The term “universal design” refers to increasingly popular architectural techniques used to design and build homes that accommodate all lifestyle requirements, whether young, old or physically challenged. It is truly “universal.”
Employing universal design in home remodeling or new construction is not only a great idea for aging in place, but when done right, may also bolster the resale value of a home by creating a living space that suits every kind of buyer.
The following are some common features of universal design are:
- Single-story structure: The bedroom(s), bathroom(s) and dining area are located on the first floor.
- Wide doorways and hallways: Hallways and doorways are opened up to accommodate a walker, wheelchair or baby stroller to allow easy access around the entire house.
- No-step entries: All thresholds are flush with the floor. It is unnecessary to navigate any steps to enter the home, shower, garage or rooms.
- Improved floor space: Furnishings are placed appropriately and walkways are kept open and “barrier-free” so rooms are safer and easier to navigate.
Professionals, such as Caring Transitions, use floor planning software to map out floor plans with your existing furniture and space, allowing you to experiment with arrangements before you do any physical moving. They can also advise on all types of home safety for the elderly.
Important Safety Features & Home Modifications For Better Aging In Place
- Improved lighting: Brightening dark corners with fixtures, skylights or windows helps those with poor eyesight and aids the general safety of everyone in the home.
- Shower and tub grab bars: Grab bars are essential for bathroom safety; however, adding rails throughout the home can also benefit toddlers who may visit and adults with limited mobility.
- Lever handles: Lever handles are much easier to open than round knobs for everyone who needs to open doors or turn on faucets.
- Rocker light switches: Light switches that can be tapped or pressed make it simpler for someone with severe arthritis to turn on lights and are also convenient for everyone.
- Non-slip surfaces: Improved flooring surfaces in bathrooms, showers and kitchen keep the whole family safe. Specialty surfaces are also available for added comfort.
The objective of universal design is to include features that make your life easier and safer throughout the various stages of life. Front load washers and dryers, color-coded place settings, remote controlled lighting and fans, contrasting upholstery and an endless array of other features can be incorporated to personalize your home environment.
Common add-on features include:
- Adjustable wall mounts: Adding built-in flexibility when closets and counters are installed will make them more useful for adults, children or those in a wheelchair.
- Slide-out shelving: Can be added to almost any kitchen cabinet or pantry, eliminating bending and searching for items. Eliminating a lower cabinet or two can make kitchen counter space more accessible for those in a wheelchair.
Even if you start with just one or two new home modifications, universal design can make life easier and more enjoyable. Getting started is similar to any major home project:
- Budgeting: You will need to budget both time and money. Some projects may require you to reside elsewhere during the construction phase. Be prepared if the construction takes longer than originally planned. When evaluating quotes, remember to consider expertise and customer service over price. Home design should be very personal and new features should be added in such a way that they blend with the home, not detract from resale value. Look into reverse mortgage plans if money is tight, but the home modifications will improve the quality of life in the home for a substantial amount of time.
- Hiring: Hire a contractor who is properly insured, licensed and reputable. Research the company and ask the right questions. Does the company have experience with accessibility issues? Can it provide the best lifestyle solutions? Speak with previous customers. Ask for photos of the contractor's work.
- Health: For those with health issues, even small projects may adversely impact your health because of sawdust, drywall residue, refinishing chemicals and even stress. Be sure all construction debris is completely removed and heating ducts and vents are cleared before you return to the home.
- Downsizing: Often when you remodel, changes in physical layout may require downsizing possessions and reevaluating the suitability of your furnishings. It can be helpful to start this process prior to construction and enlist the services of downsizing and estate sale specialists, such as Caring Transitions. They can manage the process, so you can focus on planning the project. No matter what your stage in life, universal design concepts can create a safe and comfortable residence, making them a worthwhile investment for just about anyone.
About Caring Transitions
As life changes, it may become necessary to leave a familiar home and part with personal belongings in order to downsize and relocate to a smaller home or retirement community. The professionals at Caring Transitions help their clients understand the process, evaluate their options and make informed decisions that suit their best interests. We are committed to making each client’s experience a positive one by minimizing stress and maximizing results. To learn more, go to