Building a home that features the principles of Universal Design’s easy access will meet a family’s needs now and into the future, allowing homeowners to age in place without forcing them to make expensive renovations, move, or radically alter their lifestyle when their abilities start to slip.

When universal design is done well it will not be obvious or apparent. When a home is built based on the principles of universal design building construction, it accommodates not only diversity in general human function but also the changes that occur as the result of aging, illness or injury.

Fundamental elements of universal design include creating a barrier-free accessible entrance to the home; widening doorways and hallways; placing key living areas such as bedrooms and fully accessible bathrooms on the main floor; and creating a plan for handling the vertical circulation in a home that is more than one level. Taken individually, none of these things is particularly dramatic and may go virtually unnoticed by someone who is not looking for them, but together they can make a huge difference in terms of the functionality of the home for everyone on a day-to-day basis. For example: strollers come and go more easily, groceries can be unloaded more easily, and Uncle Bill, who can’t walk, can visit more easily.

The list of universal design features, products and applications available in manufactured home floor plans that contribute to the livability of a home is virtually limitless. Some ideas to consider:

In the overall home design:

  • At lease one barrier-free or stepless hard-surface entrance with a threshold no greater than 5/8-inch to permit wheelchair accessibility
  • 32-inch wide doors and lever-style door hardware
  • Main-floor master bedroom
  • Minimum 36-inch wide hallways with 60-inch clear space turnarounds for better wheelchair mobility
  • No steps between rooms on the main floor
  • In a multistory home, incorporating an elevator into the plan to provide easy access to all levels. Or, stack closets with knock-out floors that can easily be removed later to serve as an elevator shaft
  • Raised electrical outlets; lower-height, rocker-style or touch light switches
  • A private bedroom or office, preferably connected to its own bathroom, which could be used for an elderly parent or future caregiver
  • Easy-roll flooring
  • Low-maintenance exterior finish, windows and doors

In the kitchen:

  • 30- by 48-inch clear space at all appliances
  • Multi-level work areas with a countertop accent edge that visually defines the workspace for the user.
  • Wall-mounted cabinetry that’s three inches lower and has ergonomic hardware
  • Extendable shelving in upper cabinets, roll-out trays and lazy susans in base cabinets
  • Raised appliances — such as the dishwasher, washer and dryer — at a comfortable height for loading and unloading, preferably front-loading with front-mounted controls
  • Counter-height or in-wall microwave oven with an adjoining or pull-out dish rest
  • Side-by-side refrigerator/freezer
  • Knee space under the sink
  • Smooth-surface cook top

In the bathroom:

  • At least one bathroom that can easily accommodate a wheelchair on the main floor, preferably with a curbless entry shower and/or a low-profile tub
  • Slip-resistant flooring throughout
  • Additional bracing built into the walls surrounding the shower, tub and toilet to support the installation of handrails and grab bars
  • Built-in shower seat
  • Adjustable, hand-held showerhead with a 6-foot or longer hose
  • Knee space underneath the sink and vanity
  • Comfort-height toilet
  • Bright task lighting

To learn more review “The Do-Able Renewable Home” by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)

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