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Universal Design

Albuquerque Builder Universal Design





  • Low-maintenance exterior (example would be stucco or brick)
  • Low-maintenance shrubs and plants (Xeriscape)
  • Deck, patio or balcony surfaces are no more than ½ below interior floor level if made of wood (wheelchair accessibility try to use artificial decking material)

Overall Floor Plan

  • Main living on a single story, including at least one full bath
  • No steps between rooms. Ideally, all areas would be on the same level
  • 5′ diameter turning area in living area, kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom (For a wheelchair)


  • A minimum 42″ width, wider is preferred
  • Adequate lighting


  • Accessible path of travel to the home
  • At least one no-step entry with a cover
  • Sensor light at exterior no-step entry focusing on the front-door lock
  • 36″ door min. at entry with levered hardware
  • Non-slip flooring in foyer
  • Entry door sidelight or high/low peep hole viewer; sidelight should provide both privacy and safety
  • Doorbell in accessible location
  • Surface to place packages on when opening door
  • Exterior thresholds maximum of ½ beveled

Interior Doors

  • There needs to be 32″ of clear width, which requires a 34″ door min.
  • Levered door hardware


  • Plenty of windows for natural light
  • Lowered windows or taller windows with lower sill height
  • Low maintenance exterior and interior finishes
  • Easy to operate hardware

Garage or Carports

  • Covered carports and boarding spaces
  • Wider than average carports to accommodate lifts on vans
  • Door heights may need to be 9′-0″ to accommodate some raised roof vans
  • 5′ minimum access aisle between accessible van and car in garage
  • If code requires floor to be several inches below entrance to house for fume protection, can slope entire floor from front to back to eliminate need for ramp or step
  • Ramp to doorway if needed
  • Handrail if steps


  • Lever handles or pedal-controlled
  • Thermostatic or anti-scald controls
  • Pressure balanced faucets

Kitchen and Laundry Counters

  • Wall support and provision for adjustable and/or varied height counters and removable base cabinets
  • Upper wall cabinetry 3′ lower than conventional height
  • Accented stripes on edge of countertops to provide visual orientation to the workspace
  • Counter space for dish landing adjacent to or opposite all appliances
  • Base cabinet with roll out trays and lazy susans
  • Pull-down shelving
  • Glass-front cabinet doors
  • Open shelving for easy access to frequently used items
  • At least one wheelchair maneuverable bath on main level with 60″ turning radius or acceptable T-turn space and 36″ x 36″ or 30″ x 48″ clear space
  • Multi-level work areas to accommodate cooks of different heights
  • Open under-counter seated work areas
  • Placement of task lighting in appropriate work areas
  • Loop handles for easy grip and pull
  • Pull-out spray faucet; levered handles
  • In multi-story homes, laundry chute or laundry facilities in master bedroom/bathroom
  • Wall support and provision for adjustable and/or varied height counters and removable base


  • Bracing in walls around tub, shower, shower seat and toilet for installation of grab bars to support 250-300 pounds
  • If stand-up shower is used in main bath, it is curb less and minimum of 36″ wide
  • Showers with fold down seat, adjustable handheld showerheads and 6′ hose, tub/shower controls offset from center, shower stall with built-in antibacterial protection, light in shower stall and levered handles
  • Bathtub/showers lower for easier access and have a 30×60 parallel and 48×60 forward approachable area
  • Water closets with 33″ min clearance along wall, 2 ½ higher than standard toilet (17″ to 19″) or height-adjustable, have a 66×48 forward and 56×48 side approachable area
  • Design of the toilet paper holder allows rolls to be changed with one hand
  • Wall-hung sink with knee space and panel to protect user from pipes
  • At least one sink is 34″ max. measured to the top of the rim and a 30×48 parallel or forward approach with knee clearance
  • At least one bathroom must have a 32″ of clear width, which requires a 34″ door min.
  • Slip-resistant flooring in bathroom and shower


  • Easy to read controls
  • Washing machine and dryer raised 12″-15″ above floor
  • Front loading laundry machines
  • Microwave oven at counter height or in wall
  • Side-by-side refrigerator/freezer
  • Side-swing or wall oven
  • Raised dishwasher with pushbutton controls
  • Electric cook top with level burners for safety in transferring between the burners, front controls and downdraft feature to pull heat away from user; light to indicate when surface is hot

Stairways, Lifts and Elevators

  • Adequate hand rails on both sides of stairway, 1 ¼ diameter
  • Increased visibility of stairs through contrast strip on top and bottom stairs, color contrast between treads and risers on stairs and use of lighting
  • Multi-story homes may provide either pre-framed shaft (i.e. stacked closets) for future elevator, or stairway width must be minimum of 4 feet to allow space for lift
  • Residential elevator or lift


  • Slope no greater than 1″ rise for each 12 in length, adequate handrails
  • 5′ landing provided at entrance
  • 2″ curbs for safety


  • Adjustable closet rods and shelves
  • Lighting in closets
  • Easy open doors that do not obstruct access

Electrical, Lighting, Safety and Security

  • Light switches by each entrance to halls and rooms
  • Light receptacles with at least 2 bulbs in vital places (exits, bathroom)
  • Light switches, thermostats and other environmental controls placed in accessible locations no higher than 48? from floor
  • Electrical outlets 15″ o.c. from floor; may need to be closer than 12′ apart
  • Clear access space of 30″ x 48″ in front of switches and controls
  • Rocker or touch light switches
  • Audible and visual strobe light system to indicate when the doorbell, telephone or smoke or CO2 detectors have been activated
  • High-tech security/intercom system that can be monitored, with the heating, air conditioning and lighting, from any TV in the house
  • Easy-to-see and read thermostats
  • Pre-programmed thermostats
  • Flashing porch light or 911 switch
  • Direct wired to police, fire, and EMS (as option)
  • Home wired for security
  • Home wired for computers


  • Smooth, non-glare, slip-resistant surfaces, interior and exterior
  • If carpeted, use low (<.50″ high pile) density, with firm pad
  • Color/texture contrast to indicate change in surface levels

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning

  • HVAC should be designed so filters are easily accessible
  • Windows that can be opened for cross ventilation, fresh air

Other Ideas

  • Water based paints, finishes and other wet materials with zero or nearly zero VOC content
  • Separate apartment for future caregiver
  • Flex room that can used as a nursery or playroom when the children are young and as a home office later; if combined with a full bath, room could also be used for an aging parent/aging in place

Universal Design features increase the usability of a home by people of all ages, sizes, and abilities and enhance the ability of all residents to live independently in their own homes for as long as possible.

When complemented with green building techniques, it provides a better home and environment for the occupants.

A key component of universal design is the successful integration of the universal features into the overall scheme of the home. Universal design becomes a virtually invisible element of a home when properly implemented.

A sampling of Universal Design features follows and it is often quite easy to integrate the majority of these principles and features into most new construction.

One should always give consideration as to how many of these items may be implemented when remodeling an existing residence or constructing an addition to an existing home.