Thursday, August 17, 2017

"There Is No 'Right Amount' Of Universal Design Features To Include"

Since we know and appreciate just how good universal design elements are for a home, we may tend to get a little too enthusiastic about suggesting what needs to be in a home and not be sensitive to their budget or needs. We could make someone feel as though they have come up short in not including enough when they may have done a very good job with what they could handle.

Whether it's new construction or the remodeling of existing homes - to accommodate a specific need, a perceived one, or just to create good design that can be functional and useful regardless of who is in the space at any given time - anything that can be done with a universal design application rather than for a specific one will create features that have substantial benefits to the owners.

On the one hand, it would seem that having a standardized list of features to include in a new construction home or in a remodel might be the answer. 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 fact, there are some features that aren't appropriate for every home because some only apply to multi-story homes and others are based more on personal preference within a range of choices that are acceptable. Others, such as elevators (again applicable to multi-story homes or those with a basement) require a significant budget. Such an expenditure, while important and recommended when it can be done, would take the place of several others that could be installed or completed for that amount of money.

The type (in terms of terrain and elevation change) and size of the homesite on which the home is situated is also a major determining factor - affecting approach walks, steps, porches, driveways, foundation, and other factors just to someone to the front door.

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. 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 already have or just decide to add such basic features as 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 constitutes 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 in a particular home, which ones we personally would recommend, which we would lobby against using, and how we would prioritize the features we would want to see based on someone's 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 just a handful for now. They can always add more later.

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist-Master Instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.