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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 cool is this?

LIFX reinvents the light bulb                                                                                                                             

Image courtesy LIFX

Our industry is innovating everything from insulation to lighting and wood screws. Construction and design are experiencing a renaissance of new products, applications and methods and I'll share what we're discovering as we scout and research for our clients.

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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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A Nation of Old Homes

70s_house

Seen this house? Like me, you might've grown up in one, or now come home to it daily.
 
Did you know that well over half of our nation's houses were built more than three decades ago? With a median (i.e. halfway point) year built of 1974, the vast majority of our nation's residential houses are functionally obsolete and you are chucking money putting lipstick on a pig if you do anything short of a total gut and retrofit of an existing house. Building science has in fact changed that much in the last five years.
 
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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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