UNIVERSAL HOMES: House Designs and Floor Plans

Our home is a place where we all have a choice. This is where we socialize, entertain and welcome our guests. We should take pride in owning our homes. When we build a home, we are building it for the future. Not only our future but also for the generations to come.
Universal housing accommodates everyone. Even people with disabilities. Universally designed homes can be minimally designed and easily made accessible later on.

Universal Design

Individuals who live and visit our homes come in all shapes and sizes, from babies to the senior citizens, people with different abilities. As we welcome infants into our homes and grow old, our housing needs change all time. Design and build a home that reflects the principles of universal design. This is a safer and more accommodating option to the various types of individuals who will live and visit our home.
Actual universal designs and construction only occurs when we accurately understand how individuals with disabilities occupy the built environment. A universal design home is slightly different from a regular home. Designing for accessibility is not a new way of designing, it has to be a more focused design. By creating the extra flexibility in the variety of the design features and integrating accessibility into the house design. Extending the life of your home encourages the concept of ‘aging in place’.
The concept of ‘Aging in Place’ is becoming very popular with individuals and families who choose to stay in the same ‘place’ (i.e. homes and neighbourhoods) as they grow older and age. Planning for the individuals changing abilities and needs allows for customizing the home on the changing requirements and reduces the need for costly renovations and extensions in the future.
It is good practice to plan for the future, and principles of universal encourage adaptability, safety and efficiency in your homes.
Here are the most common types of designs for housing that is accessible by everyone

Visitable Home

A visitable home has the basic accessibility features. It will allow most people to visit, even individuals in a wheelchair. The 3 main features of a visitable home are
• A level entry (No step)
• Wider doors at ground level (Entry)
• An accessible bathroom (Accessible for an individual in a wheelchair)

Adaptable Home

An adaptable home is one that accommodates change. It is designed so that it can accommodate an individual with a disability in the future. Features include
• A level entry (No step)
• Wider Entrance doors
• Accessible bathrooms
• Removable cupboards in the kitchen and bathroom (to create knee space)
• Wider staircase (to allow for installation and operation of a chair lift)

Accessible Homes

An accessible home features the needs of individuals with a disability. An accessible home features
• A level entry (No step)
• Wider Entrance doors
• Open turning spaces in all rooms
• Wheel in showers
• Kitchen and bathroom benchtops with knee space underneath

Universal Home

A universal home is for everyone. It comes with different features that change over time. A universally designed home gives every individual an equal opportunity to use the home. Features include
• A level entry (No step)
• Wider Entrance doors
• Open turning spaces in all rooms
• Lever door handles
• Enhanced lighting levels
• Easy to grasp handrails
• Easy to use appliances

Assess your Needs

Before embarking on any project assess your needs. Why are you interested in accessible homes? What are the requirements you require for your home? Individuals who can’t afford bigger homes should consider adaptable or visitable homes at the minimum. This is because accessible and universal homes need to be slightly larger due to their requirements.


When we design an accessible home, a new construction, extension or a renovation, we should always account for the need to evacuate in an emergency. Every floor should have at least one accessible exit. Ground floor usually has the front door that leads to the outside, other forms of exit are doors that lead to the alfresco or even laundry doors. Upper levels can consider balconies as an area of refuge.
A good place to start is finding out what works and doesn’t work. Once you have had your list, decide on the priority elements of your accessible home. Starting from the bigger issues all the way down to the smaller details, ensure that your designer understands the requirements of your home.
As soon as you have a good list of the elements you need in your home, it’s best to work out how you are going to meet those needs.
A homeowner would be able to tackle a simpler project, like regrading the front of your home to create a level entry into the home or even remove cabinets from under a bathroom or kitchen sink. But more complex projects will require help from other professionals like an architectural designer or builder.

Where do we Start?

Some homes are easier to renovate/ extend for accessibility than others. We have 3 key areas that can help in determining the degree of difficulty and costing for the retrofit.
• The entrance to the home
• The bathroom
• The staircase

The Entrance to the Home

When looking for a home, look for one where the flooring is as close as possible to the ground. If the floor is even 600mm above ground level a long ramp would be required. An alternative to this could be a lift or a chair lift. The problem with any of these solutions is that usually we don’t have enough space to install any of these. If the budget allows, consideration for an extension the lift could be an option for a double storey home.

The Bathroom

Bathrooms usually require major modifications. Unless a bathroom is big, constructing an accessible bathroom requires plumbing and electrical changes and structural too. This means that the rooms surrounding the bathroom have to compromise on the space to make room for the larger bathroom. If there is a bathtub in the bathroom, we could remove it to add more space to the bathroom.

The Staircase

Ensure the staircase is at least 1,100mm wide to be able to install a chairlift. Or a minimum of 1,500mm x 1,500mm of space at the top and 1,500mm x 2,400mm of space at the bottom of the stairs to be able to install a future wheelchair platform lift. Split level, sunken rooms and double or more storey homes are harder to work with. Sometimes 2 storey homes may allow for installation of a lift but keep in mind many existing homes are never designed around the installation of a future elevator.

What Options are out there?

When there is a requirement of extensive accessibility, we have to question ourselves whether we should renovate, extend or build a newer custom home. Another option out there is to find a home that has been built with accessibility in mind. Remember that there are very few homes out there that have these in mind.
There are many factors that determine the feasibility of either building new or renovating and extending the home. These include
• The budget
• The location of structural walls in the house
• The space available to renovate and extend on the land
• How often we use every room in the house
• The availability of a lot in the area you prefer to build a new home
To figure out which strategy is better, call on a qualified professional to advice you.

Altering a Project Home Builders Plans

Most builders are very stringent on altering their plans, but there are other builders out there who will allow alteration of plans at a price. If there is no price involved then there will be a compromise on certain rooms. Changes such as wider doors are easy and inexpensive. Changes such as lever door handles do not cost but changes such as widening the passage, making rooms slightly bigger to allow for circulation, bigger bathrooms for accessibility for wheelchairs will start costing you more.

Custom Homes

When considering to build an accessible home use a design professional who has the knowledge and experience in designing accessible homes. Sometimes it is also good to involve your physiotherapist or occupational therapist to help you determine what your current and future needs could be.
If you need help in determining which options are right for you contact us here. Alternatively call us on 0401 510 595 and we will assist you further.

Universal Design Features

1. Universal home – A home for everyone
2. Flexible home – A home that can be adapted to our needs of the time
3. Simple – Simple and easy to understand layout regardless of the user’s ability
4. Distinguishable – A home that respects different disabilities – information of the home delivered through our senses – Sight, sound, touch
5. Physical – Designed for people with mobility issues
6. Size and space – Appropriately sized spaces for everyone including wheelchair turning circles

Recent Guides

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