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Homewise Guide

Universal Design for comfort, safety, sustainability and style

Table of contents

Creating a dream that lasts a lifetime

Exterior of suburban home

Making a dream home a reality begins with careful planning and good design, which considers the changing needs over the lifespan. Planning which incorporates Universal Design can enhance quality of life and increase a homes sustainability, by being adaptable for generations to come.

Universal Design

Universal Design is design which incorporates a range of features to create a home that is usable by people of all ages and levels of ability. A universally designed home is able to evolve to meet the challenge of the owner's changing needs offering quality of life for residents and visitors, by being accessible for prams, walkers and wheelchairs, and people with vision impairments or disabilities. A home that is built or renovated using Universal Design is created with simplicity and diversity in mind. Universal Design also results in a sustainable home that does not require costly changes or renovations.

A universally designed home can change with the life stages and lifestyle changes of the owner, from raising children to caring for elderly parents, and eventually to maintaining independent living well into old age. By incorporating Universal Design in a new home or a renovation, you can remain in your own home for life, and help to create a sustainable environment for generations to come.

By drawing on Universal Design, you are laying the foundation for a quality home that goes beyond traditional limitations, creating spaces that can be used in many ways by many people, with the focus always on comfort, safety and style.

About this guide

This guide is aimed at introducing you to the benefits of incorporating Universal Design into your home, whether you are looking to make changes to your existing home, or planning to build a new home. To meet codes and building requirements, please consult a licensed builder with expertise in Universal Design. For detailed specifications please refer to the resources listed at the end of this guide.

Selecting a suitable site for a new home

One of the most important decisions you will make as a homeowner is choosing where to live. When selecting a site for a new home, it is important that you are located close to community facilities, with access to the public transport network. Ideally, the site itself should be flat or have a gentle slope with a gradient of no more than 1 in 14.

Opening up to Gold Coast living

Gold Coast living is all about being outdoors and bringing the outdoors in. A home should support comfortable and safe outdoor living for the residents and their visitors. This can be achieved with wide doorways to enhance the view, mobility and safety, and by providing level access to decks or walkways. Pathways around the home should be accessible, clear, non-slip, wide and level and provide seamless connections to key areas such as the letterbox, car parking and front gate/footpaths.

Awnings can be used to provide shade to decks exposed to afternoon sun. Raised garden beds provide access and view, but make sure they do not encroach on walkways. Also consider different garden and plant types and the amount of maintenance they may require.

Technical specifications for opening up to outdoor living:

Doorway Metric Imperial
Width 870 - 920mm 34 - 36in
Deck area outside door 1500 x 1500mm 4.9 x 4.9ft
Threshold at door Maximum 3mm 1/12in
Width 1200mm 3.9ft

The entrance to a Gold Coast home built on Universal Design principles is welcoming, attractive, low maintenance, safe, and accessible. This type of entry is the key to creating a home that is visually appealing, sustainable and adaptable to the life cycles of the home's owner. Smooth and level surfaces for parking, and a connecting covered, walkway from the parking area to the entrance, are important elements of a welcoming entry. They provide unimpeded access for a resident or visitor approaching the entryway with a delivery cart, pram or stroller, shopping trolley, walker, bicycle or wheelchair, or for someone carrying groceries, or a baby in their arms.

Creating a welcoming entry

To create a welcoming entry for residents and visitors, a well designed home will have the following:

  • house numbers that are large and well lit, readable from the street and have high contrast with background, to assist visitors and emergency personnel to find your home without difficulty
  • wide, covered parking spaces for easy exit from the vehicle
  • a garage roof that allows for a van
  • parking areas that connect to pathways and to the home
  • pathways that are level, non-slip, step-free and have no severe changes in slope
  • motion detector lighting along pathways or direct lighting of pathways
  • level space at entry to door
  • wide doorways with little or no interference from door into open space area
  • lever-style door handles that can be unlocked and opened with one hand
  • entry space on outside and inside entryway with minimum threshold
  • clear space to opening edge of door (latch side)
  • gates that are wide and allow for full swing opening (beyond 90 degrees)
  • a gate latch that is easily seen and accessible from seated position and can be operated with one hand

Technical specifications for entryways:

House numbers Metric Imperial
Size of numbers 70 - 80mm 2.7 - 3.1in
Height above ground 1500 - 1650mm 5 - 5.4ft
Parking space
Size 6000 x 3800mm 19.7 x 12.5ft
Height clearance of garage 2500mm 8.2ft
Space at entry 1500 x 1500mm 4.9 x 4.9ft
Width of doorway 870 - 920mm 34 - 36in
Height of door handle 900 - 1100mm 35.4 - 43in
Threshold at door Maximum 3mm 1/12in

Keys to security and safety

Safety and security in and around the home are crucial. An important consideration in designing a home that is safe and secure is ensuring everyone can exit the dwelling, from the front or rear, and get to a place of safety in an emergency. Other features that contribute to safety and security in the home include the following:

  • wide, clear and level pathways
  • side-view windows or a front-door window for viewing visitors at the doorstep
  • a sheltered entrance
  • a well-lit porch area
  • an intercom system wired for camera monitoring
  • motion detector lighting
  • non-slip flooring at inside entry
  • a well-lit doorbell

Enhancing mobility inside the home

From the entryway to the living spaces, safety and ease of movement from room to room are central to sustainable home design. Movement throughout the home can be enhanced by the use of the following things:

  • flexible open floor plans that can be changed with furniture placement
  • hallways, which, if required, should be angled and wide enough to allow for easy movement of furniture, prams and other mobility devices
  • non-slip flooring
  • low pile carpet that is well secured
  • windowsills that give children and seated adults an unobstructed view outside
  • wide entry doors to rooms
  • door catches for ventilation and ease of mobility through home
  • colour contrast walls, floors and doors to mark the path of travel and entry areas


At least one bedroom – or a room with the potential to become a bedroom, such as a study or home office – should be located on the street-level floor of the home near the main living area. The space should be versatile to allow it to be used as a home office or area to welcome visiting guests or colleagues, or for it to become a main ground-floor bedroom. Over the life cycle of the home, the area also can be used by children or other family members rejoining the family unit on a temporary or permanent basis, or by a family member recovering from illness.

Technical specifications for bedrooms:

Space Metric Imperial
Dimensions of room (excluding wardrobe) 3600 x 3600mm 12 x 12ft
Free space at bedside 1500 x 1500mm 4.9 x 4.9ft
Entry door
Width 870 - 920mm 34 - 36in
Light switch
Placement (above floor) 900 - 1100mm 35 - 43in
Width of switch Not less than 35mm 1.4in
Distance from inside corner Not less than 500mm 19.7in
Power outlets
Height above floor 600 - 1000mm 23 - 43in

To maximise usability, a potential bedroom should be designed with the following:

  • minimum dimensions of 3.6 metres by 3.6 metres, excluding the wardrobe
  • a wide entry door
  • lever or D style door handles
  • free space on at least one side of the bed
  • rocker or push pad light switches at the bedroom entrance, and beside where a bed would be situated, which could be reached from a seated position
  • windowsills that give children and seated adults an unobstructed view outside
  • power outlets that can be reached from a sitting position and with little bending from standing position
  • direct access to an outdoor living area connected to an escape route for an emergency exit
  • direct access to a bathroom
  • a well-lit wardrobe with adjustable height shelving and hanging rods
  • a phone outlet


Inside an accessible bathroom

A safe and aesthetic bathroom, which meets the needs of users of all ages and levels of ability, can be achieved if its design incorporates the following things:

  • a door wide enough for wheeled or walker access and opens outward to avoid obstructing the limited space inside
  • door locks that can be opened from the outside in case of an emergency
  • pocket doors that leave access open but allow for closure for privacy when needed
  • the placement of fixtures to allow for free space on at least one side of the toilet for improved access
  • reinforcing to allow for the future installation of grab-rails
  • a slip-resistant surface on shower floor
  • non-slip flooring on any area that is prone to getting wet
  • an adjustable hand-held shower for maximum flexibility with an aerator showerhead to reduce water use by more than 60 per cent
  • a low-volume toilet to reduce water use by 80 per cent
  • a higher 'comfort height' tall toilet
  • a hobless shower area with recessed soap holder
  • overhead lighting in shower and vanity area
  • a seated area at vanity with mirror for seated viewing
  • the considered placement of fixtures for free space in the bathroom, particularly around wash basin and doorway
  • lever /mixer taps

Technical specifications for bathrooms:

Doorway Metric Imperial
Width 870 - 920mm 34 - 36in
Free space on at
least one side
1170mm 3.8ft
Reinforced wall for
grab bars (plywood)
16 mm 1/2in
Toilet height 460 - 480mm 18 - 18.8in
Hobless shower area 1160 x 1100mm 3.8 x 3.6ft
Sink and counter heights 750 - 850 mm 2.4 - 2.8ft

Additional considerations for bathrooms

Sustainable design involves planning for the potential future needs of all members of the household. Consider incorporating the following things into your bathroom design:

  • reinforced walls around the toilet and shower for future placement and relocation of grab rails
  • sink and counter heights that allow for seated use
  • a 'wall-hung' sink with an offset drain for knee space when used from seated position
  • a semi-recessed sink
  • an over-the-sink mirror mounted flush with the vanity area splash-back
  • pipe protection as required
  • offset controls at the bathtub or shower, with adjacent clear floor space for access from outside of tub
  • a handheld shower and positioning rod that can be placed at the front or side of the shower or tub
  • contrasting edges for all counters, to increase ease of detection of counter edges, to prevent injury and bumps and misplacing objects on countertops
  • power outlets and light switches which contrast with surrounding surface
  • rounded edges for safe manoeuvrability
  • non-slip floor surfaces
  • built-in shelving for easy reach storage

Guest toilet/powder room

One bathroom should be accessible to visitors from the main living area of the home. For ease of access, it should be designed to ensure:

  • a swing door does not encroach on the toilet or sink space and that
  • the minimum dimensions of the floor space allow for entry by a wheelchair and for the door to be closed

If this is the only bathing area on the first floor, a hobless shower should be provided. A shower is preferred as it best meets the diverse needs of residents and visitors who need extra space to move, such as parents with small children, older people and people with disabilities who require mobility equipment.


The laundry should be located close to outdoor access for a clear path to the clothesline. The functionality of the laundry can be enhanced by ensuring:

  • a front-load washing machine is raised off the floor to limit bending and that
  • the washing line is within easy reach


The kitchen is often considered the 'heart' of the home. It should be welcoming and provide a good, usable space for multiple tasks to be carried out safely by many users, with the option of performing tasks from a seated position. Sustainable kitchen design should incorporate the following things:

  • versatile storage to limit reaching and bending, such as a lazy susan within a cupboard and cupboards that are within easy reach from a seated position
  • open space between benches to increase mobility and ease of use
  • knee clearance under sink, cook top and at least one bench
  • benches with at least one surface for work
  • heat protection to exposed pipes and sink bowl
  • contrasting colour edge treatment on countertops and splash-backs, with continuous countertops between appliances for sliding items
  • drawers of varying depths for under-counter storage
  • pull-out single-storage pantry shelves
  • set-down bench space or pull-out work surfaces near stove, fridge and sink
  • adjustable height shelves in any storage area
  • front-mounted controls on appliances
  • staggered burners on cook top with front or side control knobs
  • side-by-side refrigerator with easy-to-reach power outlet
  • wall-mounted swing-door oven
  • lever taps placed close to sink front for easy access
  • power outlets and light switches which contrast with walls and splash-backs
  • shelf for microwave at an easy to reach height from a seated position

Technical specifications for kitchens:

Work benches Metric Imperial
Knee clearance 640 - 650mm 25 - 25.5in
Seated work bench height 750 - 850mm 29 - 33in
Width 800mm 2.6ft
Bowl depth Maximum 150mm 6in
Location of tap from sink front Within 300mm 12in

Two-storey home

A two-storey home should incorporate the main living floor Universal Design features already described. Stairs present many difficulties for young and older residents, so stairways should be prepared for the potential use of a stair lift, ensuring adequate clearance width and supportive wall structure. Preparation can be provided for a floor lift system by placing a closet on the lower floor directly below open floor space on the upper level.


This guide aims to introduce the benefits of using Universal Design features in your home. Technical specifications used in this guide are based upon Australian Standards and Best Practice. For guidelines to meet codes and building requirements, please consult a licensed builder with expertise in Universal Design, or for detailed specifications please refer to the resources listed at the end of this guide.



70 Merrivale Street, South Brisbane, see web page:

Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD)

see web page:

AS 1428.1 Design for access and mobility

(2001) Standards Association of Australia, North Sydney. Available from Standards Australia, phone 1300 65 46 46 or see web page:

AS 1428.2 Design for access and mobility

(1992) Standards Association of Australia, North Sydney. Available from Standards Australia, phone 1300 65 46 46 or See web page:

AS 4299 Adaptable Housing (1995)

Standards Association of Australia, North Sydney. Available from Standards Australia, phone 1300 65 46 46 or see web page:

Over 100 ways to improve access at home (2004)

Department of Housing, Queensland. See web page:

Simple Steps for Safety... to protect your home and loved ones (2005)

Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority, Phone 1300 369 003 or see web page:

SmartHousing,Toward Sustainable Design (2003)

Department of Housing, Queensland, phone (07) 3238 3683 or see web page:

The adaptable house: Design for lifestyle and the future (2003)

Australian Greenhouse Office, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia, 2003. Can be downloaded [HTML and PDF [formats] from web page:


Queensland Home Adapt Loan

  • Housing Loans see web page:
  • Loan Information Phone Hotline 1300 654 322 or email
  • Housing Loans, Department of Housing, GPO Box 690, Brisbane QLD 4001

Home Assist Secure

Home Assist Secure is a service that provides free information, referrals and subsidised assistance to older people and people with disabilities who wish to remain living in their home. Gold Coast North phone (07) 5531 3502, Gold Coast Central phone (07) 5538 1947 or see web page: