At first glance, remodeling may look fairly straightforward and simple – except for actually doing the work. It may not suggest or take into account any illnesses, infirmities, ailments, or limitations a person has that lives in a particular home when they are not complaining about them, discussing them openly with the contractor, or using any kind of a mobility aid (can, brace, crutches, walker, or wheelchair, for instance) or other visible indication of impairment (dark glasses, thick lenses, hearing aid, noticeable limp or shuffle, or joint deformity, for example).
A contractor who is not trained to recognize or spot conditions that might (and likely should) affect the design they are creating could just go ahead and give the client a kitchen or bathroom the same as they would give most any other client having the same size space, age of home, general condition, and budget. This could be a big mistake – for both the contractor and the client.
Not knowing can be very harmful to both parties. The contractor needs to consider that the client or the home – or both – are presenting certain issues and conditions that turn an ordinary looking remodeling project into a more delicate one with several underlying considerations. Without understanding more about what is going on in this home and then being prepared to deal with it, the contractor is open to design liability issues, and the client is potentially getting and paying for a design that does not serve them well.
So how does the contractor get to know what is going on in the client’s home so that they don’t misstep and so that the client is getting what they need? There are three answers to this question.
First, the contractor needs to be aware of the age, construction, and general maintenance of the properties in this neighborhood of which the target property is part. Likely they were all built about the same time – possibly by the same builder or group of builders – and the conformed to the building codes in effect at that time. Codes are constantly changing so it’s possible that a forty or fifty-year-old home is quite dated in electrical service, HVAC capacity, lighting, flooring, doorway widths, passageways, windows, critical heights of cabinetry and countertops, and other major areas. Mid-century homes (1940s-1960s) are going to exhibit even more out-of-date features. A contractor in tune with the features of such homes will be prepared to modify them as appropriate to create a minimum level of code performance before addressing additional issues.
Second, the contractor can take the Certified Aging In Place Specialist (CAPS) training so that they can have a basic understanding of ways to approach homes, clients, codes, guidelines, best practices, and solutions for creating aging in place living environments for their clients, irrespective of the age, ability, or physical size. Many contractors have not availed themselves of this foundational education, but it is highly recommended to understand what is going on in the home and ways to address it, to appreciate how to work with strategic professionals to help create solutions that are appropriate and effective for the client, and to relate to the consumer who often knows something about CAPS and is seeking a CAPS-trained team to work with them.
Third, there are CAPS-trained occupational and physical therapists and assistants who are ready to work with contractors to help them understand the physical, sensory, cognitive, and underlying medical needs of the client so that they can be addressed and compensated for in a design. As much as the contractor or non-medically trained professional knows about aging in place, they are never going to be able to understand the medical needs of the client in a way that helps them address them effectively.
Most definitely, the OT can clarify the needs of the client and advise the contractor and other members of the design team on what needs to be done for each individual client on a case-by-case basis to give them the maximum amount of function in their home within the physical constraints of the dwelling and any budgetary boundaries present.