Monday, October 29, 2007

Care in choosing contractors

We're not the sort of people who like to try to sell by creating fear, but I came across this video clip and thought I would pass it on. It underscores the risks people face when dealing with contractors. While it does not make the point, seniors can be at an even greater risk for this sort of scam artist. It's part of the reason why we started our business--to provide a recognizable, trustworthy resource for a wide variety of home maintenance and remodeling needs. Because we are insured, licensed and take extra steps like conducting employee background checks and training on customer service, we are seldom the cheapest option in town. While sometimes cheapest is a deal, often it becomes an expensive lesson or even turns into a risk for your family. For seniors on tight budgets and a sense of what things used to cost, the temptation can be strong to save money. But seniors can often be at greater risk due to decreased mental capacity, medical conditions, grief from a lost spouse and so on. And, as one of our customers said last week when scheduling a grab bar installation--"I don't want something that is going to pull out of the wall." Even a handyman who isn't a crook can unintentionally create problems by improper methods.

As this story mentions, not all states regulate contractors, so verifying the contractor can be a problem. They give some good tips in the video clip. They did not mention Angie's List--a great way to see what customers say about the company and how the company responds, which is often just as important.

The video is located at the link below, and you'll have to watch a commercial of some sort before it starts--the one I saw was for a video game.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Personal Design vs Universal Design

One of the things I've observed is that with all the attention on Universal Design there is becoming a certain dogmatic stance in some areas or by some people. Sometimes we seem to forget that UD is a set of seven principles to help guide decision making, not an enforceable code. When you are dealing with residential housing and a person's living space, universality can take a back seat to something tailored to the individual. We aren't talking about public buildings here, rather individual living spaces. Here are a few examples from work we did this summer.

  • The aging-in-place bias in redoing a bathroom for a senior would be to expand the shower and make it zero threshold in the event that a wheelchair is in their future. But we had two customers (both smaller women) who really wanted smaller showers--they felt more secure and stable in the small shower, the walls providing an envelope that makes it easier for them to maintain their balance. The new showers will accommodate a small shower chair if needed in the future, so there is that provision for flexibility. But never will a wheelchair be practical in the bathroom (in one of the homes, a wheelchair will never be practical anywhere.) So, while this might not live up to UD principles of equitable use or size and space for approach and use, for these particular homeowners it was the right design for now.

  • We like wall ovens over ranges--less bending and lifting, easier to see into. Separate cook tops allow for storing pots and pans where they are needed or even the ability to sit and cook. But for one customer, the wall often was wasted space that was better put to storage. So, the wall oven came out and the oven cavity was fitted with pull-outs. Separate cabinets were modified for a freestanding range. This resulted in an overall more functional design for the customer, even though we had to go with a less UD appliance. Sometimes the practical issue is how and where to apply the UD principles. In remodeling, there are typically trade-offs.

  • Split level counters are seen as a good idea to accommodate people of different heights or who need to sit. They find their way into a lot of kitchen designs these days. But for someone with a severe visual impairment, misjudging where one height ends and the other begins can result in spills and broken dishes. A common height counter, or one where the height differences are in distinctly different areas of the workspace, is the better solution for the individual.

Don't get me wrong, the attention on UD is great. Even in these designs, we employed UD principles where we could--lever handles, hand showers on glide bars in the shower, grab bars instead of towel bars that offer no support if grabbed, materials and designs that provide visual cuing, task lighting, storage that minimizes reaching, etc. But let's remember that it is a set of principles to help shape a design, not a set of routine solutions. Often in residential remodeling the design dictates are very personal.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A funny thing happened at Aging in Place week

Last week was national Aging In Place week. If memory serves (a risky assumption at times) this is the fourth such event, fostered by the efforts of the National Aging In Place Council. As one of the first members of the NAIPC, we've participated in the events. Typically, they have been a forum to network with others involved in providing services to older adults and have been poorly attended by people actually interested in their own aging-in-place efforts.

This year was different. It was odd. It was surprising. There were actually seniors or their families in the seats! We spoke or exhibited at three events durng the week and two of these were very well attended with approximately 30 attendees at one and around 60 at the other. The events are getting better organized and that accounts for some of the draw I'm sure, but I also think more and more people are interested in the topic and, from their comments, are happy to find knowledgeable resources to advise them.

Our topic (modifying/adapting the home) also plays well because it tends to be a more positive or upbeat message than some of the other aging related topics. But the third talk was at a home and garden show (which was just a coincidence and not related to AIP week.) It was poorly attended--as I have seen other AIP talks at such venues be. I suspect that it's a topic that plays well to the right audience but does not yet draw well against all the booths and trade displays--its not why the attendees are there. But it is great to see the momentum building and more and more people acting practively to set a plan and maintain their independence.