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The Universal Design Concept – Is your home ready for you as you age?

As modern medicine changes and life expectancy grows, so does our need for products and services that cater to the elderly and those with injuries, illnesses, or various disabilities.

A group of architects, product designers, and engineers thought long and hard about this issue and came up with the “Universal Design” concept: The design of products and services applicable to all people regardless of age, ability or circumstance. This concept is already a part of our everyday lives. Some examples would include the “undo” command in most software products, cabinets with pull-out shelves, kitchen counters at several heights and low-floor buses that kneel and are equipped with ramps rather than lifts. Even our kitchenware has started to move towards this concept, such as color-contrast dishware with steep sides assisting the visually impaired or those with dexterity problems.

Why is this important to you?

As an owner-builder, you might be asking why Universal Design would be important to you. There are a large number of reasons to incorporate Universal Design concepts into your home.

Longevity– How long will you live there? Chances are that if you are putting your heart and soul into a customized home, you plan to stay there a while. You may not retire there, but you’ll certainly age there. So what happens if you get arthritis and can’t turn the door knobs anymore? What if you are confined to a wheelchair yet your hallways are too narrow for passage or you’ve had a permanent knee injury and can’t manage the few steps down from the dining room to the living room? Think about sight issues and extra lighting or dexterity problems and toggle versus touch light switches? There are so many things to think about when designing a home around what future use you may require.  Talk with your designer or UBuildIt Construction Consultant on how you may incorporate these into your home’s design.  The cost to remodel a home to include these features can be substantially more than carefully and aesthetically designing a home around them.

Unforeseen illness or injury – We all have the best intentions of living a long and healthy life but what if something happens? Will your home be able to work with your newly introduced needs?

Resale – With the estimated 78.2 million graying baby boomers and the already established 54 million Americans living with disabilities, the need for human centered design for people of all ages, sizes, and abilities is growing exponentially.

So now, you might be thinking about how to incorporate some of these ideas into your home building plans. There are a number of resources available to help you with any design enhancements. Among the most informative are:

  • The Directory of Accessible Building Products offered by the NAHB Research Center
  • The Fair Housing Act Design Manual

Both will give you design enhancement ideas for your home that are both functional and aesthetic. Universal Design features need not look institutional since there are many beautiful products currently available and an ever increasing trend for creating more of them.

These are examples of just some of the Universal Design features already available and in use in home design:

  • Step-free entrance
  • Various heights of kitchen counters
  • Larger bathroom
  • Adjustable hanging closet rods and shelves
  • Front loading washer and dryer
  • Open knee space under all sinks
  • Windows that can be opened for cross ventilation
  • Slip resistant flooring
  • Central vacuum system
  • Energy efficient windows with Low-E glass

The world is very different than it was 100 years ago. People are living longer and surviving smarter. As stated by The Center for Universal Design, “All consumers deserve to be recognized and respected.” Developing devices, services, programs, buildings and even homes must be done with an increasingly diverse clientele in mind.

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