In sustaining support of the remodeling industry, NARI will be launching a new Universal Design Certified Remodeler (UDCR) certification program in September. To continue education of Universal Design in preparation of this new designation, Patricia Nunan, CKBR, CKD, CAPS, president of Lifestyles Design, Perkiomenville, Pa., uses her 15 years of industry experience to discuss Universal Design and some of the design and construction challenges that can be expected.
"It’s important for remodelers to let clients know they offer this service and that they’re really here to help people."
“One of the first things and probably the most thought up Universal Design project is putting in a wider doorway or no step entrance on the front of the house,” says Nunan. “A remodeler should ask themselves how the step is translated into a no-step entrance and if the step now is too high. Then they’ll have to consider if they can widen that doorway without major construction.”
The reason Nunan says that an entryway is one of the most looked at items for Universal Design is because it could be helpful for anybody. It could be for a couple pushing a stroller, a temporary solution for someone who broke their leg, or it could help someone with a more permanent problem. So a doorway is the first thing that Nunan suggests inspecting, but it doesn’t end there.
“Once you get into a home you want to look at things like bathroom safety,” explains Nunan. “Universal Design features would be making sure there is a big enough doorway to get into a bathroom and looking at some smaller items that could be put in inexpensively and easily — simple things like changing out a faucet for instance.”
According to Nunan, one of the things a remodeler should remember is they can remove a cover plate and change it to a hand-held shower that really fits children, older people, someone who sits, or someone who is standing up to shower. But it’s also important to understand some of the construction challenges, such as understanding the plumbing. This includes the age of the plumbing, because it’s just not something a remodeler wants to go in and start tearing apart without considering those things.
“The kitchen is another place to start and a lot of it has to do with organizing,” continues Nunan. “People tend to just pile things into cabinets or not organize them right and then they can’t reach them later on.”
To correct this, Nunan recommends things such as putting dishes and glasses lower and getting the items that aren’t used as often up and out of the way. Putting in better lighting is another big problem right now in homes. As people are getting older, it is becoming more difficult for them to see.
“Most older homes have a single light in the center of their kitchen so the homeowner’s back is always to the light,” adds Nunan. “Probably the best thing for illuminating the work space is under cabinet lighting. It can be put in very inexpensively from battery operated lights that touch on, all the way to putting in wired, low-voltage lighting.”
Nunan warns that some of the common mistakes that can be made with Universal Design by remodelers is assuming that one size fits all. A perfect example of that is a grab bar. Most people think that a grab bar has to be at 36 in. Nunan says she never put a grab bar in unless the customer has told her where to put the grab bar first. Some people need it lower, some people need it higher, while still others want it at an angle. “A lot of people think everything has to be ADA, which it does not,” expresses Nunan. “ADA is an act, not a building code. ANSI is the building code, but for commercial and public spaces. I don’t think contractors realize they don’t have to build to that; they need to build to the customer.”
It’s important for contractors to make sure they don’t forget about those obvious things. Sometimes simply putting in a shower can be an issue if someone doesn’t know how it should work.
“Remodelers try to put in a hump that shouldn’t be there thinking that the water won’t come out,” says Nunan. “I’ve made that mistake myself as well. It doesn’t really work out that well so there should be other ways to make sure that the water is draining or that if you don’t have enough room for a slope that you come up with other options.
Regardless of what you do, customers need to realize that water gets out. Even in a well-done, no step threshold, water will get out.”
The best advice Nunan would give to a remodeler getting into Universal Design is to learn the neighborhood and to realize that Universal Design covers everybody. It’s important for remodelers to let clients know they offer this service and that they’re really here to help people.
“Don’t assume that this is going to happen overnight,” explains Nunan. “Universal Design is really a misnomer. It’s kind of like a one-size fits all t-shirt but it doesn’t fit all. So people think that if you do one thing, it’s the cure all for everything. I think that Universal Design to me is more of a personal design.”