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Release Winter 2008
Incorporating Universal Design Principals into Our Everyday Design Processes
By Walter L. Williams, CPBD, CAPS
As a design professional, one of the most satisfied feelings I have is when a new home or a remodel I have designed becomes the best home for my client. There is no better feeling than reaching the end of a design project. But during the design process, how often do we use our designer crystal ball to ensure that our residential designs can adapt, as our client needs change. We have an obligation as professionals to guide our clients to think about the future needs of their new home. The question is how can this be done?
Reminding clients of their future needs…
A survey by the National Association of Home Builders found that 50 percent of people 55 years and older have lived in their homes for more than 10 years and are reluctant to move. Another national survey found that 83 percent of older Americans want to stay in their current homes for the rest of their lives. The U.S. Census Bureau states that 14 million or about one-third of all people with disabilities are 65 years or older, while two-thirds are younger. This includes about 31 million adults, ages 21 through 64, and 5 million young people, ages 5 through 20 years. These numbers should make us pause and think about how we can address our client’s future needs thru a proactive approach.
Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without adaptation or specialized design. For example, when we design a residence for a young couple, the question of aging in place is not usually an issue in the design process, but when those questions are asked; sometimes these questions may be a little offensive to them. This is just one example of the many psychological considerations that we must take account of when trying to incorporate Universal Design in a project.
So how can we do it?
Incorporating Universal Design Elements into Everyday Practice
Here are some Universal Design elements which can be added into to the design paradigm and which can be incorporated into the design process as a general rule:
- Plenty of lighting inside and outside the home
- At least one entry to the house without steps
- Wider doors (36 inches wide) and hallways (48 inches wide)
- Plenty of storage in the kitchen within easy reach
- Pull-out shelves/drawers in the kitchen
- Varying kitchen counter heights (including one that allows use while sitting)
- U-shaped pulls instead of drawer knobs on kitchen cabinets
- Walk-in closets with storage at different heights
- Lever-style door handles and faucets
- Rocker light switches instead of flip switches
- Floors, bathtubs with non-slip surfaces
- Closets that can be converted into an elevator shaft for an elevator at a later date
These design elements can be incorporated into our designs with minimal client input. One example would be using lever door handles instead of doorknobs. To incorporate this element into your design specifications is easy. The price point is about the same as the lowest price range for either product. You can also incorporate an elevator shaft in your design, instead of retrofitting for one later. By framing a floor in the shaft, it can be used as a closet, but that floor can later be removed to convert it to an elevator shaft. This is one design feature that can save your client $20,000 to $30,000 in additional designing, construction and installation fees.
Here are some Universal Design elements that can be discussed and recommended to the client during the design process:
- One-story living
- A more open living arrangement (fewer walls)
- Zero-Step front entrance
- At least one bedroom and a bath on the first floor
- Wall-mounted or pedestal sinks in the bath
- ADA toilets
- Kitchen counters at different heights (so that you can sit or stand).
As professionals, we know the client is paying us for our design expertise. Therefore, we can guide our clients through the fundamentals and advantages of Universal Design. Nobody likes to be reminded of their mortality but as design professionals we can educate our clients so they can live and enjoy their dream home for as long as they like, through their various stages of life.
For more information on Universal Design see these resources:
National Association of Home Builders:
AARP: Home Design:
Fair Housing Accessibility First:
The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University:
The National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification:
www.homemods.org [Context Link]
Easy Living Home:
National Association of Home Builders.
U.S. Census Bureau. 12th anniversary of Americans With Disabilities Act (July 26) . Washington, DC: The Bureau; 2002 Jul 12. CB02-FF.11. http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2002/cb02ff11.html . [Context Link]