Monday, March 31, 2014

Universal Design

Universal Design is a term used to describe architectural design that takes into account the varied abilities of all (young/old, able bodied/those with physical challenges, etc.) and strives to create an environment where all can be comfortable.

It is different from ADA requirements (Americans with Disability Act), which is a law requiring public buildings to be accessible. Sometimes meeting ADA requirements makes spaces very institutional feeling - and one definitely does not want that feeling in their home! We want our homes to be friendly and warm, but also safe and accessible. And more and more, Americans want to be able to age in place for as long as they can.

The New House Next Door was designed for my MIL and FIL, who are both in their late 70s. I incorporated some universal design features and best practices for aging in place so that they can be comfortable in the house for as long as possible. (Plus it's right next door to their son - and that's probably the best feature for aging in place!)

A Landing part way up the stairs offers a resting place

Codes require handrails at stairs, but shortish risers are also a good idea. Another simple idea is that the stair has a landing mid way. This gives a stopping point for a rest, if needed. We also consulted with a stair lift company to be sure that this L-shaped stair layout could accommodate a motorized, seated lift, if needed someday.

The kitchen will have a wall oven, which is raised and easier to use than the low oven found in a range. The washer and dryer should be on plinths, so they are raised to a more comfortable height as well. (but I don't think P & D decided to purchase the plinths at this time) The door handles are lever style, which doesn't require the same hand movement and strength that a knob does.

Shower Controls shifted toward the room for easier reach

 A custom change is that the shower is curb-less, with a seat, and the controls are installed close to the room, so one doesn't have to stretch and reach far into the shower to turn on the water. We've all heard how most accidents happen in the home getting into and out of the tub or shower. Both bathing places will have grab bars that are anchored to solid blocking set into the wall framing.

The house is two stories (see previous post about why this house has stairs), plus an attic for storage, and they plan to climb stairs and use all the spaces. If needed, though, there is a first floor room that can become a bedroom and a first floor bathroom with a tub. If stairs become too difficult,  a ramp can be built outside to reach the door - but that isn't something we did now.

All of this accessibility makes this house able to support many generations, which is what sustainability is all about. This house can last and adapt. Remember, this isn't just about being 77 years young. These type of design decisions can be better for the earth, for children, for someone rehabilitating after surgery or an injury, for anyone in the universe!

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