You’ve decided you are going to invest time and money into making your home more age-in-place ready. Now, comes the hard part! Finding a contractor, designer, or architect with expertise in this area.
If you have already spent some time asking around for referrals, you are probably beginning to get the sense that you are hunting for a needle in a haystack — and you would be right. The number of contractors, designers, and architects who have experience adapting homes to make them age-in-place ready is very limited…but some DO exist.
Put on a pot of tea, relax, settle in, and prepare to do some research. Chances are it will take you some time to discover a local contractor, designer, or architect who can successfully transform your house into an age-in-place ready home. If living in your own home for a lifetime is important to you, then it is definitely worth investing some time into finding that person.
We’ve provided information and tips below that will help you to get started.
How to Find an Aging in Place Contractor
When it comes to creating a future-proof home or to modifying a part of the home to make it more easily accessible, the devil is truly in the details. For a person who needs to rely on a walker or wheelchair — inches matter! A naively misplaced wall, doorway, or fixture can mean the difference between being able to use the space independently versus not being able to access a part of the home at all.
It is therefore ideal to try to choose a contractor who is already experienced in making homes age-in-place ready because they can assist you in making wise design choices and help to best ensure you get it right the first time. Sounds great! Now how do you find that person? Below, we have outlined four different ways to identify contractors who are knowledgeable about Aging-in-Place home modifications.
1. THE BEST OPTION
We have found that the contractors with the most expertise in making homes truly accessible and Age-in-Place ready are the same ones who are skilled in making homes accessible for persons with chronic disabilities, such as Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Spinal Cord Injuries. Such contractors will oftentimes have had a family member or a neighbor they helped initially and then they were referred again and again over the years to other people seeking similar services. With each successive project, they honed their knowledge and skills further and learned by trial and error what does – and just as importantly – what does not work to create a readily accessible home.
Such contractors are usually well known to the various organizations dedicated to helping people with chronic disabilities and with aging needs. So, our recommendation is to start your search by calling your local Council on Aging, Independent Living Centers, Senior Centers, Regional Center for persons with Developmental Disabilities, as well as the local organizations that are set up to assist people who have chronic physical limitations, such as: Parkinson’s Disease Association, ALS Association, Spinal Chord Injury Association. Ask them for the names of any contractors they like to refer to their clients to.
Uh oh! Did you come up empty handed? If so, don’t give up hope. There are some more options to try below.
2. ONLINE SEARCH
Check the National Directory of Home Modification and Repair Resources. It lists individuals, companies and organizations by city and state that provide equipment or home adaptations to make performing tasks easier, reduce accidents, and support independent living. The directory can be viewed here.
Of note, the National Directory of Home Modifications and Repair Resources is not a comprehensive list, but it is a good place to start. If you do not see a contractor or company listed for your area, don’t give up on your search there. The next step is to try an online search for the word “contractor,” “designer,” “architect” or “company” in your city and state paired with the following terms:
- Aging in Place Specialists: Aging in Place (also referred to as “productive aging” or “aging at home”) promotes the idea that individuals should be able to live out their lives in their own homes. Individuals specialized in this area are focussed on adapting or creating homes that are barrier-free, ergonomic, efficient, safe and able to endure the aging process.
- Universal Design Specialists: Universal Design takes the Aging-in-Place idea a step further. Good universal design elements should be user-friendly, simple, intuitive, efficient, ergonomic, and virtually invisible, melding with the functionality and aesthetics of the current space. Individual specialized in this area are dedicated to the concept of creating products and environments that are attractive and usable by everyone, regardless of age or ability.
- ADA Specialist: Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public accommodations to provide goods and services to individuals with disabilities on an equal basis with the general public. Individuals specialized in this area understand how to adapt or create spaces used by the general public in ways that meet the minimum accessibility standards prescribed by the ADA.
ADA Guidelines: You are likely to hear accessibility professionals make reference to “ADA Guidelines,” so it will be helpful for you to be aware of what they are. Americans with Disabilities Act Guidelines (also known as ADA Accessibility Guidelines or ADAAG) outline the minimum design specifications to make a space accessible and usable for the greatest percentage of persons who use a manual wheelchair. The ADA standards must be adhered, by law, when constructing places that will be used by the general public. It is neither mandatory, however, nor in many cases recommended to strictly adhere to all of the ADA Guidelines when modifying a privately owned home because an individual will oftentimes benefit from and/or need the inclusion of some design variations to make a space truly work for their own unique needs, but the ADA Guidelines do, as a general rule of thumb, provide a nice, initial reference point for use when adapting privately owned homes as well.
If you are indeed lucky enough to stumble upon a local person or company that claims to specialize in the accessible design niche, it does not mean you should promptly assume you have struck gold and hire them on the spot. Make sure to check their credentials and consumer reviews to ensure they are a reputable company before enlisting them to do the work! OK, Now, what if you struck out in this search as well? Try the next option below.
3. LOCAL HOME IMPROVEMENT STORES
Contact your local hardware stores and home improvement stores (E.g. Home Depot and Lowes Stores) and ask if they are aware of any good, local contractors who specialize in aging in place home modifications.
If you have struck out after trying the first three options outlined above, the next avenue to try is to check through the different lists of people who hold aging-in-place certifications in your area.
As you are checking through the different lists, it is helpful to be aware and to keep in mind that just because an individual has obtained one or two certifications, does not mean the person is an expert in this industry. What it does mean is they have sought out some additional knowledge about the aging in place industry and they will be more inclined to accept a job that pertains to making a space accessible to meet aging in place needs.
There are, for example, contractors and other professionals who are identified as “Certified Aging in Place Specialists.” This means, at a minimum, they took a three day course that covers topics related to starting and conducting a business in the aging in place industry. Only one day, however, out of the 3 day course is specifically dedicated to topics related to making a home accessible for persons with different disabilities. Being educated for one day in a subject does not turn a person into a specialist! But, it does imply the contractor who received the certification is interested in learning about and taking the right steps to make a home more readily accessible for aging needs.
Below, we have identified some of the certifications a contractor who is interested in the Aging-in-Place industry might hold. Heads up! Professionals from many different industries can hold these certifications, so it usually requires a little digging to identify which people on the lists are contractors.
- Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS): A CAPS contractor has undergone a three day course and is trained in the unique needs of the older adult population, aging-in-place home modifications, and solutions to common barriers. Search for a CAPS contractor here.
- Certified Living in Place Professional (CLIPP): A CLIPP contractor has undergone a two day training course and is trained in making spaces accessible for persons of all ages and needs. Prior to taking the 2 day course, contractors are required to prove they have a contractor’s license, insurance, and have worked as a contractor for a minimum of 5 years. Search for CLIPP contractors here.
- Certified Access Specialist program (CASp): CASp professionals have successfully passed an exam administered by the Division of State Architect (DSA) and received a certification indicating they have knowledge of the applicability of state and federal construction-related accessibility standards. They are knowledgeable about which standards apply to a property based on the age of the facility and its history of improvements. A CASp professional is a good person to contact if you plan to make major renovations to a building with 4 dwelling units or more. Search for CASp contractors here.
- Certified Environmental Access Consultant (CEAC): A contractor who has received the CEAC certification is trained via an online course on how to adapt a workplace, residence and/or general environment to promote the independence, safety and functional ability for the physically challenged and aging. The certification additionally covers information on the laws that must be observed when making publicly used spaces and multi-unit residential dwellings accessible. Search for CEAC contractors here.
- Executive Certificate in Home Modification Program: A contractor who has received this certification is trained via a sequence of five interactive online courses on the latest home modification research, products, funding strategies, policies, and community planning. Search for contractors with this certification here.
Uh Oh. No Leads Whatsoever!
Did you come up empty handed after trying the four options above? If so, it is entirely possible that there is not a contractor in your area who is specialized in this niche. Don’t give up! We have provided some additional tips below for how to work with a regular, general-purpose contractor and create an age in place ready home.
In short: A regular contractor will build what you tell them to, but the onus will be on you to tell them what to do. For you to learn the world of aging-in-place home modifications entirely from scratch would be possible, but it would be quite an undertaking! Often the factors you don’t even know are relevant are the very ones that can make or break whether the final outcome is truly future-proof — or not. Usually, the better option in this case is to hire an Occupational Therapist to help you identify what you need to do to create a supportive, age-proof home environment and to help you communicate this to the contractor you have selected.
What is an Occupational Therapist? OTs are licensed healthcare professionals who have undergone between 4 to 6 years of University Education. They are trained to analyze an individual and their environment and prescribe interventions to overcome identified barriers through task adaptation, assistive equipment, and/or environmental modifications.
OK, now before you jump in and begin your search for an Occupational Therapist, it is important to understand that not all OT’s are specialists in home modifications. OT’s work in a multitude of different settings ranging from neonatal units, to schools, to hospitals and workplaces. A good way to identify the OTs who have expertise in making homes accessible is by the additional certifications they hold. For example, a certification unique to OTs who address home modifications is the “Specialty Certification in Environmental Modification (SCEM).” This certification is offered by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). Contact the AOTA to determine if there are SCEM certified OT’s in your area.
Occupational Therapists that are knowledgeable about the best ways to make homes age-in-place ready may also hold one or more of the same certifications as the contractors, designers, and architects. See the section above titled “Certifications.” You will often find names of OTs listed in those same directories.
But…Oh No! What if you cannot identify a local Occupational Therapist to hire either? Do not give up hope on your project! Preparing your home to readily support aging needs is smart! It will enhance your ability to live at home indefinitely, optimize your ability to remain independent as you grow older and reduce the likelihood you’ll need to rely on others for support.
There is one last option you can try: Educate yourself about different accessible design solutions and the details to take into consideration when making a space age-in-place ready. Then choose a good local general contractor to help you make it a reality. We have provided information below to aid you in getting started.
The more knowledgeable you are, the better the outcome will be. Every person’s home structure, physical needs, financial circumstances, and personal wants and desires will be different. Having knowledge of the various ways to address different environmental components will help you to guide your contractors and designers in what you really want.
It is wise to do as much research as you can before you hire a contractor because if you change your mind multiple times midway through the building process, it will cost you more in the end. Why? Because one seemingly simple change request, that may seem inconsequential on the surface, usually has cascading affects on other building components as well. For example, changing your mind on the sink model could mean all the plumbing leading up to the sink as well as the countertop may also need to be changed or adjusted. Every time a contractor or designer needs to spend time reworking the plans, your bill will go up. So, it is helpful to have a fairly good idea what you want, prior to hiring them. Obviously, if you recognize it would add value to change an element, it is still better to request a change you want prior to the element being installed, but the less change requests you make – the cheaper it will be for you.
OK, now…don’t fret! This does not mean you need to choose every last component (fixtures, counters, flooring materials, tiles, etc.) before speaking to a contractor. A good contractor can assist you in making decisions about the building materials. They may, however, have no knowledge whatsoever about why certain fixtures, materials, or layouts should be selected over others for the purposes of making a space future proof for aging needs. So, that is where your own knowledge would need to come into play. The more informed you are upfront, the more likely it will be that you’ll be able to make good design decisions the first time around, saving yourself money and best ensuring the outcome is successful.
The ADA, ANSI, and FHA manuals outline minimum design guidelines required to make spaces accessible for manual wheelchair users. By default, these design guidelines also work well for most persons using standard walkers and 4-wheel walkers (aka Rollators). Visit the links below to learn more.
- Americans With Disabilities Act Guidelines (ADAAG)
- American National Standard Institute Standards (ANSI)
- Fair Housing Act Design Manual (FHA)
ALERT! There are limits to the ADA, ANSI, and FHA design standards. They prescribe the bare minimum design standards required to make spaces and buildings used by the general public accessible for [most] manual wheelchair users. A critical word here is “most.” They do not work for everyone!
The design guidelines outlined in the three manuals listed above are a great starting point to use when you are modifying a privately owned, single-family home, but…you can and should adapt them to fit your own needs (within what is permitted by the local building codes). You might, for example, be very tall or short and need counter top heights to be higher or lower than the height range that has been deemed to work best for most people. You will be the one using the counters, so make sure to choose a height that is functional for you and for the other people who live in your home. Heads up! The three manuals listed above provide technical specifications. If you are not technically minded, you may prefer to read some of the general overview guides listed in the section below titled “More Information to Get You Started.”
ALERT! It is also important to be aware that the ADA, ANSI, and FHA manuals prescribe the “bare minimum” standards required to make a space accessible for most manual wheelchair users. If you were to truly design the space to meet the absolute, bare minimum spatial requirements for a manual wheelchair, you would be limiting your future options. The FHA, ADA, and ANSI manuals do not prescribe design standards to make spaces accessible for electric wheelchairs or small household scooters.
People often experience balance problems in the later years that can make it difficult to safely walk around. Being able to zip around your home seated on a household-sized scooter when you are older is a perk that should not be underestimated! It is possible to park the scooter beside the bed, board it, then zip to the bathroom, to the living room, or off to the fridge to get some food. Designing the layout of your home in a way that leaves the door open to this possibility is ideal.
Our article titled Clear Floor Space for Accessible Bathrooms will give you a good glimpse into aspects to take into consideration when designing the layout of a bathroom, so it will best accommodate different size mobility aids up to and including most power wheelchairs and scooters. Much of the design knowledge garnered from that article can be applied when designing other rooms in your home as well.
More Information to Get You Started
Our article Invest in Your Independence! provides a quick list of elements that are ideal to include in an age-proof home and addresses the benefits of creating an age proof home. The article Aging in Place Solutions offers a glimpse into the realm of what is possible in terms of various equipment that’s available to make homes more accessible. More helpful information can be found in the list below:
- Beginner’s Guide to Accessible Bathrooms
- Ramps: What to Consider When Selecting a Ramp for Your Home
- Accessible Showers: Beginner’s Guide to Designing Accessible Showers
- Tips for Picking a Prefab Accessible Shower
- Toilets for Disabled Persons: Which Type is Best?
- Grab Bars: Which Type is Best?
- Toilet Rails: Which Type are Best?
- Handheld Showerhead Guide: The Basics
- Shower Curtains for Accessible Tubs & Showers
…and many more helpful guides and articles can be found on Homeability.com.
Last, But Not Least!
Once you have identified a contractor you believe has the necessary skills and knowledge to assist with your aging in place remodel, make sure to confirm the individual or company has a valid license before hiring them. Check the “Contractor State Licensure Board” for your state to verify the Contractor’s License Number and Business Name. This information is usually readily available online. (Example: California State Licensure Board CSLB website.) If the contractor has informed you they will use subcontractors to perform part or all of the work, verify each subcontractor’s license and insurance information too.
Make sure to also check the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, Yelp and other review websites to confirm the contractor has a good reputation, before enlisting him or her to do the work.
The Homeability Advice™
Contractors who have accrued a lifetime of experience optimizing homes for persons with disabilities will usually be the most adept and clever at finding work-arounds to assist you in eliminating the barriers in your home. If such a contractor does not exist in your local area, the next best option is usually to hire a regular contractor to do the work and an Occupational Therapist to take part as a Project Consultant for the equipment and designs. Contractors are knowledgeable about how to fix and build things. OTs understand how people’s physical skills will change with age and different diagnoses. OTs also have knowledge of how to adapt the environment via specialized equipment or home adaptations to best promote independence. The professional knowledge base of a contractor and OT combined together will help you to best ensure the results of your remodeling project are a success.
If you have complex needs or a complicated medical diagnosis, it is ALWAYS advisable to involve an OT in the project, regardless of whether you are lucky enough to identify a contractor with aging-in-place expertise or not. OTs are trained healthcare professionals with knowledge about how the symptoms of different ailments and illnesses manifest over time. They can assist you in optimizing your home environment to best support both your present and future needs. By doing it right the first time, you will save yourself both time and money.
You may also be wondering if there is funding available to assist in paying for home modifications. There is a little…but not much. To learn more about the funding options that are available, visit: The Truth About Home Modification Funding.
More Topics You May Be Interested In
- Ramps: What to Consider When Selecting a Ramp for Your Home
- Comparison of Wall, Floor, & Ceiling Mounted Bath Lifts
- Getting In & Out of the Bathtub: Benches, Lifts & Transfer Chairs
- Slide-in Bathtub Buying Guide
- Grab Bars: Which Type is Best?