Universal Design Tips for the Home!

Universal Design Tips for the Home!

Adrienne Breaux
Oct 14, 2008

There are many elements to consider when deciding to furnish and outfit your home. From furniture, to materials to even what each room's use will be, there's one thing you can't afford to not think of: making sure your home is universally designed. More after the jump!

Universal design, or the act of making your home usable and accessible by all, is something important to consider, even if you don't currently know anyone with physical limitations. Wheelchair access as well as those at an older and younger age being able to easily maneuver your home is important no matter the size of your house or family. If you're planning on staying in this house for a while, then you'll want to make sure it's safe for you as you age. Universal design is also a great way to prepare your home for any bundle of joys on the way. We've gathered a list of some of the most important things to consider:

  • Enough clearance: Making sure furniture isn't placed too close together and items don't clutter walkways and halls are important for wheelchairs getting by and elderly not tripping over items. You should strive to have aisles 42 inches to 48 inches wide for optimum travel space.
  • Slip-resistant flooring: Certain flooring materials, while beautiful, can be a hazard to those with limited mobility or children running across them. Consider flooring that will cut down on slips as well as be soft and comfortable underfoot, like cork.
  • Reachable and usable handles and rails: Many rails, both residential and commercial, are too high for children to use and sometimes too low for older folks to use. Consider installing bi-level rails for maximum usability. Door and cabinet handles and faucets should be tested for the closed fist rule: if you can't operate with a closed fist, then someone with arthritis or limited hand movement won't be able to operate them.
  • Limit stairs and floor level changes: Obviously if you already live in a house with stairs, it's a little too late to limit it. But if you're on the hunt for a new home or renovating your current one, consider keeping things as flat and easy to traverse as possible.
  • Ample and automatic lighting: Not only does your eyesight diminish as you get older, but keep in mind the need to have lighting in dark hallways and outdoor spaces where ground could be uneven or tricky. Automatic lighting ensures no one has to fumble for light switches in unfamiliar spaces.
  • Curbless showers and baths: Bathrooms are one of the most expensive places to revamp when considering universal design, but small changes like curbless showers can make life incredibly easier to live if you have physical limitations.
  • Accessible lower storage: Since not all of the higher storage may be reachable by all, it's important to keep lower storage organized with pull out drawers and trays that eliminate bending over too far to dig for things in bottom cabinets.

Have we left an important universal design issue out? Tell us about your experience with universal design and how you've had to adapt some things in your home.

[Photo credit: This Old House online, udll.com ]

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