Outside areas are often left out of conversations about universal design.

Interest is growing rapidly in how to make the inside of all homes accessible, comfortable and safe. However, outside areas are often not discussed, so here are just a few ideas about how to make common outdoor areas safer.

[Related: 5 landscape trends for 2019: NALP]

Allow enough space for a person to enter and exit a car without stepping off the driveway surface. Open your car doors and measure between the outside of the door edges. This dimension should allow enough room to comfortably and safely step out of a vehicle carrying a child, sacks of groceries or to help a family member or friend. The slope of the drive should be no more than 1:18.

Walkways and paths
Walkways should be smooth. Right-angle corners can add a challenge for strollers or wheelchairs; create curves or wider areas at the corners. Instead of using steps for grade changes, use sloped walkways (again, max 1:18). On long walkways, add rest areas. Install automatic lighting to improve both beauty and safety.

[Related: Great, wide, open: Bringing the great outdoors to homeowners’ doorsteps]

Safe design means no steps. However, if unavoidable, install handrails on both sides. Extend each railing at least one foot beyond both the top and bottom so an individual can hold on as they approach and leave the area. Install automatic lighting and electrical outlets for future stair or wheelchair lifts.

Outdoor utilities
It is preferable for electrical panels to be inside, but if they are outside, add clear and easy access for when a circuit breaker needs to be reset. This is especially important with the code changes for ground fault and arc fault breakers, which need to be reset more often. Hose faucets should be easy to reach from a smooth pathway, and a minimum of 24 inches above grade.

Storage and maintenance
Storage sheds should be easily accessible with clear, smooth pathways. Include automatic lighting. Build sheds to minimize home maintenance needs, therefore lessening the chance of a homeowner accident.

Playground, hot tub, entertainment areas

When do you have enough safety in these areas? Never! Your responsibility is to find the right experts to ensure all the parts, pieces and designs are as safe as possible. Child safety experts are invaluable for understanding safety for everyone in these areas.

Elevated decks, balconies
Many older homes have baluster spacing more than 4 inches apart, making it easy for a young child to fall through. Others have decorative wrought iron features or horizontal cables that make it easy for a child to climb the railing. Often there are furniture, plants or other items close to a railing. Engage a child safety expert to help make these areas safer.

Erik Listou and Louie Delaware are co-founders of the Living in Place Institute, which aims to make all homes accessible, comfortable and safe, and administers the Certified Living In Place Professional program. Visit livinginplace.institute for more information.

Leave a Reply