Universal Design Could Help you Later in Your Small Home

Posted August 8th, 2014 by kerri and filed in small house living


When I posted this photo of a cute tiny house on the Living Large Facebook page the other day, one of our Living Largers wrote, “Unfortunately, you couldn’t get a walker through that door.”

That’s very true of many of the tiny houses I’ve seen.

Having writ­ten sto­ries on retire­ment, I knew about Universal Design con­struc­tion and when we moved to Our Little House in 2007 and ini­tially planned on build­ing a 1,000 square foot home, I was going to ask our builder to use Universal Design.

Since it was going to be our home through retire­ment – and hope­fully the end of our lives – I wanted to do every­thing I could to ensure we could stay in our home even if we became disabled.

That was the plan any­way. As a John Lennon once said, “Life is some­thing that hap­pens to you when you’re busy mak­ing other plans.”

Part of the “sus­tain­able” aspect of Living Large in Your Little House is to be able to stay there for as long as you need a home.

Many Living Largers are midlife or older and if you’re plan­ning on build­ing your own lit­tle home and you want to stay there through­out the rest of your life, I would sug­gest that you take a look at Universal Design.

According to the National Home Builder’s Association, aging-in-place homes have some of these features:

  • No-step entry. No one needs to use stairs to get into a uni­ver­sal home or into the home's main rooms.
  • One-story liv­ing. Places to eat, use the bath­room and sleep are all located on one level, which is barrier-free.
  • Wide door­ways. Doorways that are 3236 inches wide let wheel­chairs pass through. They also make it easy to move big things in and out of the house.
  • Wide hall­ways. Hallways should be 3642 inches wide. That way, every­one and every­thing moves more eas­ily from room to room.
  • Extra floor space. Everyone feel less cramped. And peo­ple in wheel­chairs have more space to turn.
  • Floors and bath­tubs with non-slip sur­faces help every­one stay on their feet. They're not just for peo­ple who are frail. The same goes for handrails on steps and grab bars in bathrooms.
  • Thresholds that are flush with the floor make it easy for a wheel­chair to get through a door­way. They also keep oth­ers from tripping.
  • Good light­ing helps peo­ple with poor vision. And it helps every­one else see bet­ter, too.
  • Lever door han­dles and rocker light switches are great for peo­ple with poor hand strength. But oth­ers like them too. Try using these devices when your arms are full of pack­ages. You'll never go back to knobs or stan­dard switches.

Yes, you might have to add a few square feet to your plans and if your tiny home has plans for a loft, you might have to have extra space so that your sleep­ing space can be moved down­stairs (if nec­es­sary) later.

It’s esti­mated that Universal Design will add about 5 per­cent to the total cost of con­struc­tion (for wider door­ways, grab bars in the tub/shower etc.)

Yes, if you have the addi­tional square footage and ini­tially add wider door­ways, you can always retro­fit the house only if you need it later.

However, debil­i­tat­ing ill­ness some­times does not give a warn­ing. If it were me, I would want to be able to come home as soon as pos­si­ble, rather than have to stay in a rehab facil­ity or a nurs­ing home because my house can­not accom­mo­date my new needs.

Have you con­sid­ered Universal Design in con­struc­tion of your new small home?

6 Responses to “Universal Design Could Help you Later in Your Small Home”

  1. Pamela says:

    Universal design ben­e­fits every­one. Even able-bodied peo­ple and the very young ben­e­fit from eas­ily opened doors and clear floor ways.

    However, I have seen argu­ments against one-floor hous­ing because not hav­ing to take stairs weak­ens people's abil­ity to han­dle them. It's prob­a­bly bet­ter to keep stairs as long as pos­si­ble with plans to ramp them later if required.

    • Kerri says:

      I agree, Pamela, and can attest to that. Our house in the city wasn't a McMansion by any means, it was 1,100 square feet, but it was bi-level. I was up and down the stairs, both inside and out, mul­ti­ple times a day. I really, really have to con­cen­trate here on get­ting enough exer­cise to keep my mus­cles and back strong enough not only to han­dle stairs, but most any other activity.

  2. Sabrina says:

    These things were all in our list of con­sid­er­a­tions for buy­ing a house. We lucked out and found a house that only needs one floor lev­eled and the dooknobs and light switches changed. All rel­a­tively minor expenses. We were really blessed.

  3. Great post! We looked for "Universal Design" fea­tures in the home we bought, when we moved to the coun­try. We tried to look at houses through the eyes of an eighty year old. What kind of archi­tec­tural ele­ments would we need, in order to man­age to live com­fort­ably even into advanced old age? It's been our dream to live out in the coun­try for a long time. We wanted to do every­thing we could to ensure that we can enjoy this dream for as long as pos­si­ble, hope­fully the rest of our lives. Though our house is not "tiny" by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion, it is well designed to meet the spe­cial needs of elderly liv­ing. Doorways are wide enough for wheel­chair. There is no step up to the front door or the back. Master bed­room, bath and kitchen and util­ity room are all on ground level floor. We do have a sec­ond story on the house, but it would be pos­si­ble to live only on the first floor if steps become too dif­fi­cult to deal with every day. I think that if some­one is look­ing to build or buy a house that they hope to live in right into old age, it's impor­tant to make sure that the home can accom­mo­date the par­tic­u­lar needs of seniors, or at least can be adapted to fit those needs.

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks, Kathleen. I even wish our home in the city had UD so my mom could have come to live with us. We had a split level and she could only get into the down­stairs. It's such an impor­tant thing to think ahead.