Universal Design not only helps homeowners improve accessibility to and within their homes, but it also allows remodelers to grow their businesses. Offering Universal Design shows clients that a remodeler is knowledgeable about the latest housing trends. Brian Zeldes, CR, CAPS, president of BKZ Contractors, Warminster, Pa., and a 20-year-seasoned remodeler, explains how Universal Design can take a company to the next level.

The Basics

The core concept of Universal Design is accessibility to a home. According to Zeldes, Universal Design has the largest impact on three areas: entry into a home, kitchens and bathrooms. Entrances to a home are best at ground level, but a tastefully designed ramp is another solution. In the kitchen, access to storage space should be simple with slide-out shelves. Counter height and placement of appliances also are concerns. The bathroom is important because everyone uses all components of it, no matter their degree of difficulty. Offset controls and wide shower entries with no steps are simple fixes in the bathroom. Overall, handles for faucets, switches, hardware and doorknobs should be easy and convenient for all age levels and abilities.

“When I hear the term Universal Design, I typically think of someone who has some sort of issue in their home that has to be dealt with,” Zeldes says. “Whether it is someone who is elderly or someone with some type of disability, it’s generally an accessibility issue. We then take a closer look at what’s involved with that issue because each situation is different.”

Understanding the Client

Universal Design for residences does not abide by a code as it does in commercial buildings. Therefore, it is important to meet the individual person’s needs. “We’ve found the most important thing is to really sit down with the customer and understand what their needs are today, what their needs will be a year from now and what their needs could be a few years from now,” Zeldes explains.

Zeldes points out Universal Design is not a fad. Therefore, remodelers should be knowledgeable when speaking to their clients, especially because more homeowners do their own research before reaching out to companies for assistance.

“I think the main reason remodelers should consider using Universal Design in their projects is that it’s not something that’s going to go away,” Zeldes adds. “Baby boomers are aging and people want to
stay in their homes longer. You have to be up on the technology and what the best products are, much like anything else in our industry.”

Growth Potential

To determine whether Universal Design is a good fit for your company, Zeldes suggests contacting associations, like NARI, and taking a basic class about Universal Design.

NARI offers courses at www.nari.org/education/universal_remodeling.asp and its UDCR program guide at www.nari.org/pdf/UDCRManualandApplication.pdf. In addition, network with remodelers who offer Universal Design and suppliers of products that meet Universal Design criteria.

“Universal Design can grow a business by being a marketing tool for a remodeling company,” Zeldes says. “It’s a way to grab a niche market and specialize in something. It has educated me and, I think, in this business you need to learn something new every day.”

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