Why Build Using Universal Design?

The Home Store's Universal Design T-Ranch Model Home with Front Porch
The Home Store’s Universal Design T-Ranch Model Home

Universal Design is a growing movement in residential construction for universal access. Although consumers sometimes think it is just another way of describing “handicapped-accessible” construction or wheelchair accessibility, Universal Design is actually a much broader concept, intended to create houses that are usable by all people, whether they’re young or old, tall or short, strong or weak, able-bodied or with a disability. By incorporating features such as level – stepless – entrances, wider hallways, and larger doors, a Universal Designed home becomes easier to navigate when pushing a child in a stroller or moving furniture in or out of a room. 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.

Even younger adults should consider building a Universal Designed home, since it could prove very helpful to their aging parents. Building a house with universal accessibility standards – one that can be entered without having to climb steps, that allows someone in a wheelchair or with a walker to circulate easily, and that has a full bathroom on the first floor adjacent to a room that could be used as a bedroom – makes it possible for an aging parent to move in some day. Given the astronomical costs of nursing homes, this is often the only viable option for families. Such Universal Design features also allow visitors with a wide range of physical abilities to feel welcomed and comfortable.

Modular homes can readily accommodate the principles of Universal Design. The Home Store’s staff can modify most standard plans to enlarge the doorways, hallways, and bathrooms. Universal access may require us to change the shape and size of some rooms, but this usually will not present problems if the floor plan is large enough, and it is unlikely to cost much. For more information on Universal Design for the home, see chapter 3, “Designing a Home,” in The Modular Home by Andrew Gianino.

In addition to changes in the floor plan, universal home design incorporates user-friendly items like lever door handles and faucets. If you want to build a home that is usable by all of your family and friends, consider including some of the following Universal Design products and options in your home.

Universal Design Products and Features Displayed In The Home Store’s Model Home

  • Lever-handled locksets for exterior doors
  • 36-inch-wide exterior doors
  • Low exterior door thresholds
  • 36-inch-wide interior doors
  • Lever-handled interior door handles
  • Extra wide 42″ hallways
  • E-Z-Fold hinges for bifold closet doors
  • Raised electrical outlets
  • Rocker-style electrical switches
  • Top position ground plug at all outlets
  • Easy-to-reach thermostat location
  • Thermostats with large numerals and an intuitive operation
  • Task lighting for specific activities, such as cooking, reading, and shaving
  • Varying height kitchen work surfaces
  • Knee space at a kitchen countertop for a chair
  • Pull-out shelf for oven food transfer
  • D-shaped cabinet handles
  • Extra maneuvering space in the kitchen and bathrooms
  • Knee space at the bathroom vanity for a chair
  • Offset tub/shower anti-scald controls
  • Curbless shower with a flexible water dam
  • Hand-held showerhead
  • Blocking for grab bars at toilets, tubs, and showers
  • Bathroom grab bars
Universal design kitchen in The Home Store's modular T-ranch model home
Universal design kitchen in The Home Store’s model home

Some Home Store customers lower the electrical switches to make it easier for their young children to turn the lights on and off. Other Home Store customers raise the electric outlets to help family and friends with arthritis to plug and unplug fixtures. Many people install lever door handles to make it easier for everyone to open the doors, even when carrying a bag of groceries; lever handles do not need to be grasped; in fact, they can be opened with an elbow. More and more of our customers are adding grab bars in their bathrooms, since anyone can slip on a wet surface, and everyone appreciates the additional support when bending down, rising from a lowered position, or stretching to reach something. For more information about these accessibility features, see chapter 4, “Specifications and Features,” in The Modular Home by Andrew Gianino.

Although Universal Design features provide enduring benefits, many customers do not consider them until after they have built their home. Unfortunately, many of the most important universal access features are considerably more expensive to add later on, since they require extensive remodeling. On the other hand, easy accessibility features such as curbless showers, low exterior door thresholds, and blocking in the bathroom walls for future grab bars require only a modest investment when the house is built. We encourage you to consider making this investment in your family and future.

Universal Design accessible bathroom sink in The Home Store's model home
Universal Design bathroom with accessible sink in The Home Store’s model home

Building one of our modular additions with Universal Design principles is an affordable way to help your family stay in their existing home when their needs change. For example, if your aging parents need to move in with you, a Universally Designed addition or ECHO (Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity) in-law apartment will allow all of you to live together without sacrificing independence or privacy.

A Universal Design home built by The Home Store will give your family long-term comfort, safety, and stability – all preserved without loss of affordability and without adding a clinical appearance. It will provide these benefits whether you are a first time home buyer or a move-up buyer. In addition, the attractive easy accessibility features and affordability of these homes will give your home a high resale value. Simply speaking, building a Universal Design home will benefit everyone!

For more information about the Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity program, see ECHO.

For some examples of universal designed kitchens and bathrooms, see Kitchen and Baths.

For a related story, see The Joys and Pitfalls of Inter-generational Living: One Family’s Success Story.

For more information about the merits of building a new accessible home versus remodeling an older home, see Why Building a New Accessible Home Is Often Better than Remodeling.

For more information about modular additions, see chapter 8, “Building a Modular Addition,” in The Modular Home by Andrew Gianino, President of The Home Store.

For a comprehensive overview of what you need to know to build a modular home, order The Modular Home (310 pages) by Andrew Gianino, President of the Home Store.

The Home Store – Your Best Source for Universal, Easy Access Modular Homes Employing Universal Design Housing, in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, New York, Long Island, and Pennsylvania