Universal Design. Accessible Design. Aging in Place. You may have heard these and countless other descriptions applied to homes and business that are designed to be easily accessible to those facing physical challenges or for people who just need a little extra help getting around due to age or temporary infirmity. But what exactly do these phrases actually mean?
For years, the definition has really depended on the builder and could range from something as minor as installing a few bathroom grab bars to a complete re-envisioning of the way a home and everything in it functions. Thankfully, there’s a new designation on the horizon that should have everyone speaking the same language; it’s called the Better Living Design Standard.
The standard is being championed by the Better Living Design Institute, a group supported by more than 30 organizations with an interest in Universal Design, such as AARP, the National Association of Home Builders, and leading manufacturers and universities. The group is in the process of establishing a BLD certification program for builders, designer and remodelers that will educate these professionals on the concepts of Better Living Design. Products that meet the institute’s standards will be encouraged to apply for a “BLD Approved” seal that will allow consumers to easily identify products that will work for their needs.
The standard that will be put in place later this year offers a multi-level approach for gauging just how friendly a home’s design really is. There is a basic level that must meet minimum standards, and then a variety of features that can be mixed and matched to obtain each higher level of certification. At a minimum, a home that is BLD Certified must have at least one full bath on the main level and a kitchen that meets minimum requirements of both free space (work aisles must be at last 42”) and counter height (a work surface no higher than 34”). These standards allow those with mobility issues to freely access every area. That main level bath should include a zero-threshold shower that’s at last 60” by 36” and free space of at least 36” in front of the toilet (to better allow for wheelchair access). Walls surrounding the shower and toilet should be reinforced, aesthetically pleasing grab bars should be installed, and towel bars should be able to do double duty as grab bars if needed. In and of themselves, these simple changes can make a huge difference in accessibility.
Some of the other upgrades needed to obtain higher certification levels include features that many of us crave in kitchens: pullout spray faucets, front or side appliance controls and more accommodating cabinet hardware and storage options. More extensive bath requirements include right-height toilets, hand-held showers and illuminated light switches. Regardless of the level of accommodation your needs require, it’s nice to know that there will soon be a designation available to help eliminate some of the guesswork involved in designing or renovating a home.