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We're now ready to apply the seven UD Principles to housing! Since not every town has UD dwellings or a Parade of Homes, we've made an online UD home locator and a UD Housing Checklist to use in assess the universality of yours or another home. Last, we offer a modest Habitat for Humanity floor plan to evaluate against our UD Housing Checklist.

Be sure to read the entire lesson before checking out any real or virtual UD models, so you know what to look for. After completing Mission 7, you'll be able to:

  1. Describe specific, prioritized features that should characterize the exteriors and interiors of universally-designed residences.

  2. Use the UD Housing Checklist to evaluate new or existing dwellings and home plans for their universality.

WORD BANK: Prototype, 'on speculation,' Online UD Model Home Locator, on-site vs. virtual home tour, DUH home, demonstration units, UD Housing Checklist, Habitat for Humanity stock plans, visitability/basic access


Developers of large, new subdivisions often build one or more model homes on choice lots, then use them to ”sell” the remaining lots until the development is complete. (Then they sell the models too.) Individual new homes may be pre-sold and built to a specific client’s order OR “on speculation” by builders who hope to get them sold by the completion date—if not earlier. Once dwellings are occupied, homeowners typically are NOT eager to hold public Open Houses.

Given model homes’ short lives and the relative newness of UD, finding a UD home may be a challenge. First, search for UD homes or builders in the Sunday paper Housing Section. Or ask the home builders' and remodelers' associations whether any UD dwellings are located in or near your community. If so, check on model open houses, home tours, or appointments for private showings.

Each year brings more UD homes to more communities, and eventually, UD may be the standard. In the meantime, we constructed the following list of online model UD homes of various sizes and styles, grouped by U. S. region and state—plus an international example. We listed as many models as possible, so as some go off-line, you'll still have choices. (We’ll also update…)

In addition to home locations, the Online UD Model Home Locator includes completion or publication dates and LINKs, if available. If a Link has several photos and/or detailed, to-scale floor plans, try to evaluate them according to the UD Housing Checklist.

Quotable Quote: UD can assure that new homes meet the wide span of individual and family needs NOW and into the FUTURE. Designing for our “future (older) selves” is Hogwash! The future is NOW! (Anony Mouse).

Prototype Design (view online or read about in a book). The “Next Generation Universal House” serves as a futuristic model of what a well-designed UD home can be. Ron Mace, L. Young, and R. Pace designed the NextGen UD house; and Preiser, W. &Ostroff, E. describe it in the Universal Design Handbook. Article excerpts with images.

Quotable Quote: 'Smart' houses are a good idea only if they are designed to accommodate the way people actually live—the more unobtrusively, the better. Housing expert, Leon Harper, reflecting on high tech solutions that can help people age in place, easily, safely, and comfortably (2001).


In 2003, cartoonist Scott Adams (whose famous comic strip is Dilbert) asked his readers to design a home that would reflect his concern for the environment and energy efficiency, plus solutions to common problems they've had in their own homes. He also wanted a ‘'high Geek level,” such as robotic vacuums, a home theater, and video games.

Combining the ideas he received, Adams included several UD features in his 'DUH' house model. For example, he installed an elevator to the basement for when he gets older. Until then, if he has guests who use wheelchairs, they can ride the elevator down to the home theater and guest room. Without focusing specifically on it, Adams did consider accessibility as a plus for higher resale value.

On the Link below, see how many UD items you can spot in DUH house and his list of “Interesting But Probably Impractical Ideas.” (Adams used some of the latter anyway, e.g., the elevator.) HINT: Take a UD look at the main floor, the shower, hard surface flooring, and child's bathroom sink. Then, find more UD features on your own.

If Dilbert's home has 'enough' UD items, we might just consider DUH to be the acronym for “Dilbert's Universal House.” To take the virtual tour, CLICK HERE. Dilbert's home was also featured on the HGTV website in late 2004.

Quotable Quote: Universal Design has the unique quality that when well done, those features are INVISIBLE. (NJ Casino Reinvestment Development Authority UD Demonstration House pamphlet, 2002).


The UD Housing Checklist is made up of two lists: 1) basic access and 2) 46 more features that can provide a fully-universal residence. For teens and others who are ready to try UD housing, but NOT the WHOLE NINE YARDS, the first 14 'starter' items provide basic access AND meet the federal fair housing access (FHAAG) requirements. As you review all 60 items, try to relate each to one or more of the seven UD Principles.

A universal home begins with BASIC ACCESS features: 1) One no-step entry, 2) wider doors and hallways, and 3) a usable first-floor bathroom. Without them, NO dwelling can be considered universal. But a residence with ONLY those features isn't universal enough. Adding the items required by the 1991 federal FAIR HOUSING ACCESSIBILITY GUIDELINES produces a moderately universal yet affordable home.

Effective in 1992, the Fair Housing Access Guidelines require that new privately- and publicly-financed multifamily buildings containing four or more dwellings include selected features in ALL ground floor apartments and ALL units on upper floors that are served by elevator(s). In addition to basic access items, they include UD features such as environmental control heights that are reachable from a seat, plus reinforced bathroom walls that permit easy grab bar installation if and when needed.



Instructions: Check to see which items your current or prospective home or plans already have. Place an ‘R’ in the blanks of any items required by the local building code. Rate each remaining item using a scale where F= Fully met; P=Partially met; NM=Not met but could be modified; or NO=Not met and cannot be modified (structurally or affordably).

Basic and Fair Housing Access Requirements

___1. Accessible route from drop-off or parking to entry (max. 1' in 20' incline)

___2. Minimum of one no-step entry through front, patio door, or garage

___3. 32" minimum clear passage through no-step exterior door(s)

___4. Entry/exterior door threshold(s) less than ½” high do not become barriers

___5. Circulation paths/routes min. 40" wide through each room and hallway

___6. Light switches max. 42"-48" Above Finished Floor are reachable from chair

___7. Large-number thermostat max. 48" AFF is visible and operable from a seat

___8. Electrical outlets min. 18" from floor: No-stoop and reachable from chair

___9. First-floor bath with 32" clear passage door and a clear path to toilet

__10. Min. 30"x48" clear area in front of bathing fixture or min. 5' diam. turn circle

__11. 32" high vanity sink counter w/knee space, insulated pipes, self-store doors

__12. Reinforced toilet & tub/shower walls allow for future grab bars if needed

__13. Minimim 30"x48" clear space in front of or at side of kitchen appliances

__14. Knee spaces under sink & cooktop with retractable doors & burn protection

The level of Universal Design created by the 14 MINIMAL UD Checklist features is the LOWEST that you or any contractor should consider building into new single- OR multifamily housing. To be FULLY UNIVERSALLY DESIGNED, add the majority or all the item listed on the MAXIMUM UD HOUSING checklist below. They are organized into four groups: Accessible entrances and pathways; interior circulation, lighting, and wiring; bathrooms; and kitchens.


Accessible Entrances and Pathways:

___15. 5' x 5' level wheelchair maneuvering space outside AND inside the entry door

___16. Doorbells, burglar and smoke alarms with light AND/OR sound signals

___17. Weather-sheltered entryway (at very least, a broad overhang)

___18. Package shelf or bench near entry for groceries, package deliveries, and resting

___19. Full-length sidelight(s) at the entry, or window in door to identify visitors

Interior Circulation, Lighting, and Wiring:

___20. Non-slip (when wet) floors, especially in bath and kitchen, to reduce falls

___21. Interior door thresholds (if any) less than one-half inch high for wheeled mobility

___22. Non-slip, low friction floors for walker and wheelchair use (hard surface or low/tight carpet)

___23. 18" min. beside doors to reach the latch; 12" min. to avoid blocking your own exit

___24. Lever door handles that open with one hand, an elbow, or closed fist

___25. Doors should require less than 5-pounds maximum force to open

___26. Wall and floor colors should contrast with switch and outlet back plates

___27. Several 3x brighter, non-glare lighting sources with dimmers

___28. (Luminous) touch or rocker light switches for hands-free use (in the dark)

___29. Windowsills max. 36" above floor for outdoor view and emergency exit

___30. Glare-free, easy-open casement windows are easier for use by older adults.

___31. Adjustable-height closet rods and shelves are reachable and more flexible


___32. High toilet seat (or riser) 17"-19" above floor is easier for sitting and rising

___33. Non-slip tub needs min. 24" wide drying space the full length of entry side

___34. Transfer shower with seat, or curbless roll-in shower if transfer is impossible

___35. Tub/shower controls offset to entry side are easy reach from in- or outside

___36. Adjustable-height, hand-held shower: Min. 60" hose on 30" long, anchored slide bar

___37. Single-lever controls on all faucets turn with one hand, closed fist, or elbow

___38. Anti-scald valves on tub and shower faucets prevent unexpected scalding burns

___39. Mirror bottom at counter or backsplash level or tilted 3" from top for a seated view

___40. Bright, non-glare light above or on both sides of sink + fan light in shower ceiling

___41. Child-proof medicine chest (with interior light) is reachable from a chair


___42. Adjustable or varied-height work surfaces (28-38" above floor) are more flexible

___43. Built-in desk provides lower surface for seated work or computer use

___44. Continuous counters permit sliding (vs. lifting) heavy pans between work centers

___45. Sink spray fills coffee and other pots on counter without heavy lifting

___46. Rolling carts move and serve with minimal carrying/lifting, then “park” under counter

___47. Dishwashers raised 6" and under-counter dish drawers allow no-bend use

___48. (Child-proof) front or side-mounted appliance controls avoid reaching over burners

___49. Waist-high microwave level avoids tipping and scalding from high, hot dishes

___50. (Side-open) wall oven with middle shelf at counter height for level transfers

___51. Side-by-side refrigerator/freezer allows full access for both short AND tall users

___52. Glare-free task lighting over all work centers (e.g., under wall cabinets)

___53. Color-contrast counter edges/backsplashes with floor color to aid low vision user

___54. D-pulls or touch-latches on cabinet doors/drawers easy on stiff or arthritic hands

___55. Full-extension drawers, pull-out shelves, and lazy susans allow full view and access

___56. Adjustable-height shelves raise and lower for varied user- and contents’ heights

___57. Base cabinets with 6"-9" high toe kicks fit chair footrests and no-trip pet dishes

___58. Full-height pantry with pull-out or revolving shelves offers no-reach access

___59. Front-loading washers/dryers with front controls are easier to reach and un/load

___60. Wheeled waste/recycling bins can collect from work area, then park by back door

Add other items that are important, perhaps in two lists based on past housing experiences (e.g., “Must have” and “Never again” features). Also, add important features that relate to specific family values and lifestyle.

Sources used in preparing the full checklist included: Center for Universal Design (n.d.), UD in housing; Peterson, M. J. (1999), UD for the active adult home, Seniors Housing News; Yearns, M. (n.d.), Design features in A Home for All Ages, Iowa State University Extension Service; and White, B. J. (1997) UD housing features checklist.

Quotable Quote: Ensure that your home provides the quality of life you’ve been working for... INSIST ON UNIVERSAL DESIGN! (D. Martinez, 2000).


A boy building a fence To practice identifying Universal Design residential features, we chose a modest floor plan used by Habitat for Humanity (H/H) in working to build new houses WITH lower income people who otherwise would NOT be able to become homeowners (CUD, 20??). The exercise is IN this lesson because EVERYONE who wants to learn about UD housing needs to enjoy the experience—while pretending to be UNIVERSAL HOUSING DESIGNERS!

We’ll use standard-size fixtures and appliances that fit into any new home, although we know that people who have larger and more expensive houses built may specify non-standard sized, custom-built features. But since most space and activity standards are based on those anthropometric measurements you met in Lesson 6, “our” dimensions will fit 90+ percent of the U. S. population—AND produce an affordable dwelling.

After reading this page, you may click below to download and print the Habitat plan so you can measure and write on it. Check it to see if its scale is 1/4" = 1 foot. If NOT, enlarge or reduce the plan in a photocopy machine to get it (close) to 1/4” = 1 foot. To convert a plan of unknown scale to ¼” scale, enlarge or reduce the copy size until the kitchen’s upper (wall) cabinets are ¼” deep (front to back) and the base cabinets under them are ½” deep. (DON’T DO THIS WHEN YOU’RE DESIGNING OR BUILDING FOR REAL!)

Habitat for Humanity floor plan

Standard U. S. wall cabinets are 1 foot deep, and the base cabinets are 2 feet deep. Another way is to check the diameter of the circles shown in dotted lines in the kitchen and bathroom. They are wheelchair “turning circles,” which are minimum 5 feet in diameter (and hardly EVER larger…). Thus, on your enlarged or reduced plan, they should each measure 1.25 inches across.

In our House of Stars, each star marks a feature from the full UD Housing Checklist, although this unit isn’t large enough to include all 60 items. (H/H homes have only one bath unless the family is very large, and they include space for, but NOT the dishwasher itself.) Use the checklist to identify ALL starred items BEFORE you come back to CLICK on each star to reveal the correct labels and dimensions.

To avoid cluttering the floorplan with crossed lines/arrows and written descriptions, abbreviate the feature’s name and/or minimum dimension, followed by its checklist number in parentheses. For example: 40" min. traffic paths (5). In some cases, only the minimum dimension is requested, which you may consider “TOO MUCH DETAIL” to remember.

The detailed dimensions relate to space and clearance for a baby stroller, walker, major appliance OR wheelchair (all with person “attached”) to move in or through withOUT skinning someone’s knuckles, damaging the wheeled thing, OR gouging the wall and woodwork. NOT TO MENTION a PERSON being UNable to move into or out of the house, or from one living area to another to do their Activities of Daily Living. Remembering minimum 32” clear space OR doors minimum 34” - 36” wide is NOT TOO MUCH TO ASK….

Building plans typically do NOT show FREE-standing (vs. built-in) furniture, fixtures, or equipment. Drawing them in their likely locations could be another COOL event for a BO-O-ORING night or weekend when there's ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO (heave a HUGE Jeremy sigh here...[from Zits cartoon]).

NOTE: Although some housing designers label their plans as “universal,” some of the features they call “UD” may be arguable. By now, you probably realize that not everyone agrees on everything UD, despite the UD Principles.

The BOTTOM LINE: Is the plan usable by people of ALL ages, sizes, and capabilities—in other words, as many potential residents AND visitors as possible?

One final caveat: Remember that COPYRIGHTED PLANS may NOT be used as is OR adapted to build your new house (legally) UNLESS YOU employ the designer who owns the copyright OR buy a copyrighted book of floor plans and order the full plans and specifications from them for a fee.


1. EVALUATE YOUR HOME AGAINST THE FULL UD HOUSING CHECKLIST (60 items to look for): Plan to do this activity alone or with members of your family. Your guide may have the class or group compare notes, but feel free to respond only on items that you care to share. You may want to keep others private or discuss only with one friend.

  1. Preparation: List at least five of your family's most important housing priorities (general and specific things they need and want their home to do or be) on a separate sheet (the priorities are likely to go beyond UD features—that’s OK).

    Then note which housing priorities are Met vs. NOT Met by your current dwelling. If not met, why? Keep that list handy. You may need to re-consider some of the priorities after completing the Action section (1B) below.

  2. Action: You or your Guide may print/make copies of the UD Housing Checklist so you can evaluate your home against to both the Minimum and Maximum (“Full UD”) levels.

    Take the checklist around your home, checking off the items that are present, and adding notes or questions where needed. Feel free to mark NA (“Not Applicable”) in the blank next to any item that just doesn’t apply to your family (a short explanation note would be good too).

    Option for Art, Building Trades, and Family & Consumer Sciences students: Sketch the home’s floor plan to scale and use it to check all 60 items, jotting notes on the plan and/or the checklist, as appropriate.

  3. Reflection: After you've completed the checklist, use tablet paper to:

    1. List the UD (checklist) features NOW PRESENT in your home, then based on your family's CURRENT life cycle stage(s), number them in order of importance (1= MOST important). Some may be tied—of equal importance. Write down your reasons, but you may not need to discuss them with the group.

    2. List the UD features MISSING from your home, and number THEM in priority order based on POTENTIAL OR PROBABLE NEED AND IMPORTANCE to your family's FUTURE LIFE CYCLE STAGES (you may need to have separate lists for “need” and “importance”). Again, record the reasons for your eyes only.

    3. For the 3-5 most important MISSING UD features, brainstorm some inexpensive or do-it-yourself modifications that might meet the predicted needs (assuming that your family can't afford or prefers NOT to buy the UD product now).

2. ADVANCED OPTION FOR HIGH SCHOOL Art, Building Trades, Family/Consumer Science and Tech-Ed students. Deciding whether to tackle this option is up to your Guides, you, and the time available. Survey local homebuilders to identify which UD features they offer in new or remodeled homes they build, and for what reasons:

  1. Standard equipment included in the base price
  2. Options available at extra cost
  3. Varies with housing price range or target market group
  4. Required by local building code, state law, or federal regulations

    Using the knowledge you've gained thus far, turn the UD Housing Checklist into a survey and pilot-test it on 5-10 adults (NOT the same people you plan to survey).

    After making any needed revisions, administer the survey to the builders, tabulate your data, and prepare a research report to present to the class. You could send a copy of the whole report or just a summary of the results, with your thanks, to the survey respondents or their organization.

    Caution: If you try to survey contractors just before or during the building season, they may be too busy to participate. To avoid discovering this too late, your group needs to brainstorm a plan to get their cooperation. The survey data may provide valuable information, not only for planning your UD Community Awareness Campaign, but for homebuilders AND remodelers.

    If you limit the survey to the Basic and Fair Housing Access items (minus any that you discover are required by the building code or other regs….), the builders could complete it in less than 10 minutes. Perhaps work with the officers of the local homebuilders' organization to complete the survey at their meeting, then discuss it with them. What else can you think of?

    ALTERNATE SURVEY: Using the basic UD features OR all 60 (Full UD), make a survey for adults who attend your community’s annual Home & Garden Show. Instead of the short line in front of each UD Housing Checklist item, use numbers or columns that respondents use to indicate their levels of knowledge and interest in each UD feature.

    To make your survey “scientific,” easy to complete, and get a high response rate, ask your Guide for help in developing it. You could also include a “pull-out flier” listing all 60 UD items as a gift for participating (AND as a part of your UD community awareness campaign)!

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