Since this column is called Housing Matters I usually talk about things that are going on inside the house. This month, since spring is right around the corner, I think I will open the door to the outside and talk about Universal Design outside the home. Many people enjoy spending time outdoors when the weather is nice and the principles of Universal Design apply just as much to these outdoor living spaces as those on the inside.

Whether you are thinking of adding a deck, screen porch or patio or you would rather spend time in a vegetable or flower garden, there are some things to keep in mind as you plan your outdoor living space.

Just as you would in any home modification, consider easy access to your outdoor living space. Zero step entries are just as important when leaving the house as when entering. If you are building a deck or a patio with a zero step entry (particularly if facing the prevailing wind) it is important to provide for positive drainage at the threshold or better yet, provide a roof over the entry. Screen porches are popular since they allow you to enjoy the outdoors while protecting you from the sun and the insects. Make sure you allow for adequate maneuvering room for someone who uses a wheelchair or a walker. One of the most versatile systems to allow outdoor living is a large opening glass wall system. These systems are like sliding or folding glass doors that open completely out of the way. With a flush track or no floor track at all, they bring the outdoors in when open, but shut out the elements when closed.  If your plans include a grill or other elements of an outdoor kitchen, keep in mind ease of use. Lever handles, different height countertops, as well as knee space underneath can make our outdoor kitchen easier and more enjoyable to use. Contrasting colors on tops and edges of countertops can improve visibility, and bright glare free lighting is essential for any areas you are likely to use after dark.

Walks and pathways through your yard and garden should be at least four feet wide, have a hard non slip surface, and have slope of no more than 1” in 20’. If it is not possible to match this slope on your lot, you should consider adding handrails and in any event, keep the slope less than 1” in 12’. Many people love gardening but the idea of getting down on hands and knees to tend to the garden is out of the question. To create plots for growing flowers, vegetables, or herbs that are easily accessible by all, consider building raised beds that are at least 18” – 24” off the ground for easy access. Make the beds no more than 3’ wide with access from all sides. An alternative is a table top height bed with knee space underneath. The beds can be built from stone or block or a rot resistant wood such as pressure treated southern pine or old railroad ties. Make sure to provide adequate drainage and use good quality soil and you will have years of enjoyment from your Universally Designed garden!

If you would like more information on how to make your own home (inside or out) a home for a lifetime, please get in touch with us at Solid Rock Enterprises, Inc. To get answers to your questions or suggest a topic for a future column, call us at (540) 384-2064 or email us at

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