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Universal design and aging in place

Universal design, aging-in-place remodeling article written by John Gillette and published in the Houston Chronicle on Jan 27, 2013.

Universal design and aging-in-place feature differences

Homeowners wanting to customize their homes for their needs and comfort have a variety of products and design elements among which to choose. Two of these concepts, aging-in-place and universal design, are focused on making a home more comfortable for individuals of different abilities.

Here is how to distinguish between the two concepts:

Aging-in-place design most often is used for individuals requiring home modifications in order to be able to use their home safely and comfortably as their physical abilities change over time.

There is a strong demand for aging-in-place remodeling, as the more than 76 million people born in the U.S. from 1946 to 1964 are starting to reach retirement age. Many of these baby boomers are looking at remodeling so they can stay in their homes and neighborhoods.

With aging-in-place, the design is convenient and comfortable but the modifications may be noticeable. Some examples include installing grab bars in shower stalls and putting in a ramp to replace steps.

Universal design

Applicable to all homeowners, regardless of age or ability. It is useful to meet the needs of many, from a multi-generational households to first-time homeowners.

Universal design augments traditional design by incorporating elements that offer comfort, convenience and ease of use. However, unlike aging-in-place, universal design elements are transparent and not immediately identifiable in a home.

Some examples of universal design include choosing counters with contrasting borders to increase visibility for homeowners whose vision may deteriorate over time, making hallways wider to accommodate strollers or relatives who might use a wheelchair, and building a stepless porch entry that will increase access and convenience without compromising aesthetics.

An additional component of universal design is adaptability. A home being built with universal design might include added blocking inside the shower stall walls so a grab bar can be easily installed at a future date, a common aging-in-place update.

Home building and remodeling professionals who have earned the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), Certified Graduate Remodeler (CGR) or Graduate Master Remodeler (GMR) designations have received extensive training specific to the remodeling industry, and will be able to professionally advise you on these types of projects. Read more about these designations online at National Association of Home Builders website