Monday, May 23, 2011

Why Universal Design on the First Floor

***once again, this is Niels' accidentally posting under Jen's account."

In a world where most people live longer, more people will live with certain ailments that could lead to disabilities. Or, as in Jen's case, one day a simple accident will change your life. Also, with the economy the way it is, more and more houses seem to hold (are made able to hold) multi-generations. With this in mind we have designed our first floor to comply with universal design principles where the budget permits it.

What does this mean?

Universal design refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to both people without disabilities and people with disabilities. (source:

So we had our architect come up with a design that has 36" width doors on the main level, an in-law suite on the main level with an accessible bathroom. That means room for a wheelchair to turn, touch-operated faucets, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant shower gear, no barrier shower pan, ADA compliant toilet, grab bars, low-resistance flooring (in both the in-law suite and bathroom), rocker light switches, pocket doors and for regular handles we will use door levers as opposed to door knobs.

Furthermore, the kitchen cabinets feature pull-out drawers with easy to grab handles versus regular cabinets doors with knobs. The cork floor we're installing is sound-absorbent to help Jen with her brain injury since hardwood floors are very loud. (In our current house we have hardwood throughout the main level which means Jen can be pretty anti-social when we are socializing). We don't have a lot of upper cabinets, but we have a very large walk-in pantry, island and bar. We won't hurt for space. The end of our island is lower and open underneath, which will make baking easier for Jen--she won't have to knead on her tiptoes, and also allows seating for a guest in a wheelchair. Lastly, we're going with Quartz versus the more popular granite since the patterns are usually a little more subtle.

We also try to stay 'green' so the ADA-compliant toilet is also a low-flow, WaterSense toilet that only uses 1.28gpf (gallons per flush) as opposed to the standard 1.6gpf. The ADA-compliant faucet and shower heads, max out at 1.75gpm (gallons per minute) as opposed to the standard 2.5gpm and for the in-law bedroom floor we are leaning towards cork (same as in the kitchen) since carpeting isn't as easy to get around on in a wheelchair (and that is even if you have decent hand strength). Ultimately we would have loved to reserve space for an elevator shaft, but after looking at the budget, we put that money (and space) towards a more accessible main level. That being said, directly above the pantry is the laundry room so both of those rooms could be sacrificed if the need arises.

Hopefully, more and more houses will be built or retro-fitted with universal design so in the future, your house will be one less thing to worry about when your abilities start to fade...

And now a shameless plug alert, but if you do find yourself in need, my sister and her husband own Accessible Homes, who build & remodel homes to make them accessible for people of all abilities. Please check 'm out at: Accessible Homes, LLC (located in Minneapolis/St. Paul, now serving MN and WI).
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