ARTICLE Taryn Storey PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of Lifetime Design Limited

You don’t have to sacrifice a stylish home design to create an accessible home base for all mobility levels. By integrating the basic principles of Universal Design when renovating, you can create a future-proofed home that is suitable not only for you into old age but also for your whole family as their lifestyles change.

‘Your home is where your heart is’  and that is why it’s important that your home is designed with you in mind. Planning the design of your home ahead of time can be tricky as you never know what the future holds – and therefore planning for any occasion or lifestyle can be important in your design.

Universal Design is the architectural practice of designing a home that allows all ages and capabilities to live independently and comfortably in the same house for long periods of time. Universal Design consists of seven basic principles.

First of all, the design should be useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. It should be flexible, accommodating a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. It should also be simple and intuitive, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or education level. The forth principle states that the design should communicate necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities. The design is expected to minimize hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. It can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of physical effort. Finally, it’s important that size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use regardless of user’s body size, posture or mobility.

These principles are broader than the standard building principles of accessible or barrier free design and are used to create an environment that is aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent by everyone regardless of age or ability.

Why is it important to consider Universal Design when building or renovating your home?  Well, a recent survey of baby boomers found that upon retirement 84 per cent would like to stay in their current homes, but as they age the homes they enjoyed in their youth become harder for them to live in. There are often too many stairs and hallways are narrow making access difficult. 

Accessibility to one’s home isn’t limited to old age, however. Of the 415,000 males in New Zealand aged between 30 and 45, twelve out of one hundred will experience at least one period of disablement lasting six months or longer and eight out of one hundred will experience at least one period of disablement lasting 12 months or longer. Of the 433,000 females the numbers are eight out of one hundred and twelve out of one hundred respectively. Also, 21% of New Zealanders aged between 45 and 64 will have a period of disablement lasting longer than 6 months. Imagine if you were one of those to be disabled wouldn’t you wish to remain in your own home?

Along with being able to cope with aging or disablement in your own home, Universal Design creates a home where multiple-generations can live together in an environment that caters for all.

It is no secret that there is a large number of homes in New Zealand that are old and cold and not designed to meet the needs of the occupants over the course of their lifetime.  Millions of dollars are spent annually adapting homes so people can remain in them, and there are no guidelines in our current building code to ensure that new homes meet the changing needs of the owners.

There are several key aspects to consider when building or renovating your home with Universal Design in mind. The entrance should give seamless and trouble free access, be well lit and have generous doorways. It should be undercover and slip resistant with a sensor light for ease of access.

Kitchens should focus on convenience and safety. There needs to be enough space around appliances and cupboards so one can move easily around them. It is also important that all fixtures and fittings are designed for ease and comfort of use with any mobility device. Items like microwaves should not be placed above head height, as it can be dangerous to lift hot dishes out of them. They should be located close to dining areas with easy access between the two.

Bathrooms need to be designed to be easily adaptable to the changing needs of the occupants. Design needs to consider are strengthened walls and showers that will be large enough to fit seats in for disabled or elderly users. Showers should be accessible to all mobility levels and separate from baths so users do not need to climb into them. It is also important to place facilities at entry level, especially in multi-story homes so those that are unable to use stairs have access.

When planning living spaces, it’s important that people of all ages and abilities can reach light switches and power outlets without any unnecessary bending or reaching. Consider installing windows no higher than 1,200 millimetres from the floor so access to opening them is available to all levels of ability. Floor finishes should be slip resistant and designed to accommodate wheeled traffic.

It is recommended that at least one bedroom is on the entry level of the house and has easy access to bathroom facilities. Bedrooms need to be designed with ease of movement in mind, for both parents with children and those who need mobility devices. As with living spaces, light switches and power outlets should be at a consistent height that is easy to reach without unnecessary bending or reaching.

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This article by Taryn Storey featured in Issue 004 of New Zealand Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.

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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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