Why Homes of the 21st Century Need to Meet Our Future Needs

 Green Homes                                             

Architects, interior designers and builders have been integrating Universal Design into existing homes, new green and sustainable homes for decades. They know homes of the 21st century must meet the future changing needs of its owners as they grow older and must be sustainable, efficient, comfortable, healthy and stylish.

Some people think Universal Design is just another way of describing “handicapped-accessible” construction or wheelchair accessibility.  Actually, Universal Design is a much broader concept and is intended to create homes that are usable by all people, whether they’re young or old, tall or short, strong or weak, able-bodied or with a disability.

By including features such as level-stepless entrances, wider hallways, and larger doors, a Universal Designed home becomes easier to navigate when pushing a child in a stroller or moving furniture in or out of a room. A home that features the principles of Universal Design’s easy access will meet a family’s needs now and into the future, allowing homeowners to age in place without forcing them to make expensive renovations, move, or drastically alter their lifestyle when their abilities start to slip.

Younger adults should consider building Universal Design features into their new homes, because it can prove very helpful to their aging parents. Building a house with universal accessibility standards allows someone to enter without having to climb steps. It allows someone in a wheelchair or with a walker to circulate easily.

Having a full bathroom on the first floor adjacent to a room that could be used as a bedroom would make it possible for an aging parent to move in some day. Given the astronomical costs of nursing homes, this is often the best option for families. The principles of Universal Design also allow visitors with a wide range of physical abilities to feel welcomed and comfortable.

The following are some of the features Universal Design offers:

  • 36-inch-wide exterior doors and interior doors
  • Low exterior door thresholds
  • Lever-handled interior door handles
  • Extra wide 42″ hallways
  • E-Z-Fold hinges for bifold closet doors
  • Raised electrical outlets
  • Rocker-style electrical switches
  • Top position ground plug at all outlets
  • Easy-to-reach thermostat location with intuitive operation
  • Task lighting for specific activities, such as cooking, reading, and shaving
  • Varying height kitchen work surfaces
  • Knee space at a kitchen countertop for a chair
  • Extra maneuvering space in the kitchen and bathrooms
  • Knee space at the bathroom vanity for a chair
  • Offset tub/shower anti-scald controls
  • Curbless shower with a flexible water dam
  • Blocking for grab bars at toilets, tubs, and showers
  • Bathroom grab bars

Having lower electrical switches can make it easier for young children to turn the lights on and off. Raised electric outlets can help family and friends with arthritis to plug and unplug fixtures. Lever door handles can make it easier for everyone to open doors, especially when carrying a bag of groceries; they can open a door with an elbow. Grab bars in bathrooms are handy for everyone in helping to prevent slipping on a wet surface, and give support when bending down, rising from a lowered position, or stretching to reach something.

It is best to consider Universal Design features in the initial design phase of a new home. Adding these features as an afterthought or to an existing home can be expensive because they require extensive modifications. Although, easy accessibility features such as curbless showers, low exterior door thresholds, and blocking in the bathroom walls for future grab bars can be added after new construction is completed or in an existing home and would only require a modest investment.

Building Universal Design principles is an affordable way to help your family stay in their existing home when their needs change. Should your aging parents need to move in with you, an Universally Designed addition such as an in-law apartment is another option that would allow everyone to live together without sacrificing independence or privacy.

Integrating Universal Design features in existing homes, new Green and Sustainable Homes gives families long-term comfort, safety, and stability without loss of affordability and without adding a clinical appearance. Combining attractive easy accessibility with a healthy and efficient indoor/outdoor environment will give your home a higher resale value. Green and Sustainably Designed Homes, which include Universal Design, benefit everyone!

We are here to help you with your next project. Contact us about our Sustainable Interior Design, Universal Design/Aging-In-Place and Consulting Services at 203.984.4695 or email us at info@lynnhoffmandesign.com.

Photo Credit: Greg Premru Photography

Lynn Hoffman

203.984.4695 | lynn@lynnhoffmandesign.com