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Main Universal Design Improvements Every Home Needs

Author: Daniel Taylor

Whether you're planning to spend your golden years in your home or put it up for sale, you may benefit from making some universal design improvements. Universal design can ensure the comfort of you and your family for years to come, and it can also appeal to buyers with special needs or a desire to spend the rest of their lives in the new home they purchase. Regardless of your age or long-term plans, the following may be sound investments:

Step-Free Entryways

Clear the access paths to your entryways -- including your front door, back door, garage and any others -- of steps, bumps or other hindrances. Homeowners, as they contemplate spending their advanced years in their homes, seek an accessible, level and open floor plan. The 2012 International Residential Code allows for garages to include a level entryway, so if any of your entryways have a step or a bump, consider installing a ramp or mat to address the issue.

Wide Doors and Halls

Doorways should be at least 36 inches wide to enable wheelchair, cane and walker access, as well as to allow multiple people to enter and exit rooms at any given time. Hallways should be at least 42 inches wide to allow for the same. Should you need to expand your doorways and hallways, consult with a remodeling professional to address any structural dangers ahead of time.

Single-Floor Home

Effortless access to every room in the house makes life easier for everyone. And while ramps and railings can make climbing stairs a little easier, stairs remain a hazard -- so a single-floor plan is preferred. Homes should also have a direct line of sight to the front door to ensure easy access in times of distress, as well as a clear view for paramedics or visitors who may be there to render assistance in times of need. Floor plans with many twists and turns like a maze won't appeal to aging or special-needs populations.

Easy to Use Controls and Handles

People who use wheelchairs have a reach of up to about 42 to 48 inches, which means that controls, light switches and thermostats should be installed at or below that height. Similarly, electrical outlets should not be placed more than 24 inches off the floor. To make things especially simple, consider investing in a home-automation system -- whether it's for programmed opening of the garage door, timed lights or a remote-controlled entertainment system.

Twist-and-turn door knobs and faucets should be replaced with levered handles for easier access. You should also replace as many kitchen and bathroom wall cabinets as possible with drawers and floor cabinets. Keep universal design height measurements in mind when installing drawers and cabinets (24 inches and 48 inches respectively). Make sure the handles you install on your drawers and cabinets are easy to use as well.

Universal Design Investment Benefits

How do you stand to benefit from investing in universal design home improvements? If you are a homeowner making improvements with the intention of growing old in your home, your efforts to plan for the future will bring you great returns. As you grow older in the home, your risk of physical danger will be minimized because your home will be equipped to accommodate any physical handicaps of yours that may present themselves. The investments you've made will yield returns through your safety. (For other improvements that add value to one's home, see article: "Home Improvements That Really Pay Off".)

If you are a homeowner making improvements with the intent to sell your home, it might seem harder to assess the actual financial benefits that are gained from creating a more universally appealing home. While there are no statistics available on the return on investment for universal home design, research shows the baby boomer generation is looking to settle in one place and stay for a long time -- and the baby boomer generation makes up a third of the population in the United States. Making these improvements will likely increase your home's market appeal to anyone between the ages of 45 and 70. (For more about choices being made, and trends being set, by baby boomers, see article: "How Baby Boomers Will Change The Way Others Retire.")

The Bottom Line

Homeowners who make universal design improvements to their homes will likely find that the investment was worth it -- whether they spend the rest of their lives in those homes, or put them up for sale. In the former case, such improvements will maximize the safety and comfort of a homeowner's surroundings as he or she ages. In the second scenario, in which a house is put up for sale, there will be a larger market for a house that is designed to accommodate those with special needs, as well as aging homebuyers. (For related reading, see article: "Selling Your House? Avoid These Mistakes.")

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