Lifemark and BRANZ, the building research organisation in New Zealand, have produced a guideline titled Universal Design for Houses. The drawings and design ideas are based on accessible home design for wheelchair users. This is useful for understanding circulation space that’s good for wheelchair users and also good for everyone. However, not everything good for wheelchair users is good for everyone – so not exactly universal design.
The guide is concise and has lots of graphs to illustrate design ideas. Topics include what’s legally required, getting in and out of the home, wet areas, kitchens, hardware and lifts in dwellings.
For more universal application in all homes, see the Livable Housing Design Guidelines.
Editor’s comment: Translating the term universal design into designs for wheelchair users is a common error. But if you need to design for a generic wheelchair user, this is a good guide.
Be safe at home
Safety, slips, trips and falls are the topic of a Lifemark article, Better Design, Safer Homes,. It points out how many people fall and injure themselves at home. They also cut and burn themselves badly enough to need hospital treatment. How could such injuries be avoided so that people are sate at home? The article on has tips for stairs, bathrooms, kitchens, and entrances.
The article concludes, “A safer home benefits all occupants (and visitors), not just older people. Children, in particular will benefit from a design that recognises and addresses risk areas and by doing so creates a more liveable space for everyone”. Lifemark is based in New Zealand.
Step this way with no step
There’s lots of myths and worries about universal design features in homes. The no-step entrance is one of them. A covered entrance, which is great in itself, will keep away the rain and it’s also shade in the summer. A slight grade away from the entrance should deal with the rest. In fact, that is also good for all homes. And it’s easy to do when the home is first built. But people ask why have a no-step entrance when you don’t need it?
It’s based on the assumption that only wheelchair users need it. Think again. A new home means furniture deliveries. Perhaps a new baby on the way – yes, that’s the stroller or pram. Coming home with bags of shopping or a shopping trolley. And let’s not forget the teenager with a broken leg, or grandma who uses a wheelie walker. A no-step entry means everyone can visit and take part in family life. So it’s not just about now – it’s also about the future.
When it comes to cost, if it did cost a bit extra, how much would it be worth to you? The value of not going to institutional care sooner than you need to? The value of having a close family member come to your Christmas dinner? And what about the costly modifications you might need down the track.
The Universal Design Project based in UK has a podcast and transcript that discusses this subject in more detail with a case study.
It’s also good to consider access to the patio or alfresco so that everyone can enjoy the family gathering.
The 2022 edition of the National Construction Code now has the Livable Housing Design Standard which will be mandatory in October 2023.