Aging in Place: 10 Concepts of Universal Design
For many, buying a home is a lifelong commitment. It takes decades to pay off a mortgage and begin enjoying a home without the hefty monthly payment attached. And as people age, they often outgrow their homes in terms of safety and quality of life, decreasing the value of this major investment. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
A survey by the American Association of Retired People found that 90 percent of seniors would stay in their homes and age in place if they could. With this in mind, many contractors are adapting to embrace a concept called universal design that enables the elderly, people with disabilities, and people without disabilities to easily access and use buildings.
Take a look at these 10 elements of universal design that enable homeowners to comfortably age in place:
1. Ramps. Instead of traditional steps leading up to doorways, homes that implement universal design use ramps. These ramps can be very subtle in design and blend right in to the architectural style of the home.
2. Wide doorways and hallways. It is very common to see universally designed homes with doorways and hallways that are at least 36 inches wide, with some hallways as wide as 42 inches. This provides more mobility for people in using wheelchairs or walkers and also gives more of an open feel to any home.
3. Single story design. In universally designed homes, single stories are preferable. As people age, it becomes more difficult and dangerous to climb up steps in the home. It is also tough for older people to carry items up and down too many stairs. Universally designed homes build out instead of up to accommodate residents.
4. Extra lighting. Aging does not only take a toll on mobility—it also affects the senses. Buildings with universal design are adequately lit to ensure safety of the people moving around in them.
5. More square footage. A larger space means more room for movement and clear walkways.
6. Non-slip surfaces. This is an especially important in wet areas like the tub and shower. It can also be applied to flooring throughout the home—kitchen, bathroom, etc.—in order to reduce the chances of a dangerous slip.
7. Handrails. On ramps, stairways, and the bathroom, handrails provide an important stability aid, improving safety and usability.
8. Avoid doorknobs. Instead of door hardware that needs a firm grip and twist to work properly, look into lever door handles. All a person has to do is pull or push down on the lever for it to open, making access through doorways much easier.
9. Use rocker light switches. Avoid traditional light switches in favor of rocker designs, or ones that require the simple push of a button.
10. Ground-level storage. Ground level storage makes it easier to access things whether they are used in everyday applications or only once in a while. Climbing and carrying things down from higher shelves poses a safety hazard, so why not make it easy and safe to access stored items?
Universal design is a great practice for architects and contractors to adopt. Making our private and public spaces equally accessible to all—young or old, tall or short, disabled or not—enables us to enjoy safety and independence in the world around us.