Universal Design Frequently Asked Questions
• When do I need approvals and how
can I get them?
• Is there someone I can talk to to learn more?
• What does universal design mean for home construction?
• Who might be interested in a universal design home?
• What makes a universal design home different from a typical home?
• How is a universal design home different from an accessible home or senior housing?
• Is universal design just for people with disabilities?
• What are some noticeable features of a universal design home?
• What are some features of a universal design home that are not obvious?
• What about people who think they might need a universal design home in the future?
• How can someone modify their existing home to be a universal design home?
• Do universal design homes cost more?
• How long has universal design been used in home construction?
• Where did the universal design concept originate?
Q: What does Universal Design
mean for home construction?
A: In very simple terms, it is design that makes sense. Universal design brings into the main stream more usable design in home construction. The use of universal design features and products in home construction translates into comfortable living for as many as possible without the need for expensive solutions.
A: Some people may see an immediate need like older households or
families with a member with a disability. In these scenarios, the age of
the households is not a determining factor.
There are some people that plan for a need they may have in the future by investing in a universal design home. Buying the universal design home helps them avoid the cost and effort of remodeling down the road if the need arises.
Some may find that buying a universal design home is a smart purchase especially if they anticipate the demand for universal design construction to grow with the changing demographics. As the Boomer generation begins to retire, the demand can only increase.
A: There are many features to choose from but universal design homes should have at least the following:
An accessible entrance: No-step entrance with a porch or overhang
Key function areas located on an accessible level, for example kitchen, bath, and bedroom
Wide interior doorways (34-36 inches) and passages (42 inches)
Switches and controls located at accessible heights: Light switches, thermostats, power outlets, phone jacks, reachable electrical panel
Wall reinforcing for grab bars in bathrooms – for future needs
Easy to use appliances: For example front load washer and dryer, cook tops with front controls
Click on this link for a discussion of how these features are listed in a home for sale ad on our web site.
A: Accessible homes are generally designed for someone with a specific need like the use of a wheelchair. An accessible home can also be customized with features that are not mainstreamed but built for a particular accessibility need of the occupant. Senior housing built for accessibility often times incorporates wheelchair access and the designs that are used vary greatly. Universal design is not ability-specific.
A: Universal design responds to the abilities we have as it relates to for example our size, vision, strength, and cognition whether or not we have any health problems or disabilities.
Large doorways and hallways
No step entrance
Lever door handles
Bath vanities that can be easily removed for wheelchair access
Blocking in the bathroom wall for future grab bar installation
Elevated garage floor that eliminates the need for stairs into the home
A: Universal design homes certainly make sense if for example you anticipate any physical limitations in the future. For instance if someone has knee problems and is anticipating knee replacement surgery, climbing stairs can be very difficult. The universal design home also offer a measure of safety especially if it is important for a homeowner to prevent falls that may result in a disabling condition. A universal design home can be a money saver for some by reducing time spent living in expensive housing arrangements or delaying having to move to a home that better accommodates ones needs.
A: Remodeling and home modifications can be expensive whether it is adding features or modifying existing features. Depending on the style of the home, some are more difficult to modify like split levels, multifloor townhouses, and homes built in flood plains like beach homes.
A: It just depends on what features are included the home. Some of the more elaborate features like an elevator can be expensive. It is important to take enough time to plan for many of the basic design elements up front to reduce any need for remodeling or modifications at a later time. For example simple things like, planning to locate all of the switches and controls at accessible heights. And another example would be including in your plans a porch or overhang that covers the no step entrance.
A: Since the 1980s.
A: The concept of universal design originated at North Carolina State University. The late Ronald L. Mace, Founder and Director of the Center for Universal Design at NC State University was a pioneer in this field of design. In the words of Ronald Mace:
"The intent of universal design is to
simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the
built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or
no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and
Referring to a quote from the Center for Universal Design
"Universal design is the design of products
and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent
possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized
[Quotes provided with permission from the Center for Universal Design - NC State University]