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:
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 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 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 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.
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