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What are some basics of a Universally Designed layout?

Before going outside, let's review some general layout must-haves and essential universal elements for lifelong convenience, comfort, ease and safety. Consider these universal fundamentals for ensuring a flexible, hassle-free lifestyle throughout multiple generations and life's circumstances. This post targets those doing a retrofit, which poses certain limitations, so new custom construction would be even easier.

If you can only afford to remodel a few areas, concentrate first on the entrance, master bathroom and kitchen but also plan a "sleeping space" in another "flex room" (e.g. den, living/play room, office) that can be re-purposed if you don't already have a first floor bedroom. At a minimum, you must be able to enter the home and care for yourself, so ensuring your Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) is the pecking order for remodeling.

Do as much proactive planning while you're "behind the walls" (e.g. add blocking for future safety bars, raise outlet heights). The cost to remodel will depend on load bearing walls, the unseen pathway of ducts and mechanicals, and what you're attempting to achieve, which is why building from scratch is often less expensive.

Ideally, you want a one level, open floor plan without sharp boundaries and narrow hallways between rooms. If building new or remodeling a multi-story home, try stacking two closets between floors to enable installation of a future elevator or lift. Also design to rest the weight of the house on external walls to avoid load bearing, inside walls for flexibility later changing the layout.

Plan for your home:

  • At least one main level entrance with zero steps and a flush threshold (could be through front, side, rear or garage entry)
  • Landing area at entry 5' x 5' with sheltered overhead and bench or shelf
  • All interior and exterior doors ideally 36-inches (3'- 0" door) to provide 34-inch clearance but absolutely no less than 32-inches
  • Wide, spacious hallways, no less than 36 inches but 42 inches to 44 inches recommended and 48 inches best
  • Lever door handles
  • Pocket/sliding doors where practical
  • No sunken floors or split-levels, especially between rooms
  • Non-slip flooring, particularly in bathroom, kitchen and laundry, and no loose rugs or carpeting
  • If carpeting, sturdy, low-pile, tightly woven (such as Berber style) and continuously glued to the door (ideally with no padding)
  • Energy efficient windows, with windowsills between 24 inches to 30 inches above the floor
  • Tilt-in windows (and easily removed screens toward inside) to enable easy cleaning of both sides
  • IF stairs, treads deep enough for entire foot, at least 8 inches but 11 inches preferred.
  • No open risers or "nosing" (tread overhang) and sturdy handrails on both sides
  • Well lit stairs or stairwell including anti-slip strips in color contrast material at edge of each step.
  • Rocker style light switches or motion-activated placed between 36 inches and 40 inches above floor
  • Electrical outlets and phone/cable jacks between 18 inches and 24 inches above floor
  • Zoned heating and conditioning of OUTSIDE air with filtration to promote indoor air quality
  • Safety trips/sensors and shut-off valves for electric and water fixtures
  • Consider automation, motion detecting, remote control and intercom throughout home for easiest use, safety, monitoring and alert

Click our Lifetime Home Survey for guidance room-by-room.

Let's visit the yard and garden.

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President Todd Hawkins preaches building science and Universal Design (UD) to teach the benefits of an efficient, convenient, comfortable and flexible Lifetime Home. Also follow him on Twitter @BuilderFish for short tips about how kid-friendly UD makes home life easier and more secure for any person of any age or ability.