Universal Design —Design for Everyone

Current Housing
Housing stock in the United States is built to accommodate the average 25-year old, 6’ tall male - a minute segment of the entire population.  The average American home is 30 years old and often its design presents challenges for even the most able-bodied individuals.  We find ourselves adapting to our ill-fitted environments rather than making our environments work for us.


The typical homeowner desires convenient, timesaving, and efficient features in their homes that allow greater ease, comfort, and security in their hectic lives.
Most people want to age in their homes rather than in an institution. Many homes are designed in such a way to prevent that. 



Universal Design creates a flexible, adaptable and user-efficient space in each area of the home to accommodate the daily activities of everyone at all stages of life regardless of their age, size, abilities or preference. Universal Design simplifies life for everyone by building environments that incorporate features & designs that better support a homeowner’s ever-changing needs.

Universal Design will bring more substance and value to one’s life than any other lifestyle change. Many Universal Design features are standard design and building concepts that are placed or sized differently.


  • Allows family members to remain in the home throughout the various stages of their life cycle—from parenthood through retirement--by adapting to their changing needs over time.
  • Universal Design relies on common sense and practicality. The primary reason older adults relocate to retirement homes is because their homes are no longer meeting their needs.  Why not build homes that enable individuals of all ages and abilities to use them safely and comfortably.
  • Incorporating Universal Design features into new construction is cheap—pennies on the dollar—compared to retrofitting later.  Adds about 2-4% to the cost of a new construction home compared to 30% for a remodel.
  • Universal Design features save energy, simplify housekeeping, maximize independent living and are all but “invisible”.
  • These features will increase your home’s worth and enhance its beauty and function—maximizing safe and independent living for everyone.

Features of a Universal Design Home:

  • Create a barrier-free accessible entrance to home  -- allows strollers to come and go easily, unload groceries or packages safely and wheel-chair bound can visit effortlessly, reduces likelihood of falls and injuries as well a safer exits during a fire or other emergency.
  • Widen doorways and hallways (3’ wide instead of 2'), enables furniture to be moved in and out easily, provides space to carry in packages and items without hitting and marking walls, allows larger individuals to feel more comfortable, permits person on crutches or walker to move through house safely.
  • Place key living areas such as master bedroom and bathroom on the main floor.  
  • Lever-style door handles--easier to open when hands are full with children, groceries, or packages.
  • Raised electrical outlets—no lower than 18 inches(instead of usual 9”) above floor--requires less bending and stretching
  • Rocker-style light switches—no higher than 42”(instead of 48”) above the floor—easier for children and older adults.  Include one lighted switch in each room so that it may be seen in the dark.
  • Fluorescent light—provides high level, shadow-free illumination throughout the home—reduces risk of accents and injuries and is more energy efficient.
  • In the kitchen, incorporate multi-level work areas—lower countertops help short individuals and children, high countertops help taller individuals.
  • In base cabinets, use roll-out trays and lazy susans to allow easier access to items at the back of drawers or shelves
  • Install raised dishwasher at a comfortable height for loading and unloading.  The same concept may be used for the washer and dryer.
  • Large easy-to-read, programmable thermostat located at a convenient 53” height for easy adjustment.
  • Adjustable-height shelving in all closets for flexible custom storage and retrieval.
  • One curbless entry shower, 36” to 48” W x 60”L with a built-in seat and slip-resistant flooring.
  • Easy-access, single-lever shower control in master bathroom with anti-scald, pressure-balance feature.
  • Comfort-height toilets that reduces knee and back strain.


For an extensive Universal Design home checklist,
go to www.livable.homes.org.