In your remodeling company you’re likely already doing projects with Universal Design aspects–installing varied height countertop, designing zero-threshold entries. You’re probably already asking clients about their needs and desires, how they live in their homes and how their homes can work better for them. But to differentiate yourself from competitors, it might be time to get more knowledgeable about UD principles and make a concerted effort to incorporate the concepts into every project.
“Universal Design will be the slowest revolution ever,” says Bill Owens, CEO of the Better Living Design Institute and owner of Owens Construction in Columbus, Ohio. “It will be one contract, one remodeler, one idea at a time.”
You need to know what you’re talking about when it comes to UD. Unfortunately, the water has been muddy regarding branding. While it is related to the following concepts, they are not to be used interchangeably: UD is not Aging-in-Place or Accessible Design or Adaptable Design or even Visitability. Universal Design, as defined by most agencies using the term, is “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” It does not mean that every home needs a wheelchair ramp. AARP is hoping to rebrand UD as Better Living Design.
If you want to bring UD principles into your business, you don’t need to take a class or get a certification, but it’s recommended says Steve Hoffacker, a long-time consultant to the building industry and author of several books on UD for builders. (Full disclosure: Hoffacker teaches UD courses for NAHB.) You can get educated and work on professional development through NAHB or NARI, which offer certifications, as well as through these places:
- Better Living Design Institute;
- RL Mace Universal Design Institute;
- Dwell on Design;
- The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, the originator of many UD concepts;
- AARP; and
- REMODELING’s Home for Life project, whose 2014 version will launch this summer.
Some of the more common universal design features that are also incorporated into aging-in-place remodels:
- No-step entry. No one needs to use stairs to get into a universal home or into the home’s main rooms.
- One-story living. Places to eat, use the bathroom and sleep are all located on one level, which is barrier-free.
- Wide doorways. Doorways that are 32-36 inches wide let wheelchairs pass through. They also make it easy to move big things in and out of the house.
- Wide hallways. Hallways should be 36-42 inches wide. That way, everyone and everything moves more easily from room to room.
- Extra floor space. Everyone feel less cramped. And people in wheelchairs have more space to turn.
Some universal design features just make good sense. Once you bring them into your home, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. For example:
- Floors and bathtubs with non-slip surfaces help everyone stay on their feet. They’re not just for people who are frail. The same goes for handrails on steps and grab bars in bathrooms.
- Thresholds that are flush with the floor make it easy for a wheelchair to get through a doorway. They also keep others from tripping.
- Good lighting helps people with poor vision. And it helps everyone else see better, too.
- Lever door handles and rocker light switches are great for people with poor hand strength. But others like them too. Try using these devices when your arms are full of packages. You’ll never go back to knobs or standard switches.