Universal design experts break down results from consumer poll

What are the top universal design features consumers want in their homes? The latest consumer poll on NARI.org asked homeowners to choose which feature they would be willing to include in their remodeling projects. Grab bars and barrier-free shower in the bathroom was the top response at 63 percent, but NARI Universal Design Certified Professionals (UDCP) know accessibility extends far beyond the bathroom. See the entire breakdown of universal design features from the poll: UD Data NEW2

Darius Baker, MCR, CKBR, UDCP, president of D & J Kitchens & Baths, Inc., based in Sacramento, Calif., says he includes universal design elements in all his projects, and Katie Hurst, CKBR, UDCP, of Hurst Total Home Inc., had two projects honored in the 2013 CotY Universal Project Recognition program both in the Entire House Under $250,000 category. As experts in universal design, Baker and Hurst shed light on the results of the poll from working with clients in need of greater accessibility.

Bathrooms pose high risk for injury. The slippery nature of bathrooms poses a high risk for injury regardless of age or ability. “Grab bars are an obvious choice for safety,” Hurst explains. “Homeowners install them because they know it gives them the ability to catch themselves if they slip and fall.”

Hurst also says that a barrier-free shower is appealing to all age groups, not only those in wheelchairs. “It’s nice to not have to step over an obstacle with wet feet—just ask a 5-year-old trying to hop out of a wet tub/shower,” she says.

The popularity of this response could be associated with the ease of installation. “Grab bars and barrier-free showers are easy to include when someone is tearing out a bathroom,” Baker says. Manufacturers are producing grab bars that are decorative and complimentary to overall design. On the other hand, homeowners should be aware of the cost of a 5-foot linear drain typically found in curbless showers can run up to $550, Baker says.

This pull-out microwave drawer is easily accessed  by anyone regardless of height, and are just one of many features that earned Hurst Total Home, Inc., based in Centerville, Ohio, a 2013 Universal Design Project Recognition, for the Entire House Under $250,000.

This pull-out microwave drawer is easily accessed by anyone regardless of height, and are just one of many features that earned Hurst Total Home, Inc., based in Centerville, Ohio, a 2013 Universal Design Project Recognition, for the Entire House Under $250,000.

Pull-out cabinets make sense. The cost-effectiveness and easy installation make this solution appealing to homeowners. “Pull-outs (also known as roll-out trays) are a great feature. They bring all the contents of your cabinets out to your fingertips, which prevents excessive bending and allows you to better see what you’re looking for,” Hurst says.

Cost inhibits widening doorways/hallways. Baker says sometimes it’s not the cost of materials, but the application and labor that makes some changes, such as widening of doorways and hallways cost-prohibitive. This important feature is easily vetoed because of costs associated with required structural changes. “Some spaces don’t allow for widening very easily,” Hurst says.

She adds that clients interested in design for aging-in-place should place this design feature at the top of the to-do list. “There is not much sense in making the interior space universally designed to age-in-place if you cannot fit a walker or wheelchair through the door!”

Task lighting puts a spotlight on daily life.  One of the most common homeowner complaints has to do with lack of lighting or lack of natural light. Homeowners don’t need to be visually impaired to have difficulty with everyday tasks from poor lighting. “We put task lighting in 99 percent of projects, but again, it’s the first thing to get cut out of the budget,” Baker says.

The use of LEDs is recommended by both Baker and Hurst. According to Hurst, LEDs last longer and burn cooler, making the inconvenience of changing out lights less frequent and less dangerous depending on the light’s location.

“Well-lit spaces make it easier for people to see differences in color tones, such as in flooring where differences help those with depth perception issues to direct them,” Hurst says.

Variable height work spaces in kitchen. This feature is highly dependent on the clients and personal style. Utilization of counter space in a kitchen impacts everyone in a home, but unless homeowners have a household of varied heights or need wheelchair accessibility, this will not make the final design cut.

“It’s a very different discussion between someone who is in a wheelchair and someone who is not,” Baker says. “People who are not in need of accessibility at the present time will hold back [based on look or resale value].” Baker also says that he commonly receives this request from taller clients, who need bathroom vanities raised.

Hurst agrees this feature is very customer-specific. “We see this being largely driven by large age ranges of family members, and it’s common in multi-generational households,” she says.

Many times universal design features blend into the project, as in this single-level, ergonomically correct faucet into this bathroom, earning Hurst Total Home, Inc., based in Centerville, Ohio, a 2013 Universal Design Project Recognition, for the Entire House Under $250,000.

Many times universal design features blend into the project, as in this single-level, ergonomically correct faucet into this bathroom, earning Hurst Total Home, Inc., based in Centerville, Ohio, a 2013 Universal Design Project Recognition, for the Entire House Under $250,000.

Single-level faucetry for all. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, someone without a hand could use a single-level faucet. “Single handles can be pushed on with an elbow or forearm, control hot and cold all in one smooth motion,” Hurst says. “Because they are so easy to operate, they are ergonomically correct for everyone.”

The same goes for ergonomic door and cabinet hardware. Baker wonders if homeowners understand why things such as ergonomic doors/cabinets or single-level faucetry are beneficial. Although the hardware in the home such as faucets and door handles seem like a reflection of personal style and not accessibility, once Baker shows the usefulness (non-usefulness) of different designs, people start understanding how product selections can impact long-term use.

Ergonomically correct handles can make a world of difference in arthritic hands, but also they are easier for small children, who don’t have as much dexterity as adults,” Hurst says.

Although all of these features are important and should all be among the top of homeowner’s universal design to-do list, budget constraints and stylistic demands move these items to the bottom of the list.

Remodelers know homeowners always come around once something unexpected happens. As was the case in one of Baker’s recent clients, who was in the final stages of two second-floor bathroom remodels. “We were all waiting for the cleaning crew to arrive at the home, and suddenly, the owner slipped and broke his hip,” Baker says. The freakish accident proved that life can change instantly, no matter what age or condition.       —Morgan Zenner

Don’t miss the next Universal Design Certified Professional (UDCP) course starting May 21, 2013–download the application today.

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