Baby boomers spend more money on remodeling projects than any other segment of the population, according to a report by Harvard University's Remodeling Futures Program. Adding universal design features, however, is usually not on their agenda, nor do many remodelers think of it as a priority.

Dan Bawden, owner of Legal Eagle Contractors in Houston, is looking to change that. “Remodelers should be taking CAPS (Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist) courses,” he says, because universal design jobs are a high-profit upgrade, and being knowledgeable about universal design “shows you're on the cutting edge of trends.”

Bawden says that he occasionally gets calls for small, “handyman” jobs, like adding a grab bar in a shower. But once he's in the house, he can usually point out other things the homeowners can do to improve safety or just make their lives easier.

Alan Hanbury of House of Hanbury in Newington, Conn., agrees that remodelers need to bring up the idea of universal design features. “People think, ‘Oh, we won't be living here then, we won't need that,'” he says. Even homeowners who are interested in having accessibility features installed often underestimate how much they need. Hanbury observes them as they go through their typical daily routine so he can see what their needs are, rather than rely on what they tell him.

The Kingsley brushed nickel grab bar from Moen doesn't look like it belongs in a hospital ó proving that universal design can be a good fit in a private residence.
courtesy Moen The Kingsley brushed nickel grab bar from Moen doesn't look like it belongs in a hospital ó proving that universal design can be a good fit in a private residence.

Persuading folks to add accessibility features — even those with strong opinions against them — is a particular talent of Bawden's. When most people think of universal design features, says Bawden, “there's a stereotype in their minds that it will look institutional. I ask if they've been to a nice hotel in the last couple years.” He then points out that hotels have grab bars and other safety features that rarely intrude on the design of the room. Bawden assures his clients he won't transform their home into “a VA hospital” by showing them the modern, stylish universal design fixtures that are currently available. For instance, when he mentions lever handles on sinks as a great idea, “they think they're going to be those big clunky ones with the blue C and the red H, but there are tons of beautiful faucets with lever handles.”

Bawden is glad to see manufacturers presenting more choices in finishes and styles for bath hardware, like more single-handle controls, and showerheads on 5- or 6-foot hoses. “It tells me that manufacturers are seeing consumer demand for these things,” he says.

Remodelers have no excuse not to take advantage of CAPS courses and the array of new products out there. New construction builders have been slow to get on board with universal design, so remodelers have a great opportunity to gain from the market, says Bawden. “Remodelers are on the front lines. They see the need. They get asked for this work.”