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Universal Design

Place Kitchen Sinks Where
They Make the Most Sense

And match them with faucets that are easy to use.

 

From meal prep to cleanup, the sink is an essential element in any kitchen. You can choose one that has ergonomic features, such as adjustable height and easy-to-operate faucets. Where you place the sink — remember, it’s one of the key components in the “work triangle” — largely determines how efficiently and easily the cook (or cooks) can move around the kitchen.

So where should you place the sink? A pleasant spot is under a window  that lets daylight in. Hang a bird feeder right outside, and you won’t mind meal prep or cleanup as much. Just make sure you have adequate counter space on both sides and that you can easily open the dishwasher door when you’re at the sink, a good reason why you shouldn’t install a sink in a corner location. You’ll also find that if you frequently have multiple cooks, two sinks in a kitchen is very handy, if you have the room. But place them far enough apart to prevent
traffic congestion.

Sink Height

Both meal prep and washup will be more enjoyable if your body is in a relaxed, nonstrained position. Depending on your situation, there are several ways to install the sink so it’s at a back-friendly height.

One option is a push-button, adjustable-height sink that gives each user a custom fit. Any sink or countertop you select can be raised and lowered between 28 and 40 inches (71 and 101.5 cm) with the simple push of a button; the motor is installed under the sink. This is ideal if you have a partner who is much taller or shorter than you or for anyone who prefers to sit when at the sink. (Your partner will have no more legitimate excuses for not doing the dishes!)

An alternative is to install the sink in a countertop at a fixed height that’s comfortable for you now but allows for adjustments later on. For maximum flexibility, select a shallow sink, approximately 5 to 6 1⁄2 inches (12.5 to 16.5 cm) deep, with a drain in the rear. If this brings up images of an unattractive, institutional-like kitchen, think again! You’ll be delighted to know you can have flexibility with beauty.

It’s a good idea to use flexible, plastic plumbing lines rather than rigid PVC pipes; they’ll give you the option of raising or lowering the sink with less effort later on. If you want to design the sink so that you can sit rather than stand, remember that the pipes must be insulated, along with the bottom of the sink. You can hide unsightly plumbing behind a panel —  but attach the panel so it can be easily removed.

Faucets & Handles

A single-lever handle (as opposed to knobs) is the best universal design choice, because most people can use it easily — even those with arthritis. But if you prefer individual handles, choose a model with two levers (one for hot water, the other for cold). If you don’t want to actually replace the existing faucets, look for a lever faucet adapter.

Electronic faucets free up your  hands — and they’re safer too, reducing contamination if you have, say, raw chicken on your hands. But there are trade-offs. Some models turn on when you walk by — not so good for the environment. And the water temperature is usually set for an average temperature, so you don’t get very cold or very hot water unless you make special adjustments, which isn’t always easy to do.

Another universal design idea is to install a faucet with a long hose that lets you fill a pot on a nearby cooktop without having to lift it. Be sure to measure how far away the cooktop is from the faucet, as hose lengths range from 22 to 60 inches (56 to 152.5 cm). Some cooks install a pot-filler faucet right by the cooktop — you’ll always have cooking water right where it’s needed.

You can also install a hot water dispenser, which is a great convenience for anyone living alone who frequently makes soup or tea. The standard temperature setting is 190° F. (88° C.), but it can be adjusted. A word of caution: Hot water dispensers can be dangerous for anyone with memory impairment.

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'Revitalizing Your Home' by Rosemary Bakker (book cover)

Rosemary Bakker is the author of the AARP Guide to Revitalizing Your Home, which is available through Barnes & Noble. Ms. Bakker holds a master of science degree in gerontology and is a certified interior designer.

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