What is Universal Design and how should I include it in my home?

You don't have to sacrifice a stylish home design to create an accessible home base for all mobility levels. By integrating the basic principles of Universal Design when renovating, you can create a future-proofed home that is suitable not only for you into old age but also for your whole family as their lifestyles change.

Universal Design

‘Your home is where your heart is’ and that is why it’s important that your home is designed with you in mind. Planning the design of your home ahead of time can be tricky as you never know what the future holds – and therefore planning for any occasion or lifestyle can be important in your design.

What is Universal Design?

Universal Design is the architectural practice of designing a home that allows all ages and capabilities to live independently and comfortably in the same house for long periods of time.
Universal Design consists of seven basic principles.
1)    The design should be useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
2)    It should be flexible, accommodating a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
3)    It should also be simple and intuitive, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or education level.
4)    The forth principle states that the design should communicate necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
5)    The design is expected to minimize hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
6)    It can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of physical effort.
7)    Finally, it’s important that size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use regardless of user’s body size, posture or mobility.
These principles are broader than the standard building principles of accessible or barrier free design and are used to create an environment that is aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent by everyone regardless of age or ability.

Why is it important to consider Universal Design when building or renovating your home? 

Well, a recent survey of baby boomers found that upon retirement 84 per cent would like to stay in their current homes, but as they age the homes they enjoyed in their youth become harder for them to live in. There are often too many stairs and hallways are narrow making access difficult. 
Looking to renovate your home for retirement? Find out what considerations you need to take here.
Accessibility to one’s home isn’t limited to old age, however. Of the 415,000 males in New Zealand aged between 30 and 45, twelve out of one hundred will experience at least one period of disablement lasting six months or longer and eight out of one hundred will experience at least one period of disablement lasting 12 months or longer. Of the 433,000 females the numbers are eight out of one hundred and twelve out of one hundred respectively. Also, 21% of New Zealanders aged between 45 and 64 will have a period of disablement lasting longer than 6 months. Imagine if you were one of those to be disabled wouldn’t you wish to remain in your own home?
See how this Refresh Renovations specialist worked with these homeowners to transform their space to be mobility friendly.
Along with being able to cope with aging or disablement in your own home, Universal Design creates a home where multiple-generations can live together in an environment that caters for all.
It is no secret that there is a large number of homes in New Zealand that are old and cold and not designed to meet the needs of the occupants over the course of their lifetime.  Millions of dollars are spent annually adapting homes, so people can remain in them, with the new 2021 Healthy Homes Standards tenants will be expected to transform their rental properties to meet these standards.
There are several key aspects to consider when building or renovating your home with Universal Design in mind.
Entrance way
The entrance should give seamless and trouble-free access, be well lit and have generous doorways. It should be undercover and slip resistant with a sensor light for ease of access.
Kitchens should focus on convenience and safety. There needs to be enough space around appliances and cupboards so one can move easily around them. It is also important that all fixtures and fittings are designed for ease and comfort of use with any mobility device. Items like microwaves should not be placed above head height, as it can be dangerous to lift hot dishes out of them. They should be located close to dining areas with easy access between the two.
Bathrooms need to be designed to be easily adaptable to the changing needs of the occupants. Design needs to consider are strengthened walls and showers that will be large enough to fit seats in for disabled or elderly users. Showers should be accessible to all mobility levels and separate from baths so users do not need to climb into them. It is also important to place facilities at entry level, especially in multi-story homes so those that are unable to use stairs have access.
Living areas
When planning living spaces, it’s important that people of all ages and abilities can reach light switches and power outlets without any unnecessary bending or reaching. Consider installing windows no higher than 1,200 millimetres from the floor so access to opening them is available to all levels of ability. Floor finishes should be slip resistant and designed to accommodate wheeled traffic.
It is recommended that at least one bedroom is on the entry level of the house and has easy access to bathroom facilities. Bedrooms need to be designed with ease of movement in mind, for both parents with children and those who need mobility devices. As with living spaces, light switches and power outlets should be at a consistent height that is easy to reach without unnecessary bending or reaching.

Universal Design Checklist

Representing the principles of Universal Design in New Zealand, Lifemark sets out clear and easy guidelines to ensure that your house is built to last a lifetime. Does your home tick all the boxes?
·      The threshold to a main entry has no step higher than 20 millimetres.
·      The entry hallway is 1,200 millimetres wide and other internal hallways are at least 1,050 millimetres wide.
·      Doors have a minimum clear opening of 810 millimetres.
·      The kitchen provides a 1,500-millimetre turning circle.
·      The distance between benches is at least 1,200 millimetres.
·      Appliances are accessible and places at least 300 millimetres away from corners.
·      There is space and plumbing for an entry-level shower (installed either now or in the future) with a minimum dimension of 1,200 by 1,200 millimetres.
Living room
·      Lever handles are used on all doors.
·      Power sockets, TV, phone and computer outlets are located away from the corners and sited between 600 and 1,000 millimetres from the floor.
·      A bedroom is located on the entry level of the home, ideal with 800 millimetres of clear floor space around the bed.
·      Light switches and door handles are placed at a consistent height of 1,000 millimetres from the floor.
Multi-storey homes
·      There is space for a 1,200 by 1,200-millimetre platform lift to be installed in the future.
·      Stairwells contain weight-bearing handrails on both sides.
·      The width between handrails is a minimum of 900 millimetres to allow for a future chair lift.
Visit www.lifemark.co.nz for a full checklist.

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