If you’re thinking of remodeling or building a new home, universal design can help you live at home longer and increase your home’s resale value. Universal design makes homes accessible to people of all ages and abilities, including wheelchair users and people with other mobility issues (including small children who can’t reach light switches and sinks in standard homes). Here’s what you need to know about universal design, how it makes your home safer and more valuable, and where to find the experts you need to get it done.
What is universal design?
At its core, universal design is design that allows everyone, regardless of age, size, or ability level, to use a space safely and comfortably. According to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, most universal design elements can be built at “little to no extra cost” compared to traditional design.
Some examples of universal design elements are
- home entrances level with the ground to eliminate steps and high thresholds
- single-story floor plans to eliminate stairs
- more than one counter and sink height in kitchens and bathrooms so people can sit or stand
- under-counter appliances in the kitchen and laundry room
- light switches lower on the wall for easy reach from a wheelchair
- roll-in showers and walk-in bathtubs with safety bars
- wide doorways and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers
These design elements make home life easier and safer for wheelchair and walker users. They also reduce the risk of falls for people of all ages, especially toddlers and small children who are at high risk around stairs and bathtubs. You can find more universal design ideas at the PBS Hometime web page.
How does universal design make your home more appealing to future buyers?
The Washington Post reports the number of US multigenerational households has doubled since 1980 to 57 million in 2012. The number is rising, and an increasing number of buyers want homes that are welcoming and safe for parents, grandparents, and small children. MSN Money reports “thirteen percent of all home purchases in 2014 were by a multigenerational household,” and that number is expected to grow as Americans live longer and more families see the cost savings and other benefits of living together. When you’re ready to sell, there’s a market eager for accessibly designed homes.
Where can you find universal design referrals and expertise?
When you want a new home that features universal design, or if you’d like to remodel your existing home to include universal design features, it’s important to work with planning, construction, and financing experts at every step along the way. An officially designated Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) can show you local properties that meet your needs or refer you to the architects and contractors you’ll need for your new construction or remodeling project.
SRES Realtors are trained in universal design and can suggest specific ways to make your current home safer and more attractive at the same time. They also know how to help older homeowners and homebuyers avoid financing scams that target seniors and can refer you to reputable financial resources and professionals to handle your home purchase or renovation.