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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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How would you rate the QUALITY of your house?

Did you get your monies worth in quality and workmanship? (And when was the last time you saw a big builder promote the craftsmanship of its new construction?)

At one time the house above was brand spanking new and the owners beamed. Obviously time takes a toll on everything but how long will your house last relative to how long you plan to stay?

These may seem like dumb questions. I'm certain you at least care, maybe even worry, about maintaining and paying for your residence. But I wonder more deeply about what I presume most people rarely consider. Is your current home just a roof over your head or do you intend to never leave? In any case, are some parts of your home a hassle to use or maintain? How will you adjust or rectify, or will you make due in some way you haven't yet figured out?

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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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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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Universally Preferred Parking

Your garage isn't just a place to park stuff, it's often the safest and easiest entrance into your home.

A Lifetime Home should ideally have a garage, not only to provide ample room for getting into and out of your vehicle but to provide accessible storage, cover from the weather and also an element of safety, particularly if you're dealing with children, an armload of groceries or otherwise preoccupied. Additionally, if you're exploring options on the main level for creating a zero step and flush threshold entrance, access through the garage is often least expensive and far less complicated because you're eliminating potential problems with exterior topography and sloping.

So whether the garage is attached (ideal) or detached, here's what you need: Ample room for maneuvering strollers, lawn mowers, bicycles, golf clubs, etc. around the vehicle(s) At least a 3-foot clear path around and between vehicles Easy path from the garage, sheltered (if detached) with no steps and a walkway no less than 36-inches wide Shelves, cabinets, hooks and all storage within easy reach Proper ventilation, ideally including a fan on a timer and/or motion activated. Worth considering, a garage door tall enough to accommodate higher vehicles (e.g. van with chairlift), which typically require an extra 18 to 24 inches compared to standard doors. You might also want motion detecting lights and intercom. Finally, whether entering the house from inside or outside the garage, you'll want a non-slip surface that doesn't allow puddling or freezing of water or condensation. As I wrote in the last post, there are many different ground applications including pervious concrete and porous asphalt.

What's best depends on your circumstances. This concludes my tutorial series describing a universally designed, Lifetime Home. If you landed here first and want to start at the beginning of the series (curbside), click What is Universal Design?, each post leads to another describing every area of a detached, single family house. If you seek more technically detailed, room-by-room guidance, review and bookmark LifetimeHomeSurvey.com, which is updated quarterly. Use the Lifetime Home Survey as either an assessment checklist or wish list. Please email me with questions and share socially.

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Outdoor Living and Gardening Made Easy

Gardening doesn't have to be a chore, you can even have the garden come to you.

People often assume they can no longer do something they enjoy simply because they cannot continue the way they've always done it. Like most things universally designed for the home, your outdoor living areas and activities can be accommodated and inclusive for people of any age or circumstance so nobody should have to give up hobbies and activities which make them happy.

This is particularly true of flower and vegetable gardening. If you've got a deck, patio or yard of any size, you can garden by choosing an efficient and accessible method from numerous options. Before I list some alternatives and resources, let's review the ideal conditions for any outdoor activity.

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Sleep easier in your master bedroom

Where would you sleep if you couldn't access or get around your current master bedroom? How then should you prepare your bedroom (or another "flex room") so that it's truly "livable for a lifetime" and you've got a place to rest your head?

Maybe you've noticed reading this tutorial series that I've focused on convenience and ease by describing universally designed home features from a perspective of ANY-ability and not inability or disability. I've harped that UD = EZ to the greatest extent for ALL people, not just the frail or incapacitated.

Now however, I'll actually be emphasizing disability, namely preparing for the potential of limited mobility or the need for a caregiver in the master bedroom during some point in the resident's life. In other words, how to maintain sleeping in your own bed no matter what.

Now don't go away, keep reading! Some of you are about to leave because you think this doesn't apply to you but I urge you to consider carefully what I'm about to write.
 
What if you were injured in a car accident or suffered a sports injury? Those could happen at any time. Where would you sleep if you couldn't access or get around your current bedroom? I have personal experience and trust me, you don't want to add the stress of reconfiguring your house (or being forced from it altogether!) atop the physical and emotional strain of recuperation. Unfortunately, most wait until fit hits the shan and the family is in crisis; but, that won't be you, right?

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How to plan a hassle-free utility, laundry and/or mudroom

Notice the raised appliances, rolling cart and knee space under the sink, everything relatively at point of use.

If you've been reading this series from the start, you recognize a common theme within a universally designed home that everything should be within easy reach, both standing and seated. Stated another way, you'll realize maximum convenience and efficiency if you don't have to go out of your way for a thing, neither stretching, stooping nor straining.

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