The Differences Between Universal Design and Aging In Place Design

 this home transformation was an aging-in-place remodel for a homeowner suffering from ALS.

this home transformation was an aging-in-place remodel for a homeowner suffering from ALS.

How are Universal Design and Aging In Place Different?

If you're considering a home remodeling project, you've probably become familiar with the terms “Universal Design” and Aging-in-place. Some people use these words interchangeably, but while they are similar, they do differ. Both are specific designs used to make a home more comfortable for individuals of different abilities.

Aging-in-place design is mostly used for homeowners who require home modifications to allow them to remain in the home safely and comfortably as they age and their physical abilities change over time. Universal design is more of an umbrella term that covers the design of products and environments that are usable by all members of the household, from the youngest to the oldest, to the largest extent possible, without the need for any alterations, adaptations, or specialized design.

Let's take a closer look at each of these design practices to gain a better understanding.

Universal Design

Universal design is more of a blanket design category that includes aging-in-place remodeling. It is a design approach that ensures the homes and commercial buildings can be used by virtually everybody, regardless of their level of ability. By using universal design, people who are very different can all enjoy the same space. It's a design technique that ensures that a home will be there for the entire family even when their personal needs change.

Implementing universal design principals is the perfect way to meet the needs of everyone from the multi-generational family to first time home buyers and includes elements for those who are disabled including mobility issues, impaired sight and more.

Universal design came about because disability is common and homes are best designed with accessibility for all because, at some point, it affects most of us at some point in our lives. If a design works well for the disabled, it works better for everyone. With universal design thoughtful aesthetics and usability are harmonious.

 the master bedroom of this home was designed with universal design principles in mind, including plenty of space for WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBILITY. 

the master bedroom of this home was designed with universal design principles in mind, including plenty of space for WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBILITY. 

Aging-In-Place Remodeling

Aging-in-place remodeling is used to modify your home so as you mature; you continue to have access and maneuverability. The design is convenient and comfortable. Some modifications are noticeable like replacing the bathtub with a no-threshold shower and grab bars or replacing exterior stairs with a ramp.

Universal design elements are often incorporated into aging-in-place renovations. Here are a few common ones:

No-Threshold Entry

No stairs are needed to get into a universal home or the main living areas.

One Story Living

All the necessary living spaces including the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom are located on one “barrier-free” level.

Wider Doorways and Wider Hallways

Widening doorways to 32-36” allows wheelchairs to easily pass through. Hallways that are 36 – 42” allows everyone and everything to move effortlessly throughout the house.

Extra Floor Space

Incorporating more floor space makes your home feel more substantial. If you have a family member in a wheelchair, it offers more space for turning.

Many of the elements that incorporate universal design principals just make good sense for homeowners. Once you add these features, you'll wonder how you got along for all those years without them. Some examples include:

Here's an introduction to residential elevators. Whether you have aging-in-place, universal design, or wheelchair needs, a residential elevator can be a solution.

Non-Slip Floors and Bathtubs

This is a good idea for everyone from aging family members to the youngest kids in the household. Include handrails on stairs and grab bars in the bathroom for extra safety.

Thresholds That Are Flush With The Surrounding Floors

These make it easy for a wheelchair to get through a doorway. They also prevent tripping.

Better Lighting

This helps those with vision impairments, and everyone else in the house can see better too.

Here's another universal design feature. It's the Moen touchless faucet that turns on and off with the wave of your hand!

Rocker Light Switches and Lever Door Handles

These are great for those with weaker hand strength, but once you switch you'll never go back. They're super convenient when you're coming in the door with an armful of groceries. You'll be sold!

Young and middle-aged homeowners should begin to think about incorporating universal design or aging-in-place elements as they plan renovations or updates. It's easier and more affordable to include accessibility and future ease of use as part of a planned renovation than to add these elements later in life. Planning ahead is important. Remodeling your home to enlarge doorways, a bedroom, and full bath and incorporating a walk-in shower requires effort and money. Don't wait until it's necessary. Including universal design elements and aging-in-place amenities early is not only smart planning, but it also is virtually undetectable, fits into any décor, and should you sell your home, can add value for potential buyers.

View our portfolio of Universal Design Homes and Aging-In-Place Remodeling Work.

This article was updated by Abe Degnan on 6/25/2018.


About Degnan Design Build Remodel
Since 1981 Degnan Design Build Remodel has provided home improvement and construction services to customers throughout Greater Madison, Wisconsin. Our goal is to WOW you with a "Designed For Your Life" solution using a process that will transform your home into a beautiful living space, delivered on time, and on budget. We are known for our communication, respectfulness, and a commitment to our customers and our community. Contact us to speak with one of our designers about your home improvement project.