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HOM Have plans to remodel? Include universal design

By David Bradley

Associated Press

With the U.S. population graying, why are so many homes so unfriendly to older homeowners?

Constant trudging up and down stairs, forced stooping to retrieve pots and pans, slippery bathtubs and dimly lit rooms are but a few of the issues older homeowners deal with on a regular basis.

But there are encouraging signs of the continued emergence of a design approach called universal design or UD. Universal design holds that homes and many home products ought to be designed for ease of use. With many seniors insistent on remaining in their home as long as possible, the notion of universal accessibility takes on added significance.

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Many home designers and product makers are well down the path to universal design adherence. But the movement still has far to go to be considered mainstream by most homeowners. In fact, universal design is seen in commercial buildings to a far greater degree than is found in most homes.

This is especially true when it comes to room makeovers. While designers are particularly keen to meld in UD themes in new construction, most homeowners don't give ease of use and movement a second thought when planning improvements.

Typical improvements associated with universal design include low (or no) thresholds between rooms, handrails in hallways, baths and shower stalls, elevated kitchen counters with cutouts to bring sinks closer, and transition from knobs to levers that open with a nudge rather than a twist. Yet those are the most visible of changes. Universal design has many subtler aspects, too.

So what's a homeowner to do? First, brush up on universal design. Some resources include the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University (www.design.ncsu.edu/cud) and Kansas State University's department of apparel, textiles and interior design at www.ksu.edu/humec/atid/UDF.

Next, examine your own living situation as you undertake a remodeling or makeover project. Does anyone in the household have back, leg or arm pains that inhibit movement? Are stairs a hurdle rather than a help? Is your storage accessible without excessive stooping and bending? For example, if you remodel a bathroom, you might consider universal design elements in terms of non-skid rugs or flooring, handrails in shower stalls and along tubs, wider shower doors with minimal thresholds, showers with seats, levered faucets, elevated toilets, and brighter, motion activated lighting.

Before you pigeonhole universal design as only for the old and infirm, many experts now say universal design is simply a better and more thoughtful way of designing for all ages. The movement has even made its way to ergonomically designed hand tools that better fit both small and large hands.

Yet universal design doesn't necessarily mean higher cost in renovations, nor does it mean giving up fine esthetic design in favor of functionality. Many manufacturers routinely incorporate these concepts into their products.

It's a good idea to traipse through home stores to look at varied products inspired by universal design. You'll be surprised at the everyday products that are easier to grip, walk on, lift, push or pull and open.

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