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Chapter 5: Kitchens
Lots of detail goes into a universally accessible kitchen. These universal design features provide easy access and usability for everyone.
Residential Universal Design Building Code, 2023 version. © The UD Project.
At least 48" (122cm) of floor space should exist in front of any appliance and counter.
This not only provides room for moving around easily while carrying items (such as dishes), but it’s necessary for people who use mobility equipment. Sometimes the space in front of an appliance will extend into a hallway or another room. That’s okay, as long as the floor space is unobstructed.
At least 18" (46cm) of space should exist between any appliances and corners.
It’s easy to get “stuck” in a corner when trying to reach something if space to move around is limited, especially for anyone who uses a wheelchair, walker, crutches, or a cane.
There should be a 60" (152cm) turning radius in every workspace (most kitchens include multiple workspaces) that extends floor-to-ceiling when all cabinets and appliances are closed.
This will allow anyone who relies on extra support to move around easily, without bumping into walls or appliances. While this is accommodating to wheelchairs, it also provides breathing room for people carrying items, or for two or more individuals working in the same area.
Cabinet hardware and appliances should not extend into this space, even when doors are closed.
Each workspace should have a prep area adjacent to it with at least 29" (74cm) of vertical under-counter clearance. This primarily includes the sink and the cooktop but may include other workspaces depending on kitchen configuration.
A universally accessible kitchen needs to accommodate as much storage as found in typical kitchens of the same size without full dependency on cabinets.
Universal design requires an unconventional approach due to the need to accommodate people who have different reach ranges and those who perform tasks better when seated. This inherently reduces the amount of storage space found in typical kitchen cabinet configurations that (1) fill all the under counter space and (2) take advantage of vertical space that often requires a step stool to access.
The simplest option is to include a large walk-in pantry with a ≥ 32" (81cm) entrance.
The kitchen should be adjacent to an eating area.
This is about convenience and ease of use by providing minimal distance for moving food and dishes between spaces. It’s helpful for anyone, though if someone has trouble with fatigue or uses any kind of mobility device, it becomes an incredibly useful feature.
Sinks in kitchens should be 36" (91cm) from the floor. This measurement is from the floor to either the top of the counter or the top of the sink, whichever is highest.
Adjustable-height counter exception:
Adjustable-height counters with a minimum range of 30-42" (76-107cm) may be used in lieu of a fixed counter/sink height.
The sink must have at least 29" (74cm) of unobstructed vertical clearance underneath for seated access. This should be measured from the floor to either the bottom of the counter or the bottom of the sink, whichever is the lowest based on the style of the sink.
The sink must have at least 32" (81cm) of unobstructed horizontal clearance underneath.
The sink must have at least 18" (46cm) of unobstructed depth clearance underneath.
Offset rear drain:
Sinks with drains offset to the rear are ideal.
Under-sink clearance can be achieved with closed cabinetry that has flipper doors that fully recess. The width between open doors must still be ≥ 32" (81cm) and the flooring should extend to the wall underneath.
The drain pipe from the sink may extend into the under-sink clearance, only if located exactly in the middle of the 32" (81cm) clearance width so knees can go around it. Garbage disposals should not be used unless installed ≥ 18" (46cm) from the front edge of the counter.
Any exposed plumbing needs to be insulated and padded.
This protects against exposure to high temperatures and/or reduces leg injury when someone is seated at a sink.
Unexposed plumbing exception:
If plumbing is unexposed behind a panel, it does not need to be insulated and padded.
Faucet hardware should be operable with one hand while not requiring any pinching or grasping.
No pulling, turning, or gripping should be required, which will make faucets easy to use for everyone, but particularly for users who struggle with dexterity.
Motion-activated faucets, single-touch faucets, as well as those with single-handle lever-based hardware are all ideal.
Faucet hardware should have clearly visible hot and cold temperature indicators.
While it's generally expected that hot is to the left and cold is to the right, this isn't intuitive for everyone. Clearly visible indicators enhance safety. Consider using both colors and letters/words to depict between hot or cold temperature controls.
Faucet mounted at the side of the sink (vs. the rear).
If the faucet is installed to the side of the sink instead of the rear, it will require less reach. This is ideal for kids and anyone who needs to access the sink while sitting.
If possible, choose a faucet that can rotate over a counter next to the sink to fill a pot.
Pull-out spray faucet -or- faucet with side spray.
Pull-out spray faucets or side sprays next to faucets are a great way to increase the flexibility of use for the sink. They’re convenient and handy for situations that benefit from water streaming from a different position than straight down from a faucet, such as washing veggies, cleaning dishes, or refilling a coffee maker.
If possible, choose a faucet with a hose that's long enough to reach beyond the sink to fill a pot sitting on the counter.
Spray faucets should not require a strong one-handed grip to remove. Be mindful of this when looking at product options.
If a garbage disposal is used, its switch should be no more than 12" (30cm) from the front edge of the counter.
Disposal switches should be wall-mounted, counter-mounted, or just under the counter on a cabinet. Regardless of location, they need to be easy to reach for anyone.
The cooktop should be induction, with front or side-mount controls that are easy to operate and can be locked.
Induction cooktops are smart for universal design because they reduce the potential for burns significantly. Heat transfer occurs through a magnetic field, which means that the "burners" (elements) are never hot to the touch. Induction cooking is faster and more energy-efficient than typical electric surfaces and allows instant control of cooking power, similar to gas. Furthermore, induction cooktops are generally easy to clean, as the surfaces are flat.
Many cooktops and ranges have rear-mounted controls, requiring extra reach over potentially hot surfaces or cookware. Controls on the front or side provide more safety than rear controls.
Look for cooktops with controls that can be locked and that don't require a grip to operate (e.g., avoid knobs that simultaneously require pushing and turning).
This provides the most flexibility for people to access the cooking area safely. In-counter installations allow for under-counter clearance. The goal is to provide access for users who prefer to or need to sit on a chair, stool, wheelchair, or another mobility device at the cooktop.
Pot fillers reduce the effort needed to fill a pot or pan with water at the sink and safely move the cookware to the cooktop.
If the cooktop is near the sink, a pot filler may be excluded if the sink faucet or side spray can be used to fill a pot sitting on a counter between the cooktop and the sink.
The cooktop must have at least 29" (74cm) of unobstructed vertical clearance underneath for seated access. This should be measured from the floor to either the bottom of the counter or the bottom of the cooktop, whichever is the lowest.
The cooktop must have at least 32" (81cm) of unobstructed horizontal clearance underneath for seated access.
The cooktop must have at least 18" (46cm) of unobstructed depth clearance underneath for seated access.
Under-counter clearance can be achieved with closed cabinetry with flipper doors that fully recess. The width between open doors must still be ≥ 32" (81cm) and the flooring should extend to the wall underneath.
The switch to turn an exhaust fan and/or light should be no more than 12" (30cm) from the front edge of the counter.
Switches that control the exhaust fan in a vent or hood should be wall-mounted, counter-mounted, or just under the counter on a cabinet. Regardless of location, they need to be easy to reach for anyone.
The oven should be a wall oven with a side-swing door, with the lowest inside surface between 36-42" (91-107cm) from the floor.
Wall ovens installed in custom cabinetry are ideal for increased access and usability because they can be mounted at user-friendly heights. This will eliminate the requirement for most users to bend down to reach into the oven, which is safer and easier on everyone’s backs. The oven door should swing open to the side instead of folding down.
Microwaves should have a permanent location on the counter -or- in a wall or a cabinet. The inside surface should be between 36-42" (91-107cm) from the floor.
Microwaves can be surrounded by cabinetry or placed directly on the counter. The inside should be reachable for users who are seated, as well as for kids or adults of shorter stature. The common placement of the microwave above the stove is one of the most difficult locations for accommodating the widest range of users and reach ranges.
A pull-out shelf should be installed under each oven (traditional and microwave) with at least 29" (74cm) of unobstructed vertical clearance underneath for seated access.
Pull-out shelves provide a workspace for resting hot items that come out of the oven or microwave. This is a safety feature and is particularly useful for people who navigate kitchens with mobility devices.
Based on our user research, there is no universally accessible full-size refrigerator option. For this reason, a space for a full-size fridge with a water hookup should exist to provide individuals the flexibility to select an option that works best for them.
Alternatively, compact refrigerators and freezers may be installed in a wall or in the cabinetry with the lowest inside surface between 36-42" (91-107cm) from the floor. The refrigerator and freezer should be separate units with interior lighting and pull-out shelves.
If possible, designing a kitchen with a built-in compact refrigerator and a built-in compact freezer AND space for a full-size fridge will provide the most flexibility, especially if a household needs more storage capacity.
Pull-out shelves inside provide flexibility in storing and retrieving items. This, along with interior lighting, helps people easily assess and visually identify what is inside.
Counter workspaces should be usable at various heights. First, consider all workspace locations, then plan for the use of different counter heights for each. The order of priority should be:
- 1.Standard height (34-36" / 86-91cm)
- 2.Table height (30-32" / 76-81cm)
- 3.Bar height (40-42" / 102-107cm)
Adjustable-height counter exception:
Adjustable-height counters with a minimum range of 30-42" may be used in lieu of multiple counter heights.
Counter spaces will be more functional for those seated and of shorter stature when installed at a lower level than the standard 36" (91cm) counter height, while taller users and individuals using power wheelchairs benefit from standard height and bar height workspaces. There are countless scenarios when more than one person will use a kitchen space. Universal design is functional for as many people as possible, so the solution is to create a variety of kitchen counter surfaces at different heights.
Counter surface(s) should be heat-resistant and chip-resistant.
Our countertops get a beating with all we do in the kitchen. Choose a surface that won’t be damaged by heat or spills. The ability to rest a hot piece of cookware on the counter without worry is not only handy during meal prep, but adds an element of safety to the kitchen.
Counter corners and edges should be rounded.
Sharp corners and edges are a safety hazard for anyone who may lose their balance while performing tasks in the kitchen. Rounded corners are also a safety feature for young kids whose heads are counter-height.
Countertops should be solid colors with no patterns or very low contrast patterns and should be minimally reflective.
Small items can visually "get lost" in counters with lots of patterns, such as what's typical with many granite options. High reflectivity can also create difficulty in focusing on various tasks. This is particularly problematic for people with low vision but is something anyone can experience.
At least 75% of all storage should be located between 18-48" (46-122cm) from the floor. This refers to the height of the top of shelves or drawers.
This reach range will accommodate the greatest amount of users, whether someone is short, tall, seated, or standing. The point is to ensure that most items are within easy reach without the need to use a step stool or put unnecessary strain on one's back.
Pull-down shelving exception:
If pull-down shelving is used for any cabinet storage over 60" (152cm) from the floor, the 75% requirement may be reduced to 50%.
Walk-in pantry exception:
If a large walk-in pantry exists, the 75% requirement may be reduced to 50%.
Pull-out shelving or drawers should be used in storage areas deeper than 18" (46 cm).
Pull-out drawers/shelves minimize reaching and possible strain by providing easy access to food and kitchenware. People shouldn't need to bend or crawl into a lower cabinet to find what they're looking for. All sorts of options exist, such as shelves that rotate out of a corner cabinet.
Cabinet hardware should be usable one-handed & without the need for grip strength.
Use cabinet hardware that requires minimal physical effort, such as D or C-shaped handles and pulls. T-shaped pulls can catch on clothing/etc. Knobs are difficult to use if hand function is impaired. Avoid anything that requires pinching or grasping for use.
The physical actions necessary to open a heavy door or drawer can create difficulty with maintaining balance and can cause frustration or fatigue.
Optional but ideal:
Soft-close cabinetry and pads that lessen the noise of drawers and cabinets can help minimize noise in the kitchen, which is helpful for people who struggle with sensory processing.
The dishwasher should either be a standard-size dishwasher installed in cabinetry at least 8" (20cm) off the floor and/or a drawer dishwasher installed just below the top of the counter.
Dishwashers raised off the floor minimize bending down to reach items on the lower rack. A dishwasher installed higher than floor level (versus on the floor) provides the ability to move dishes in and out easily and decreases the distance to transfer them to storage. This should be planned early in the kitchen design, as standard-size dishwashers will rise above the typical 36" (91cm) counter height when elevated.
Drawer dishwashers are also a great option, though their capacity will be less than standard-size options. Similar to the refrigerator drawers, they're less deep and low to the ground than standard dishwashers.
The dishwasher should be located directly adjacent to the sink.
Installing the dishwasher next to the sink is convenient for loading dishes and cookware as quickly as possible during cleanup. It also reduces the steps needed for loading, which is important for people who struggle with organizing and planning tasks in a logical order.
If a dishwasher cannot be opened one-handed with minimal grip strength, a panel-ready dishwasher that accommodates a variety of cabinet pulls should be used.
Many dishwashers are extremely difficult for individuals with limited or no grip strength to open. Selecting a panel-ready option with an easy-to-use cabinet pull will solve this frustrating problem.
Task lighting should exist over each workspace. This includes places for tasks such as meal prep, cooking, cleanup, eating, and others.
Task lighting should be above each workspace and added to complement the ambient lighting. This lighting should minimize shadows and be designed to be as glare-free as possible. Remember that single sources of overhead lighting can cast shadows on workspaces, especially when a person is between the light source and the area in which the person is working.
Ambient lighting should illuminate all paths of travel and any areas where people may eat. This should be complementary to task lighting.
Lighting should minimize shadows and be designed to be as glare-free as possible. This is useful for everyone but is especially important for people who rely on visual communication.
Recommended: indirect and low lighting:
The use of indirect ambient lighting and low lighting that illuminates the floor without visible bare bulbs or translucent covers (from a seated or standing position) is ideal. Indirect lighting reduces eye strain and is more calming than direct lighting.
The option to adjust the intensity of ambient lighting (e.g., with a dimmer) should be used wherever possible.
Last modified 4mo ago