By John Riha
One of the basic principles of universal design is that it makes homes more practical and safer for everyone — not just the elderly or people with limited mobility. These days, universal design features are an everyday fact of life for many households, with architects and other professional designers adding universal design ideas as a matter of course. You don’t have to be a pro designer to incorporate this smart thinking into your own home. If you’re remodeling or simply adding a few upgrades, be sure to keep universal design features in mind. As we remodel our 1972 ranch-style house (we’re on the multi-year, budget-as-you-go plan), my wife and I have incorporated several low-cost, easy-to-do universal design features. A few of our favorites:
1. Switch out doorknobs for lever-style handles. Doorknobs require lots of dexterity and torque to open; with levers you simply press down and go. Makes sense for folks with arthritis, of course, but think about an emergency situation when everyone, including small kids, needs to exit fast. A lever handle is a safe, foolproof way to open a door. A big plus: Levers are good-looking and can contribute to the value of your home. A standard interior passage door lever in a satin nickel finish costs about $20; you’ll pay $25 to $30 for a lockable lever set for your bath or bedroom. Replacing door hardware is an easy DIY job.
2. Replace toggle light switches with rocker-style switches. Rocker switches feature a big on/off plate that you can operate with a finger, a knuckle, or even your elbow when you’re laden with bags of groceries. Rocker switches are sleek and good-looking, too. Ever notice how conventional toggle switches get dirt and grime embedded in them after a couple of years? No more! You’ll pay $2 for a single-pole rocker switch, up to $10 for multiple switch sets.
3. Anti-scald devices for your bathroom prevent water from reaching unsafe temps. An anti-scald shower head ($15) reduces water flow to a trickle if the water gets too hot. An anti-scald faucet device ($40) replaces your faucet aerator and also reduces hot water flow. Anti-scald valves — also known as pressure-balancing valves — prevent changes in water pressure from creating sudden bursts of hot or cold water. This is important when your reflexes or dexterity have been reduced. An anti-scald valve ($100) installs on plumbing pipes inside your walls. If you don’t have DIY skills, you’ll pay a plumber $100 to $200 for installation.
4. Motion sensor light controls add light when you need it. They come in a variety of styles and simple technologies. I like the plug-in sensors ($10 to $15). You simply stick them into existing receptacles, then plug your table or floor lamps into them. When the sensor detects motion, it turns on the light. They’re great for 2 a.m. snacking, or if your young kids are at that age when they migrate into your bed in the middle of the night. The lights turn off after about 10 minutes if no more motion is detected.