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Specialists Transform Houses Into Retirement Homes

Written by on Wednesday, 28 April 2004 7:00 pm
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The growing aging-in-place trend has spawned a new trades person skilled in the techniques necessary to make your house a retirement home.

And not a moment too soon.

Most homeowners plan to retire in place, remaining in their current homes rather than a retirement facility, but they may be more prepared for retirement than their homes.

Older people typically live in older homes in greater need of maintenance and modifications that help keep older homeowners more comfortable and in many cases, safer. Also, older homeowners could be missing out on the added value of home improvements in the eyes of a potential buyer, should the owner ever need to sell or, for that matter, tap equity.

To lend them a hand, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has teamed with the AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired People to develop the Certified Aging In Place Specialist (CAPS) program.

"Aging in place means living in one's home safely, independently and comfortably regardless of age, income or ability level. It means remaining in a familiar environment throughout one's maturing years, and enjoying the familiar daily rituals and the special events that enrich all our lives," said NAHB's Remodelers Council chairman Doug Sutton Sr.

The CAPS program certifies existing contractors with additional skills in the unique home modification requirements of older people. The work builds in compensation for a reduced range of motion, and reduced strength; assistance with mobility and agility; and help with balance and coordination, among other elements.

To meet those needs, contractors must have skills necessary to address, among other things, universal design principles developed in the 1970s by Ronald L. Mace. Mace, an architect and wheelchair user, helped found the Raleigh, NC-based Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Mace and others developed principles that can be applied to both new and existing homes to broaden a structure's accessibility, usability and safety for all household members from kids to retired adults and people with disabilities.

AARP and other older American consumer advocacy groups have embraced the principles so much so that some have found their way into the majority of today's newly built homes, especially those in popular retirement areas of the West, South and Southwest.

The centerpiece at the NAHB Research Center's (NAHBRC) National Center for Seniors' Housing Research (NCSHR) is a "LifeWise Home" model home -- perhaps, the real home of the future -- which incorporates numerous universal design elements as well as state of the art energy-efficient systems.

NAHB says the CAPS program actually goes beyond universal design techniques and includes designing and building aesthetics into the features of a house that will become a retirement home. The three-day certification program also teaches contractors special marketing skills necessary to communicate retirement living designs and needs to the target audience.

Certification comes with 12 hours of related continuing education requirements every three years. The requirement can be met with a mix of academic course work, industry education and activities, including community service project work completed without compensation.

"Remodeling for aging-in-place demands sensitive integration of myriad functional and design considerations into a unified, aesthetically pleasing whole," said Sutton of Sutton Siding and Remodeling in Springfield, Ill.

In plain English, aging Americans want their homes to fit their aging lifestyles.

More than four in five (83 percent) Americans age 45 and older say they strongly or somewhat agree that they would like to remain in their current home for as long as possible.

However, only 51 percent of them anticipate that they will need to make changes to their home as they age, and even fewer have actually made some of the changes they say are necessary for their comfort as they age, according to the AARP's "These Four Walls: Americans 45+ Talk About Home and Community," released earlier this year by AARP.

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