Universal design is a design philosophy meant to allow an environment to be used by the greatest number of people possible, and that extends to the home.
One of the most important concepts in modern construction is the idea of “universal design.” Simply put, it is a style of design meant to produce environments that can be used by the largest number of people possible, regardless of height, weight, age, disabilities, or any other physical characteristics.
It is a common component for most official government buildings, commercial structures meant for public access, and modern residential buildings for multiple occupants. More and more, however, this concept of universal design is being employed in residential houses, but it is a little different. In commercial structures, having elements that are universal – things like elevators and large bathroom stalls – are natural, even expected. When it comes to a home, however, it takes a little more ingenuity.
If you are in a house you are planning on staying in for several years until you reach old age, you should start thinking about a remodel now to include some elements of universal design in order to prepare for the future. You might be looking at something as specific as a kitchen remodel, but it’s never too early to start incorporating universal design elements.
Here are a few ways to incorporate universal design into future remodels.
Two of the most common remodels involve the bathroom and the kitchen. If you are planning on working on either, consider going a few extra steps.
To begin with, you may want to look into raising your counters. Depending on your current setup this might be simple or it might be a major project, but the less you have to bend over the better. Alternatively, if you preparing for someone in a wheelchair, consider lowering it or simply include secondary cabinets that are lower than the others.
You may also want to consider pullout drawers and cabinets. It’s easier to reach things in the back of a cabinet when you can pull the whole thing out. If you have the room, you might also want to have an area specifically set aside for additional tables and cutting boards that are on wheels that you can easily collapse to store. It will help you cut down on the physical exertions of constantly moving things around to create space.
If you have a door separating your kitchen from the rest of your interior, you may want to remove it to make for easier access. Depending on your current structure, it might even make sense to expand it to make the opening larger, which would benefit anyone in a wheelchair, but also just make it easier to access the kitchen regardless of age or physical mobility.
If your remodel includes new appliances, keep an eye out for models that comply with the American Disabilities Act (ADA). At first glance, these appliances appear like any other, but they might be a little taller and controls might be designed to make it easier for a person with problems tightly gripping nobs. ADA refrigerators and freezers are also designed for people in wheelchairs or with problems reaching up to get food with ease.
If you are preparing your house for someone with mobility issues, or you are just planning for your own future, one of the first places you will need to start is the bathroom.
To begin with, you should install a new toilet that is higher off the ground than most conventional toilets so people don’t have to bend their knees too much. There are also extensions you can purchase if you don’t want to replace the whole thing. Either way, you should also include a handrail next to it to make it easier for people to sit and stand.
The shower is another major component when remodeling your house with universal design in mind. If you have space, consider a larger than normal shower with an area to sit down and handrails. You may also want to add a second showerhead with a tube lower down that people can switch to if they choose. You should also add larger, linear drains to help prevent water from rising up, which will also help to get rid of any curbs people might need to step over to get into the shower.
If you have a bath you might want to remove it completely, or add rails and steps to make it easier to get in and out of.
When it comes to the bedroom, if you have a multi-storied house and the bedroom is upstairs, you may want to remodel a room downstairs and turn it into a master. This won’t be feasible for everyone, but it would make it significantly easier for people with mobility issues.
Regardless, you may want to consider purchasing a new bed or changing your current bed to raise it up, depending on your height. You should be able to essentially slide onto and off of your bed – if it is too low, you might have an issue getting out of it. Adding a handrail can also help.
Make sure your closet is also properly prepared and situated for you. Ultimately, you don’t want to have to bend over too much. If you have a tall closet, you should consider adding a built-in step stool, and you may want to look into clothing rods that can be pulled down for easier access.
General House Alterations
If you are doing a complete remodel or you are remodeling specific rooms beyond the bathroom, bedroom, or kitchen, there are a few things around the house you should consider adding that will help you in the future.
To begin with, make sure there are easy transitions between rooms. For instance, if one room has tile and the other hardwood floors, you should look for a divider that is easy to cross over in a wheelchair – basically, it should be a smooth connection and shouldn’t act like a speed bump. This is also helpful for people walking with canes to stop them from stepping up and over. A bad divider can also make people that shuffle their feet trip.
You might also need to consolidate your light switches, and even add more lighting for people with diminishing eyesight. If you currently have the light switches on one side and the fan on the other, move the fan controls over to make it easier. You should also make sure the switches are at a reasonable height – the same is true of outlets, which you may want to raise if they are too low.
Another option you may want to consider if you have a house with two stories or more is an elevator. Granted, this won’t be an option for most people given the costs, but there are ways to seamlessly integrate elevators into your house without causing major structural changes (depending on the house, of course). You can even hide them to look like just another door. A motorized chair attached to the wall of the stairwell might work as well.
There are also several smaller changes you should make that won’t involve a full remodel, including replacing circular door handles with lever handles and adding a slide lock to the front door rather than a bolt with a knob.
Don’t forget to make additions to the front of your house as well, including rails and possibly a ramp over any stairs.
Speak to a Contractor Now
Whether you are planning a total remodel or you just want to focus on a few specifics, if you are in a home you plan to stay in for several years you should consider incorporating universal design elements. Even if you know you will sell before you need them, it could help raise your home’s value and open the possibility of sale up to a wider group.
Contact Fleschner Construction now to schedule a consultation and we will be happy to go over every option available to you!