Universal Design May Offer Edge to Contractors, Experts Believe

Universal Design May Offer Edge to Contractors, Experts Believe

While some contractors may assume that universal design is only meant for certain clientele, Jeff Mooney knows better.

In fact, Mooney, v.p./external operations for Boise, ID-based Best Bath Systems, suggests that contractors can boost their business by embracing universal design as a viable design option especially in the construction and retrofitting of bathrooms.

"The recent availability of aesthetically pleasing modular units allows contractors to capitalize on the installation of showers and tubs that look as good as they work, while complying with local and regional guidelines," he says.

He continues: "The dilemma of trading elegance for function no longer persists. Now there are highly tasteful options available that can make universal design an attractive concept for the customers of building contractors."

Laurence Weinstein, an architect, developer and space planner for residential and commercial buildings, agrees: "If you look at population statistics, you can only conclude that universal design is vital to the quality of life to the majority of Americans. Universal Design is a growing trend and a good one. It creates relatively inexpensive features that make dwellings more marketable, so it can be a substantial competitive advantage."

While Mooney does acknowledge that some contractors may feel a bit of trepidation about creating universally designed spaces that are also aesthetically pleasing, he also believes there are more options than ever before. "Since the American Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines and local building codes provide practical parameters, contractors can optimize a competitive edge by offering customers a choice of attractive fixtures at initial build or when it comes time to retrofit a bathroom," he says.

John P.S. Salmen, AIA and president of Universal Designers & Consultants in Takoma Park, MD agrees: "Universal Design is a much more holistic view of the lifespan and people's changing abilities throughout their lives. So, regardless of their experiences and the nature of their lifestyle, they can still use the facilities. That's a much different concept than accessibility, and it demands a market-based aesthetic which dictates that Universal Design must look good and be appealing to many people."

"Because it is used by family and visitors, the ground floor bathroom is an important space that can provide universal design functionality with highly attractive fixtures," Weinstein advises. "In terms of construction of the bathroom, one of the things that I advocate is a larger curbless shower, which allows access of a wheelchair or walker."

"When it comes to bathing units, the sentiment of 'set them and forget them' is very important to us," adds Bob Calvano, general superintendent for Boston, MA-based Suffolk's Construction Co.'s CA Division.

Mooney concludes: "Given the ease of installation, reliability, and attractiveness of today's modular bath and shower units, builders can turn the advent of universal design into an advantage for their businesses. The growing numbers of senior adults, and disabled Americans of all ages, ensures that the huge demand for access can be met with highly aesthetic choices that benefit the customer as well as the contractor."