All-ages friendly, universal design bathrooms can be visually appealing, safer.

Series note: Over the next several weeks, the Livable San Diego series will go room by room to provide tips and suggestions to help make homes more user-friendly, accessible, comfortable, energy-smart and beautiful.

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“Today, many homeowners would rank the bathroom as second to the kitchen in importance to their lifestyle. However, older people and those of all ages with disabilities, who are trying to maintain their independence, dignity, and self-esteem, will say that the most important room in the house to their quality of life is the universal design bathroom.”― American Institute of Architects

When it comes to a home’s bathroom, more likely than not, there is a lot going on in a relatively small space. When mere inches can make the difference between independence and dependence, the question follows: how can the greatest usability be achieved within very tight constraints?

According to AARP, “Unlike ADA-compliant institutional-looking bathrooms, the universal design bathroom is visually appealing. It does not look as if it had been laid out specifically for elderly or disabled users. In fact, visitors to a home with a universal design bathroom may not notice anything out of the ordinary, except that the bathroom is attractive, convenient, comfortable, and safe for all family members through all stages of their lives.”

Before shopping for fixtures or a new counter-top, make sure you have a well-thought-out plan when looking to start a bathroom renovation. Some tips to help you get started include:

  • Identify your goals and priorities.
  • Explore articles in magazines and/or on the Internet that show good examples of universal design in bathrooms of similar size to your own.
  • Once you have a good picture in mind, put down on paper what you really like.
  • If you are still not sure of what will work best for you, it might be wise at this time to retain an expert and highly reputable design/build professional, fully knowledgeable of universal and accessible design to assist you.

When hiring a design/build contractor,  make sure you learn all you can about universal (aging-in-place) design and accessible design beforehand. If you consult with an expert, make sure the person is far more than just CAPS-certified, but also can show you at least three successfully completed universal design and accessible design projects. It is recommended that you hire only licensed contractors with license numbers, which can be found online at or by calling (800) 321-2752, ext. 1. Other useful resources can be found at

As noted on, “As you work on a budget with your designer and/or general contractor, ask for a written full project itemized labor and materials breakdown. There are variables depending on your existing bathroom, the scope of the project (complete remodel or facelift?) and the local economy.”

This is also an excellent time to think seriously about how to prevent injuries due to falls in the bathroom when designing and before beginning renovations. Planning for future needs is good practice by utilizing universal and accessible (when needed) design features, which encourage flexibility, adaptability, safety and efficiency through all stages of life.

Other items to consider, once a vision is in place for a bathroom remodel, include flooring, walls, plumbing, windows and ventilation products, plus quality lighting. Additionally, finishing touches such as bathtubs, curb or curb-less shower, walk-in tub, toilet, vanity, faucets, mirrors and safety bars are important to include, and will all be covered in future Livable San Diego articles.

Laurence Weinstein is founder and president of Shared Solutions America. He spends much of his time educating both consumers and professionals on how to create practical as well as beautiful, living environments that are user-friendly, energy-smart, safe, sustainable, and affordable. Weinstein’s series, “Livable San Diego,” is a twice-monthly series that can be found inside the Home & Garden section of the Union-Tribune on the second and fourth Saturdays or online at