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Universal Design Explained

Slide Notes

  1. The design-build concept of “universal living” describes a mindset of designing proactively and building for multiple life stages and generations, not just “aging-in-place” nor inability/disability but ANY ability. Think “kid friendly” or maximum convenience for any person of any ability.
  2. Peter Pan Syndrome in design and construction flourished with the growth of the suburbs after the Second World War when structures were built more up than out featuring tighter rooms, hallways and doorways to accommodate more people (growing families) under one roof. Characterized by numerous steps/stairways, split levels, and the design assumes an “average person” in height, mobility and strength. But we’re not all the same and people aren’t “average” even throughout their lives. Major problem with Peter Pan Housing is that inaccessibility was baked into the design. Houses in 1800’s more multi-generational, fewer but bigger multi-purpose rooms because families would live there a lifetime.
  3. Not a style per se, but the essence of a “home”, any house (e.g style or second/vacation) can be convenient and livable for a lifetime. You can live there as long as you choose, circumstances (life events/stages) won’t force you to leave against your will. Why would anyone build a “last” or “dream” home that isn’t universally designed?
  4. A few core basics: Lever Handle, Rocker (Paddle) Switch, Curb-less/Flush Threshold Shower, wider doors, passageways (indoors and outdoors) Each accommodative and accessible to most people, easy to use and intuitive. What do you notice about the door? (Answer: Nothing until moving furniture, then you notice it’s wider)
  5. Convenient, flexible, multiple options for use. Easy to figure out. Kid-friendly, children not as likely to damage as with a traditional doorknob. Ever watched a child try to open or figure out a doorknob? They hang from using both hands with all their weight and twist side to side, usually pulling toward themselves and falling backwards.
  6. Think in terms of greasy hands, not arthritis. Lever handles a must for areas around the kitchen or garage, places where your hands may be full (carrying groceries) or wet, messy, greasy.
  7. Switches and controls no higher than 48 inches (for thermostat/controls) and preferably 40-44 inches (switches) above finished floor and based on personal preference. Can be used seated or standing and comfortably reached for people of any height. Not shown, automated, motion detecting and timer switches for turning on and off lights.
  8. Referred to as “three-oh” doors, preferred for access by anyone including visitors who may have mobility challenges. Must consider the 2” width of the door when open in the doorway so 32” is the minimum width of comfortable knuckle clearance for a wheelchair user. But easier for anyone carrying luggage and furniture. No less than a 2’-10” door to achieve 32” clearance but 3’-0” preferable.
  9. An alternative for existing houses with narrow doorways and hallways to attain an extra few inches. Lifts the door out of the doorway and gains the width (thickness) of the door by another 2”
  10. Also known as a roll-in shower, or wet area. Extreme close-up with shower on of where drain meets finished floor outside the shower door. Whether custom tile or insert, drains don’t have to be in the middle of the floor. Channel or linear drains come in many styles, can be placed along edges and some even suck the water out of the shower. Also consider making your entire bathroom a wet room.
  11. Technically “universally designed”, all of these features, fixtures and applications merely distill to convenience and ease at point-of-use. Lever faucets are another staple of UD. These faucet/shower wands feature extension hoses and on/off switches on the handle. Most top brand manufacturers make touch-less and touch-free (electronic), single lever faucets
  12. Everything thought out and within easy reach for accomplishing efficiently and conveniently your activities of daily living (ADLs = eating, sleeping, bathing, dressing and using the bathroom). Ideally place appliances (e.g. dishwasher and refrigerator drawers) adjacent to or beneath prep and clean-up areas. LED task lighting another integral component.
  13. Pot filler eliminates lugging heavy pot from sink. Use a magnetic induction cooktop for ultimate safety (ideally for extra safety and control, no raised burners as in this shot). (Easier and safer to slide pots and pans across flush burners.)
  14. Photos courtesy GreatGrabz. Safety bars don’t have to look institutional and are a safety feature for ANYONE regardless of age. Support 250 lbs and also manufactured with antimicrobial coating to kill germs and prevent mold. When building new or retrofitting, we block behind walls from floor to ceiling with 3/4” plywood so you can mount anywhere in the future.
  15. Flush threshold and wider entrance with no less than 3-0 (three-oh) door. The mat and the rug are the problems in these pictures. If not for front entrance, find alternate (e.g. through garage, side or rear) for a zero step path and flush threshold entry into the home.
  16. This new neighborhood had mostly flat lots, yet not one single zero step entry. Why did the builder include one step on a flat lot? Probably “just because that’s the way we’ve done it” when could’ve been zero steps. Some claim it’s aesthetically better, but not to someone with a mobility challenge or carrying a load of boxes. Also, can use landscaping and gentle sloping to accomplish unnoticeably.
  17. At least one zero step, flush threshold entry point is a priority. NO ramps! Ramps are dangerous and exhausting. If no other options, use lift or elevator instead. Inset rim (floor joists aren’t required to sit atop wall), gently sloping earth berm or walking path, even a lift would be preferable to the typical wood or metal ramp. For existing homes, find an alternative entrance for zero steps (e.g. through a garage, side or rear entrance)
  18. Questions? Please contact us at If you’d like a detailed home assessment tool, download for free our Lifetime Home Survey at our main site or Thank you and remember, “home” is the nicest word there is, so make yours livable for a lifetime!