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Seven design principles when renovating for the elderly

"With the aging population, we need to be incorporating universal design principles into everything we do," says Ottawa design-builder Moneca Kaiser.


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October 30, 2013 by Brynna Leslie

With most Canadians planning to renovate this year – many of them baby boomers – it’s time to start thinking about the principles of universal design

Never heard of them?  Put simply, the seven universal design principles are about building things that be easily adapted, depending on the user — Think curb-less showers and floating kitchen cabinets.

These things may once have been considered niche ideas, but with our older population, it’s time to bring them into the mainstream says Ottawa builder Moneca Kaiser.

“With the aging population, we need to be incorporating universal design principles into everything we do,” says the owner of Moneca Kaiser Design Build (MKDB). “We’ve been wanting to develop kitchens for a while with countertops that can be raised and lowered to suit users, for example.”

Kaiser says smart design, based on the universal principles, can make up for patchwork solutions, particularly when clients are attempting to alter homes to accommodate short or long-term disabilities.

“A fireman told me he goes into so many homes where an elderly person has parked a single bed and a portable potty in their living room to be able to stay in their home. This is just poor planning and foolish,” says Kaiser.

“It’s not always easy to widen a doorway,” says Kaiser. “But a main floor bathroom with a curb-less shower is always a smart design.”

People don’t have a habit of predicting the need to create more space for occupational therapy equipment or wheelchairs. But Kaiser says it’s important to get clients – especially older clients or those undertaking major home renovations – to think about flexibility early on. Some of this may require moving away from the popular notion that everything needs to be built-in.

“With some of the modern floating cabinets for kitchens and bathroom available, it would be easy to lower them if they ever needed to accommodate a wheelchair,” says Kaiser. “You can also strategically place them so it’s possible to pull out a section to allow for a wheelchair to tuck in.”

The universal design principles were developed in the late nineties by a working group of architects, engineers and environmental design specialists at Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. You can see the seven principles here.


Brynna Leslie

Brynna Leslie

Brynna Leslie, contributing editor to Canadian Contractor, is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa.
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