How Universal Design in Custom Floor Plans Helps You Plan for a Lifetime
In custom floor plans for new homes, universal design is the planning of space to accommodate all people regardless of ability, disability or age.
When we start working with customers on custom floor plans for their new home, often the conversation is about lifestyle in the near future. But planning for a lifetime in that home requires long-term thinking.
Universal design is the planning of space to accommodate not only your current needs, but your future needs and needs of guests as well.
WHY UNIVERSAL DESIGN?
There are several reasons to employ these principles.
1. Planning to age in place.
This is the most common reason. Toward the end of your life, you will likely want to remain in your home as long as possible. This requires planning for being less steady on your feet. It may require planning for wheelchair accessibility as well.
2. Aging parents.
It may be best for your family if your aging parents move in with you in coming years. Sometimes an assisted living facility or nursing home is necessary. With so many in-home healthcare options, however, an accessible space may be all your aging parents need.
3. Accommodating disability.
If you already have a friend or family members with a physical disability, universal design makes your home more hospitable. Also consider that something may happen to you one day that results in a disability. You will thank yourself for planning ahead.
COMMON FEATURES OF UNIVERSAL DESIGN
It only takes a few simple adjustments to custom floor plans to make a home accessible and comfortable for everyone.
1. Single-story living.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have a second story. Rather, the idea is to design the ground floor in such a way that a person would not have to use the stairs. For example, you would include at least one bedroom and one full bathroom on the first floor, where the kitchen and laundry are accessible.
2. Flush floors and no-step entry.
In universal design, all exterior doorways should be accessible at ground level or a slight incline at most. Inside, you can avoid trips and falls by planning all floors to be at the same level. Custom floor plans that prioritize universal design don’t include sunken living rooms, for example.
3. Wide doorways, halls and stairways.
Skinny 23- to 30-inch doorways with wide sidelights may be attractive, but adding a few inches is all it takes to make doorways wheelchair accessible. 36 inches should be plenty for doorways, while 42 inches is ideal for halls and stairways. This makes room for future stair lifts.
4. Extra floorspace.
Universal design thinking doesn’t stop at passages. To gauge the proper amount of floorspace for a lifetime, imagine moving around when the width of your “body” has doubled. While your shoulder width is around 14-16 inches, wheelchairs are generally about 30 inches wide.
Other features include lowered countertops, strong lighting to aid those with poor vision, non-slip floors and bathtubs, lever door handles and rocker light switches for those with poor hand strength.
BALANCING UNIVERSAL DESIGN WITH AESTHETICS
Is it necessary to anticipate every possible disability or lifestyle change for the next several decades? No. There will likely be renovations needed down the road. You don’t have a crystal ball.
It’s okay with us if our customers choose a standard height for the countertops, or prefer the look of spherical doorknobs, or love the idea of a sunken living room.
That said, incorporating some universal design principles now means saving money later when you don’t have to knock down a wall to widen a hallway, for example.