Sustainability and Universal Design

Understanding Universal Design

It is estimated that more than 30 million Americans cope with daily activities that take place at home in a wheelchair or walker. Veterans who return home from the service of our country are faced with disabilities that they have to deal with for the rest of their lives. Silents and Boomers want to “age in place” and have a home that is affordable and sustainable. The problem with finding a solution to remedy these problems was that houses that were designed in the past, before current plans, were ugly and expensive.

It has taken many years for home designers and architects to find a better way to meet these needs. There is now a new and improved popular design style known as universal design. It is popular for the same reasons it was unpopular in the past. Architects have now designed houses to be beautiful, affordable, and convenient for anyone to live in. If the house needs to be sold, the house is now more sellable and will appeal to the most people.

People want a house that ages with them and now that designers and architects are incorporating universal design concepts into their work, this can now happen. What makes a home universal? Here are some of the most common design features:

* Door openings are not only wide enough for a wheelchair but also for someone without a disability, wider door openings give a room an “open” feel and allow furniture to move in and out of the house more easily. (32″ to 36″ suggested)

* A life story that has no barriers is a must.

* The wide corridors allow you to move anything from one room to another with ease or use a wheelchair in the corridors. Aisles must be between 36″ and 42″ wide.

* Open floor space in the great room and kitchen allows for turning space for wheelchairs, game room space for the grandkids, and additional space for entertaining. (Today, most entertaining tends to be centered in the kitchen, so a center kitchen island and kitchen bars are very popular for conversation areas when entertaining.)

* Thresholds that are flush to the floor prevent everyone from tripping and help with wheelchair accessibility. Level floors that allow for transitions from indoors to outdoors or from one room to another are important planning issues on plans.

* Floors must be non-slip and sustainable surfaces as well. Wooden floors are sustainable and are very popular again. Ceramic or stone flooring with a textured surface is sustainable and non-slip. These types of floors are also attractive due to the warm aesthetics they generate.

* Bathtubs and showers should also have non-slip surfaces. Shower doors should be eliminated and instead a wide opening walk-in shower design is recommended for visual appeal. It also allows access to the shower via a wheelchair. Non-slip surfaces are just as good for young children.

* Grab bars in the tub and shower can be practical as well as an added accessory for fixture decor. Today, manufacturers are considering what boomers would like to use in their homes but the accessories don’t look like their parents’ hospital rooms.

* One-touch light switches that control a general living area, such as the entire downstairs, are handy for conserving energy and also illuminating the entire home when needed. Light switches should be easily accessible – lower the switch from a traditional height to make your switch accessible in a wheelchair. Rocker light switches are the best design.

* Electrical outlets should not be less than 15″ from the floor.

* Exterior walkways must be lit and on a timer to turn them on and off automatically.

* Lever door handles are easier for everyone to open doors. Single-lever faucets are beautiful and practical for adjusting the water temperature. This is especially helpful for someone who doesn’t have full strength in their hands.

* Motion detector water taps are handy, they conserve water and would alleviate any flooding if someone forgets to turn on the water.

* Consider bottom closet rods when building a new home. If this doesn’t appeal to you, use adjustable closet brackets for rearward movement of clothing rods. Clothes bars must be between 20″ and 44″ above the floor.

* Drawers: Bottom drawers should be deep and top drawers should be shallow. Shelves no more than 18″ deep.

*Laundry room is on the first floor of the house and has a wide door frame. Use a front-loading washing machine. Laundry supplies are on a wheelchair accessible shelf.

* Make the most of natural light. You will save money and the sunlight helps release endorphins and vitamin D. All stairs are lighted, natural light whenever possible.

* Varying the height of the kitchen counter allows children to work at the counter and someone in a wheelchair to use the counter. Rounding the corners of countertops is a safety tip for everyone. Recommended counter height is a minimum of 28″ and no more than 34″. 32″ is preferred. Knee clearance must be a minimum height of 24″ from the floor and be at least 30″ wide.

* When choosing a double kitchen sink concept, install at least one sink that is shallow.

* Install an appliance lift for under-counter shelving.

* Microwaves and ovens can be installed approximately 31″ from the floor.

* Raise the dishwasher 6″ to 8″ off the floor.

Universal design is a relatively new paradigm that grew out of “accessible design” or “barrier-free” according to Wikipedia. Universal Design strives to be a full-spectrum solution that produces buildings, homes, environments, and products that are usable and effective for everyone, not just people with disabilities.

The principles of universal design

Architects, product designers, engineers, and environmental designers collaborated to establish the following principles:

1. Fair Use

2. Flexibility of use

3. Easy and intuitive

4. Perceivable information

5. Error tolerance

6. Low physical effort

7. Size and space of approach and use

The traditional home design that serves your family today will not have the same fixtures and finishes or be the same home design as designs currently being built for the future. As life expectancy continues to increase and people’s desire to “age in place” becomes more common, the concept of universal design will continue to grow at a rapid pace. Take a look around your house and make a list of everything that is uncomfortable for you. This is one of the basic principles for designing a universal concept. Keep it simple, make it convenient for you, make it useful, and make the width and height appropriate.

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