Exploring universal design

Universal design is something you might not have heard of in home building, but it's something that can impact all our lives. Universal design (UD) is defined as the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. Another term you might hear is "adaptive living". It is not necessarily ADA (American's with Disabilities Act) compliant, which is the law that addresses accessibility of public and commercial buildings. However, the same principles are encompassed in Universal Design; the home should be usable to the greatest extent by the most people possible. While we are not designing our homes to all of the principles of UD, we believe our homes should be high performing, which in turn means the home should be able to perform for whatever stage or situation in life that you find yourself. We see a lot of people relocate to Florence for retirement, so building to increase accessibility within a home is a desired feature even in resale. On top of the construction and design quality needed for a "forever home", we also want to make sure that our homes can adapt to life; we want our homes to have an increased performance potential for our clients, so they can truly stay in their home forever.



No stairs to gain entry into this home.



Why Universal Design?


Consider your current home. If you or a family member broke their leg, would they be able to get into the house? If you were diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease and couldn't lift your legs high, would you be able to get into the shower? If you hurt your back, could you bend down to open the oven? If you were to develop weakness in your hands, could you open your doors? These are all situations that could happen to anyone, and you shouldn't have to leave your home if you find yourself in one of these positions. Accessibility and longterm function should be considered as you make the initial investment in your home. When we design homes, we try to consider features that will be beneficial for daily life. For example, we encourage all our clients to incorporate a main floor shower with a curbless entry. We try to create one access point into the home without steps. Levers (vs. knobs) are much easier to open with an elbow if you were to have a problem with your grip because of an injury, disease or old age. None of these details take away from the aesthetics of a home, but they significantly improve the function when you need it.



Aging in place


According to the US Census, the Florence area has around 18% of residents 65 and older, which leads us to another element to consider in UD: the ability to age in place. A retirement home, or forever home, needs to have elements included that will allow the home to adapt to any physical changes you or your family may experience as you age. There are many things to consider as you build a forever home that are important if you wish to remain independent as long as possible and would be expensive and more complicated to add once the home is complete. For example, a curbless showers or blocking behind the sheetrock around the toilets and showers so grab bars can be attached. Or having clearances large enough for a wheelchair in your hallways and kitchen. Or an oven that can be accessed if you are wheelchair bound. All of these elements can be designed upfront, so that your home has the ability to support you, not become a burden.



Examples:


Here are a few ways we are incorporating UD in our homes. Keep in mind that each scenario and situation is unique. Creating a home that is accessible for someone with vision impairment might look different than the design of a home for someone with Parkinson's disease or just someone wishing to prepare for the future. We try to take some basic steps that begin to improve the performance of our homes. If you have specific needs, we can always explore additional modifications that will make your home function for your daily life.



This slab was modified to slope into the home, eliminating the need for steps to get into the house.

The garage entryway with a slope vs. step, making accessibility easier with walking equipment or a wheelchair. It also decreases fall potential.

Curbless, zero entry shower with large door for wheelchair access. Shower also incorporates a bench and handheld sprayer in a reachable location if the homeowners cannot stand. The bathroom has plenty of clearance for any needed equipment.

3 foot doors with levers for better accessibility.



If you wish to explore this topic further, check out these links:

What is universal design?

Architectural Digest Universal Design Living Laboratory

This Old House 14 Universal Design Tips



If we can help you with universal design in a home, please contact us at 256-281-1626.

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