What is Universal Design?

Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design at a later point in time. Universal design enhances traditional design by incorporating elements that offer comfort, convenience and ease of use. By implementing universal design features in your home, it allows your home to be safe for all ages and for those with various accessibility needs.

Universal design is related to aging-in-place renovations. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers in collaboration with Home Innovation Research Labs, NAHB 50+ Housing Council and AARP developed the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) program to address the growing number of consumers that will soon require adaptability and accessibility modifications.  While most CAPS professionals are remodelers, an increasing number are general contractors, designers, architects, and health care consultants.

Everyone can use universal design! It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old. You could be short or tall, healthy or ill. You might have a disability. Or you may be a prize-winning athlete. Because of universal design, people who are very different can all enjoy the same home. And that home will be there for all its inhabitants even when their needs change.

Here are some of the more common universal design features that are also incorporated into aging-in-place remodels:

  • No-step entry. Build a step-less entry that will increase access and convenience without comprising aesthetics.
  • One-story living. Places to eat, use the bathroom and sleep are all located on one level, which is barrier-free. Many new homes are incorporating a bedroom and full bath on the main level.
  • Wide doorways. Doorways that are 32-36 inches wide let wheelchairs pass through. They also make it easy to move big things in and out of the house.
  • Wide hallways. Hallways should be 36-42 inches wide. That way, everyone and everything moves more easily from room to room.
  • Open and accessible floor space. Everyone feels less cramped. And people in wheelchairs have more space to turn and increase mobility.

Some universal design features just make good sense. Once you bring them into your home, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. For example:

  • Floors and bathtubs with non-slip surfaces help everyone stay on their feet. They’re not just for people who are frail. The same goes for handrails on steps and grab bars in bathrooms…as well as comfort height toilets.
  • Thresholds that are flush with the floor make it easy for a wheelchair to get through a doorway. They also keep others from tripping.
  • Good lighting helps people with poor vision. And it helps everyone else see better, too.
  • Lever door handles and rocker light switches are great for people with poor hand strength. But others like them too. Try using these devices when your arms are full of packages. You’ll never go back to knobs or standard switches.
  • Kitchens designed with multi-level counters; accessible storage and easy access appliances.

Multi-generational families and first-time home owners alike will appreciate the often simple and inexpensive changes that make homes livable for all household members, regardless of age or ability…as well as accessible for visitors that have mobility challenges.  Homes with universal design are more user-friendly and complement an easy-living lifestyle for all.

To learn more about universal design, aging-in-place or to find a building or remodeling professional in the area that holds the CAPS designation, utilize our online membership directory.