No one wants to think about getting old. But because people are living longer and the future of government support for retiree medical and living expenses is sketchy at best, considering how home design might fit one’s lifestyle and capabilities 10 or 20 years down the road is becoming paramount.

No one wants to think about getting old. But because people are living longer and the future of government support for retiree medical and living expenses is sketchy at best, considering how home design might fit one’s lifestyle and capabilities 10 or 20 years down the road is becoming paramount.

“People are seeing the costs of parents and grandparents with nursing home care. They are seeing Medicaid breaking states, and wondering whether Social Security will still be around,” says architect Charles Schwab. “People realize the problems, and they know they will eventually have to take care of themselves.”

This realization is fueling the adoption of Schwab’s specialty: universal design (UD). UD is the design of products and environments usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialization, according to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C.

In terms of home construction, that means step-less entryways, wider hallways and doorways, levers instead of doorknobs, step-free showers with grab bars, first-floor bedrooms and literally hundreds of other tweaks and modifications that help reduce the wear and tear on the body and allow people of all abilities to live comfortably.

In the past, many have seen UD as only for the incapacitated and very elderly. Now, Schwab says almost 75 percent of the inquiries he receives are not from retirement communities or the disabled, but from perfectly ambulatory Baby Boomers. UD experts say that should have been the case all along, since the efficiency and ergonomic benefits of UD homes benefit every age group from toddlers to centagenarians.

Architects, builders and designers who follow the tenets of universal design are matching and even exceeding the look and style of today’s typical custom home at a price that hardly dents the pocketbook, particularly when you consider the cumulative savings a homeowner can expect from minimizing accidents (a key UD goal) and shortening or eliminating the need to move to an assisted living facility in the future.

“Most homeowners appreciate good design,” says Rebecca Stahr, president of the non-profit Universal Design Alliance. “This is what universal design represents: features that allow people to maintain a higher standard of enjoyment through the years.”