SA Building & Remodeling
Universal Design: A Remodeling Solution for All
Rudy Niño (June 6, 2003)
Universal design, which requires accessible surroundings for people of all ages, sizes, and abilities, is making its way to America's collective remodeling wish list.

Professional remodelers are increasingly aware of universal design standards since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, and as the boomer generation ages, remodelers anticipate a surge in consumer demand.

"Universal design isn't the highest on our list of requests by homeowners," said Joan Stephens, CR, of Stronghold Construction in Boise, Idaho, and President-Elect of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), "but it's on the rise."

Many homeowners don't realize that remodelers can make these accessible home modifications. "The trend began in new home building, particularly with upscale retirement housing, and it's picking up pace in the remodeling industry," Stephens said. The complexity of this market is due partially to an unwillingness to submit to the label of elderly or disabled. However, universal design paints a much broader stroke than design specifically for the disabled or elderly. It is a remodeling solution beneficial to everyone, from clumsy toddlers to beefy football players.

With an increased desire to make their homes more user-friendly, homeowners, especially those of the boomer-senior generation, may seek the addition of a few universal design elements, or opt for a complete overhaul. NARI offers these tips for homeowners planning a remodel with universal design elements in mind:

Access to storage, closet and counter space should be easy and unencumbered. A lazy susan or corner swing out shelf, a plan drawer or roll-outs are all simple solutions for hard-to-reach cabinet items. A light surface color for cabinets, as well as floors and countertops, will be easy on aging eyes. Consider lower cabinets for less reaching, but a raised dishwasher to minimize bending. Oven controls may be placed in front to prevent reaching over hot surfaces.

There are many simple options in making a shower easier to use, such as a wide shower entry with no steps, an adjustable height showerhead, a mobile, hand-held showerhead unit, and a shower seat. Grab bars, which come in various colors and styles, are also a useful addition to the shower or bathroom.

Front-mounted faucets can prevent stretching to check water temperature. The ADA recommends offset controls for bathtubs, showers and other fixtures, which entails moving the controls closer to the outside of the fixture for increased accessibility. Removing vanity cabinets from beneath the sink and adding supports are useful ways to increase knee space.

An adjustable, wall mounted mirror angles forward for wheelchair users, and a slightly raised toilet seat may lessen the strain of transferring from a wheelchair or sitting down.

Steps at door and garage entrances can prove difficult or dangerous. Consider entrances level with the ground to make mobility smooth and worry-free. Ramps are another option but require careful thought and planning. Before installing ramps, consider security, other household members, maintenance, appearance, and property market value.

Household controls, including thermostats, outlets, switches and window hardware, are crucial to an effective universal design layout. These items should be placed within a reasonable range of reach, and require a minimal amount of dexterity. Rocker switches or switches that can be pushed on and off may prove a helpful alternative to conventional toggle switches.

Appliances with small switches can pose a problem remedied by plugging the unit into an outlet controlled by a wall switch. Awning windows, or top-hinged windows, are most user-friendly due to the placement of locks and cranks on the sill, rather than on hard to reach window sides or crossbars.

Lower placement of windows will help children or wheelchair users see outside with less strain.

As with any remodeling project, however, individualized needs may supersede any recommended adjustments. While there are many suggestions for creating a universally sound environment, it is crucial to address personalized requirements when undertaking such a project. Even a remodeler experienced with universal design will need to tailor the project specifications to suit the needs of the client.

Homeowners should bear in mind these seven basic principles when planning a remodel that incorporates universal design:

  1. Equitable Use: The design accommodates any type of user.
  2. Flexibility in Use: The design may be used by persons of a wide range of abilities.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use: Design is easy to understand and "figure out".
  4. Perceptible Information: The design itself communicates efficiently to the user.
  5. Tolerance for Error: The design is safe and minimizes consequences of accidents.
  6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used without strenuous exertion.
  7. Appropriate Size and Space for Approach and Use
Call Rudy Niño for a quote at (210) 723-2616 or Request an Estimate online.
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