Where do you want to live when you raise your family? Or when you retire? Many people are creating their homes with both questions in mind.
They want to stay in their homes for as long as possible, and to do that, houses must be designed or modified for the changing needs of occupants, based on age, mobility and other factors.
This planning is called universal design. Homes built with universal design can be beautiful as well as easy to live in.
Whether you are remodeling, rebuilding, starting a new or planning for the future, it pays to think about the function and design of your home. Most houses are built for the non-elderly, non-handicapped adult, which comprises just a portion of the population.
Designing a home for a wider population makes good financial sense, too. If a home is marketable to a broader segment of the population, its value will increase.
Universal design features don’t have to be unattractive or obvious; they just contribute to ease of use.
According to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, homes using Universal Design should be:
Equitable: Design works for everyone.
Flexible: Features allow for a wide range of occupants’ preferences and abilities.
Simple and Intuitive: Functions are easy to understand.
Safe: Design to help minimize accidents.
Easy: Design requires low physical effort to minimize fatigue.
Spacious: Rooms are designed for use regardless of occupants size, posture and mobility.
Here are some tips for bringing universal design into your home:
- Use levelers rather than turn knobs on doors and faucets. They’re easier to use even if you have no disability.
- Make doors at least 36 inches wide, allowing for ease of movement for those using wheelchairs, walkers or other mobility devices. Pocket doors are great if you have limited space.
- Make all floors the same level, with no step-ups or step-downs, including at exterior doorways.
- Make hallways 42 to 48 inches wide, and increase lighting levels. This minimizes tripping and allows for easy passage.
- Install grab bars in showers or tubs. If possible, use those designed with seating and built-in bars.
- Raise the toilet so seating is 15 t o19 inches from the floor.
- In two-story homes, have at least one bathroom and one room that can be converted to a bedroom on the first floor. Make sure that both are wheelchair accessible.
- Put slip-resistant flooring in all bathrooms, kitchens and utility rooms.
- Put dual-height rods in closets. Better yet, make them adjustable so they can fit the changing needs of the homeowner.
- In the kitchen, have cabinet doors that slide into pockets and at least one countertop 30-32 inches high, with at least 27 inches of legroom beneath for wheelchair accessibility.
- Use pullout drawers to hold pots, pans, or dishes. Try adding shelves that can be pulled out and then up to the appropriate height.
- Place electrical outlets about 27 inches from the floor or on the fronts of cabinets. This reduces the bending required t access them in an effort to reduce falls and it facilitates wheelchair accessibility.
- Select front-loading washing machines and dryers. Besides added ease of use, front-loading washers are easier on clothing and use less water.
- Place ovens and microwaves so they can be reached from a sitting position. Be sure to get models designed with doors that swing to the side instead of downwards.
- Select a cook-top with controls on the front.
- Use Lazy Susans in corner cabinets.
- Place wall switches, phone connections and thermostats 40 to 48 inches from the floor
- Install full-length mirrors in bathrooms.
Universal design features will enhance the livability of your home, increase its value, reduce potential accidents and perhaps increase your quality of life.