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Home Modifications and Repairs for an Extra Margin of Safety

Woman on Front Porch

Many accidents at home are caused by unsafe conditions. Make your home safer and more functional by doing repairs and adding features that can make life safer—and a little easier all around—for a person with mobility problems or sensory impairment. Here are some steps to take:

  • Make sure roof, gutters, stairs and railings are in good repair. Inspect and upgrade plumbing, electrical, heat and air conditioning systems if necessary.

  • Perform a safety inspection of the home.  What improvements can be made?

    o Non-slip, non-glare flooring
    o Low-pile carpeting
    o Handrails on both sides of stairs
    o Grab bars in bathroom
    o Additional lighting and night lights
    o View-hole in front door
    o Good quality locks on doors and windows

  • For accessibility and independence, add…

    o Easy-grip knobs and pulls in kitchen
    o Rocker or touch-type switches
    o Wheelchair or walker access
    o Cordless phone
    o Automatic garage door opener

  • If necessary, re-arrange the house for one-story living.

  • Make energy-efficient improvements such as storm windows, double-paned windows, weather-stripping, insulation on pipes and water heater, and more efficient appliances.

You can fix some things by yourself or with the help of handy friends, but doing it yourself is not always the best way to go. Poorly planned and built features can prove useless, or even dangerous. For example, a ramp that is too steep and lacks safety features is worse than no ramp at all. Grab bars that are not solidly anchored can cause rather than prevent falls.
 
If you are hiring a handyman or contractor to do some of the work for you, be certain the person or company you select is reliable and trustworthy.

  • Get recommendations from friends who have had similar work done.

  • Be sure the contractor is licensed and bonded.

  • Get references and check them.

  • Check with the Better Business Bureau, the state consumer affairs office, and the local licensing board, if applicable.

  • Ask to see some of the contractor’s completed projects.

  • Get a written agreement, and don’t pay the full agreed price until the work is completed to your satisfaction.

  • Get bids from several contractors—but remember, the lowest bid isn’t always the best choice.

Important note: Older adults are often targeted by unscrupulous contractors and service providers. Be wary of door-to-door repair sales. A common scam is for a salesperson to come to your door, claiming that his company is working on a job in your neighborhood and offering to do work on your house for a low rate. He might claim to have spotted dangerous conditions that should be taken care of “right away.” But when the work is completed (if it ever is completed), the services and materials usually turn out to be shoddy and not to code. Never agree to any services until you have checked out the company.

Paying for Home Improvements

If you are concerned that paying for safety improvements is beyond your means, remember that help is available through….

Community Assistance Programs—Most communities and all states have programs to assist older persons with home maintenance, seasonal weatherization, and needed repairs. Some programs are free of charge, except for the cost of materials, while others charge on a sliding scale, ability-to-pay basis.

Home Repair Loans—Government housing agencies and nonprofit organizations offer loans for home repairs and accessibility renovations, such as ramps, grab bars, and accessible kitchen and bathroom fixtures. Loans may be interest-free, or at below-market interest. Eligibility requirements apply, and the construction must not be merely cosmetic in nature. Home repair loan and grant sources include:

  • Title III of the Older Americans Act, which includes home improvement grants
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture Section 504 Rural Development Home Repair Loans
  • Local Community Development Departments (block grants and city development monies)
  • U.S. or local Department of Energy weatherization loans
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for disaster assistance.

Contact your local Senior Information and Referral or Area Agency on Aging for a list of sources available in your area. Your local senior center may also be able to help you determine the programs for which you qualify, and help you apply for home loans and grants.

Reverse Mortgages—A reverse mortgage is a loan against your house that allows you to convert part of your equity into cash. The loan is paid back when the homeowner sells the house, dies, or moves out permanently. The loan can be in a lump sum, a line of credit, or monthly payments. Reverse mortgages are another area where you need to have your guard up. Be sure to work with a reputable lender, consult with your financial advisor if you have one, and do your homework before you make any commitments or sign any documents.

For More Information

National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification. Online resources and publications to help make the home safer and more convenient for older adults.

Universal Home Design. AARP’s introduction to the concept of “Universal Design,” home design geared toward people of all ages and abilities.

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Right at Home is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care and assistance services.


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