Universal Design- Coming of Age?

by Louis on June 20, 2011

I was recently honored to be on a Universal Design panel for the Maryland National Capital Building Association (MNCBIA) 50+ housing council. My fellow panelists were Mary Jo Peterson and Alan Rector. It was a lively and interested group. Questions were held to the end but just barely. People are hot on this topic.

The program was sponsored by the plumbing division of Masco the huge construction industry conglomerate├é┬á – makers of Delta and many more products.* One of their new UD products is the trough drain system for zero step shower bases.

Mary Jo Peterson, a dear friend and respected colleague has probably done more Universal Design consulting than anyone else. She has probably written more books and taught more classes encompassing Universal Design than anyone as well. Alan Rector, acting as moderator as well as a panelist, asked her the kickoff question. What is going on in UD right now, especially in the building recession? She was ready with her answer. UD is alive and well. Mary Jo has been busy the past few years, not so much with the builders for whom she was working before the slump, but with product manufacturers who are preparing for the next wave. Guess what it is? Universal Design!

Alan Rector heads the active adult division of Winchester Homes, a Weyerhaeuser business well known in this area for its advanced Your Home Your Way approach to customizing production housing. Alan’s comments were also good news. Winchester is a substantial builder/developer, willing to customize but also knowing how to get the job done. Alan assured the crowd that Universal Design need not mean higher costs. He explained that you have to adjust some details. He recognized that adjusting a stock plan would have some cost, that starting UD from the ground up on a new plan would be better, but once the plan is worked out and the details learned, the cost differential is probably hard to pick out. Alan pointed out that a no step entry can save a whole lot of expensive railing on exterior stairs. Just one way UD may be a cost saver. (disclosure: I worked with Winchester on their Universal Design project)

What did I cover? Two points. One that it is important to plan for no step entries from site planning forward. Getting the grade right is not tricky if it is part of the plan, but getting it right as an afterthought is a pain in the neck for everyone involved. My other point supports Alan’s remark about the railing. Sure UD means some changes. There may be a learning curve, or maybe better called a coordination curve, to get over when you make the switch, but there are often unforeseen benefits or savings as well. These corollary benefits are a hallmark of Universal Design. Costs are saved or sales are made from doing progressive things right.

So, it looks like the low to zero cost benefits of Universal Design and great new products to get the job done are in our near future. Builders- you better get on board!

* list of Masco Plumbing brands

Plumbing Products
North American

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