home. If you’re remodeling, you should consider how you can incorporate the most important of these into your plans, or develop plans that can later be adapted or changed as the need arises.