Saturday, September 18, 2010

How could you carpet a home for $37?

Contractors have a reputation for questionable business practices and ethics, most of the result of a few disreputable small time operators. But for some time now, some of the big players in the remodeling industry have been using sales tactics that are as misleading as any fly-by-night roofer or siding salesman.

Home Depot is running ads saying that, on certain brands of carpet, you can get your entire home carpeted for $37. Now think about it that. The fine print says that it does not include the time it takes to move the furniture, pull up and dispose of old carpet, or install on stairs--so right there that $37 goes out the window. The installer is going to charge plenty for those items--but at least its relatively easy to see that these are not included.

But think about installing that carpet. In my state, the minimum wage is $8.40. When you figure employer costs on top of that, you would be lucky to get 4 hours of labor out of that $37. And do you want minimum wage labor installing your carpet?

Obviously the cost of installation is covered in the cost of the carpet--and possibly the charges for all those non-covered items. How else could it get paid for? Which means that you are paying more for the carpet than if the labor were priced separately.

At the end of the day, the total cost for carpet and installation may work out to be the same price as another carpet installer--but this type of advertising is misleading if not deceptive. It leads people to have unrealistic expectations as to what reputable, competent labor from a reliable company costs. And that does not do anyone in this industry a favor. Especially in the aging-in-place market where limited resources and fixed incomes require homeowners to do careful planning, creating unrealistic expectations is a bad idea.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The where's and whys of falls

We’ve been providing our free online home assessment for nearly 7 years now and about 500 people have taken it. I’m starting to look at some of the data for patterns—while it is not a scientific survey, we can still see some interesting things by looking at what people are experiencing.
One thing that we do is ask if they have fallen recently and if so, how often. We also ask them where they have fallen. I plugged these “where” responses into a word cloud—if you are not familiar with these, a word cloud simply counts the words and shows words that occur more commonly in a larger font size. The results are interesting and confirm much of what we know about falls:
  • First, 43% of people completing the assessment reported falling, and that 43% reported an average of 5 falls in the past year—underscoring that once falls begin they can become relatively common due to chronic issues like poor balance, dizziness, vision problems or strength issues like “weak knees" or medical issues like a drop in blood pressure or "low blood sugar”

  • Tripping over any variety of objects is another common issue—rugs, stools, garden hoses, even the family dog are all mentioned.
  • Stairs or steps stand out as a key item related to falls—interestingly, when looking at the actual comments it is clear that this is much more commonly related to a single or short set of steps than a long stairway. We spend a lot of time worrying about staircases between floors but it is those hidden steps like sunken living rooms or entrance steps that appear to be the bigger culprit in falls--many who don't feel safe navigate long stairs probably simple avoid them--we've had a number of clients who have only lived on the ground floor of their house and avoided the upstairs or basement.
  • It's no surprise that the bathroom comes out as the most common location for a fall followed by the bedroom—where people report falling getting out of or around the bed. Ensuring that we have adequate support around the bed and taking our time here is and important but often overlooked area for home mods--my own mother fell getting our of bed and broke her pelvis, starting her long spiral of decline.
  • The kitchen is also a common place to fall—often because we are leaning or bending over and lose balance. Better cabinet design and retrofit pull-out shelving can help.
  • Living rooms/Dens are also common mentions. Some of this may simply be becuase these are rooms where we spend time--reading, watching TV, visiting. Steps, tripping hazards, loss of balance are all mentioned--the only pattern appears to be that these are rooms where we spend time, and so are going to get their share of falls.
  • Falls are hardly limited to the interior of the home. Sidewalks and outdoor garden areas come up regularly (look for the words individually). Tripping over objects or uneven surfaces appears to be quite common—reinforcing the need to ensure that pathways are smooth and continuous.
I’ll be sharing more insights from our assessment tool over the coming months.

Friday, May 14, 2010

More focus on well done but affordable solutions. please.

This article at Silver Planet is from awhile back (a post I never got around to finishing) but seems as pertinent now as last year. It does a good job of conveying one of my common themes--that our approach to aging is about one's lifestyle, not just about adapting to decline. The subject, Cynthia Leibrock, is a noted author and had large feature article in the New York Times that I also intended to blog on but did not get around to, so this is a second chance. The NYT piece is the better article in my view for its message about remodeling for aging. Cynthia and I have only communicated via email a few times, so I really don't have a sense of her personality as portrayed in the Times' article. What i know is that she HAS contributed some great viewpoints about appropriate home environments. BUT, what irritates me about the Times article in particular it this: it is easy to create an aging-in-place showcase when you have a $600,000 budget. That's great, lovely, I'm sure it fits her lifestyle well and the future buyer of a home like that can afford to rip out whatever they don't like and install what they do like.

The bigger challenge, in my mind, is one that our company deals with every day. How to make a good aging-in-place environment when your budget is 5% if that amount, much less the 1% that is a typical number for many of our customers.

Aging wisely (aging beautifully, as Cynthia puts it) needs its cheerleaders, for sure. But it also needs its guys who are good with a hammer and able to knock out nice, functional, value-oriented solutions. I see the same thing when the local paper profiles an AIP remodel--it's always higher end, seldom (never?) about lower cost, practical solutions.

Cynthia makes a related point on her website when she discusses volunteering as a way to provide solutions for the less well off. But volunteerism will not solve the problem. I got a similar response from Senator Ron Wyden when I asked why Medicaid/Medicare will provide a wheelchair but do nothing to ensure the person can get past the 5 step entrance to their home. He gave a dodging, "it takes a community" type answer. Not that I necessarily want the government to take on yet another role, but as a country we need to treat these issues more rationally and creatively. Providing one solution without the other is an example of waste.

We need more attention on mainstream solutions, please--and I don't mean recycling those same old CDC checklists with a few new items. We are seeing the business community come to the plate with more and better solutions for things like barrier free shower systems. But we need to move to affordable, holistic solutions that cover both public and private resources.

Here are links to the articles mentioned above.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

And the time to explore it

I see Laurie Orlov was also posting about phones the other day, ( and she has a great quote from a woman who loves her smartphone but notes "I've been retired for seven years so I have the time and patience to play with all the stuff on the phone." This brought up two thoughts related to my Nexus/iPhone post.

First, the quote seems to reinforce that the affection for "all the stuff" came after the purchase of the phone and was discovered because she had the time to play around. The phone is a source of entertainment. I've noticed for years that those of us in the middle, heavily involved in our work lives, are the ones who are the least adept at our gadgets because we have the least time and inclination to explore.

And this reminded me of a trend in the adoption of digital photography. Even before digital cameras became mainstream, consumer photo quality scanners and inkjet printers and related software applications made their way to the affordable end of the market. And, it was commonly the grandparents who adopted the technology first. They began to use them to make calendars, albums and cards using their travel pics and particularly pictures of the grandkids. It was the 50+ crowd that was often at the forefront this adoption cycle, with many of the rest of us only adopting once it had gone mainstream and one was built into every phone.

So, to temper my last post, perhaps time is a factor here--will we see a rapid uptake in more user friendly smartphones not because of specific applications, but because the abundance of apps is inherently an entertainment and relaxation opportunity for those with the time to play with it?

And, once they become mainstream in this way, will they start to serve more age specific purposes like monitoring, fall alert, etc?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Google Nexus and Apple iPhone—assistive tech?

I was following the hoopla about the new Google Nexus phone and happened to notice the image on the Google site—this phone’s user appears to be “helping Grandpa get his tech on.” (It's down next to the weather icon.) It got me thinking, are these new generations of phones particular well suited to the aging among us? Could Google even be targeting the new phone for such users?

ElderGadget ( has posted several related articles on Elder Friendly iPhone and iTouch apps. I like what I see in that most of the applications are not things designed just for “old people” but rather are apps intended to be mainstream but with particular application or pertinence for seniors. Brain Games, for example, are stimulation exercises that can benefit anyone, but brain stimulation does have particular merit for seniors. While the original post fell into the trap of focusing primarily on health and emergency related apps, later posts have branched out to include apps for relaxation and mood lifting.

But, don’t I really have to be an iPhone user before I would experience these apps and find them useful? I’m not sure that many seniors would adopt the iPhone form factor in order to get the apps. The would adopt the iPhone for the same reasons people of any age will—because it is fun, interesting, engaging, well marketed and “cool.” But if there is anything about the iPhone, Nexus or their emerging ilk that does anything inherently to be more age appropriate and “help grandpa get his tech on” is that they have larger screens and single touch, icon driven operation rather than the small keypads and screens of more traditional cell phone offerings. It’s the basic design that provides the real benefit.

The Wii has generated widespread adoption in senior communities because the interface and opened up a whole world of virtual activities that seniors can easily adopt. I’m not sure that the touch screen interface of the newest phones has married to the software to the same degree.