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Universal Design Homes

Posted by Susanna Haynie on October 29, 2016
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universal design homeWhat do you look for when purchasing a home? Perhaps it’s an open floor plan, an upgraded kitchen, or a large master bath. It’s fair to say that when most of us are searching for a home we consider the needs of the here and now. However, what if you could find a home that not only meets your needs currently but can adapt to your family should you face a disability or decide to reside as long as possible in that home? There is an increasing trend that started in the late 70s but has gained considerable traction over the last few years you may want to consider….that of Universal Design Homes.


Universal Design addresses the barriers faced by individuals with disabilities, the elderly, children, and other populations often overlooked in the design process. The concept of Universal Design increases the usability of an environment or product without increasing overall cost by reducing the need for design modifications at a later time.

The key word here is: FLEXIBILITY.

Universal Design, within the realm of housing, allows your home to change with your needs. Think of it as a “user-friendly” home. Universal Design, or Barrier-Free, homes apply to all ages in all stages of life.

universal design copper grab bars

Not your grandma’s grab bars

It allows for easier mobility for a mom with a stroller or someone with a walker or wheelchair. Perhaps one person in your family is very tall, while another one is quite short. What if you have a member of your family with under-developed motor skills or is visually-impaired? A universally-designed home thinks through various situations and allows critical elements in the home to be adjustable, or created, to meet a variety of needs.


Before you conjure up images of sterile, cold, hospital-inspired homes, let me encourage you that the whole point of Universal Design is to incorporate elements such as grab bars, ramps, open showers, lowered counters into a beautiful and seamless design. It creates a flattering and attractive space by integrating accessibility features into the design of the home so that it is nearly indistinguishable.

universal design bathroom

Universal design avoids the sterile look of a hospital and brings together gorgeous designs that are functional!

There are seven principles of Universal Design that guide the development of products and environments:

  1. Equitable Use: The design, whether it is a grocery store or a home, should be useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. Automatic doors, easy to reach products, wide aisles are a few examples.
  2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a broad range of individual preferences and abilities. Think ambidextrous scissors.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or education level. A good example is simple phones with large numbers or signs with images rather than written instructions. Within the home, it could be kitchen appliances with larger buttons that are easy to understand for someone with visual impairment or intellectual disability.
  4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities. An example could be contrasting edges of a counter so that a person with perception difficulties can easily see the contrast and know they are near the edge. Another example is different colors or textures on walls so that an individual with a disability will be able to identify what room they are in by the color or a design feature.
  5. Tolerance For Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. The elimination of steps and changing floor heights will significantly reduce the possibility of falls or trips. Zero-entry showers and entrances are easily and beautifully incorporated into any home design.
  6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently, comfortably, and without much effort. A good example would be doorknobs. Some individuals find it difficult to grab the round door knob and turn it, however, by switching out the doorknobs with levers, it increases the accessibility to open that door to children, the elderly, or someone with limited use of their hands.
  7. Size and Space For Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body, size, posture, or mobility. Wider doorways in a home, bathroom modifications, adjustable cabinets, lower closet bars, are just a few examples.


What can you expect to find in a Universal Design Home, how can it possibly be attractive and why does it apply to you? Ok, that was a lot of questions at once, but I know you are thinking this. Keep reading even if you believe that this doesn’t apply to you; because it does apply to you more than you know!

Some design elements you could find in a UD home are:

  • Entries without steps
  • Lever-style door handles and cabinet handles
  • Durable flooring suitable for strollers, wheelchairs, or walkers
  • Adjustable and remote-controlled fixtures
  • Sleep resistant flooring
  • Hands-free toilet
  • Walk-in shower
  • Grab bars
  • Recessed lighting
  • Efficient heating systems
  • In-floor heating
  • Wider doors/hallways
  • Varied height cabinets and countertops
  • Flexible appliances that raise and lower
  • Adjustable height shower head
  • Contrasting edgebanding on countertops
  • Different colors and textures on the walls
  • Open floor design

These are just some of the favorite design elements that can be found in a Universal Design home. As you can see by these few images, Universal Design can be gorgeous and be inviting. The possibilities are endless. (Want to view more Universal Design elements? Check out my Pinterest board.)


What does Universal Design have to do with you?

Universal Design homes are becoming increasingly marketable. A growing demand not only by families who have special needs but also within the elderly sector, is creating a housing shortage. The Boomers want to “age in place” rather than move in with their children or a group home. Couples as young as 45 are already looking ahead to purchase homes that can adapt to their future needs as they age.

Young families find that Universal Design homes are kid-friendly and also accommodating to elderly guests. Basically, a Universal Design home allows your home to change with you, not to mention, is very marketable should you choose to sell eventually.

If you are considering remodeling your home, the cost to create a UD home is insignificant to the cost of having to move or remodel a second time should you find yourself in need of a home with greater usability.

Looking to purchase a new home? Finding a home that has been built with a Universal Design will allow the longest livability for you and, with the increasing demand, a marketable home should you decide to move.

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