Real Estate

Aging In Place market for Universal Design

Posted March 15, 2013

By Chad D. Collins, Accredited Master Builder 
For New Homes & Ideas, Jodi Sauerbier, Publisher

New Homes & Ideas

Aging In Place is defined as "the ability to live in one’s own home – wherever that might be – for as long as confidently and comfortably possible."

Did you know that since Jan. 1, 2006, on average, the 17 million or so baby boomers are celebrating a 60th birthday every seven seconds, and these celebrations will continue for the next 12 years? This demographic impact shift will increase the need for many home modifications as the baby boomers "age in place." These remodel transformations will consist of more than just widening of doorways to allow for a walker or a wheelchair as the Principles of Universal Design become popular.

The factors of genetics, lifestyle and environment combine to drive demand within the Aging In Place market for Universal Design. This is the design of products, services and environments that are usable by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability, or situation and without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

Universal Design for Aging In Place

Universal Design targets multi-generational use and has an emphasis on aesthetics. The idea is to enter a home or any Universal Design environment and not even notice that features exist for users with unequal abilities.

One of the simplest examples of Universal Design is a door lever in place of a knob. A lever handle set requires minimal physical effort to open for a senior, a child or even a companion canine assistant.

While earning the Certified Aging In Place Designation from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), I practiced an exercise to simulate debilitating arthritis in ones hands. The task was to open a door that had a round door knob and only using one hand. I placed a tennis ball in the palm of my hand and wrapped all five fingers around the ball to create a firm hold. Then a long tube sock was pulled over my hand holding the tennis ball. Trying to turn the round door knob proved to be very difficult in this condition. This is an example of one of the most common Universal Design principles.

When done well, Universal Design elements are virtually invisible in the home. However, few homes or home features will ever be completely universal. One's needs will certainly vary by individual whether at first occupancy or due to an accident, illness or aging. There will always be a need for customized, accessibility features or assistive technology to bridge the gap. The goal of Universal Design is to create an environment where those occasions are less frequent and less costly.

Universal Design for Aging In Place

Consider the Seven Principles of Universal Design:

  • Equitable Use: Identical or equivalent use for all users
  • Flexibility in Use: Accommodates a wide range of preferences and abilities (e.g. right vs. left handed)
  • Simple and Intuitive Use: Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills
  • Perceptible Information: Use redundant presentation of essential information (sight, hearing, etc.)
  • Tolerance for Error: Minimize hazards for unintentional or accidental use
  • Low Physical Effort: Minimize sustained effort while maintaining a neutral body position
  • Size and Space for Approach and Use: Provide adequate space for a standing or seated user

For more information on Universal Design, visit North Carolina State's University's Universal Design website at

For more about Aging In Place and to complete an Aging In Place audit, visit


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About the author:
Chad D. Collins, AMB, CGP, CAPS is a licensed general contractor and home inspector in the Triangle area. An award-winning green home builder, he is serving as the vice president to the North Carolina Home Builders Association.


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