Universal Design: A Home for a Lifetime

Homeowners want a roof that lasts decades, extra bedrooms for children or guests you plan to have, however, design choices are often planned for a single snapshot in time.
However, wider doorframes and barrier free entrances are easier not only for wheelchairs, but also for strollers, roller bags and appliance moving.
Carpet runners on stairs are great for acoustics but also avert falls.
Lever style door handles are easier for all hands or no hands. My hands are almost always full and I open the front door with my elbow. 🙂
Wall ovens are harder for children to reach and are easier on adult backs of all ages, especially at Thanksgiving!
There are many finish and design choices you can incorporate into your home that make life easier for all ages and abilities.  Below are some features you may want to include in your new home, next remodel or future project.
Because bathrooms are the first rooms that fail us when we become disabled short-term or long term from an accident or age, you may want to start there.  They are also expensive to remodel.  A wet room is great now and will work beautifully later in life.


  • Low-maintenance exterior
  • Low-maintenance shrubs and plants

Overall Floor Plan

  • Living area on main floor with open plan, one flex room and one full bath


  • Minimum of 36-inches wide, wider preferred
  • Well lit


  • Accessible path of travel to the home
  • At least one no-step entry with a cover
  • Sensor light at exterior no-step entry focusing on the front-door lock
  • There needs to be 32-inches of clear width, which requires a 36-inch door
  • Non-slip flooring in foyer
  • Entry door sidelight or high/low peep hole viewer; sidelight should provide both privacy and safety
  • Doorbell in accessible location
  • Surface to place packages on when opening door

Interior Doors

  • There needs to be 32-inches of clear width, which requires a 36-inch door
  • Levered door hardware


  • Plenty of windows for natural light
  • Lowered windows or taller windows with lower sill height
  • Low maintenance exterior and interior finishes
  • Easy to operate hardware


  • Lever handles or pedal-controlled
  • Thermostatic or anti-scald controls

Kitchen and Laundry


  • Easy to read controls
  • Washing machine and dryer raised 12-15 inches above floor
  • Front loading laundry machines
  • Microwave oven at counter height or in wall
  • Side-by-side refrigerator/freezer
  • Side-swing or wall oven
  • Raised dishwasher with push-button controls
  • Electric cook top with level burners for safety in transferring between the burners, front controls and downdraft feature to pull heat away from user; light to indicate when surface is hot


  • Bracing in walls around tub, shower, shower seat, and toilet for installation of grab bars to support 250-300 pounds
  • If stand-up shower is used in main bath, it is curbless and minimum of 36-inches wide
  • Fold down seat in the shower
  • Adjustable/handheld showerheads, 6-foot hose
  • Tub/shower controls offset from center
  • Shower stall with built-in antibacterial protection
  • Light in shower stall
  • Toilet two and half inches higher than standard toilet (17-19 inches) or height-adjustable
  • Design of the toilet paper holder allows rolls to be changed with one hand
  • Slip-resistant flooring in bathroom and shower

Stairways, Lifts, and Elevators

  • Increased visibility of stairs through contrast strip on top and bottom stairs, color contrast between treads and risers on stairs and use of lighting
  • Multi-story homes may provide either pre-framed shaft (i.e., stacked closets) for future elevator, or stairway width must be minimum of four feet to allow space for lift


  • Adjustable closet rods and shelves
  • Lighting in closets
  • Easy open doors that do not obstruct access

Electrical, Lighting, Safety, and Security

  • Light switches by each entrance to halls and rooms
  • Light receptacles with at least two bulbs in vital places (exits, bathroom)
  • Light switches, thermostats, and other environmental controls placed in accessible locations no higher than 48 inches from floor
  • Electrical outlets 15-inches on center from floor; may need to be closer than 12-feet apart
  • Rocker or touch light switches
  • Easy-to-see and read thermostats
  • Pre-programmed thermostats


  • Smooth, non-glare, slip-resistant surfaces, interior and exterior
  • Color/texture contrast to indicate change in surface levels

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning

  • HVAC should be designed so filters are easily accessible
  • Energy-efficient units
  • Windows that can be opened for cross ventilation, fresh air
  • Installation of energy efficient windows with Low-E glass

Reduced Maintenance/Convenience Features

  • Easy to clean surfaces
  • Central vacuum
  • Built-in pet feeding system
  • Built-in recycling system

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