When building a home, most of us give great consideration to our current and short-term needs, and not a great deal of thought to what our future needs or the needs of future residents might be. To get the most out of our home, it might be beneficial to think universally up front – that is, consider all the possible needs that people of all ages and abilities may have if they live in that home.
The term "universal design" is not a new one. It was coined by Ronald L. Mace, an architect, to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability or status in life. As Mace was confined to a wheelchair from an early age, he was always very aware of the avoidable barriers inherent in the design of private homes and public spaces.
As life expectancy increases, the number of people living with physical limitations also increases. As we all know, it is disheartening to see loved ones relocated because they can no longer navigate a house they have always called home. It is critical for today’s designers and future homeowners to be aware of the “age in place” concept – the long-term livability of a dwelling as the demands of its inhabitants change over their lifetimes.
If building a new home is in your future, you may want to consider the principles of universal design for several reasons. For instance, if you plan to still be in your home during your retirement years, make sure it will age with you and will easily adapt to your changing circumstances. If your plan is to sell your home sometime in the future, factoring in universal design considerations will make your home more appealing to the broadest spectrum of buyers.
Many elements can have a profound effect on a home’s long-term accessibility. One of the most obvious things to consider is a bungalow or rancher design where all of the necessities for living can be confined to one floor, eliminating the need for stairs. If stairs are desirable in your new home, you may want to think about allowing space for the future installation of an elevator or stair lift.
Other features that relate to long-term accessibility and can be beneficial to everyone from toddlers to grandparents include:
- Wider doorways (minimum 32 inches
- Wider hallways (minimum 36 inches)
- Curbless showers
- Entries without stairs
- Ergonomic cabinet designs and counter heights
It is almost unheard of in our society for someone to spend a lifetime in a single home. However, during the lifetime of a house it is entirely possible that people of all ages and abilities will have the privilege of calling it home. Contemplating universal design principles when constructing new homes helps to ensure that the owners will have the option to comfortably age in place.
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