Perspective

Universal design homes pair safety with 'Wow!'

Saturday, December 1, 2018by  PEMCO Insurance

smiling family peering over couch.If you're among the 90% of people who anticipate living your life's "third act" right where you are, a report from AARP will come as especially good news: Chronic disability rates among people older than age 65 have dropped 17% in the past 20 years. That means more and more of us will indeed realize the dream of always living in our own home.

Something that also might help is a relatively new trend in home building: universal design. Universal design homes meet the needs of the broadest range of occupants possible – short, tall; young, old; healthy or ill – enabling all to enjoy the same space even if their needs change over time. Since the homes are barrier-free from the day the foundation is poured, they don't need noticeable "accessibility" features (like ramps and stair lifts) that may turn off potential buyers at resale. Designs are so subtle, in fact, that you'd have to look closely to realize there's anything different about the homes.

Many universal design homes (also called "inclusive design homes" or "homes for life") follow a contemporary aesthetic – think open concept with clean lines – to accommodate access whether on foot or wheels. Most include features like these:

  • No-step entries, helpful for people with mobility issues, moms pushing strollers or anyone wrangling a big armload of groceries into the house.
  • One-story living with places to eat, sleep, do laundry and use the bathroom all on the first floor. "Upstairs," if there is one, is primarily bonus or guest space.
  • 36-inch doorways that can accommodate a mobility device or are just handy when you're moving furniture. Pocket or folding doors that "get out of the way" replace traditional doors where practical.
  • Wide, straight hallways that make maneuvering a mobility device easier.
  • Roomy kitchens without sharp, narrow turns. Under-counter cabinets feature pullout drawers, and designs minimize above-counter wall cabinets. Kitchens may feature drawer appliances for dishwashers, refrigerators, and microwaves. Bi-level counters (some with open space beneath) offer workspace for both standing and seated chefs. Recessed space under sinks also allows for roll-up access.
  • Bathroom vanities feature knee spaces that allow homeowners to sit during their get-ready routine. Homeowners can opt for "right height" toilets that are easier to get on and off. No-threshold showers (with water containment handled mostly by the floor and drain design) may feature open entries, both rain and hand-held shower heads, and room for a bench to sit on.
  • Higher electrical outlets and lower light switches and thermostats.
  • Lever rather than round doorknobs.

To learn more, search "universal design home plans." You'll turn up options for everything from cozy bungalows to grand six-bedroom estates. You'll also want to visit the National Institute of Building Sciences' Whole Building Design Guide, which includes a list of additional features to look for in choosing a universal design home.

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