Design Strategies to Make your Home Sustainable for Aging in Place

3-minute read
Universal, Adaptable, Accessible, and Visitable Design

Team Ruby

Our homes protect us, warm us, and comfort us. But unfortunately, our homes don't age with us. To continue living safely and independently in the comfort of our own homes, we must make modifications to ensure that our homes work for us, not against us.

Before beginning any renovations, no matter how big or small, it's important to familiarize ourselves with four design methods. While these design methods are widely used by all people, they are particularly relevant for folks intent on aging in place.

The most well-known of these is universal design (UD). UD focuses on making spaces as accessible, functional, and livable as possible for all people, regardless of their age, gender, or physical ability. The other three equally important but somewhat lesser-known design methods are accessible design, adaptable design, and visitable design. Like UD, these three methods strive to create user-friendly homes and can be implemented without sacrificing a home's character and style. But while UD aims to make homes as usable as possible for as many people as possible, accessible design, adaptable design, and visitable design seek to address the specific and unique needs of a home's occupants or beloved visitors. Below, we'll delve deeper into the nuances of these design methods.

Universal Design

UD is less design-oriented and more human-oriented in that its ultimate goal is to satisfy the needs of real people rather than to satisfy a unique set of design standards. Homes that have brought UD to life benefit their current and future inhabitants, as well as any family, friends, and guests who visit, regardless of their physical condition or age. Some examples of UD within a home include wide doorways, lever-style door handles, a bathroom and bedroom on the first floor, and a step-free entry into the home.

Adaptable Design

Adaptable design is a design method that caters to people's evolving lifestyles without radically altering their homes. Often, adaptable homes are set up to support accessible solutions but might not expose them until absolutely imperative. For example, a shower in an adaptable home might not yet have grab bars installed but will have the requisite blocking in place so that as soon as the homeowner needs grab bars, they can be easily put into place. Adaptable design is particularly relevant when building or remodeling a home with future needs in mind. An example of this is designing and installing stacked closets for an elevator to be installed in the future. If the design of the home anticipates the construction requirements, it will minimize corrective work down the line and prove more cost-effective.

Accessible Design


Accessible design explicitly takes into account the needs of people with disabilities. One example of accessible design is widening all the doorways in a home to 32" - 40" to accommodate a person in a wheelchair or a walker. Another example is replacing an island countertop with a lower countertop or one that is adjustable or motorized. While the typical kitchen counter is 36" tall, those in wheelchairs should have workspaces no higher than 34" and sometimes as low as 28".

Visitable Design

Visitable design is based on the principle that all homes should include a few basic features that allow visitors to easily enter, exit, and stay over at a home, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Visitability requires three key features:

  1. At least one zero threshold entrance, absent of steps unless a ramp is present
  2. Wide entryway doors, 32" - 40", to accommodate an assistive device
  3. A half-bath or full bathroom on the main level

These design methods arose from the realization that inclusive design should be standard practice. Applying universal design principles with a particular focus on adaptability, accessibility, or visitability helps us create the most user-friendly homes that will continue to serve us and our visitors as we age.

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You Don’t Have to Figure Out Everything by Yourself

We know digesting this information can be overwhelming. Our experts are here to help homeowners think through which design solutions are right for their home and how to properly implement them.

If you’re at a phase of life where you’d like to assess your living space for safety and living-in-place, please schedule an initial consultation with Ruby online or call 1-833-MEET-RUBY. We’ll get to know you and your unique needs and do our thing — make the home renovation process simple and stress-free.

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