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3 Universal Design Upgrades That Make Sense For Anyone

Friday, February 12, 2016   /   by Bill Berning*

3 Universal Design Upgrades That Make Sense For Anyone

Thinking about renovating your property? Consider upgrading these three areas to enhance the accessibility of your house and its overall design aesthetic.




We all experiences times in our lives when, due to age, illness, or injury, we may have limited mobility or other decreased abilities. By incorporating some simple renovations into your home, you’ll not only be prepared for these life changes but you will also make your home more marketable to a growing number of people.




According the United States Census Bureau, nearly one in five Americans has a disability that limits the way they function on a day-to-day basis, a figure population experts warn will only continue to climb as Baby Boomers experience mobility and health declines. That’s not to mention people who have other special needs due to illness or injury or even small children who are still learning to walk.   


Universal design incorporates elements and features that make a space useable and enjoyable for the widest spectrum of people, such as wider hallways and doorways for wheelchair accessibility or low thresholds between rooms to prevent falls. If you want to make your home more user-friendly, consider these upgrades:


Improving A Bathroom’s Accessibility


Small changes can make a big difference in the bathroom. If you are installing a custom shower as part of your renovations, think about incorporating a tiled seat and recessed shelving into the design. The seat provides a place to sit while bathing, and the recessed shelving provides a space to keep toiletries out of the way. You may also want to install a zero threshold shower base that makes stepping or wheeling into the shower easier.


Even if you’re not redoing the shower, consider replacing your traditional showerhead with a handheld one. You can purchase these at any big box store for as little as $25 (although some models can top $100) and install it yourself. The Waterpik Finch model falls right in the middle of the previously mentioned price range at approximately $40; it offers 6-settings as well as a power-spray setting, making it a great option for those that want flexible water settings at an affordable price.


Grab bars are another simple, inexpensive way to incorporate a universal design element into your bathroom. Again, you can purchase these at any big box store for a nominal amount (less than $20 depending on the size of the bar, although a quality, no-drill bar may cost $75 or more) and install it yourself.


If you are completely redesigning your bathroom’s layout, consider how someone with a wheelchair, walker, or crutches would be able to navigate the space. Opt for a pedestal sink to maximize floor space, widen the doorway for easier entrance and exit, and make sure the bathroom has adequate lighting.


Replacing Difficult-To-Use Fixtures


No matter what part of the house you plan to renovate, you can install fixtures that are universal-design compatible. In the bathroom and kitchen, single-handle faucets (priced at approximately $100 to start) are typically easier for someone with loss of muscle tone, limited reach, and/or joint deterioration to operate than standard models. For someone who has difficulty with operating even that, faucets with touch technology (most starting at $450) allow users to turn water on and off with just a tap of the finger or wrist. Pull-down faucets are yet another option in the kitchen to make cooking and other tasks easier.


When you renovate, consider adding more light. As people age, they tend to have more difficulty seeing, especially in dim light, but increased lighting can be helpful for families with small children or people with vision difficulties. In the kitchen, install under cabinet lighting (prices vary depending on the type of lighting installed) or under cabinet LED lighting tape (approximately $20 for a 16-foot roll). You may also want to add extra lighting in the hallway, bedrooms, or bathrooms depending on your budget and what area of the house you renovating.


Lastly, while people do not typically think of stairs as a fixture, you should consider re-evaluating your home’s staircases if you are planning to completely renovate to make your home accessible. You do not need to remove stairs completely – consider adding in a side ramp to your front porch to allow anyone to enter regardless of their mobility needs. If you are not sure what size or materials you will need, consider this fantastic guide from the pros at Lowes – it is a great tool for starting your wheelchair ramp research.


Incorporating Universal Design In The Layout Of Your Home


If you are doing a major remodel, there are several projects that will enhance the universal design of your home. First, widen any doorways and halls you can during your renovations. Most modern wheelchairs are 24 to 27 inches wide, so doorways should be at least 32 inches wide to allow wheelchairs to pass through with ease. If the doorway requires the wheelchair user to turn to access a hallway, the door should be at least 36 inches wide, and hallways should be at least 48 inches wide.


Also, as you renovate, keep the floor in mind. Use low thresholds minimize the risk of falls between flooring changes. For additional protection, you may want to apply a high-contrast strip of a different texture to alert people with limited vision of a flooring or elevation change. Flooring options should be non-slip whenever possible, such as ceramic tile and stone.


Unless you already live with someone who has specific needs, it doesn’t make sense to customize your home too much with universal design elements. You probably don’t need to install a ramp entrance to the front door, for example. However, even just simple modifications like swapping out handles and adding bar grips in your bathrooms can go a long way toward adding value to your home and making it more desirable to a wider pool of buyers once the time comes to sell.


*This article is syndicated and licensed from Realtor.GetWrittn.com.

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