FAQs | Universal Design

1. What is the minimum kitchen size needed for a universal design?
2. Are there any laws requiring handicap accessibility in single-family homes?
3. Does Universal Design require custom cabinetry?
4. How can a first-time homebuyer on a budget create an affordable universal design?
5. How do I know if I need a universal design?
6. What counter heights are used in a kitchen?
7. What features should I look for in appliances?
 

1. What is the minimum kitchen size needed for a universal design?

Virtually any kitchen size can incorporate universal design features. In terms of floor space, however, plan for a minimum of 30" to 48" in front of each appliance and work surface, and 42"- to 48"-wide aisles, to make the kitchen universally accessible. If an island is included in your design, make sure that it doesn't impede access to any part of the kitchen or impair workflow, and that it is large enough to be truly useful.



2. Are there any laws requiring handicap accessibility in single-family homes?

In most cases, no laws are applicable. Currently, federal laws and regulations don't affect most single-family detached homes. There are a few local jurisdictions that have enacted or are considering enacting local regulations or codes. The universal design ideas on the GE Appliances site are not mandated by law, but are rather inspired by the real needs of real people.



3. Does Universal Design require custom cabinetry?

No; all the cabinets in the kitchen shown are either standard or semi-custom pieces, supplied by several different cabinet manufacturers.



4. How can a first-time homebuyer on a budget create an affordable universal design?

Many universal design ideas can be employed at no added cost, such as specifying handles on cabinets in place of knobs, selecting appliances with universal-design features (see What should I look for in an appliance?), choosing faucets with single-lever handles and sinks with shallow bowls, and opting for smooth-surface flooring. For minimal added cost, the kitchen can be designed to include varied counter heights, extra space for wheelchairs near appliances, heat-proof countertops, and additional lighting.



5. How do I know if I need a universal design?

Virtually everyone can benefit from a universal-design kitchen, because it not only accommodates people of varying ages, heights, and abilities, but allows the kitchen to adapt to the changing needs of an individual over time. (Imagine, for example, returning home with a broken leg to a universal-design kitchen–what a relief!) To decide which universal design features are right for you, ask yourself:

  • Do you have family members who want or need to sit down while working in the kitchen?
  • How many people in your household cook or prepare meals and snacks? What are their ages and physical abilities?
  • Do members of your household vary significantly in height?
  • Would any family members benefit from additional lighting in the kitchen?
  • What special safety concerns do you have for those who use the kitchen?
  • Are some items in standard kitchens typically out of your reach? Are there others in your household who have a hard time reaching items?
  • Would you like to reduce bending and stooping in the kitchen, or to make kitchen work less tiring?


6. What counter heights are used in a kitchen?

Three countertop heights are typically provided in a universal-design kitchen: a 42" to 45" standing height, the standard 36" work surface height, and a 30" to 32" height for seated cooks and children.

Other universal-design features for countertops include:

  • Heat-proof surfaces (especially near cooking appliances)
  • Raised-edge detail on countertops to prevent spills and provide a visual and tactile indicator of the countertop edge
  • Combining light and dark surfaces for visual contrast (It's easier to see light-colored ingredients on a dark surface, and vice-versa.)
  • Eliminating sharp corners and edges on countertops


7. What features should I look for in appliances?

Select appliances that are easy to open and use, including easy-to-read graphics and features that provide added convenience and flexibility. GE Appliances offers a wide range of appliances with universal design features to fit a variety of budgets.

Refrigerators
  • A side-by-side configuration is helpful for those who are shorter, taller, or seated. It provides full-height access to both fresh food and freezer compartments, as well as narrower doors.
  • Some top-mount refrigerators also have freezer storage within the recommended universal-reach range of 15" to 54".
  • Look for features that make the refrigerator more convenient and easy-to-use, like spill-proof shelves, gallon container storage in the door, slide-out shelves, and see-through vegetable/fruit bins.
  • A through-the-door ice and water dispenser is helpful, especially for children and shorter people, and cuts down on door openings.

Ranges
  • Look for controls located on the front of the range, so the cook doesn't have to reach across hot burners.
  • A self-cleaning oven may be important for elderly or disabled family members, and is a time-saver for all.
  • Creating a knee space adjacent to the range will increase accessibility to the oven.

Cooktops
  • Because cooktops can be individually installed at varying heights with knee space underneath, they're a good choice for people with mobility impairments.
  • Consider smooth ceramic cooktops with burners as flush as possible, or continuous grates on gas cooktops, for easy sliding of pots and pans.

Wall Ovens
  • Wall ovens are generally preferred because they can be installed with one rack at the level of an adjacent countertop, reducing the need to bend and improving accessibility.
  • Look for a self-cleaning wall oven with easy-to-read graphics, an easy-grip handle, an oven lock-out switch, and generous interior lighting.

Microwave Ovens
  • A touch-control microwave oven placed at counter height provides easy cooking access for people of various ages and physical abilities.
  • Other features to look for include electronic sensors that correctly cook specific foods automatically, audio and visual "cooking complete" signals, and digital help displays that explain how to operate the microwave.

Washers and Dryers
  • Look for models that can be easily loaded and unloaded by people with mobility impairments.
  • Controls should be within easy reach.

Dishwashers
  • Look for dishwashers with automatic soil content, water temperature, and cycle-selection sensors, flexible loading features such as fold-down tines, a lock-out switch to prevent accidental operation, an easy-to-read display, and electronic problem indicators.