There are many ways that we can approach a remodeling or renovation project for our clients that want to remain in their homes and age in place. Some of the improvements or modifications are going to be suggested or dictated by their physical needs and requirements. Some are going be the result of the age and condition of their home.to
In many cases, we will be installing a specific aging in place solution for a particular sensory or mobility need – such as an entry ramp, a bathtub cutout, a chair glide (also known as stair glides or stair lifts), an overhead lift system, a vertical platform lift, a raised toilet, or arms on the toilet.
When it doesn’t have to be an improvement that is just for a mobility impairment or need and it can done in such a way that it applies to others in the household or those who might visit the home in the future, we can look at broader applications, such as universal design or visitability.
When it comes to universal design, and we decide that we would like to renovate homes – or even build new construction ones – with the objective of having them appeal to the needs of as many people as possible without even suggesting a reason why they have been included other that they look nice or serve the function for which they were intended, there comes the question of how extensive to make this?
How many universal design features should be added to a home to show that we understand the concept and to help people lead a safer, more accessible, more comfortable and convenient lifestyle in their homes? What is the minimum number to include? Is there an optimum number? A maximum number? What should be our aim?
While many universal design features add nothing to the cost of construction, and may even save a little, we may tend to get a little too enthusiastic about suggesting what needs to be in a home and not be as concerned about the number of features being added, the client’s overall budget for renovations, and their desires. We could make someone feel as though they have come up short in not including enough universal design features in their home when they may have done a very good job with what they could handle.
So how many features should we strive to include? If we had a commonly accepted list of universal design features to include in a new construction home or in a remodel, we could rely on this. This would eliminate the subjective element of deciding what to include, how many features need to be added or addressed, and the budgetary factor. It also could mean that homes would be over-designed by making them include features that aren’t needed or desired.
In some cases, there might already be some basic universal design treatments present such as lever door handles and rocker light switches. There could be digital thermostats also. These are found in many new construction homes, even when other universal design features are not present. Many people don’t even think of these as anything special – and that’s the point. They are universal design features that are used so frequently that they have gained general market acceptance. Actually, when they aren’t present, they are more obvious and noticeable than when they are.
Even if a builder, homeowner, or renter did nothing more than just including lever door handles and rocker light switches, although we would prefer them to have many more features, we would still say that their homes incorporate some universal design components – because they do.
This is where we get into the argument of just how many features being used in a home are sufficient to constitute it being described as universal design – two, five, ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred? There are dozens that could be used, but how many really need be included?
It doesn’t have to be, nor should it be, an “all or nothing” proposition where a home is only considered to be universal design by us, other professionals, and the marketplace if it meets a certain threshold number of features or includes certain “mandatory” or required elements – according to us or commonly accepted standards.
In fact, as design professionals, we might not agree anyway on what features should be used or recommended in a particular home, which ones we personally would prefer or not like to see done, and how we would prioritize the features we would want to see based on the condition of someone’s home, their needs, and their budget.
There is a long list of possible universal design features and treatments that can be used or included in a home, and few homes are going to have everything included that we would like to see. Therefore, we should strive to have as many features used as someone’s budget and personal tastes will initially allow – even if it’s not a specific minimum number and is just a handful for now. They can always add more later.