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Universal design

Universal design is about making buildings accessible to all people of all abilities at any stage of life. It includes people who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids, people with impaired vision and people who are elderly or very young.

Benefits of universal design

The design concepts and solutions provided by universal design make sense for any home. They make the house:

  • easier for anyone to occupy without needing to modify layouts
  • safer and easier for everyone to use, including young children and elderly people
  • easier to access by people using mobility aids, including those with temporary injuries
  • easier for visitors who are differently abled or who have young children
  • eligible for independent recognition in schemes like Lifemark and Homestar
  • more attractive to a wider range of buyers.

Examples of universal design features

Universal design features include:

  • wider accessways and thresholds
  • level transition zones both inside and outside buildings
  • lever handles rather than knob handles for doors and windows
  • using drawers instead of cupboards to allow easy access
  • easy-to-use drawer handles
  • good task lighting in utility zones
  • well-placed grab rails in bathroom areas
  • non-slip flooring.

Cheaper to build new than to retrofit

BRANZ research has shown that it is considerably cheaper and less disruptive to build universal design features into a new home than to retrofit the same house later. The average extra cost of equipping a new house with universal design features when it is being built is nearly 10 times less than retrofitting the house with these features afterwards.

Read more about these findings in SR263 Lifetime housing - the value case [PDF, 5MB].


This resource collection is an initiative led by ACC, partnering with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Kāinga Ora Homes and Communities, the Ministry of Health, the Office for Disability Issues and BRANZ. The information in these resources complements requirements of the New Zealand Building Code and NZS 4121:2001 Design for access and mobility - Buildings and associated facilities.

Updated: 05 April 2024