G.L.B.M. article

This feature article appeared in the Greater Lansing Buisiness Monthly magazine

CAPS Concepts Allow Elderly to Stay at Home Longer

By Randy J. Stine

A new training program for professional residential remodelers should have far-reaching benefits for the elderly and disabled in Mid-Michigan.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) developed the Certified Aging-In-Place (CAPS) accreditation in conjunction with the AARP, which surveyed middle-aged and elderly homeowners in 2000 and determined that a majority of aging baby boomers say they do not want to move out of their homes during their retirement years.

The 40- and 50-year-olds are instead choosing to make modifications to their existing homes, thereby eliminating the need in some cases for an apartment or nursing home later in life.

The three-day CAPS training program teaches customer service, marketing and business management skills to effectively service the growing market for home modifications of the aging-in-place. Classes are offered throughout the year across the state at different times and locations by local home building associations, including the Greater Lansing Homebuilders Association.

CAPS accredited remodelers say the demand for universal design modifications, which includes open floor plans and making bathrooms and doorways wider, is the fastest growing segment of their business.

The tri-county area currently has more than 45,000 people 65 and older, making up nearly 11 percent of the population, according to the 2000 census. Government estimates call for the local elderly population to nearly double by 2020 as the baby boom generation retires.

“The CAPS program gave me a better understanding of how the older generation looks at things, their thought process and values. It’s important to know those things to be able to communicate effectively,” said James Magnotta, president of Magnotta Builders and Remodelers in Lansing Michigan and a certified CAPS specialist.

Standard features in many homes are not as user friendly or safe for the aging as they should be, Magnotta said, specifically citing better lighting and shower grab bars as necessities.

“Lighting can make a huge impact. As part of my CAPS training two years ago, they smeared sunglasses with Vasoline and made us wear them around to simulate living with cataracts. Better lighting and lighted switches are very important,” he said.

Instructors also had students wear a sock on their hand with a tennis ball in the palm and had them try to turn doorknobs and water faucets to simulate what stroke victims might deal with.

Magnotta said he first started considering barrier-free design ideas while searching for ways to make his parents’ home safer. Now in their 80s, Magnotta’s parents still reside in the Lansing home where he was raised.

“It’s something that happens to everyone eventually. It’s inevitable that as you age, you’ll need to take steps to make things more comfortable in your home. Things like first-floor laundries and bedrooms, with wider corridors, maybe a lift chair or even elevator,” Magnotta added.

Incorporating barrier-free design ideas into a remodeling project will add to the cost, Magnotta said. According to the Remodelors Council of the NAHB, Americans will spend $180 billion this year on remodeling, with about a million homes undergoing major modifications.

“When you move outside the basic project, universal design components will add to the cost but not dramatically. It just depends on the number of extra items you desire.”

Magnotta explained his belief in life-long education was the reason for attaining the CAPS specialist title. “You always want to keep growing and improving yourself professionally and personally. Sometimes you think you know everything, but you really don’t. And learning something new can have profound effects on your company’s bottom line, too.”

Bridley Byrd, president of Qx2 Contracting Inc. and project coordinator for The Kitchen Shop in Lansing, said he went through the CAPS accreditation process as a way to distinguish himself from other remodelers.

“I was the significance of having designations to attach to my name. One of the issues that has plagued remodelers is a lack of credibility and dependability. I thin I addressed those questions with the accreditation,” Byrd said.

The AARP surveys also showed older homeowners were sometimes reluctant to seek remodeling, concerned about finding reliable contractors and remodelers to do the work, according to Byrd.

“That most important aspect fo the CAPS program is understanding the individual needs of the client. It helps me develop a sense of the circumstances they face,” he said.

Byrd has discovered one of the biggest complaints of older Americans is going up and down stairs in their home.

“One of the major causes of death in the home is slip and fall on staircases, so there is a convenience and safety factor to consider,” explained Byrd, who received his CAPS specialist designation two years ago.

Byrd looks at universal design elements on every project he approaches. “Extra handrails, walk-in showers, open floor plans … these are all comfort-level items that everyone appreciates. Generally, what is good for people with mobility issues is good for those who do not [have mobility issues], too.” Byrd said.

Kitchen modifications include adjusting heights of counter tops and shelves, sinks designed to allow for a wheelchair underneath, constructing multi-functional islands, install easy-to-turn levers in place of faucets, and placing dishwashers on platforms so people don’t have to bend over.

CAPS program guidelines mostly pertain to residential remodeling projects, Byrd said, but universal design concepts can also apply to new home construction. “Incorporating a barrier-free environment will definitely add to the resale value of a hous. People usually like open floor plans.”

A complete list of CAPS specialists is available through the National Association of Home Builders’ website at http://www.NAHB.org.

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