Dec23rd

What is Universal Design & Why You Should Care?

In our company, we believe Universal Design is extremely important. We’d like every home to incorporate Universal Design concepts out of desire, but not by law. So what is it and why is it so important?

So, What is Universal Design?

According to North Carolina State University Center for Universal Design, the intent of Universal Design is to “simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal Design benefits people of all ages and abilities.”

There are a lot of names people use in place of Universal Design: barrier free, handicap accessible, ADA compliant, and many more. Universal Design, I think, is the best name for this concept because to me accessibility is not just for "them folks" in wheelchairs. It is for everyone regardless of age and current physical ability. It’s universal.

So, What does Universal Design Look Like? Copyright 2008 Heartland Builders LLC

Click here for a full floor plan. Here are some features that are very important in the design of the home which are basic to Universal Design :

1. Exterior Doors - Without question should be at least 36" wide.

2. Interior Doors - Bedrooms, bathrooms, laundry rooms, common area doors - 36" wide While many sources recommend 32" doors, keep in mind a person in a wheelchair likely will scrape their knuckles as they go through the door opening that is only 32” wide. Remember, this is about comfort and dignity too. I once priced out doors for a home including 10 doors ranging from 32" to 36" wide. The cost to go with the wider doors didn’t even total $100 - for the entire house (not per door). No brainer !

3. Wider Halls - Minimum 42", better if halls are 48". Please note that halls are a waste of space. Eliminate them or reduce them and you will increase the functional space in your home.

4. Clear Floor Space (otherwise known as Turning Radius) – Especially in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry a turning radius equaling 5′. What is the benefit? If you utilized a wheelchair you would have the ability to enter and function without obstacles in these parts of your home. For those without wheelchairs, a little elbow room for carrying laundry baskets or groceries.

5. My personal favorite: A Zero Step Entry - What is that? No steps into your home from the front porch and from the garage into the home. Imagine, not having to worry about steps as you bring home groceries. There are so many benefits to this feature.

6. Wider Stairs - Minimum 42", better if 48".

7. Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist - There are many other features associated with Universal Design. Their necessity for you depends on your needs. Make sure you work with a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist and member of your local home builder association who can asses and implement exactly what you need in order to live a comfortable life in your home.

Benefits of Universal Design

Thanks to wider doors, wider halls, wider stairs and clear space your home will appear larger and will feel more open. Wider doors, wider halls and wider stairs will allow you to carry furniture throughout your home much easier.

So you are 30 years old and own your home. If the home incorporates the basic features of Universal Design, guests will be able to visit your home without limitation. Imagine if your grandparents or Aunt Millie is in a wheelchair or requires the use of a walker. They could visit without limitation and feel welcome.

Or imagine you are 65. Retirement is just 10 years away (no please, not that long!). Your parents may still be around. Mom and Dad could come visit your home without limitation as well. Not to mention, you are probably thinking about your own future AND want to remain in your home for as long as possible. A home that has incorporated Universal Design is livable for much longer than a home without such features.

The Big Question: How Much Does it Cost?

1. Wider Doors - Under $100 for the entire home.
2. Wider Halls and Stairs - Hard to answer this one, but under generally around $500.
3. Zero Step Entry - this one depends on the size of the home but generally around $1,000.
4. Levered Door Handles, Light Switches a Little Lower on the Wall, Rocker Switches – Shouldn’t cost more than other styles.

Wow! If all you do is 1 and 2, you can have an accessible home for under $500. Better yet, for under $1,500 you can have a home that is really accessible to you and everyone. It makes a great deal of sense. Rich Kogelschatz

I am a proponent of Universal Design for one reason: I believe that it is my responsibility as a builder to provide value for my customers when building their home. To me there is no greater value than accessibility. If something were to happen to you or your family, without accessibility your home has little value to you.

So when building new or remodeling, consider Universal Design. You won’t regret it.

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Richard Kogelschatz CGB CAPS of Heartland Builders LLC was recently named 2008 Builder of the Year and is President of his local Home Builder Association , chair of Great Lakes Green 2008 and is a past recipient of the ZeroStep builder and Disability Advocates awards .

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