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National Demonstration Home To Showcase Universal Design and Green Building Practice
By Rosemarie Rossetti
Copyright © 2008 Rosemarie Rossetti
Publication copyright © 2008 National Spinal Cord Injury Association
By all standards, I had it all. I was married for three years to a wonderful man, Mark Leder. We lived in a home we built when we married. My two-year-old speaking, training and consulting business was doing well. All this changed on June 13, 1998.
During a bicycle ride, a 7,000 pound tree suddenly collapsed and crashed down on top of me, leaving me with a spinal cord injury. Six weeks later, I came home from the hospital to face a major obstacle — our home. Our dream home was more of a nightmare now that I was disabled. I faced restrictions including stairs to the second story and basement, narrow doorways and high wall cabinets.
I became aware of universal design from a magazine article about a woman in a wheelchair who built a new home. Universal design is a framework for building or program plans benefiting the widest possible range of people in the widest range of situations without special or separate design. Universal design is human-centered, accommodating people of all sizes, ages and abilities. A home built utilizing universal design principles certainly makes life easier, not only for those with mobility limitations, but also for those who are young, old, short or tall.
Mark and I decided we wanted to build a home based on the concepts of universal design. I researched the concept at the library and on the Internet. I interviewed experts and visited homes built utilizing universal design elements.
Mark and I wanted to continue living in Columbus, Ohio. During the summer of 2004, we selected our lot and builder who worked with us to modify his only ranch-style floor plan in order to meet our needs. As we attempted this, we quickly became overwhelmed and recognized that we needed additional expert assistance. We then hired architect Patrick Manley in September 2004. We tried to shoehorn our space needs into the builder’s existing house footprint and soon realized this approach was not working. The only logical solution would be to create a unique floor plan. The house was redesigned from the inside out. First we sensibly positioned the rooms in relation to each other. Then we sized each room based on our furniture placement and pathways of travel for my wheelchair.
Along the way we hired renowned universal kitchen and bath designer Mary Jo Peterson and lighting design expert Patricia Rizzo from the Lighting Research Center at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Mark and I intended that the home we were building would be our private residence. But then members of a group we belong to suggested that our new home should be a universal design living laboratory. They suggested that the home also be environmentally “green”, utilize the latest technology and be open to the public as well as the building and design industries. They recommended we find corporate contributors to help pay for these elements.
Mark and I contacted international, national and local corporations to discuss their partnerships. Thanks to the efforts of S. Robert August in Denver, Colo., whom we hired in October 2005 as our marketing consultant, we currently have 95 contributors and more to come. These contributors are providing specially selected products and services to showcase in our home.
Despite all of this exciting progress, in February 2006, we hit another hurdle. When we and our builder met with the homeowners association board of directors in our new community to discuss the universal design living laboratory project, they asked us not to build in their neighborhood because they did not want the traffic due to the tours we would be offering of our home.
So we abandoned our plans to build in that neighborhood and immediately set out to find a new home site. We continued living in our old house and still live there today. In April 2006, Mark spotted a 1.5 acre home site for sale. In December 2006 we bought the lot. This new larger lot in a rural setting inspired us to meet with Manley to redesign the house.
Unfortunately, in August 2007, we learned that our builder had gone out of business. After many interviews with potential builders, Mark and I decided to build the home ourselves and hired UBuildIt, a construction consulting company.
So our universal design living laboratory is once again underway. It will have 3,500 square feet of space on the main floor, consisting of two bedrooms, two home offices, two and one-half bathrooms, a kitchen, great room, laundry/wardrobe and library. There will also be a full basement and a four-car garage. It will serve as a national demonstration home and garden for the building and design industries, and the public. Besides showcasing universal design principles, we will apply for certification from the U. S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes, the National Association of Home Builders National Green Building Program, Energy Star and as a Health House with the American Lung Association.
Construction is expected to start in the summer of 2008 and be complete in the summer of 2009. During the first month of tours, all net proceeds from ticket sales will benefit spinal cord injury research at The Ohio State University.
By subscribing for a free newsletter on the project’s website, people will be able to follow the construction progress, as well as be made aware of informational products and teleseminars that I am developing. Currently this website contains extensive articles and handouts that I and others have written about universal design and green building. The house renderings and floor plan are also included.
Mark and I hope that others will learn from our experience, be inspired by the ideas they gather and be a catalyst for change in the building and design community.
Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. is building a national model universal design home in metropolitan Columbus, Ohio. She is an internationally known speaker, trainer, consultant, and writer. To contact Rosemarie go to: www.RosemarieSpeaks.com. To learn more about the Universal Design Living Laboratory go to: www.UDLL.com.