Our May Membership Dinner, Universal Design – A Panel Perspective, led to a spirited question and answer session with the audience eager to learn more from our panel. With time cut short we promised to continue the conversation and have all the audience questions answered by our panelists. Our panel, moderated by Paul Morse, MCR, GCP, CPS, CAPS of Morse Constructions, Inc., included:
For more information about the panel presenters, check out Part 1. Below you will find their responses to our audience questions.
CAROL: Value is in the eyes of the beholder and is difficult to determine since each person views a home differently. If there was an easy answer every house would match that model. A $100,000 bathroom makeover may have less value than a simple removal of the door jambs and installation of a high end barn door. What we focus on is meeting the clients’ individual needs while maintaining an atmosphere that can be universally enjoyed by many. You can design a perfectly practical bathroom that fits the client’s which looks sterile and unappealing because of the finishes and products chosen. Clients don’t know that they have choices, and that is what our job entails. We guide the clients through the design process stressing two things – that the products and finishes actually work to make the area function for the client and that there are options to make those areas very pleasing to the eye with the right combination of products and finishes.
TERRY: A home elevator will increase the value of a home.
LISA: The thoughtful introduction of the elements of Universal Design into a home will increase the size of the market for potential buyers – for the life of the home. Considering the increased awareness today of the value of both Green and Sustainable design choices in the home, it is the “usability” factor inherent in Universal Design that even further increases sustainability throughout a home.
The elements that add the most value are the features that provide ease of use (e.g.: lever handles on doors, cabinets and plumbing fixtures with range of motion considerations), ease of egress (e.g.: wider doorways and hallways, level flooring without thresholds, elimination of stairs as only access/egress in and out and room-to-room and floor-to-floor), and ease of upgrades when more accessible features are required by the homeowners (e.g.: wood blocking in walls for handrails/support bars, stair lifts or shower seats and use of adjustable kitchen and bath cabinetry and counter tops).
CAROL: The answer to this question is really based upon the clients’ preferences, the configuration of the clients’ home and the clients’ specific challenges, if any, that need to be addressed. A quick answer is “Yes” and “No”. Example: Framing - If you have the luxury of demolishing a bathroom and/or kitchen and you plan correctly prior to framing, then you are talking pennies (i.e.: framing a header for a 36” door rather than a 30” one, installing framing for the grab bars, shower seats, etc., installing the rough electric and plumbing at heights accessible to all, etc.) However, if you start thinking about universal design after the finishes are up and the customer requests it, that is when it gets expensive.
By how much on average? CAROL: Once again there is no easy answer to this, but for the sake of this discussion, the cost difference of framing for a 34” wide door vs a 36” wide door when remodeling is pennies -- as is the difference between the cost of the larger door. However, a client’s choice in the finishes and products is what creates the extra cost.
LISA: Some do, some do not. Always choose quality for the greatest savings over time. If adding Universal Design features in new construction, cost differences are not significant, if even a factor, until you add lifts or elevators. But, even the cost of these vertical mobility features are quickly amortized when compared to the costs of the alternatives like moving into an assisted living facility because the home is no longer is a safe environment in which to live. Using cost comparisons is effective. The average cost of a 2-stop elevator is comparable to the average monthly rent for six months in assisted living in Massachusetts.
CAROL: Yes, there are many prefabricated curb-less showers that can be installed along with other methods. However, it is something that takes some practice and expertise since every house is different - meaning existing elevations have to be determined and taken into account when choosing the system. Manufacturers are rushing to fill this void so be careful and do your homework. Here are some sites to visit:
CAROL: The best way to learn about these is to visit manufacturers’ sites directly:
LISA: The range of motion for a wheelchair user is unique to each individual and would be taken into consideration when planning adjustability in heights of counter/vanity tops, cabinetry knee allowances, location of all accessories in bathrooms and kitchens and whole house mobility. Wheelchairs that move along sand at the beach, that climb stairs and that adjust to varied heights are available. Research on this can be found on the internet.
CAROL: EMS gurneys are typically in the range of 24” -28” wide x 75”-78” depending on brand.
TERRY: I do not know the size of a gurney per se, but a commercial passenger elevator must be a minimum of (68”x54”) per the 521 cmr architectural access board (sec 28.7).
LISA: Consult with the fire department in your municipality to inquire about the use of gurneys or stretchers during residential emergencies. Open floor plans, wider (36”) exterior and interior doorways, and hallways with ease of egress - all elements of Universal and Accessible Design, certainly play a major role in aiding emergency technicians.
TERRY: A staircase would need to be at least 30”. You also need to take into account the size of the person.
CAROL: Everyone benefits from universal design since it is design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design, as stated above. Accessible design is different and requires knowledge of the person’s needs. Sound and music are very personal and it would depend upon if a person has a medical condition that would need or be restricted from certain sounds/music.
LISA: First, addressing the part of the question referring to “clients who need universal design” - we all need Universal Design! It is simply a design standard that addresses the living environment needs for all people regardless of size, age or physical ability. It is different than design for Accessibility, which is more generally associated with specific physical disabilities requiring unique spatial and furnishing considerations. Addressing acoustics within the home is a very important design feature and affects the health and wellbeing of every user. Noise control, sound proofing, and whole house audio systems are a high priority and music plays a major role, due to its proven impact on reducing stress and increasing a sense of well-being.
CAROL: You cannot persuade anyone to do anything that they do not find worthy, so education with examples is an important tool. We use a true story about a young, healthy client that purchased a space that we designed in the Universal design/aging in place method. Later, the individual fell skiing and broke a leg and found it useful to have wide open doorways for a wheel chair and a bathroom with a curb-less shower, raised toilet seat, etc. Communicating to clients with stories that reflect their place in time will go far in gaining their trust that you understand them.
LISA: Share the statistics that are changing the way construction methods and standards will be influenced in the next 5-20 years, as Baby Boomers move into old age. Share the findings of the study released in 2014 from Harvard and AARP that concludes with a call-to-action for Americans to prepare their homes for their increased longevity. 90% of Baby Boomers want to age in their homes but they must prepare their homes to be safe and spatially accessible environments. Planning ahead is absolutely necessary, preferably before the age of 75 yrs. when the process of remodeling becomes more difficult for the homeowner. We plan ahead for every stage of life; finding an apartment in our 20s, moving into larger homes to start a family, converting bedrooms into home offices as empty-nesters, and planning a comfortable, spatially supportive and nurturing home for old age. Life is unpredictable, so planning for whatever may come is the best tactic. A Universally designed home is the best home for all who live there and for all who visit there.