Building Code Requirements


D1 Access Routes covers Safety of entry/exit to the building and the safety of any internal or external stairs. This clause ensures people can move safely into, within and out of buildings. Access routes include the approach to the main entrance of a building, corridors, doors, stairs, ramps and lifts.


It sets out requirements for:


Slip resistance, stair treads, handrails and cross falls.


People with disabilities to carry out normal functions within buildings.


The movement, loading and parking of vehicles.


What is Universal Design?


Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size and ability. An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. This is not a special requirement, for the benefit of only a minority of the population. It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design creates products, services and environments that meet peoples' needs.


Simply put, universal design is good design.


A universal design approach recognises human diversity and designs for all life scenarios, including pregnancy, childhood, injury, disability, and old age. This is a key component of a healthy, low carbon home as it allows the dwelling to accommodate all stages of life and ability, increasing adaptability and resilience throughout the life of the building. If careful thought and planning is given during the design stage, it is generally inexpensive to accommodate the needs of all inhabitants and promote social inclusion, health and wellbeing, and equity. In some cases, simply providing extra structure within walls during construction to accommodate additional fittings such as grab rails will accommodate universal design principals by allowing these items to be easily installed when required, avoiding major and costly building work. In other cases, a bit of extra thought at the design stage when considering the heights and widths of elements will allow for different abilities and life stages to be accommodated.


Universal design is inexpensive and easy to accommodate when it is included at the design stage. Some additional thought and planning can save significant cost in retrofitting and renovations at a later stage. Consideration of all potential users and making some slightly different dimensions the new standard means all new houses can be inclusive for people of all life stages and abilities.


Why Do We Need A Universal Design Approach?


People are at the heart of Universal Design. It is about all people and is about acknowledging the diversity of our needs. There are no standard packages that people fit into and the design of a house or space needs to cater for that. The needs of a 6-year-old can be quite similar to the needs of someone in a wheelchair. Trip hazards and slippery flooring affects all of us, no one is excluded. One of the fundamentals of life, is each day, we change. Our needs change, our bodies change, our community changes. Any space needs to be adaptable to that certainty of life – no one is immune. The structure should not dictate the way we live our lives, who can use it, how we can use it in the future and who we are. The structure is there to house us and work with all of us in our changing lives. The design of a space needs to be thought of as an organic being, evolving, adapting to our ever-changing requirements.


Key questions that need to be acknowledged from the outset are:


What defines a community. If a build is designed for some but excludes other, is that the premise for a healthy community?


What value do we place on someone? Is a community with a diverse range of people living together more valuable than a community that caters for a select range of people?


Is it a way of moving forward in society to create exclusive pockets of types? Do we house the mature population in one subsection, disabled in another, families in another and young separately again?


If a space is not adaptable to changing needs and complete refurbishments are required to accommodate a different living arrangement? Is that sustainable?


Is someone different to be boxed in a group or is it important to design for everyone at the beginning, inclusively?


We are living in a period of great social change and we need to adaptable solutions. Family sizes are getting smaller, we are living longer and the percentage of older generations is increasing. This brings with it a lot of social challenges and pressures. As a country we will not be able to afford additional healthcare, rest homes or social services unless we improve our housing. This is an issue that is immediate and only getting worse, as we have a drastic shortage of healthy, safe, usable homes for our aging population.

Projected NZ Demographic Changes



Another developing trend caused by both cultural custom and financial need is intergenerational living. Universal Design creates workable solutions so everyone can use the space safely and effectively. Three generations living under one roof is steadily becoming more common and the design needs to be adaptable to everyone’s needs.

BRANZ Report ER4 Meeting the housing needs of multi-generational households – BRANZ 2015



Defining ability is far broader. There is permanent disability, temporary or situational. A wheelchair user is easily acknowledged. But pregnancy, for example, is a temporary disability in terms of reduced function and a lot of standard design practice becomes inaccessible, such as using a power socket that is close to the floor. Natural differences in ability also need to be considered such as differing heights. A common issue in kitchen design is creating a lot high storage. The standard design caters for someone over 5’10 but a huge percentage of people are situationally disabled by their lack of height and this becomes a danger – or else the kitchen is replaced with something fit for purpose which is not sustainable either. Small differences in the way we approach design can have a significant impact.


By adopting both a sustainable path in builds and an inclusive design ethos, we will create a healthier community for all. But importantly, by incorporating Universal Design you start to consider future possibilities which, if adaptable, lead to the most sustainable designs. Instead of designing for today, design for the possibilities of tomorrow. Think of all the future inhabitants and what lives they may lead. Instead of designing something to be replaced in the near future, design a forever home.


For those interested in a rating system for measuring universal design in homes, Lifemark is a good local tool that can be accessed at


Universal Design Key Areas for Residential Buildings


Access and pathways – considers the ability to enter the house easily and safely, and covers parking, ramps, slip resistance and entrances.


Moving around the home – considers how to easily it is to move throughout the home when movement is limited or requires a wheelchair and covers widths of doors and hallways, clear space to doorways and fixtures, and manoeuvrability.


Bathrooms – considers the ability to easily and safely navigate bathroom functions and covers future-proofing, slip resistance, clear space and fixture design.


Kitchens and Laundries – considers how to access storage and safety operate appliances and covers joinery and storage design, clear space, handle types and heights.


Bedrooms – considers ease of bed-making, manoeuvrability, and storage in addition to the location of bedrooms.


Fittings and hardware – covers heights and design of electrical fittings, lighting design and hardware types.


NOTE: The guidance outlined in the following sections aims to highlight key considerations and is not an exhaustive list of all options and requirements when considering universal design. There are several free comprehensive universal design guides and resources available through BRANZ1 and the Auckland Design Manual2. NZS4121 is the New Zealand standard for accessible design.





Access and Pathways


Wider parking and pathways allow for additional space to aid with mobility and easy manoeuvrability. To enable people to safely enter the dwelling, all accessways should be slip resistant and have a smooth, gradual slope with no trip hazards. To maximise safety and also accommodating a wheelchair, the main entrance needs to have a level threshold with a height difference of no more than 20mm. It is also good to have a sheltered entrance.

Examples of level thresholds at entry points – Henry McTavish. Imola Ceramica Genus Indoor (R10)/.Outdoor (R11) tiles for a flush entry.


In terms of parking, there should be a parking space or a clearly defined temporary parking space to enable services such as taxi’s or Nurse Maude to easily drop off or pick people up without hazards and steps.


Accessways should have:


Wide, smooth access that is easily accessible with gradual slopes.


At least one easily accessible parking space or temporary parking space with no hazards.


Have clear access points with enough space to manoeuvre.


At least one entry point that does not require steps (or can be easily adapted to not require stairs). Ideally, this should include all outdoor areas such as decks and patios.


A dwelling entrance/entry door with a maximum threshold of 20mm.


An entry door with a minimum clear opening width of 810mm (860mm door leaf).


Ideally, an alternative entry/exit with a maximum threshold of 20mm in case of emergencies.


Internal and external landing areas that are slip resistant with a coefficient rating of at least 0.4 as per NZBC D1 Table 2.


Sufficient lighting, or ideally sensor lighting.


Moving Around the Home


If movement is limited or requires assistance like a wheelchair/ walker etc, clear unimpeded wider access areas is essential. Also consider that having wider hallways, doorways, clear space into areas also improves usability for everyone and creates the illusion of spaciousness. Can you move freely or carry items without scraping the walls? Are you able to move furniture from room to room or without damage? It is very simple to allow for wider passages and doorways when designing a new home, with very minimal additional cost. Whereas retrofitting wider passages into an existing home would be much more expensive and even force someone to move house.


Another consideration is allowing for some clear space on the handle side of a door so that a wheelchair user can reach the door handle. It is generally easily to allow this 300mm of space in the design stage and without it some occupants would not be able to get close enough to reach the door handle.

Clear opening width for doorways and clear space to the handle side of doors – BRANZ Homes Without Barriers


NOTE: BRANZ shows 760mm minimum opening for 1200mm wide hallways


Hallways and doorways should have:


810mm minimum clear opening width (860mm door leaf) for all internal doors and doorways between rooms (WC only could have 760mm clear opening).


1050mm minimum hallway/passageway width (finished surface width), ideally 1200mm.


300mm clear space on the handle side of all internal doors between rooms.




While accessibility is a major consideration for a universal design approach for bathrooms, general safety is also a significant issue that must be addressed. Between 2015 and 2017 there were 64,017 ACC claims from accidents in showers and toilets. This cost New Zealanders $141,955,005.00 + GST. In addition to this figure there would have been unclaimed expenses from support, unclaimed expenses, sick leave etc. The risk of injury can be greatly reduced by installing slip resistant flooring and having a completely flush flooring system to eliminate trip hazards.


At least one accessible bathroom should be located on the ground floor or entrance level so that this can be accessed without stairs. There are a number of good dimensions to work with when designing accessible bathrooms. Refer to NZS4121 for toilet position and height and other minimum dimensions. During construction it is important to include sold fixings in the walls where grab rails or shower seats could be positioned in future so that these can be easily installed when required. This could save considerable expense.


Also consider taps and hardware that are easy as those with limited hand movement or arthritis may have difficulty with some types. Lever action, push button or electric fixtures are good options.

Universal bathroom with colour contrast, flush threshold shower, hand-held shower hardware, wheelchair accessible handbasin and slip resistant floor tiles – Imola Ceramica


Bathrooms should have:


At least one accessible bathroom located on the ground floor or entrance level.


Clear space that allows for a 1500mm turning circle.


Solid fixings in the walls to allow for easy installation of grab rails or shower seats in the future.


Minimum dimensions as per NZS4121 for shower size, and the position and heights of toilets and basins.


Level threshold shower, or sufficient space to adapt the shower area as required.


Slip resistant flooring with a coefficient rating of at least 0.4 as per NZBC D1 Table 2.


Easy to use taps and hardware.



Kitchens and Laundries


A key thing to consider especially with kitchen design is that a badly designed kitchen WILL BE REPLACED. If a kitchen does not work there will be renovations sooner rather than later resulting in landfill, wasted resources, expense and hassle. Design for a diverse client, not just a 6’ (1.8m) user who is atypical. Most kitchens are designed with a tall person in mind. Most people who use the kitchen are not. Consider incorporating different heights of benches or moveable systems to cater for all. By focusing on clever storage solutions below the bench you can save on wasted storage and cost. A kitchen must be safely usable for an adult and a child.


Consider pull-out drawers and shelves to save space and allow for people in a wheelchair to use and access more of the kitchen. Appliance should also be located 300mm from internal corners of benches for someone in a wheelchair to easily access.

 Examples of storage solutions for people of all heights – BLUM



Having a stovetop that is flush with the benchtop can greatly reduce accidents when moving hot objects. Also consider the sound of appliances in the design. How quiet is the rangehood and the dishwasher? In open plan, is the kitchen noise going to interfere with other areas?


There are also innovative appliance options such as side opening ovens. They are safer, easier to access for everyone, if you have a stacked system, they are easier to use. Also, for those requiring a safer solution, a side opening oven means you are not using your back as a lever and in tight areas with a door off to the side means no trip hazards. They also have less user height restrictions as you are not reaching over a door, as the door is to the side.


Laundries need to be user friendly spaces too. Washing machine and clothes dryers should be located 300mm from internal corners of benches easy wheelchair access. In terms of storage requirements, shallow shelves/cupboards are easier to access, although deep storage is still required to store larger items, eg vacuum cleaners, ironing boards, etc. Laundries should have a floor drain in case the washing machine clogs up or breaks down or just to deal with excess water. Having a plinth for a front-loading washing machine makes for easy access to the door.


Both kitchen and laundry should have a good task lighting above the work surface. And it’s important to have slip resistant flooring.



Kitchens and laundries should have:


A good amount of the storage below the bench top to be accessed by users of all heights, ideally the majority.


An area of clear space that allows for a 1500mm turning circle, or at least 1200mm (plinth height 250mm) to 1500mm in front of any appliances.


Locate appliances at least 300mm from internal corners of benches.


A stovetop that is flush with the benchtop and has easy to access and use controls.


A stovetop and sink on the same run of bench space.


A floor drain in the laundry in case of flooding (washing machine) and for cleaning.


A plinth for front-loader washing machines (and clothes dryers if they are side by side) for easy access to the door without bending over.


Slip resistant flooring with a coefficient rating of at least 0.4 as per NZBC D1 Table 2.




It is important to allow for at least one bedroom space on the ground or entrance level or a multi-function space that could be converted to a bedroom when required. Adequate space should also be allowed for around the bed to aid with bed making and access.


Furniture that includes knee space can also provide more flexibility in terms of circulation space should a wheelchair be required. The location and design of any wardrobes should also be considered so that there is sufficient space to access these. Alternatively, a walk-in wardrobe could be provided.


Other considerations: Locating the bed within the room to provide a view out of the window would be beneficial for people who may be bedridden.


At least one bedroom should be located on the ground level and close or, ideally, adjacent to an accessible bathroom.


Allow for 1100mm of clear space either side of the bed for bed-making and 900mm all around to accommodate a wheelchair.


Allow for 800 mm of clear space either or both sides and at the end of the bed for easy access.


Allow for a 1500mm minimum turning circle within the room for manoeuvring a wheelchair.


Consider the location of any wardrobes so that there is sufficient space to access these. A walk-in wardrobe can also be handy (with minimum clear space of 1200mm x 1500mm).

Example of an accessible double bedroom – BRANZ Homes Without Barriers



Fittings and Hardware


All switches and power points etc should be at a uniform height. Door handles should be at the same height as the switches throughout the building for intuitive usage. Powers sockets should be higher than standard and easy to reach. Also consider the heights of windows and window hardware so that people of all abilities can easily operate them.


Colour contrast is an important feature that is often forgotten. 8% of males are colour blind and for others, as we age our ability to differentiate similar tones decreases. For example, having a black tap against a black tile can be hard to see. White on white or uniform colours are also hard to see for many people thus creating safety hazards.


Hinged doors should have lever action handles.


Position door handles between 900mm and 1200mm above finished floor level.


Sliding doors should have easy to use hardware for those with restricted had movement.


Easy to use taps and hardware for kitchens and bathrooms. Lever action, push button or electric fixtures are good options.


Position light switches between 900mm and 1200mm above finished floor level, ideally aligned with the door handle height.


Position power points between 300mm and 500mm, 400mm minimum preferred, above finished floor level (up to 1200mm e.g. in bathrooms), and at least 500mm from internal corners.

Level action tapware and easily accessible storage and power point – Evelife Design


Recommended Healthy Home guidelines for Universal Design are set out in the table below:

What value do we place on someone? Is a community with a diverse range of people living together more valuable than a community that caters for a select range of people?

Is it a way of moving forward in society to create exclusive pockets of types? Do we house the mature population in one subsection, disabled in another, families in another and young separately again?

If a space is not adaptable to changing needs and complete refurbishments are required to accommodate a different living arrangement? Is that sustainable?

Is someone different to be boxed in a group or is it important to design for everyone at the beginning, inclusively?

1050mm minimum hallway/passageway width (finished surface width), ideally 1200mm.

300mm clear space on the handle side of all internal doors between rooms.