“Universal Design Provides Many Sustainable Elements”

In many ways, universal design is a lot like green building. It isn’t identical nor a substitute for it, and it doesn’t have the same emphasis or nature. However, both include sustainable and economical building components, techniques, and elements. Rather than promoting universal design features as green, or in discussing them in this manner, suffice it to say that many of them are sustainable – a major precept of green building. 

Because universal design is focused on supplying long-term benefits for a variety of needs and living environments, it necessarily includes building components that are created to last for many years of useful service. This is where is parallels green building, in terms of sustainability.

In many of the major household systems, universal design incorporates many products that are sustainable and designed for years of dependable service without needing replacement. There are many such products that we use in creating a new home or in remodeling or renovating an existing home.

Flooring is a huge universal design element that also is sustainable. Carpeting or other surfaces that show wear and are affected by environmental influences (spills, dirt, pollen, pets, viruses, stains, and the like) have been giving way to hard-surface impervious flooring. In fact, flooring leads the lists of building products that have undergone the most changes and been reinvented in so many different forms over the past few decades.

Going back a half century or more, hardwood floors were extremely common for living areas, with sheet vinyl, vinyl tile, concrete, or terrazzo being used in wet or heavy traffic areas. Then came wall-to-wall carpeting that made its mark for several years. Gradually, ceramic tile, terra cotta, slate, marble, and a few other hard-surface products started being used. Now, there are a variety of durable, long lasting flooring products – including brick, laminates, engineered products, travertine, and porcelain. Most would be considered in the sustainable category because they don’t need replaced except when the occupants tire of them or they become damaged in some way.

Lighting is another building material that has undergone significant changes in recent years and now is quite sustainable. For years, all we had was the incandescent bulb (in a variety of shapes and wattages), and then florescent tubes and rings to go along with them. Halogen bulbs and CFLs came along, but all have given way to the LED – originally quite expensive and not very versatile but now quite useful throughout the home. LED bulbs are used for recessed lighting, under cabinets, toe-kick areas, inside drawers and cabinets, in closets, for indirect lighting, as indicator lights, inside appliances, and many other places.

The great thing about LED lighting is that they are rated for a double-digit number of years of usage – some even more than 30 years. This totally eliminates the thoughts of replacing them for many people – a big safety boost as people don’t need to stand on ladders or reach the fixtures.

Then we add to the total building picture items such as wiring, pex and pvc plumbing lines, drywall (that now can fight mold formation and deaden sound), insulation, appliances, cabinets, door hardware, paint and wall finishes, and so many other building materials and products that help make homes sustainable and less in need of any replacement products.

Sustainability is a major attribute of universal design. The universal design features help anyone living in the home to function well, and the sustainability aspect of them means that they are quite durable at the same time.

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