Updating Homes for Universal Design

You may have already been in a house that employs universal design practices and not known it. And that is a good thing. One of the major features of universal design is that it is as helpful, intelligent, and functional as it is invisible. If it is working and you do not know it, so much the better.

You may already be familiar with accessible housing and design, with features such as incline ramps to the front door, grab bars in the shower, and door levers instead of door knobs, all aimed at folks who have difficulty using normal facilities. Universal design goes far beyond accessible design in that it aims to make the lives of everyone using the home better, from children on up to the elderly, from the able to the disabled. In short, it is home design that makes perfect sense in all respects to all people.

Universal Design: Can Your Home Be Updated to Incorporate It?

Imagine a home that works as it should. Everything just seems to mesh a little better than other homes you have known. When you reach to open a door with an armful of groceries, you find an easy-to-open lever instead of a slippery knob. Bending down to plug in a lamp, you find outlets conveniently located a few inches higher than normal, saving your lower back. Some kitchen cabinets have no doors to open and close. Floors are cushioned, making it easier to stand for longer periods.

Many of the features you see in this apparently magical house look a bit familiar, somewhat like features that you secretly admired in assistive homes you have visited. The difference, though, is that none of it looks too assistive. This is a house that uses universal design, and does it well.

Universal Design Defined

Call it human-centered design, because it prioritizes the needs of the human resident and visitor over the needs to the contractor, designer, or architect.

It is design that puts safety and ease first, with aesthetics a very close second. While it does address the needs of a majority of the disabled and elderly, it is expressly not meant to be solely assistive technology. In fact, good universal design works hard to avoid all clinical associations with assistive design. For one, it uses regular, universally available consumer products rather than unique, costly, assistive products.Universal Design Defined - https://www.humancentereddesign.org/resources/universal-design-housing

Updating Your Home

Can you update your house to incorporate universal design practices or should this have been done when the house was first built?

Absolutely, you can retroactively undertake projects that use universal design ideals and practices in your home. In fact, many changes take no more than half an hour to finish. You may be familiar with some projects already, like changing out light switches and replacing bathroom faucets. Other changes are more involved, and you may want to consider having a handyman or contractor perform some if you are not comfortable with undertaking them.

Universal Design in the Kitchen - Universal Home Design

Universal Design in the Kitchen

Open Shelving Instead of Cabinet Doors

Difficulty: Medium

Have you ever banged your head on the sharp corner of an open cabinet door? Or tried to open a door with egg yolk on your fingers? Now imagine this: no doors. Yes, it is advantageous to have some cabinets with doors. But other cabinets, such as those with kitchenware and attractive food stuffs, do not need doors. Consider removing some cabinet doors, or replacing existing cabinets with open shelving.

Replace Floor with Cushioned Floor

Difficulty: Hard

In one word: cork. Cork is an environmentally friendly floor that is soft under your feet, allowing you to stand in the kitchen for much longer than you would with tile, stone, or wood. And it is warm, too. Cushioned vinyl flooring and laminate flooring with foam underlayment, while not as soft as cork, also provide a flooring surface with “give.”Cork Flooring - https://www.bobvila.com/articles/pros-and-cons-of-cork-flooring

Add Accessible Storage Devices

Difficulty: Medium

Inaccessible storage areas, for example, are those dreaded blind corner cabinets that seem to be eight feet deep and pitch dark. An accessible storage unit would be a lazy Susan installed in that blind corner. Effortlessly spin the unit until you see the item you want. Also look for lower pantries, cabinets with slide-out shelves, high shelves that pull down, and slide out spice racks.Accessible Storage - http://www.kitchenmagic.com/accessible-kitchens

Replace Dishwasher with Drawer Style Dishwasher

Difficulty: Hard

The old adage, “Plastic on top, pans and dishes on bottom,” does not apply with drawer-style dishwashers. Drawers are easy to reach – no more stooping – and work independently, each with its own settings. One downside is that drawer style dishwashers are 30 percent to 50 percent more expensive than regular rack style dishwashers.

Replace Faucet with Single Lever Water Control

Difficulty: Easy

This is a simple project, requiring simple tools. And you can do it in less than a half hour. Replace your current kitchen faucet with one that has a single lever. You will be able to turn the faucet on or off with your elbow.

Updates for Bathroom - Universal Home Design

Universal Design in the Bathroom

Replace Shower Fixtures with Anti-Scald Device

Difficulty: Easy

While you can replace your entire shower value with an anti-scald valve, an easier way to go is to get an anti-scald shower head. This self-contained unit, costing less than $25, has an emergency valve located within the shower head that will shut off the water if it gets too hot.Scald Protection - https://www.familyhandyman.com/plumbing/install-scald-protection/view-all

Replace Flooring with Non-Slip Flooring

Difficulty: Hard

Bath mats are grippy and can help you maintain your footing in the bathroom. But they also counteract their helpfulness since they act as trip hazards. Look for vinyl flooring that is advertised as non-slip. What this actually means is that it is highly textured to give your feet better grip.Non-Slip Flooring - http://www.ageinplace.org/Blog/Post/3583/Best-and-Worst-Bathroom-Flooring-for-Aging-in-Place-Safety

Add Grab Bars in the Shower/Bath

Difficulty: Medium

Yes, those icons of assistive design – grab bars – are here. And are they ever useful! If you thought that grab bars were only for older folks, guess again the next time you find yourself slipping in the shower or tub.

Add a Touchless Faucet

Difficulty: Easy

You use them all the time in public restrooms; why not at home? Motion sensor touchless faucets last for months on the same set of AA batteries and are as simple to install as regular faucets.Touchless Faucet - https://www.angieslist.com/articles/touchless-faucet-right-your-bathroom.htm

Design Around the House - Universal Home Design

Universal Design Around the Rest of the House

Locate a Bathroom on Ground Floor

Difficulty: Hard

Adding a bathroom on the ground floor (also think of it as the non-bedroom floor) will be one of the costliest and involved universal design projects. It is also one you will be glad you did years down the road when you find it more and more difficult to walk the stairs.

Replace Door Lock with Keyless Entry System

Difficulty: Easy

Replace your exterior door locks with a so-called keyless entry system (buttons with numbers, similar to an ATM), and you will never look back. Keyless entry systems help you avoid fumbling for your key. Plus, they are safer if you should have to get in the house fast.

Change Light Switches to Rocker-Style Switches

Difficulty: Easy

Replacing a light switch is one of the easiest electrical repairs you can do. A rocker style switch can be turned on and off with your elbow. While you are at it, purchase a lighted rocker style switch so that you can locate it in the dark.

Replace Door Knobs with Lever-Style Handles

Difficulty: Easy

Lever-style handles on interior doors? You bet. These easy to open handles allow you to get through a door with both of your hands occupied.

Widen Doorways and Hallways

Difficulty: Hard

Usually a remodel job for a handyman or contractor, widening doorways means extending the door header and often using a stronger, laminated beam. Widening hallways is a great project in so many ways except one: it means shaving down all bordering rooms by about one foot.

Replace Drawers with Touch-Style Opening Drawers

Difficulty: Easy

You will love touch-style drawers the minute you install them. Push the drawer once and it opens. Use your fingers to pull it open the rest of the way. They also give your cabinets a sleek, contemporary appearance.

Raise Electrical Outlets

Difficulty: Medium

The 12-inch mandate for electrical outlet height is outdated. Eighteen inches makes it far easier for you to plug in devices. It is also safer because it reduces the temptation to yank on the cord to remove the plug.

Replace Washing Machine with Front-Loading Machine

Difficulty: Easy

Front-loading washing machines mean no more craning over and digging into the recesses of a top loading machine. Clothes remove easier, with no strain to your back. Even greater: they use less water and get clothes cleaner.

Using universal design to update your house makes it more accessible to everyone and in general makes for a smarter-planned home.

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