Make Your Old Home Ready For Your New Life

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Does the notion of someday moving to a retirement community leave you cold?

Join the crowd.

A recent study on “Aging in Place” – backed by the online HomeAdvisor information and services provider – found that 90 percent of respondents ages 55+ had not a speck of interest in moving out of their beloved abodes and into a seniors-only (how boring!) housing settlement.

And a very large share of the studied group – subdivided into the boomer set (ages 55 to 75) and the 75+ crowd – either have made or are planning proactive moves to make their homes more hospitable for the present and their future. To do so, they’re trading on both common-sense upgrades and a wealth of new smart home gadgets that now make living so much easier and more secure. And so can you!

In large measure, boomers have learned from experience. We vividly recall how our aging parents ran into problems with suddenly balky front door locks, harder to reach light switches, low slung toilets and high-sided bathtubs.

aging in placeAnd lots of us silvering citizens are now taking tips from our own tech-savvy grown children. The “kids” are nudging us especially hard to install home security cameras and motion detectors, voice-activated two-way speakers (“Alexa, call my son”) and smart thermostats that will then help them keep remote tabs on our wellbeing from pretty much anywhere. All that’s needed is a communicating app on the offspring’s smartphone or computer.

But ironically, many in the 50+ coterie still can’t fully come to grips with our situation, claiming ignorance of terms like “accessibility” and “aging in place.” So found Marianne Cusato, an adjunct professor at the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture who worked on the study for HomeAdvisor. She noted that “all participants cite ‘ease of living’ as their motive for completing most projects.” Because, well, that’s a home improvement concept universally embraced and not burdened with the stigma of growing old. Today, when 60 is the new 50 and 70 is the new 60, “people don’t think of themselves as aging – even when they are,” said Cusato. “There’s no specific age or moment in time at which people become officially old.”

So how do homeowners prepare for aging in place when they can’t admit that they’re aging in the first place? “They perform regular maintenance and complete projects to keep their homes in good working order, for starters,” noted the analyst. “And that sets them up to layer on the aging-related projects as their aging-specific needs are revealed.”

HomeAdvisor even has an ageless (but kinda New Age-y)  term to describe this fix-up, tech-up approach – Holistic Living – which it pushes on visitors to its website & app and to the more than 175,000 service pros (electricians, plumbers, architects and assorted contractors) it recommends you use. As explained by HA’s Smart Home Strategist (and former Consumer Reports senior home editor) Dan DiClerico, the home healing starts with “taking care of the ongoing maintenance with something as simple as gutter guards that, when you let them go, will all of a sudden cause a whole domino effect with water wreaking havoc, causing leaks in the home. “

aging in placeAnother sensible start?  Smoothing out the front walk to avoid tripping hazards and (maybe down the road, if needed) ease wheelchair access.

“So it’s sort of that baseline maintenance that has to happen before getting into things like changing door knobs for lever handles or pull out shelves in kitchen cabinets or installing comfort height toilets. And then when you get into smart technology is where it really gets interesting.”

Such as? DiClerico says, “a motion activated light that’s going to automatically light up that dark hall or staircase” lessening the chances of trips and falls, “the leading cause of injury” in the home.

Smart smoke detector alarms were “very high up on the list” (of applied smart tech in the HomeAdvisor study) “especially with the older” homeowners we surveyed. There’s also some evidence that these smarter smoke alarms if they’re providing strobe light in addition to just the sound alarm, can be more effective for someone who is perhaps hard of hearing.”

aging in placeSmart thermostats? “Absolutely, DiClerico says. “It does seem to be older homeowners who are interested in energy efficiency. That’s something we see survey after survey. Just the ability to save a few bucks a year, that appeals to older homeowners that are possibly on a tighter fixed budget but you also have the ability as with the smoke alarm for a friend, relative, son, daughter for the remote monitoring. I want to make sure the temperature is at a good place and I can keep an eye on that.“

Door locks? DiClerico loves them. “Simply not having to fumble with the keys if you’re arthritic or have limited mobility, whatever lock it might be. To be able to walk up to the door and the door opens” (after communicating with a near-field sensing app on your phone). “And it also offers, as do security cameras, remote monitoring if mom or dad is coming and going. Assuming they want you to know.”

While Dan DiClerico dismisses some smart home appliances – like internet-connected coffee pots and fridges – as “solutions in search of a problem,” he’s also a big booster of video doorbells as “one of the hottest small home devices in the last year. It can be incredibly effective. It’s a good way to prevent those missing packages or communicate with the FedEx guy. Anytime someone asks me if they want to get into smart technology (then) where should they start, I tell them to think about a video doorbell. You get the benefit from day one.”

It takes a specialty integrator or custom installer to set up a full-blown, high priced ($30,000-$40,000) home automation system, so DiClerico suggests that a $1,500 smart home upgrade with “four or five of the connected devices I mentioned” is relatively easy work for someone who can read instructions and has patience. App-based link-up steps sometimes have to be repeated to “take.” And modem/routers often have to be rebooted before recognizing a new gizmo trying to hop online.

If that all seems too much, you can always turn to a tech-savvy son or daughter or to one of the qualified local electricians recommended on the HomeAdvisor website.

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