Call it what you like universal design (UD), accessible remodeling, lifespan design – an approach that considers the full range of human abilities and the full life cycle represents the future of home remodeling.
Now, as baby boom-generation homeowners reach retirement age, their bodies are telling them what’s wrong with their homes: steps they can no longer climb safely, bathrooms and kitchens that have become difficult to use, tripping hazards, poor lighting, and more.
What is Universal Design
The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University defines UD as “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.” Here’s what that means for you.
- UD creates spaces that accommodate all of the life-cycle changes people experience. That includes more than just aging. A fit young person who breaks a leg skiing might find it impossible to use his or her own bathroom. Think of UD as “grand design”—planning a home that is friendly and convenient for everyone, from grandchildren to grandparents.
- UD incorporates green building principles, including energy efficiency, low-maintenance materials, and attention to air quality. The benefits are improved health, greater convenience, and predictable operating expenses, all of which are important to elders but attractive also to any homeowner.
- UD helps eliminate the need for specialized, institutional-looking features that can make visitors feel awkward and carry a social stigma for their owners.
- UD means filling a home with functional, comfortable ideas that look great and are appealing to homeowners and guests alike.
- Done right, UD is invisible. Thoughtful features like lower light switches and higher outlets—a boon to children and people who use wheelchairs—are virtually unnoticeable.
The Struggles of Universal Design
As they have with so many cultural shifts, baby boomers are leading the charge toward universal design. They’ve watched their parents struggle with aging in homes ill-suited to the changes they went through. Now, as they face the effects of aging themselves, many are taking a more proactive approach, remodeling their homes to prepare for the hurdles to come. Most want to age in the homes they know and love, but most traditional homes were not designed for this, with second-floor master bedrooms, step-up entryways and porches, and those awful 24-inch-wide doorways into bathrooms, closets, and showers. These are problems remodelers are uniquely equipped to solve.
Baby boomers are also the wealthiest generation in American history, many having inherited the wealth of frugal, hardworking parents who experienced the Great Depression and World War II. They own a huge proportion of the country’s housing stock, often with paid-off mortgages. They are looking for comfort, convenience, and safety. And, like every generation of grandparents before them, they are thinking about their grandchildren, so investing in upgrades that make their homes work better for both young and old holds special appeal.
At SemBro Designs we understand your needs and we have new products and technologies that will make your lives easier:
- Automatic door bottoms. These devices fasten to the bottom of an entry door, eliminating the need for a threshold while still providing a weather-tight seal.
- Lever-type door hardware. Door levers are easier to operate than conventional doorknobs and can look more stylish too. Some have integrated LED lighting to aid nighttime navigation.
- Bathroom ventilation fans and toilet seats with built-in lighting. These innovative products also help those with aging eyes or low vision make their way at night without turning on a bright overhead light.
- “Invisible” grab bars. Doubling as a soap dish, shower shelf, towel rack, or toilet paper holder, these bathroom fittings provide a secure hand-hold to steady oneself in the shower or to prevent a fall.
The most valuable things we offer to our clients are insightful solutions that reflect common sense and experience:
- We suggest installing shower valves at the opposite end from the shower head, so the cold water won’t hit you in the back of the head.
- Place bath and kitchen sink faucets at the sides of sinks instead of behind them, so that children and people using wheelchairs can reach them more easily.
- We can show you how easy it is to add a heated towel warmer, a toe-kick heater, or in-floor radiant heating to a chilly bathroom.
We Put the Design in Universal Design
We emphasize convenience. Wider hallways make it easier to carry luggage to the bedroom; a zero-step entry makes it easy for the twins’ Mom to push a stroller from the car to the foyer, and it makes the way easier for Grandpa and his walker, too. We stress practicality, but not at the expense of excitement. Kitchen skylight is a boon for aging eyes, plus all of that daylight will also make the colors in the new granite counter really pop. And because everyone appreciates value, these features make any home more marketable. After all, UD represents smart, sophisticated design.
While bathrooms are most likely to remain the same size, certain changes will be more popular than others. Remodeling trends for 2015 include larger showers, more accessibility features, and double sinks, according to a study done by Houzz, explaining why Universal Design represents a better way to build.
After learning more about the advantages of Universal Design, you may well ask why all homes aren’t built this way. New homes still have a long way to go toward full accessibility. But that just means remodelers are here for you at every step of the way, and for many years to come. All the more reason to start today. We strive to make Universal Design our standard practice, building these ideas into every scope of work. Life is full of surprises. Find a local remodeler who creates homes that work for all people, no matter what life throws at them.
Visit our Project Gallery page to see more exciting photos of our work.