Aging in Place (Universal Homes)

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Aging in Place (Universal Homes)
Updated On: 
July 19, 2021
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Little bathroom after renovation for seniors

According to the United States Census Bureau, the average person in America will move as many as 11.7 times in their life. Certainly, many of those moves occur during our younger years when we are out exploring the world and getting an education, figuring out our careers, and trying to find the place to put down roots and start a family.

Sometimes, however, those moves occur against our will as we begin to age and find that our life-long homes unfortunately no longer accommodate our needs.

For example, a home with steep stairs to the only bedroom could be a potential hazard as we grow older and have a harder time managing the climb up and down stairs. Showers or bathing areas with high sides might make it infeasible for elderly people to get in and out of the shower, which could lead to potentially dangerous slips and falls.

Fortunately, there are home design strategies for creating a home that will support you over your entire lifetime. Universal Home Design is based around the concept of “aging in place,” meaning residents caring for themselves at home as long as possible is ideal, and that a forced late-in-life move to a group home can be avoided with a bit of foresight and pre-planning.

Below, we’ll go through a few “aging in place” (more officially known as Universal Home Design) strategies for you to consider today to ensure that your custom dream home will be as livable and comfortable as possible in the later years of tomorrow. 

The Essentials of Universal Home Design

Let’s start with what Universal Home Design actually is:

A universally-designed home will address the potential lifestyle changes that come with aging,
without requiring substantial modifications to the existing structure and services of the building.

While it might be hard to predict what our needs will be 40 years down the road, especially for young homeowners designing their first house, qualified custom home builders like Natale Builders can help you in this process of planning for future needs and potential mobility-related accommodations.

Universal Homes incorporate designs that allow single spaces or rooms to fulfill several different functions and roles throughout the lifetime of the house. For example, for a young couple who intend to have children someday, a room used as a home office would be designed in such a way that it can be subsequently converted into a child's bedroom, a teenager's private retreat space, a family study, or an extra guest bedroom during different periods of life - or all of the above.

One expert who writes about the importance of long-term design of our homes says, "a conflict exists between the dynamic nature of people's lives and the homes in which they choose to reside." Instead of trying to fit our lives into a pre-existing and limiting home design, the author advocates for "a close fit between the evolving space needs of occupants and their homes.”

A Few Tips for a Universally-Designed Home

A well-designed universal home should allow people to remain in their houses throughout aging, injury, or illness, while also providing accessibility for unexpected disabilities that might occur in our later years. A flexible, universal home design can even allow aging homeowners to generate income later in life as their home turns into an “empty nest.” For example, that separate, three-car garage that was so necessary with four teenagers living in the home could easily be renovated into an attached dwelling for extra rental income - or just comfortable guest space for visitors - in your later years.

The best universal design for your home will obviously depend on your individual needs. So here are a few tips to help you start thinking about how to turn your house into a “home for a lifetime.” 

  • Limit Stairs. Stairs are very likely going to be a difficulty later in life. If you do have a multi-story home, consider placing the master bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom all on the first floor, and reserving space upstairs for guest bedrooms and other areas that do not need to be accessed daily. 
  • No-step entry. This may be less obvious to someone who’s physically able, but your home’s entryway can be made more accessible by simply designing the entrance without stairs. The no-step entry increases the curb appeal of homes for its openness as well as accessibility - from carrying an armful of groceries to wheeling a stroller or wheelchair.
  • Go Curbless In Showers. Easy entry to showers can help to avoid slips and falls, and also offer a modern feel to the bathroom. 
  • Automate Your Lighting Systems. Smart lighting technology works with motion detectors so that you don’t have to stumble down a dark hallway when you're trying to find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. 
  • Maximize Natural Lighting. Even if your age, health, or other conditions don’t allow you to spend as much time outdoors as you'd like, large windows that allow natural lighting and “nature” into your home can help improve moods and offer a sense of connection to the natural world. 
  • Widen hallways and doorways. Not only will wider halls and doorways feel more open and luxurious, they will also serve to easily accommodate a wheelchair or other mobility device if needed.
  • Consider Warm, Nonslip Flooring. Lastly, warm (whether with temperature controls or a naturally warmer material,) non-slip flooring offers the dual benefit of increasing comfort and reducing the possibility of falls. Cork flooring is a great option worth exploring. 

Your Dream Home, For Life - With Natale Builders


Natale Builders is the leading custom home builder in Western New York specializing in helping you design and build the residence that will be your home for a lifetime.

We have over 50 years of experience in building custom homes, and we’re proud to be an industry leader in Energy Star and Green Build designs. Contact Natale Builders today to get started planning the universal home that you can comfortably inhabit for life.


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