Make Homes “Smarter” with Universal Design: Part I

Universal Design is a concept that allows for general residential access, regardless of an individual’s age, ability, or condition. Universal Design incorporates design elements that are “invisible”, while promoting increased comfort, safety and convenience for all residents. “Visitability” is a result of Universal Design, allowing basic access to all residential “public” (first floor) areas, by anyone who may enter the home. A simple example of Universal Design, would be the removal of traditional door knobs and replacing them with “lever” door handles. This change enables easy access to doors opening with arms full of groceries, while also assisting those who physically cannot grip a door knob. This change is un-obtrusive and convenient for all ages and abilities.

Why now is there such an emphasis on Universal Design? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 65 and over population is expected to increase from 35 million in 2000 to 55 million by 2020. Today, the “Baby Boomer” generation accounts for 28% of the U.S. population and they currently own 48% of all homes in U.S. The Universal Design concept has fostered the solution of “Aging in Place”, whereby current seniors and aging “Baby Boomer” homeowners can live comfortably in their homes, for as long as they desire. Whereas Universal Design puts design elements in place for all to benefit, “Aging in Place” generally is addressed by a maturing population, with different levels of needs depending on health conditions and mobility. Making your home comfortable and safe during the aging process is accomplished through consultation with “Aging in Place” Specialists, Health Care Professionals, and licensed remodelers.

Incorporating Universal Design and “Aging in Place” elements in your home scheme, can lead to fewer and less costly changes for the future. Along with convenience and safety, there are also the benefits of reduced effort, frustration and accidents. Because the design is universal, it caters to a larger pool of residents, thereby increasing the value of the home.

The many benefits of Universal Design, and the large aging population provides tremendous growth opportunities for interior designers, remodelers and new products over the next 10 years. Products are being developed that combine safety and convenience with cutting edge and stylish appearances. To be effective, proper design and installation is imperative. Federal Housing Accessibility Guidelines (FHAG) provides an excellent glossary of terms and definitions used when discussing accessibility. Pay particular attention to state and local codes when considering an “Aging in Place” project.

Stay tuned for Part II

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