Embracing universal design: How to make your home friendly for all ages
May 14, 2012, 8:20 a.m.
We hear a lot of talk about making homes safe for toddlers. New grandparents who haven't had little ones around the house for decades have had to get up to speed on home decor ideas aimed at child safety. But the older we get, the more important it becomes to retrofit our homes to suit our own safety needs, as well. Balancing both needs is called achieving universal design. Here are a few helpful home decorating tips that'll make your home a safe place for all ages without sacrificing its appearance or its resale value.
Retrofit at least one of your home's entryways for easy wheelchair access. Even if nobody in your home uses a wheelchair or has plans on doing so anytime in the next 25 years, having at least one no-step entry ensures that you're prepared for any eventuality. It's also a wonderful selling point if you should decide to sell your home in the future.
Entryways to your home should also be covered, especially if you reside in an area of the country that experiences inclement weather like rain or snow. Having an entry with an exterior overhang minimizes the risk of slipping and falling on ice for both you and your visitors, regardless of their age or agility.
Install light switches throughout your home that respond to a simple touch. When possible, reposition light switches so that they're not too high up on the wall. The standard under universal design is 42 inches from the floor. This enables easy access whether the individual using the switch is in a wheelchair, or not yet grown to a size that enables them to reach.
Reposition electrical sockets so that they're a minimum of 18 inches from the ground. Doing so makes the sockets easy to access from a seated position, and also prevents a person from having to bend over too far to reach them, which in older adults could cause them to lose balance and fall.
All bathtubs and showers throughout your home should be upgraded with non-slip coating, including the bathroom floor itself. While there are rubber mats you can purchase that can be placed inside of bathtubs and shower stalls to keep the surface slip-free, there's always the chance that the suction cups that hold them in place can come loose, causing an even greater risk of injury. It's also a good idea to install safety bars in bathtubs and benches in showers.
Toilets that are too low to the floor should be replaced with higher sitting fixtures. This is not only useful for aging adults, but it can also make it more difficult for small children to access the toilet on their own, eliminating a potentially dangerous situation.
If you're contemplating upgrading your dishwasher, clothes washer, or clothes dryer, look for units that are both front loading and raised, giving you easy access without having to bend too far or having to reach too high to operate the controls. Stacking units should be avoided.
There are lots of home decor ideas that will make your house more attractive, while accomplishing the even more important task of making it a safer place for people of all ages -- both young and old. You can also refer to the list above as a helpful checklist if you're shopping around for a new home that you intend to stay in for awhile. If none of these conveniences are available, keep looking -- you're bound to find them elsewhere, and you'll be awfully glad you did.
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