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Planning your home with Universal Design

Finding information on how to build a Universal Design home, or retrofitting your existing place with UD features, is just a click away on the Web.

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The Center for Universal Design at The University of North Carolina is a wealth of information on the history and philosophy of Universal Design, but it also has practical advice, including books and publications on installing UD features.

These features can be as simple as lever handles for doors and sinks (for those with poor hand strength), improved lighting, thermostats with large, easy-to-read numbers for failing vision and nonslip floors and bathtubs. They can also be as complex as widened doorways and thresholds flush with floors for wheelchairs, adding a bathroom to the ground floor, or installing elevators.

AARP also has numerous articles on Universal Design as part of its campaign to help people age in place. Along with the National Association of Home Builders Remodelors Council, AARP has a list of people, by state, who are Certified Aging-in Place-Specialists, or CAPS. These are remodelers, designers, architects and health-care consultants.

AARP also has extensive information on the features that go into universal design and even virtual home tours of UD homes. Its Web site has checklists for bathrooms, kitchens, doorways, lighting and walkways and explains why each feature is important. You can even rate your own home and see if it's up-to-snuff.

The National Association of Home Builders has a free publication on accessible building products, available online or by calling (800) 638-8556.

National chains Lowe's and Home Depot also have a wealth of information on modifying kitchens, bathrooms and other parts of homes with Universal Design products and features. Home Depot has a series of books that include chapters on remodeling tips and guides for incorporating Universal Design elements. Lowe's has a whole section of its Web site devoted to incorporating UD into your remodeling projects. Kohler's design center Web page lays out the elements of Universal Design for kitchens and bathrooms.

The National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification at the University of Southern California also provides resources at its Web site for finding home modification programs and experts. It puts out a monthly newsletter on home modification as well.

How much more expensive is a Universal Design home versus a traditional home? That depends on a number of factors, say experts, but conventional wisdom holds that adding UD features can add up to 7 percent to the costs of a home.

Of course, remodeling is always more costly than designing something from the beginning, says Richard Duncan, senior project manager with the Center for Universal Design, so designing elements at the beginning will save more money than converting a home down the road when the need arises.

Some products that go into UD homes add marginal costs, such as rocker panel light switches, Duncan says, while others might be pricier, such as front-loading washers and dryers.

The biggest cost can be the entrance, which in a UD home should be 3 feet wide. Revamping a doorway could cost up to $700, whereas if it is included at the beginning it might be as little as $5, says architect Charles Schwab, whose book "Universal Designed Smart Homes for the 21st Century" walks builders and homeowners through the process of creating a UD home.

Adding a zero-step entrance to an existing home averages about $1,000 versus about $150 in a new home, according to Concrete Change, an organization working to make all homes accessible.

But compare these costs to paying for a nursing home or assisted living facility, which average $50,000 a year, Schwab says. Investing in a Universal Design home can allow people to avoid these costs for a longer period of time and promote independence. Schwab incorporates green home building into his recommendations, which he says also ultimately saves money -- particularly in the impending face of high fuel costs.

There are some funding sources that could help fund remodeling projects that incorporate Universal Design, according the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing at USC. Its FAQ page lists a number of possibilities, including programs through Fannie Mae and the Department of Veterans Affairs, home modification loans through Bank of America, and possible deductions for some remodeling through the Internal Revenue Service.

Megan Kamerick is a freelance writer based in New Mexico.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy
-- Posted: Nov. 24, 2005
 
 
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