Universal Design in New Construction Back »

Transitioning our housing stock to universal design will take decades of commitment and work from all of us. The primary reason this is true is because universally designed homes are largely absent from the existing stock of homes. Retrofitting can help us convert many homes, but we have to acknowledge that some homes cannot be converted to universal design. For example, a split level home cannot be converted to no step entry.

For this reason, we should strive for universal design in new construction. Universal design does not increase the cost of home construction in a meaningful way. The R. L. Mace Universal Design Institute describes three types of costs associated with universal design.

  • Perceived
  • Transition
  • Hard or recurring

Perceived Costs

Universal design does include recommendations that can increase the cost of home construction. For example, counters mounted on mechanical lifts will have a greater cost. However, this is not required for home to meet universal design recommendations. The list of basic items needed to achieve universal design is relatively short, focusing on structural elements of the home that are very expensive to alter at a later time. For example, incorporating wider doors and halls at initial design.

Transition Costs

We have to acknowledge that costs will be incurred when individual builders and remodelers update existing homes plans to universal design. Staff and contractors will have to be trained and there may be costs associated with hiring someone to revise the plans. After these activities take place, these costs should disappear (Please visit Better Living Design to learn more).

Hard or recurring costs

Finishes such as appliances, sinks, and faucets are where increase in costs for universal design can be seen. While many of the items described below enhance the performance of the home, they are not required to achieve universal design.

Hard or recurring costs: products

At this time, products that significantly increase the performance of the home cost more. These items do not cost more because they actually cost more to produce. The cost is greater because they are not produced in mass quantity the way standard products are.

Products with greater costs

  • French door and lower freezer drawer
  • Front controls on ranges
  • Front loading/controlled washer and dryer
  • Casement windows
  • Residential elevators

Products that have minimal impact on cost

  • Lever door hardware
  • Rocker panel light switches

Please note: grab bars are not required to achieve universal design. The key is to ensure spaces that may need grab bars added later have the blocking necessary to carry the load of grab bars.

Hard or recurring costs: materials

One area where cost of materials increases is the use of plywood sheathing in bathrooms. This allows for grab bars to be added in any location in the bathroom.

Hard or recurring costs: entrances

The home entrance is arguable the one area of universal design the most consideration. This is not to suggest that all entrances into the home need to be no step entry, but at least once has to be. For this reason site selection, orientation, grading, and foundation style require special consideration. In addition, additional costs may result from careful grading, extra excavation, and additional drainage.

Affordable housing

Housing that affordable or market rate is a high priority and it can also be universal design. A plan book for Affordable and Universal Homes is available online.

What’s the take away message?

We can afford to transition to universal design homes. As the adoption of universal design spreads, the products described above that significantly enhance the performance of the home will become more widely produced, ultimately driving down the cost.

Would you like to learn more?

Please visit iGrow to read, What is needed for aging in place? 


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