Universal design uses seven principles to make a home accessible to everyone regardless of age or ability. It addresses mobility, safety, and convenience to facilitate independent living and make a home safe and easy to navigate for everyone.
Incorporating universal design features doesn’t mean compromising on style. Many of these features can easily blend into your décor. Wide doorways, no-step entryways, and open floor plans anticipate the needs of others, whether you incur an unexpected injury or if aging challenges your mobility.
Read on to learn about universal design basics and how to apply the seven principles to your home remodel.
Universal Design Basics
Universal design, also called barrier-free design, is defined by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) as a worldwide movement based on the idea that homes should be easily accessed and used by all, regardless of age, size, or physical abilities.
Unlike “accessible design,” which meets the needs of people with disabilities, “universal design” meets the needs of the most significant number of people.
Seven Principles of Universal Design
1. Equitable Use
The design is beneficial to all people. Why not create a home everyone can use and access?
- Change hard-to-use doorknobs into lever door handles.
- Choose appliances with front or side-mounted controls that are easy to reach.
- Ensure switches and outlets are accessible from a seated position.
- Install a generously sized, slip-resistant, curb-less shower with channel drains that drain water quickly.
- Store frequently used items (like dishes) at a low level that can be accessed from a seated position.
2. Flexibility in Use
Flexibility in use means the design expands the function of a space to accommodate a wide range of people’s preferences, abilities, and uses. For example, a living room may double as a home office.
- Select lightweight furniture that’s simple to move so you can easily repurpose rooms.
- Choose multipurpose furniture to ensure versatility—like a sofa that becomes a bed.
- Install multiple water sources in your shower space to create options—like a handheld shower and a standard rain shower mounted on the wall.
- Create flexibility in your open floor plan so you can easily choose between privacy and sociability. If you don’t have an open-concept home and instead have doorways (without doors), install a pocket door between your kitchen and dining room space.
3. Simple and Intuitive Use
The design is easy to understand, regardless of user experience, knowledge, language skills, or concentration level. If everyone can use a design without instructions, it’s intuitive.
- Use international faucet standards—cold on the right and hot on the left. Add a red icon to the hot and a blue to the cold feature for visual simplicity.
- On your thermostat, use clear icons, numbers in large font, and red and blue to indicate hot and cold.
4. Perceptible Information
This means the design accommodates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
- To accommodate those with visual impairments and easily distinguish changes in the terrain, use contrasting colors on your floors and walls at transitions in your home’s layout (like stairs or a different room).
- Assist those with hearing impairments by installing a doorbell with visual alerts and adding a smoke alarm with visual or vibration signals.
5. Tolerance for Error
Universal design minimizes hazards and reduces the risks of accidental or unintended actions. Minimize mishaps in your home by including the following.
- Level thresholds to avoid tripping and falling and to make them accessible for wheelchairs and walkers.
- Install no-slip tile and low-pile carpet. Laminate, vinyl, and hardwood are also options.
- Use rug gripper pads to prevent tripping over loose rugs.
- Select furniture with smooth, rounded edges to avoid injuries.
6. Low Physical Effort
Universal design features demand minimum energy expenditure from anyone in your home. The design can be used efficiently, comfortably, and with minimal fatigue.
- Easy-to-reach shelves in the kitchen (rather than cabinets) and cubbies in the mud room remove barriers entirely, creating ease of use for everyone.
- Electric recliners and lift chairs assist anyone in your home get from seated to standing.
- Ensure your bed is 20” high so anyone can transition to it from a wheelchair. A bed with an adjustable design can be useful, and a sturdy mattress with edge support makes it easy to get in and out of bed.
- Choose touch lamps (brush your finger against the base, and it turns on!) for your bedroom and living area, so you don’t have to grope for the switch.
- Responsive lighting is helpful in the bathroom, so it turns on automatically when you enter the space.
7. Size and Space for Approach and Use
Everyone should be able to navigate each space in their home regardless of their physical ability or size. Appropriate size and space are provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.
- Entryways should be at least 36” wide so wheelchairs can use them easily.
- An open floor plan works well for everyone.
- Leave at least 36” of space as a margin on both sides of the bed.
Implement Universal Design in Your Home Remodel or New Construction
Whether you are enhancing your property so you can age in it gracefully and independently or renovating it to sell, universal design’s benefits are endless. They’ll boost your St. Paul and the Greater Minneapolis area home’s value and make it more marketable due to the thoughtful features these unique design features deliver.
At VL Builders, we answer when you call, listen to your needs, and use your perspective to provide solutions that matter. We value our relationship with you and are available long after completing your project.
Schedule your consultation today.