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Universal Design: Home Design to Care for the Entire Family, Not Just the Elderly

Jul 3, 2008
If you are considering moving into a new home in the near future, you may want to consider building your own home. Whether you decide to hire a builder or manage the project yourself as an owner builder, you may want to consider using Universal Design techniques to improve the living conditions for the elderly members of your family, as well as plan for your own future in the home.

If building your home as an owner builder, you will have complete control over the design methods and all of the details. If you hire a builder, you'll want to make sure he is familiar with the different Universal Design concepts.

So, what is Universal Design?

Because of Universal Design, different family members with different needs can all enjoy the same home. And that home will be there for all its inhabitants even when their needs change. So, whether you're old or young, perfectly healthy or ill, a home built with Universal Design standards will fit the family's needs.

Here are some features that are common in Universal Design:

1. Entries to the home without steps or stairs:

This feature is perfect for disable family members or elderly family members. But, it is also a great feature for everyone else as well. Likewise, the main rooms can be designed without any stairs leading into them. Many owner builders who are designing their new homes are using this very method, especially if they are planning to stay in their home well into the future.

2. Major rooms located on the first floor:

It's more popular than ever to have the master bedroom located on the main floor. Universal design takes it a step farther by having all the major rooms - bedrooms, kitchen, bathrooms, etc. - on the main floor to avoid stairs.

3. Doorways and hallways widened to allow for wheelchairs:

Universal design doorways are widened to 32" - 36" to accommodate wheelchairs. This is perfect for the elderly, but it also makes it easier for the entire family to move larger items in and out of the home. Hallways should be 36" - 42" wide. Stock home designs won't have these adjustments. So, hire a builder who is familiar with these concepts, or design your own home as an owner builder to get the details the way you want them.

3. Extra floor space:

This concept obviously benefits the entire family. Everyone can use more space to roam, whether it's a family member in a wheelchair or not.

4. Closets designed with adjustable brackets:

Owner builders and smart general contractors are designing homes with closets that have adjustable brackets to allow you to move clothing rods and shelves to different heights. Thus, a closet will adjust and grow along with a child, as well as be useful to you in your later years if you start using a wheelchair. Universal Design is about ensuring your home will adapt to your family's changing needs.

5. Floors and bathtubs with non-slip surfaces:

Properly surfaced floors and tubs will help everyone in the family stay on their feet and prevent injury. This is a perfect example of how Universal Design is not just for the elderly or disabled. Likewise, you may want to consider installing handrails or grab bars in the bathrooms.

6. Rocker light switches and lever door handles:

People with disabilities, arthritic hands, or with poor hand strength will benefit from easy-to-use light switches and door handles. However, everyone in the home will like them, especially when your hands are full and can't grab a standard door knob.

All of the above features are simple examples of Universal Design techniques that benefit the disabled or elderly. But, it's also very easy to see how the entire family will enjoy these changes.

It's also easy to see why people are building their homes using Universal Design features. Owner builders who are managing their own home design and construction will have full control over the details of the new home. More and more owner builders are turning to Universal Design as a way to care for every member of their family, not just the elderly.
About the Author
Chris Esposito's Owner Builder 101 program provides owner builder construction loans nationwide for those who want to manage the planning and construction of their new home. Visit www.OwnerBuilder101.com to get more info. Or call Owner Builder 101 at (877) 876-3688.
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