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How noticeable is Universal Design?

Done right, it isn't. In other words, slapping a wooden ramp on the side of a house isn't technically Universal Design (more like an accident waiting to happen). You don't notice universally designed elements of a home until you're either enjoying or rely on them.

This project portfolio on Houzz represents a fine example of a few points I make regularly about Universal Design (UD). Now that more people are becoming aware of UD, traditional misconceptions come up that it is "ADA" or "will make my house look like a hospital". UD is for anyone, it's kid-friendly and, despite an obvious solution, not only for "aging-in-place" (A phrase we dislike). UD is a solution for enabling "aging" in one's home, or barrier-free living, but suited for anyone who prefers convenience and ease.

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Epic Fail at Zero Steps

Epic Fail at Zero Steps

We borrow from baseball in calling this a Blown Save, a missed opportunity to conserve personal effort climbing steps. This house didn't REQUIRE exterior steps but it's got them forever now.

What a missed opportunity. Do you see it? Notice what might've been?

Instead there will be exterior steps to every entrance when, with only a dash of forethought, proactive design and site planning (just moving some dirt!), there could've been no steps and a flush threshold entrance at least at one entrance on the main level, and through the garage too. Instead of hassle-free ease, residents and visitors will climb to a doorway on an essentially flat lot in a new neighborhood of mostly level parcels.
 
Sadly, this same problem was repeated at every single home, and a wheelchair user lives in one of them.
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How to build a no step entrance

Ud_lot_prep_sloping

We're on a crusade against unnecessary exterior steps, and most houses have them.
 
How do you eliminate exterior steps to at least one main level entrance? Shortest answer assuming new construction, site work in combination with moving the house up or down. For retrofits, you're limited mostly to moving dirt or finding an alternate entrance (like through a garage, carport, etc).
 
The lay of the land determines your options and, in either case, you simply need to plan. If you're dealing with more than a three foot rise, then it's going to be tough but not necessarily impossible.
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Why Steps to Most Doorways?

Why Steps to Most Doorways?

Why do most houses have steps to the front door? Fact is many shouldn't, certainly not the ones on flat lots. Look at this new house. Notice the lot? I'll add the entire lot to the street is flat, and the house is built on a slab. 

So why that ONE step onto the porch and another to get through the front door? 

Maybe it's necessary when a  house is built atop a crawl space or basement? Nope. For water or bug proofing? Negative. Expense? Ixnay. (Should it cost MORE to build LESS? Actually might be if your builder is headstrong and refuses to do any other way.)
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What is a Peter Pan House?

Peter Pan It's the opposite of a Lifetime Home. "Peter Pan Houses" are designed and constructed as if the occupants never change, and assume an "average person" of a typical height, weight, ability, mobility, vision, hearing, etc. In other words, you have to adapt to the house instead of vice versa. Depending on what life throws your way, you might not be able to stay.

Unfortunately, most houses and neighborhoods built since the Second World War were developed this way, more up than out with narrow passages, sharp corners, and lots of steps inside and out (even on flat lots!).

Thankfully, regardless of your preferred style, houses can be designed and built to proactively emphasize efficiency, convenience, comfort and safety for anyone of any age or ability. A Lifetime Home is flexible and socially sustainable, the antithesis of Peter Pan Housing.

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Subliminal Universal Design

You're probably using Universal Design (UD) without knowing it, which is the way it should be because UD done well isn't noticeable, it's simply better, the preferred and convenient choice.

And of all places I saw during an NFL game a few weeks ago this Delta faucet commercial. (Notice they show kid's hands, not just elderly) Delta promotes their touch and motion activated faucets among their "Smart Solutions" kitchen and bath fixtures. All the major manufacturers now carry a universal line of fixtures, but there's a noticeable difference in the marketing, they don't utter the words "Universal Design" or "Aging-in-Place" (a phrase we can't stand because UD benefits are not only for the aging).

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Lifetime Home Survey

I was on a mission and took six months developing the Lifetime Home Survey (LTHS), which was born of a single negative comment following a post class, feedback form. Without ever knowing his name, I still picture the disgruntled attendee sitting near the front with arms crossed, an engineering type who frowned the entire presentation. I knew I wasn't delivering what he wanted to hear.

His comment? "Didn't give specific measurements!" Jeez, I purposely avoided getting technical to reduce the likelihood of audience slumber; but, after reading Mr. Unhappy's feedback, I vowed, "Metrics you want, measurements thou shall get!"

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What is CAPS and Why does it matter?


Every industry boasts an alphabet soup of trade designations, so what's so special about CAPS? Maybe avoiding assisted living and saving tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary annual expenses. CAPS is literally worth knowing.

A general contractor can build pretty much anything, but serving the aging-in-place market requires putting on one's thinking CAPS. BuilderFish is designated by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) as Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS). Given the alphabet soup of industry designations, I know this doesn't mean much so I'll explain why it matters.

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How should you design a Dream or Last Home?

Look at all those steps.

Imagine building a dream home you can only live in for fifteen to twenty years before you're forced to move. Following the principles of Universal Design ensures usability from cradle to grave for any person of any age or ability.

On my morning jogs during family vacations in Hilton Head Island, I enjoy gazing at the multi-million dollar homes. As I run, each vacation or retirement home seems more luxurious than the ones I've passed and I can only imagine what they're like inside.

But now that I know Universal Design (UD), I view those fancy houses from a different perspective. I see owners who will either spend big bucks to retrofit or eventually they'll be forced to move because they built a dream home, including the landscaping, without considering accessibility and usability for decades down the road. For example, many of these gorgeous homes have grand staircases leading to the front entry or from the foyer to the second floor. How will the occupants navigate with large luggage or when they become elderly and begin to lose mobility?

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What is an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)?

 



Accessory units enable you to bring care to you as needed so the decision boils down to an opportunity cost of whether to improve or move.

"How can we afford the cost?" Many families agonize over how they'll pay to care for a family member. According to the 2010 Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the median (half below/half above) annual rate for a private nursing home room was $75,190, the expense compounding annually 4.5 percent since 2005.

In many cases, budget-buckling cost leads to the early institutionalization of a loved one simply because family members don't have homes equipped or designed to deal with health/mobility challenges, or extra occupants, and the parent's home has become unsafe or unlivable for various reasons as simple as navigating between rooms. The "solution" becomes limited to selling the elderly owner's home and using the proceeds to move them into some level of assisted living. Families often feel forced into this option even though they would choose to do otherwise if they had more money.

But what if you used the amount that would've been devoted to moving your loved one and instead restructured their home or yours so they could "age in place"? If retrofitting the current home isn't feasible, build on your property an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), also known as a "granny flat" or "in-law suite".

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How safe is your home for the long haul?

 



Is your master bedroom upstairs? For most families it's only a question of when, not if, they will need to decide about the living accommodations of an aging loved one, and the overwhelming majority of older Americans prefer to remain in their current homes.

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Easy Access 5 to 95: Design for any age or stage

 



Will your home age gracefully? Will you be able to live there whether or not YOU age gracefully? Universal Design for the home proactively cures literal obstacles to promote access and livability for as many stages of life as possible.

If you were in a wheelchair, could you pivot in the hallway of your home? Easily enter the bathroom or take a shower? Escape a fire?

Architects and builders address these problems by following Universal Design (developed by North Carolina State University School of Design). Our cause is making home life easier by informing clients about these livability options while work is being planned, recommending a longterm view about accessibility and ease even if the owner plans to move (i.e. attractive features for re-sale).

Universal Design (UD), as the name implies, is a common sense method of making house features comfortable and convenient for as many different people at as many life stages as possible, whether a child, older adult "aging in place" or someone with a physical, even mental, challenge. UD makes homes hassle-free from ages "5 to 95". Who doesn't prefer easier at any age?

Former building code and design standards assumed occupants being an "average person", based on a definition of typical health, height, etc. UD employs simple, proven concepts to make any home more comfortable for a wider range of people including families with young children, people who use walkers/wheelchairs, those taller or shorter than average or those who desire to simplify housekeeping (who doesn't?).

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