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Universal design for housing

Applying Principles of Universal Design to Housing

What is Universal Design for Housing?

UD provides a foundation for ensuring that housing can better respond to the needs of people with disabilities. While UD is not the same as accessible design, it does make it easier to adapt housing to meet the needs of current and future household members. UD is relevant because consumers are asking for more choice, convenience, comfort and affordability. UD’s person-centred, affordable, adaptable and inclusive approach seeks to address housing inequalities. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

National Housing Strategy promotes Universal Design

Accessible Design for Housing

Accessible Design. The CSA/ASC B652, Accessible dwellings standard was developed to support peoples’ accessibility needs. It uses evidence to outline the requirements for the design, construction, and renovation of accessible homes. It was written to help people build homes that can meet a wide range of requirements and are easily adaptable over time.

Universal Design for multi-unit residential buildings

The Universal Design Guide for multi-unit residential buildings is intended for multi-unit residential buildings consisting of single-level units in low-, mid- or high-rise buildings with common areas and entrances. (Source: CMHC)

Aging in Place

Accessibility for housing is not yet mandated in Canada however there are multiple resources to help creating barrier free homes. Here are common accessibility features for aging in place:

grandpa, sleep, grandchild-4051229.jpg

Common Aging in Place Features:

  • One no-step path to a no-step entry that can be at the front, side, rear, or through a garage (1/4–1/2 in. thresholds)
  • No step access to patios, balconies, and terraces (1/4–1/2 in. thresholds)
  • Doorways have at least a 34 in. wide clear opening with appropriate approach clearances
  • Door handles are 34–38 inches from the floor
  • Hallways and passageways are 42 in. clear minimum
  • Access to at least one full bath on the main floor with reinforced walls at toilets and tubs for the future installation of grab bars
  • Cabinetry in kitchen that allows a person to work in a seated position
  • Light switches and electrical outlets 24–48 in. from finished floor
  • Stairways have tread widths at least 11 in. deep and risers no greater than 7 in. high
  • Good lighting throughout the house including task lighting in critical locations (e.g. under kitchen cabinets)
  • Non-glare surfaces
  • Contrasting colors to promote good perception of edges and boundaries
  • Clear floor space of at least 30 x 48 in. in front of all appliances, fixtures, and cabinetry
  • Front-loading laundry equipment
  • Ample kitchen and closet storage or adjustable shelving within 28–48 in.
  • Comfortable reach zones

(Steinfeld and White, 2010).



Based out of New Zealand, Lifemark Homes is a certification process to mark universally designed homes. Lifemark® rated homes are designed to be usable and safe for people of all ages and stages. Learn more about Lifemark certification standards below.


SafeScore is a tool designed by The Universal Design Project to measure of Universal Design features for homes.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation website on Universal Design for new Housing Units is a great resource to get started on UD principles and applications for your home.


SAFERhome’s mission is to promote the adoption and use of housing standards and practices that are safe, healthy and sustainable for everyone in the community. To achieve its objective SAFERhome provides home planning assistance, home inspection and certification programs for the new home construction industry.

Universal Design for Housing Videos

Universal Design SAFERhome Standards Video

The Trend Toward Universal Design - Alair Homes

CityStream: Universal Design & Aging in Place

Universal Design for Housing Seminars

What is Adaptable, Visitable, and Universal Housing? LivABLE Design Summit


"We, humans, are complex adaptive systems. Collectively and individually, we seem to be attracted to things that threaten our well-being. Beyond the obvious vices and weaknesses this includes binaries, labels, hierarchies of power, and elitism. Our extra-large brains have been honed to be siloed and short term, rather than holistic and long term. Time famine, the need for speed, and the competition for attention has encouraged shallowness and fragmentation. What are the implications for well-being? What are the role and responsibilities of designers, and the implications for the practice of design in this existential predicament?⁠" ⁠ Jutta Treviranus - speaking on “Inclusive Ecosystems” at the LivABLE Design Summit on April 20 - 21.⁠
Headshot of Jutta Treviranus
Jutta Treviranus
Director of the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) and professor in the faculty of Design at OCAD University in Toronto