'Better Living Design' Standard Introduced

With Universal Design going mainstream, it comes as no surprise that a national standard relating to UD is on its way, and that kitchen and bath design will be positively impacted.

More than 20 years ago, when I first turned my focus to Universal Design, I frequently received blank stares from other professionals when they heard what I was doing. This was often followed by a pat on the head and kind words like, “That’s nice – you take care of those poor people and we’ll deal with the normal market” (yes, people really said that!).

Oh so slowly, the ranks have been growing, maybe because of a family member with a broken bone or a household growing to include children or grandparents, maybe because of a pregnant design professional who realized that bending over to empty the dishwasher was more difficult than anticipated.

There are so many reasons why the idea of Universal Design has become more accepted. But thankfully, we have moved through the years of dawning awareness and increasing need, through growing interest and appreciation, and as our baby boomers advance in the aging process and our multigenerational households grow in size and number, I no longer get those pats on the head. Instead, I get wonderful feedback and endorsements for Universal Design as essential to all good design.


Just as our recognition of the need for environmental guidance brought us LEED and other green building standards, our recognition of the need for homes and communities that will support the incredible diversity in ages, sizes and abilities of the people we design for is bringing us to a national standard for Universal Design. Better Living Design will be rolled out in full this year. It will be a unique selling premise: to have a home that is BLD certified (think Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval).

As with LEED, the directions it may go include adoption into incentive programs or building codes within local jurisdictions across the country. But regardless of the government directions taken, we all recognize the value of designing to a broader and more diverse market, and to the social imperative of our changing population.

The kitchen and bath have always been high- function spaces used by all members of the household, and they are focal points in the standard. After guidance relating to outside areas, approach and entry, and circulation through the home, the standard goes right to specifications and options for these two spaces. While many kitchen and bath designers include these concepts and products as a matter of course, a quick overview of only those specifications that vary from traditional design will hopefully offer useful guidance for us, as professional designers.

The BLD program has tiered levels beginning with basic features that must be included in all projects. Beyond that, there is a lot of flexibility in how you achieve each higher level. You have a number of optional features that you can mix and match.


At least one full bath must be included on the first floor, including a minimum 60"x36" no-threshold shower or fixture arrangement that allows for easy adaptation from a tub to a curbless shower. In addition to the 6" beyond the traditional tub width, space requirements include 36" or an increase of 6" clear in front of the toilet.

Based on realistic consideration of clear space needed for movement, these two dimensions will impact the minimum size of the bathroom and/or the products specified. Other guidance includes reinforcement in the walls surrounding the shower and the toileting area, towel bars that will support the weight required of grab bars and grab bars or supports that coordinate with the style and finishes of the bathroom.

Beyond this, tiered options are linked to the number of additional features that the designer may include. Among them are the following: at least one toilet with a seat height of 16"-18", illuminated light switches, a hand-held shower with hose of 60"-72" length, and outlets not higher than 44" within reach of each sink when double lavatories are planned.

Options also include a tub deck or front edge of a minimum 10" width for seated transfer, and at least one bath mirror that tilts or is installed with the bottom edge no higher than 40" for use by a shorter or seated bather. Further options relate to height of storage, additional clear space adjacent to the toilet, slip-resistance of the flooring and lighting.


In the kitchen, clear space requirements are not difficult to achieve in most cases, with the work aisle width being the main point to emphasize at a minimum 42". There is also a requirement, not uncommon but noteworthy, for a work surface at no higher than 34", which can be a pull-out or a fixed/adjustable counter.

There are many options for the kitchen, none hard to achieve but, again, interesting to note. They include front or side controls on appliances, pull-out spray faucets, touch cabinet hardware and several options relating to storage accessorization, particularly in base cabinets. One option relating to snack bars is the recommendation that they be at 30" or table height.

Further options relate to ventilation and garbage disposal controls, heights of appliances and storage, knee space available at the sink, lighting and location of lighting controls and outlets and varied counter heights. Truthfully, including BLD features in the kitchen would rarely be a hardship, but it would require a thoughtful application of the BLD specifications.

While many in the design profession have long been incorporating Universal Design principles, I hope you see this brief introduction to Better Living Design as a marketing opportunity. It can provide added direction for design going forward. For those of you interested in learning more or in being part of the effort, more information is available at www.betterlivingdesign.org.

The BLD team will be at IBS and Better Living Design will be featured at the next UD Summit in May 2013. For additional information, go to udsummit.org.