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Aging Resources WNC

Implementing Universal Design in Your Home

As we grow older and our physical abilities change, our living spaces sometimes need modifications to help us function, prevent falls and stay independent so we can “age in place” in our homes.

Through a design approach called Universal Design, or UD, we can make our homes more accessible, operational and safe.

UD often involves simple, small changes that can make huge differences. For example, retrofitting a home using UD can be as easy as changing lighting to reduce glare, installing wall-to-wall carpet, putting up two handrails on staircases or making thresholds smooth. Such changes actually benefit everyone and make living easier and more secure for people of all ages and abilities, from toddlers to seniors.

Universal Design sometimes can call for more involved remodeling, like making a barrier-free bathroom with a walk-in tub or roll-in shower. Creating a more accessible kitchen may include appliances at lower heights and cabinets with roll-out shelves and handles rather than knobs. These UD elements are a bigger investment but are still less expensive and less disruptive than having to move from home to an assisted living or care facility. Retrofitting a home using UD also can be done gradually as your budget allows and on an “as needed” basis.

If you are building a home, you are in a great position to incorporate UD options into your new space such as wider hallways for wheelchairs or walkers, lower light switches, higher electrical outlets and blocks behind walls to accommodate grab bars if they are needed later. The cost of incorporating UD into the design of a new home is minimal while having UD throughout the house can add great value for resale.

Interior designers and homebuilders who are Certified Aging in Place (CAP) specialists can help you decide which Universal Design elements to bring into your current home or to add to your new home’s blueprints.

Universal Design Options That Can Make Life Easier

  • Lights that turn on when you approach your home

  • No-glare lights for general lighting and task lighting

  • Rails on both sides of stairs

  • Raised electric outlets

  • Lowered rocker light switches

  • Programmable thermostats

  • Remote-controlled lighting, window blinds and other home systems

  • Drawers instead of cabinets in kitchen

  • D-shaped cabinet and drawer pulls

  • Wall-to-wall carpet rather than throw rugs

  • Wires neatly managed, off floors

  • Grab bars by toilets and in showers

  • Elevated toilets

  • Roll-in showers

  • Hand-held shower heads on glides

  • Non-slip, low-maintenance floors in bathrooms

  • Kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and laundry on one floor

  • Side-by-side refrigerator/freezer

  • Raised or lowered dishwasher

  • Counter-height microwave

  • Flat cooktop with front controls

  • Stoves and sinks with open space underneath for someone seated 

  • Separate, comfort-height wall oven

  • Varied counter heights so cooks can sit or stand

  • Beveled corners on counters, furniture and walls

  • Raised, front-load, front-control washer and dryer

  • 36-inch-wide doorways and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs

Universal Design Resources

Aging Resources Magazine 2023-2024