Universal Design

In this column I write about all the things we can do to our homes to make them easier and safer to live in. I emphasize the fact that Universal Design benefits everyone in making our homes more user friendly for all of us. I think it’s slowly starting to sink in. I am starting to see references to aging in place and Universal Design in more mainstream publications and websites. I was recently reading an article on the website of Builder magazine which pointed out that the first generation to grow up in the suburbs is now finding their homes no longer fit their needs. The villages movement which helps seniors band together to help meet each others needs is growing by leaps and bounds. More and more architects, builders, and homeowners are seeing the value of creating homes that will serve us throughout the course of our lives. As more and more people realize the value of Universal Design, I thought it would be helpful to reiterate some of the features and benefits of Universal Design. These are areas to keep in mind if you are considering building or remodeling anytime in the near future.

No Step Entry  Make sure at least one entry to your home is accessible without any steps. If you are building a new home, the easiest way to accomplish this is to make the garage floor is level with the main floor. If you are building a two story house, create stacked closets with a removable floor to make it easier to add an elevator in the future.

Wider Doors and Hallways If at all possible, use 3’ doors and 4’ halls through out the house. If you are remodeling, enlarge doors to 3’ wide wherever you can. If it doesn’t fit the budget, use swing clear hinges to widen existing doorways. For a person using a wheelchair or a walker, a few extra inches can make all the difference in the world.

Accessible, Safe Bathrooms The bathroom is the room where the most falls occur, and falls are the leading cause of seniors being forced to move out of their homes. A non slip floor, plenty of grab bars, a curbless shower or walk in tub, and a comfort height commode can go a long way towards making the bathroom safer and easier to use.

All Controls Simple to Use and Easy to Access The principles of Universal Design call this simple and intuitive use. Ever notice how the control panels and remote controls of the various gadgets seem to get more and more complicated? Look for appliances, thermostats, and other controls that simple and easy to use. Mount all switches and outlets between 24” and 48” from the floor to make them easy for everyone to reach.

Good Lighting Bright, glare free lighting without shadows will make your home safer for everyone, but especially for anyone with diminished vision. Use bright, contrasting colors, particularly at the edges of work surfaces and stairs.

Watch the Clutter Make sure walkways are clear and free of tripping hazards. Throw rugs and trailing extension cords are two prime suspects. Preventing falls is probably the best way to keep you or a loved one living at home.

While this list is by no means comprehensive, it is a good starting point in creating a home that will work for us throughout our lives. For more information about Aging in Place or Universal Design please give me a call at (540) 384-2064 or visit my website at www.solidrockenterprises.com.

Solid Rock has written many articles for Housing Matters, including subject matter for Retirement, Enjoying the Outdoors and Aging In Place.  Please visit our Housing Matters Index of articles here.