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Our Newsletter

Making your home welcome

Home modifications are changes made to adapt living spaces to meet the needs of people with physical limitations so that they can continue to live independently and safely. These home modifications may include adding assistive technology or making structural changes to a home. Modifications can range from something as simple as replacing cabinet doorknobs with pull handles to full-scale construction projects that require installing wheelchair ramps and widening doorways.

Other examples of home modifications include:

  • Grab bars in the bathroom (including by the bathtub, shower, and toilet)
  • Hand held, flexible shower heads
  • Handrails on both sides of staircases and for outside steps
  • Lever-operated faucets that are easy to turn on and off
  • Sliding or revolving shelves for cabinets in the kitchen
  • Walk-in showers

Why do seniors need home modification?

The main benefit of making home modifications is that they promote independence and prevent accidents. According to a recent AARP housing survey, “83% of older Americans want to stay in their current homes for the rest of their lives,” but other studies show that most homes are not designed to accommodate the needs of people over age 65.

Most older people live in homes that are more than 20 years old. As these buildings get older along with their residents, they may become harder to live in or maintain. A house that was perfectly suitable for a senior at age 55, for example, may have too many stairs or slippery surfaces for a person who is 70 or 80. Research by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that home modifications and repairs may prevent 30% to 50% of all home accidents among seniors, including falls that take place in these older homes.

*Information courtesy of: Concerning Aging is powered by MODx CMS Copyright 2007-2008 Miller Manor Publishing.

What home modifications are right for me?

The best way to begin planning for home modifications is by defining the basic terms used and asking some simple questions. According to the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA), home modifications should improve the following features of a home:

Accessibility

Improving accessibility means making doorways wider, clearing spaces to make sure a wheelchair can pass through, lowering counter-top heights for sinks and kitchen cabinets, installing grab bars, and placing light switches and electrical outlets at heights that can be reached easily. This remodeling must comply with the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility guidelines, and American National Standards Institute regulations for accessibility. The work must also conform to state and local building codes.

Adaptability

Adaptability features are changes that can be made quickly to accommodate the needs of seniors or disabled individuals without having to completely redesign the home or use different materials for essential fixtures. Examples include installing grab bars in bathroom walls and movable cabinets under the sink so that the space can be used by someone in a wheelchair.

Universal Design

Universal design features are usually built into a home when the first blueprints or architectural plans are drawn. These features include appliances, fixtures, and floor plans that are easy for all people to use, flexible enough so that they can be adapted for special needs, sturdy and reliable, and functional with a minimum of effort and understanding of the mechanisms involved.

Visitability

Visitability features include home modifications for seniors who may want to entertain disabled guests or who wish to plan ahead for the day when they may require some extra help in getting around their own homes. For example, installing a ramp to the front door of a house and remodeling the hallways and rooms to allow wheelchair access would make a home easier to visit for disabled family members or friends. Such changes may also give seniors a head start on home modifications they may need later in their lives.

Your Pre-Home Modification checklist

Before you make home modifications, you should evaluate your current and future needs by going through your home room by room and answering a series of questions to highlight where changes might be made. Several checklists are available to help you conduct this review. The National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modifications is a good place to start. Go to the center’s website at http://www.homemods.org and click on the link to the “Safety Checklist and Assessment Instrument.” Once there, you can choose from the following options:

  • Checklist for Stairways, Especially for Homes—Includes tips for making trips up and down stairs easier and safer.
  • Housing Highlights: Home Modification and Repair—Offers an overall assessment tool for your home.
  • How Well Does Your Home Meet Your Needs?—Provides both general home evaluation questions and advice on how home modifications can make your residence a safer place to live.
  • Safety for Older Consumers: Home Safety Checklist—Suggests strategies for making home modifications and repairs and includes information on how to assess your home and yard.

Check the internet for Home Modification. Many sites, including contractor sites, are on the web. As always, ask for and then check out references for any contractor before they begin work. Never pay for services before the work is done and always have a phone number to contact the contractor if you need follow up on your home modification.

Information courtesy of: Concerning Aging is powered by MODx CMS
Copyright 2007-2008 Miller Manor Publishing  

Frequently Asked Questions

Here is a collection of commonly asked questions received by the National Resource Center for Supportive Housing and Home Modifications. We hope these responses are helpful to you. These questions are divided into topic categories for your convenience. Pick the topic you are interested in to find relevant questions and answers. If you cannot find what you are looking for, please send your question to homemods@usc.edu. We will research your question for you and provide a response within two weeks.  

Q. Where can I find architects or design firms that can provide universal house designs?

The Design Linc: Accessibility Design Resources provides an on-line interior design resource and information service that provides accessible house designs for people with disabilities. Visit their web site at http://www.designlinc.com.

The Center for Universal Design has a design department that provides several services that include conducting architectural and product evaluations. For more information, contact the Center via email at cud@ncsu.edu or visit the center's web site at http://www.design.ncsu.edu/cud.

The American Institute of Architects offers services to both professionals and consumers who are looking for architects. To find an architect in your local area, visit their web site at http://www.aiaonline.com and click on AIAAccess.

Access Housing Corporation specializes in universal design and construction that can customize your home according to your needs. For more information, visit their web site at http://www.accesshousing.com or contact them at 215-663-5803 P.O. Box 236 Cheltenham, PA 19012

Q. Can you recommend contractors who will give an estimate on home modifications?

There is a National Directory of Home Modifications and Repair Programs in the on-line library at http://www.homemods.org. It contains information on qualified contractors/ remodelers
In Florida, there is a company called PRIME, Inc. (Professional Resources In Management Education), an international healthcare educational corporation, which has a Continuing Education Certificate Program in Environmental Access for Contractors. They would have a network of their certified contractors. They may be reached at cmanage@aol.com .

Many local Housing and Community Development Departments and Area Agencies on Aging have lists of certified contractors or have a home modification and repair program.

The National Association of Home Builders has a section on their web site that helps consumers find the suitable remodeler. The section includes information on the entire process of remodeling, including important decisions consumers should make before remodeling, how to find a remodeler, how to live with the newly remodeled home, and finally a link to a list of remodelers in your neighborhood. To visit the section, go to www.nahb.org/consumers/remodeling/choose.htm .

Q. Can you provide information regarding opportunities and profits for builders/ remodelers who perform home modifications for older adults and people with physical impairments?

The National Association of HomeBuilders (NAHB) has Senior Housing Council offices in local areas. To contact your local office, visit NAHB web site at http://www.nahb.com.

The local Area Agency on Aging also might have a Housing Division that could offer information.

Where to begin

Before you make home modifications, you should evaluate your current and future needs by going through your home room-by-room and answering a series of questions to highlight where changes might be made. Several checklists are available to help you conduct this review. The National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modifications is a good place to start. Go to the center’s website at http://www.homemods.org/ and click on the link to the “Safety Checklist and Assessment Instrument.”

In addition, Rebuilding Together, Inc. has an excellent home modification checklist at
http://www.rebuildingtogether.org/content/resource/detail/1192/

You can begin your survey by examining each area of your home and asking the following questions:

Appliances, Kitchen, Bathroom

  • Are cabinet doorknobs easy to use?
  • Are stove controls easy to use and clearly marked?
  • Are faucets easy to use?
  • Are there grab bars where needed?
  • Are all appliances and utensils conveniently and safely located?
  • Can the oven and refrigerator be opened easily?
  • Can you sit down while working?
  • Can you get into and out of the bathtub or shower easily?
  • Is the kitchen counter height and depth comfortable for you?
  • Is the water temperature regulated to prevent scalding or burning?
  • Would you benefit from having convenience items, such as a handheld showerhead, a garbage disposal, or a trash compactor?

Closets, Storage Spaces

  • Are your closets and storage areas conveniently located?
  • Are your closet shelves too high?
  • Can you reach items in the closet easily?
  • Do you have enough storage space?
  • Have you gotten the maximum use out of the storage space you have, including saving space with special closet shelf systems and other products?

Doors, Windows

  • Are your doors and windows easy to open and close?
  • Are your door locks sturdy and easy to operate?
  • Are your doors wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair?
  • Do your doors have peepholes for viewing

Driveway, Garage

  • Does your garage door have an automatic opener?
  • Is your parking space always available?
  • Is your parking space close to the entrance of your home?

Electrical Outlets, Switches, Safety Devices

  • Are light or power switches easy to turn on and off?
  • Are electrical outlets easy to reach?
  • Are the electrical outlets properly grounded to prevent shocks?
  • Are your extension cords in good condition?
  • Can you hear the doorbell in every part of the house?
  • Do you have smoke detectors throughout your home?
  • Do you have an alarm system?
  • Is the telephone readily available for emergencies?
  • Would you benefit from having an assistive device to make it easier to hear and talk on the telephone?

Floors

  • Are all of the floors in your home on the same level? • Are steps up and down marked in some way?
  • Are all floor surfaces safe and covered with non-slip or non-skid materials?
  • Do you have scatter rugs or doormats that could be hazardous?

Hallways, Steps, Stairways

  • Are hallways and stairs in good condition?
  • Do all of your hallways and stairs have smooth, safe surfaces?
  • Do your stairs have steps that are big enough for your whole foot?
  • Do you have handrails on both sides of the stairway?
  • Are your stair rails wide enough for you to grasp them securely?
  • Would you benefit from building a ramp to replace the stairs or steps inside or outside of your home?

Lighting, Ventilation

  • Do you have night lights where they are needed?
  • Is the lighting in each room sufficient for the use of the room?
  • Is the lighting bright enough to ensure safety?
  • Is each room well-ventilated with good air circulation?

Once you have explored all the areas of your home that could benefit from remodeling, you might make a list of potential problems and possible solutions.

Information compliments of Eldercare and the Department of Health and Human Services. Call the Eldercare Locator toll-free at 1-800-677-1116 or e-mail the service at eMail the Eldercare Locator.

Paying for Home Modifications

Is there funding in the form of grants available for renovating homes to be wheelchair accessible?

Assistive Technology Funding and Systems Change Project United Cerebral Palsy Associations (UCPA) at Washington D. C. (800) 872-5827- UCPA provides funding information on equipping homes with technical support to promote independent living. For more information, call the UCPA.

Dept. of Veterans Affairs (DVA) (800) 827-1000- Disabled veterans are qualified for certain home modification benefits. Contact a service officer to determine the modifications paid for by the DVA. Call your local VA or the main office for information.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) (800) 829-1040 - The IRS allows people with disabilities to claim as a deduction the cost of some home modifications. National Council on Independent Living Center (703) 525-3406 (V) (703) 524-3407 (TDD) - Provides information on how to get funding and referral services in your area.

Is there funding available for establishing an assisted living or board & care type facility?

Most sources of funding for assisted living vary from state to state. However, at the federal level, there are three types of government-assisted housing. They are as follows:

Public Housing - These are low cost housing in multi-unit complexes that are available to low-income families, including the elderly and disabled. These units allow tenants to pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent. The public housing is available to applicants who do not exceed published income levels, pending on the size of the household.

Section 8 Rental Certificates - These certificates are available to very low-income families with incomes not exceeding 50 percent of the median income for the area. Families are allowed to choose where they want to live, subject to HUD standards.

Section 202 Housing - This is a senior citizen housing, usually with supportive services such as meals, transportation, and accommodations for the disabled. Private, non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives are eligible to offer this type of housing to very low-income households that has at least one person 62 years or older, and the disabled. For information on each of these housing, contact your local housing authority, senior center, or HUD office.

Section 232 Program- This recently developed program supports construction and rehabilitation of nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, intermediate-care facilities, and board-and-care homes by providing mortgage insurance. It is eligible to investors, builders, private non-profit corporations or associations. However, for nursing homes only, applicants may be public agencies that are licensed by the state to care for convalescents and people who need nursing care.

In the year 2000, HUD released the Housing Security Plan for Older Americans. This initiative includes a $50 million increase in funds to hire service coordinators, who help senior citizens get services they need to continue living in their HUD-subsidized apartments, which indirectly turns their current residence into assisted housing. In addition, there is a $50 million fund to convert existing HUD senior housing to assisted living facilities for senior citizens who need higher level of care. This legislation also allows seniors already receiving assistance through vouchers to use the vouchers in assisted living facilities for the first time. For information on how to utilize these funds, contact your local HUD office.

Are there loans available for room addition to accommodate frail elders / handicapped relatives?

One possible source of help would be the local FannieMae office. For more information, visit their web site at http://www.fanniemae.com. FannieMae also has 3 programs that might be helpful; the HomeChoice program, Home Keeper program, and the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage. More information is on the web site at http://www.efanniemae.com/

Bank of America has Home Modification Loans for Homeowners under their Access Loans category. The program includes fixed interest rates and low minimum loan amounts. To apply for an Access Loan call (available only in the states listed):  California, Illinois: 1-800-843-2632, Texas, New Mexico: 1-800-900-9000 TDD 1-800-833-2632.

What resources are there for community/ academic research funding in the area of home modification?

There are many sources to obtain funding for research, through both foundation and government grants. Some examples include:

The National Institute on Aging Public Information Office Building 31, Room 5C27 31 Center Dr., MSC 2292 Bethesda, MD 20892. Phone: 301-496-l 752. Fax: 301-402-0051

The National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research U. S. Department of Education 400 Maryland Ave., SW Washington, DC 20202-0498. 1-800-USA-LEARN

There is also an Education Grants Guide, which can be obtained from their web site under "Program and Services" at http://www.ed.gov .

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation College Road P.O. Box 2316 Princeton, NJ O8543-2316. Phone: 609-243-5946 Fax: 609-987-8746

The Retirement Research Foundation 8765 West Higgins Road, Suite 430 Chicago, IL 60631-4170. Phone: 773- 714-8080.  Online at info@rrf.org.

A For more information on fall prevention and the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence, please visit StopFalls.org 

Helpful organizations and links

Adapt
http://www.adapt.org
An advocacy organization to keep people with disabilities living in their own homes and communities with the help of attendant services, rather than living in nursing homes; resources and information.

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
http://www.aarp.org
National organization for people aged 50 or over offering diverse resources and benefits; the substantial Web site has a search option to locate articles on numerous topics, including those about home modification. Order a free copy of "The Do Able Renewable Home," from a vast collection of publications; AARP also maintains a library.

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
http://www.afb.org
The AFB offers resources and information pertaining to all aspects of life for persons who are blind or visually impaired. AFB Information Center: 1-800-AFB-LINE (232-5463), or e-mail: afbinfo@afb.net.

Center for Universal Design
http://www.design.ncsu.edu/cud
Safety standards, accessibility guidelines, products and services, technical assistance, a database of public transportation systems throughout the U.S., and many more resources relating to universal design.

Centers for Independent Living/ILRU
http://www.ilru.org/Directory/index.html
Look up the Center for Independence near you on The ILRU Web site (Independent Living Research Utilization). ILRU is a national center for information, training, research, and technical assistance in independent living.

Concrete Change
http://www.concretechange.org
This organization has launched an international campaign to make virtually all homes visitable (accessible to all) by providing the most essential features; such as accessible entrances, exits, and interior doors. The organization advocates quick, widespread construction around the world.

Directory of Centers for Independent Living
http://www.virtualcil.net/cils
Click on your state for the CILs nearest you.

DisAbility.gov
http://www.disability.gov
Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities: resources, services, and information available throughout the federal government, including information on the fair housing laws and housing resources.

Disability Resources Monthly Web-Watcher
http://www.disabilityresources.org/ARCHITECTURE.html
Thousands of the best disability-related resources on the Internet personally selected by the staff of Disability Resources Monthly and alphabetically arranged by subject.

Internal Revenue Service Info page-Publication 502
http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf
Complete list of items you can and cannot deduct as medical expenses. For instance, you CAN deduct porch lifts, ramps, and construction costs to modify a house for accessibility, as well as expenses incurred for same in rented dwellings, guide dogs, etc.

National Center on Accessibility
http://ncaonline.org
NCA is an organization committed to the full participation in parks, recreation and tourism by people with disabilities, technical assistance, courses, information, resources, and maps of accessible trails.

National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification
http://www.homemods.org/index.html
This organization is a clearinghouse of information to help elderly or frail individuals remain living in their own homes as comfortably and as successfully as possible. Among other things, NRCSH equips families and individuals with the knowledge to plan for their housing, health and supportive service needs.

RESNA
http://www.resna.org/taproject/policy/community/HMRG.htm
A concise guide covering definitions; fair housing laws and guidelines; initiatives from the Assistive Technology Act grantees; advocacy, financing, modification, and research resources; accreditations; online courses; and a bibliography. (Probably the most complete list of resources available regarding adaptive housing.)

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
http://www.hud.gov/disabled.html
Disability resource page on locating housing, financing home modifications, veteran's with disabilities, social security disability recipient benefits, homelessness, and more.