From the Experts

Giving Your Home a Universal Edge

Barry Fennell, remodeler

By Barry Fennell
Director of Remodeling Services for Wardell Builders and member of California Build it Green, San Diego BIA, AIA San Diego, National Association of the Remodeling Industry, and the National Association of Home Remodelers

You’ve almost got your house just the way you want it, and with a little more tweaking you know you’ll be able to stay there forever. Or perhaps you are in your 50s or 60s or 70s, have just moved and you want to remodel your new home so it can serve your needs as well as those of everyone else in your household.

One of the concepts that’s proving to be a good solution for people of all ages, but especially those 45 and older, is remodeling using universal design to enhance the function and look of your home. It can also improve your home’s marketability and make entertaining guests easier as well.

Universal design is a concept pioneered by the late Ron Mace, a wheelchair-bound architect who said the home should be designed to be used by anyone–young, old, short, tall, healthy or ill.  “Because of universal design, people who are very different can all enjoy the same homes. And that home will be there for all its inhabitants, even when their needs change,” according to National Association of Home Builders.

No-step entry, for example, will make the house accessible to anyone; one-story living will mean that there will be no barriers for anyone; wide doorways not only allow for wheelchair passage but make it possible to move larger items in and out of the house, and extra floor space will make it possible for people to feel less cramped and for wheelchairs to have more space to turn.

New homes often incorporate these features. You may want to consider these when you’re remodeling.  This could mean making your bathroom more functional by placing studs inside the walls so that grab bars can be added easily at a future date, adding a main floor bedroom/bath to make living on a single story possible, making the kitchen more functional by making cabinets and appliances easier to reach, or using slip-resistant materials for flooring. Check out NAHB’s Aging in Place Remodeling Checklist that embraces universal design. At first blush, some of their recommendations– no steps between rooms, an ample turn space in living areas, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom–may seem a bit obvious if you’ve already thought your remodeling approach through. But the checklist touches on everything from the exterior to the location of faucets. There is a lot of valuable information to be had there including recommendations for lighting and even counter height.