Doesn’t Universal Design really equate to a sterile looking house, with ugly grab bars everywhere? One might think so after visiting a doctor’s office, going out to eat, or even seeing the changes made to office buildings after the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. It can look that way if it is instituted incorrectly, but done with a little common sense it will not only look great but you will find that your house just appears to work better.
What do I care, I plan on staying young &/or healthy forever? Well first off, we generally all want more comfort in our homes. Opening doors with your arms full of groceries is as difficult when your 20 as it is when you get older. A traditional house that serves you well when you are healthy won’t be as accommodating if you break a leg, an arm, or hurt your back.
Do I really have to put up grab bars if I don’t need them? Universal Design does not mean installing grab bars, but making sure there is enough room for them later and putting blocking up where they might be needed later is a good idea. As the “Baby Boomers” are retiring and the need for bathroom safety products is increasing, most manufacturers are designing grab bars that blend in with most decors. There are even some companies where the grab bars actually look like (and can be used as) towel bars and come with matching robe hooks, toilet paper holders, etc…How many of you with kids have had to replace the towel bars & get the damage fixed when they decided to hang on them or supposedly just pulled the towel off of them?
Here is a quick overview of some other common Universal Design features that you may wish to consider for your next remodel or new house…
- Interior doors & doorways should be a minimum of 32” wide to let wheelchairs & walkers pass through. We generally prefer and specify a 36” wide doorway which makes it easier to move big items around in the house (a dresser, coaches, love seats, appliances, etc…)
- Exterior doors should be 36” wide, for French Doors that would equate to a 6’ wide door at minimum. Sliding glass doors should not be used for a main entryway.
- Hallways should be a minimum of 36-42 inches wide, which helps improve the traffic flow of people and items moving from room to room. As we generally specify 36” wide doors, we prefer the hallways to be 4’ wide which helps leave room for appropriate sized molding and balances out the look and feel of the space.
- A little extra floor space is useful to help everyone feel less cramped, while allowing those with wheelchairs or walkers room to move and to be able to turn around without hitting anything For example in the bathroom, you should be able to draw a 5’ circle on the floor without hitting the toilet, sink, or shower. This provides enough room for someone with a wheelchair or walker to move around, shut the door and use the facilities. So in this case instead of a typical 5’ x 8’ room, it should be at minimum 8’ x 8’
- Lever style door handles, using rocker style light switches, and lever style faucets help people with arthritis, limited mobility, or anyone with their hands full.
- Closets built with adjustable brackets, or custom systems with adjustable shelves, drawers and rods are a nice feature for a child growing up, a changing wardrobe, or being able to modify it so that a person in a wheelchair can still access it without waiting for someone else to crab their clothes out.
For house with two stories or more
- Besides having the kitchen & dining room on the first floor, you should have at least one bedroom and full bathroom on the first floor; not only is this a great idea for when you get older and it becomes harder to get up the stairs; you have a place for guests to leave their coats, use the bathroom without tramping upstairs into the private area of the house; or if happen to break your leg, etc…
- If the above is not possible, your garage is in the basement, or you want to be able to access the other floors; stacking closets on the applicable floors for a future elevator