What is caps? What is Universal Home Design


CAPS Connection
CAPS 101: Aging in Place vs. Universal Design
Industry response has been positive since NAHB began offering the Universal Design/Build course in 2011, but the debate continues over where CAPS ends and Universal Design begins. A recent interview with Bill Owens, CAPS, CGR, at the National Housing Center helps CAPS professionals, remodelers, and HBA staff distinguish between the two concepts and choose the right class. Owens, a remodeler from Ohio, also teaches CAPS and Universal Design/Build classes nationwide.

Universal design augments traditional design, the use of which offers comfort, convenience and ease of use. CAPS remodeling usually targets a specific need whether it is the aging marketplace or individuals requiring home modifications.

Aging-in-Place Universal Design
Marketed to aging home owners and those with requiring specific home modifications Marketed to all home owners, regardless of age or ability
Targets a specific need or tailored towards an individual’s ability Targets the ease of use for all users of the home
Most common in remodeling Most common in custom and even some production building; Universal design in remodeling is limited to specific areas of home being updated
Design is convenient and comfortable but modifications may be noticeable Design is convenient and comfortable but transparent (anything but ADA)

Universal design is useful to meet the needs of many, from a multi generational family to first time home owners. It is also becoming more popular among clients of custom and even some production builders as a way of meeting current and future needs.

With low cost at the top of clients’ wish lists, the many add-ons offered by universal design may seem like an unnecessary expense at first. But as Owens noted, different price points will emerge as universal design becomes more common.

Owens said, “Universal design is about aesthetics as well as affordability. Success is where you walk in the house and [the universal design elements] are transparent.”

An additional tenet of universal design is adaptability. While aging-in-place remodeling may call for grab bar installation in bathrooms based on need, universal design would include blocking inside the walls so that a grab bar can be easily added at a future date.

The current CAPS courses do not focus much on the aesthetic value of home modifications but with experience successful CAPS contractors learn to balance budget, function and looks. This can be as simple as enlarging bathrooms or including universal design elements such as choosing counters with contrasting borders to increase visibility.

Many NAHB members are combining the aging-in-place/CAPS and universal design approaches within a single home. To accommodate a client’s past injury, the CAPS remodeler may install grab bars in the bathroom but universal design is used in the rest of the home to widen hallways for strollers or relatives who might be wheelchair users.

As universal design becomes a competitive advantage and a new approach for builders to capitalize on, then its use will become market driven. “Well done universal design that focuses on aesthetics and affordability has a broad market appeal,” Owens said.
The most successful approach for many remodelers and builders is to treat each project as an opportunity to introduce universal design elements – and not always by name. Building a stepless porch entry for instance will increase access and convenience without compromising aesthetics or calling out the feature as an element of universal design.

As for the future of housing, Owens said, “Universal design is truly a paradigm shift in how we approach design and how we build houses.”

We have been working towards all of our homes to be built with Universal Design for the last 6 + years but explaining what that mean has always been a challenge,


Craig Fairbanks
Craig@CraigtheBuilder.com