A Functional Home is a Healthy Home

By Troy Farnsworth, Professional Building Designer/Visionary

During my childhood years I recall home being my safe refuge. My family was there to support me through the years and we had everything we needed at home. The majority of the rest of my time was spent at school, where my brothers and I met some friends with physical limitations. I observed the barriers that my friends were forced to face and developed a deep concern for their challenges, a perspective that stayed with me through the years.

The Wisdom of Universal Design

Within a year of graduating high school my career in the architectural profession commenced. Early on, I had the opportunity to work on projects for very wealthy people who had no budgets. As a youngster, I found it impressive that people would build these mansions and fill them with the expensive items that seemed to make them happy. A few decades later (older, wiser) I concluded that these mansions, although impressive to look at, were meaningless designs. I began soul searching; was the career I had chosen in line with my values?

Taking travel risksThanks to my mother who worked at a school for people with disabilities, I became aware of a need in the building community to design homes for all abilities and generations. I began extensive research into Universal Design—the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability or status in life. By incorporating Universal Design, homes are built with the intention of creating a living environment with no barriers. I have successfully designed a number of homes and renovations through the years for several satisfied clients with this concept creating homes designed for a more meaningful purpose.

What Makes the Design Universal?

First and most important is a zero step entry into the home. Typically I design homes with a zero step passage at the primary entrance of the home and at the door between the garage and the house. 36" wide doors throughout the home provide ease of access and make moving furniture and other large objects much simpler than the narrower doors from years past.


Light switches strategically located with controls that match the occupant's needs make living in the home much more comfortable and safer. Efficient lighting throughout the home—with ample natural light when applicable to reduce utility costs—is a worthy design element.

Elevating the washer and dryer when applicable is more accessible. Curbless showers make transitioning in and out more convenient for everyone! Toilets that are taller with more room on either side make it easier to transfer.

Taking travel risks

Some other important features to consider are leg space beneath bathroom, kitchen and laundry room sinks as well as room for access below the kitchen range. Strategically located ovens and microwaves are an important universal design feature. For homes with an island in the kitchen that includes an eating area, I recommend an accessible countertop approximately 30" high from the floor. In some homes, we design the entire island bar at 30" to allow for standard height dining room chairs to be used, making it safer for young children and the elderly.

Smart Design is Integral to Aging in Place

Speaking of the elderly, I would like to share a personal experience with you. I am under the impression that part of the American Dream is to own the home you plan to retire in. Based on my experience, most homes are not designed to accommodate the needs of millions of Americans who are likely to develop mobility challenges as they grow older. I personally had to extract my parents from the home they owned because my stubborn father was reluctant to put any stock in my mention of renovating the home to accommodate their needs.

Taking travel risks

You see, at the time I had the conversation with my father, he was relatively healthy and independent. Unfortunately within a year, his health had declined to the point where he needed assistance throughout the day and night. I now realize that with a fraction of what it cost to move him into a retirement home, we could have renovated their home. He could have spent the last years of his life in a familiar environment which proves to be much healthier.

They say that growing old, taxes and death are inevitable. Better to be prepared, don't you think?  You have the privilege to retire in your home, not an "old folks" home if you plan ahead!

A home designed and built according to the principles of Universal Design is a better investment than a standard home built as they have been built for decades. A home that will accommodate all ages and lifestyles regardless of abilities is a functional home. And a functional home is a healthy home. 

About the Author:

Troy Farnsworth is a visionary and professional building designer. For more on Troy and his home designs, visit www.troyfarnsworth.com.

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