The term universal design has been traced back to the late 1970s, when, according to a timeline from Professional Builder magazine, architect Ron Mace coined the term. This 70’s invention turned into an NAHB educational designation focusing on retrofitting existing homes.
It’s not exactly a “secret” weapon if more than 3,000 builders and remodelers across the country are using it to attract new business. But for the last 18 years, the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation has given these industry pros a competitive edge.
Many Americans have no intention of moving out of their homes as they age. Investing in home modifications seems like a much more appealing option. Even small improvements can make an enormous difference in the safety and comfort of their home, especially if they begin to experience mobility issues.
Tom Ashley and Curt Kiriu are CAPS building professionals and NAHB members who find CAPS-focused work to be both professionally profitable and personally rewarding.
“Hawaii is a small market, but I have been nonstop busy since mid-2009, and the demand for my services continues to grow each year,” said Kiriu. “It is difficult to keep up, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
While CAPS modifications can encompass countless projects, here are five particularly crucial areas to think about when trying to make a home safer and more comfortable while maintaining its original beauty and character.
“People don’t realize that a two- or three-inch step up can basically be like climbing a mountain,” said Ashley. “Most of our clients use zero-degree entrance showers, which is a shower that has no step up. It’s clean. It’s crisp. It’s user friendly. It’s wheelchair accessible. And it even looks better.”
If you want a bench seat, make it either completely removable, or have it be able to fold into the wall in case wheelchair access is needed. Additionally, raising the toilet and adding a grab bar can make it easy and safe to use.
Kitchens. Storage, especially in older homes, can be a maze of cupboards and cabinets that are extremely deep and close to the ground.
Including full extension doors, pull-down shelves and swing-away corner shelves helps avoid constantly bending down and reaching far back to feel around for a can of beans.
You can also make your faucets touchless or replace knobs with levers to make turning water on and off easy for people with arthritis or trouble with fine motor skills.
Lighting. Make sure all hallways and entrances have accessible and adequate lighting so you don’t have to feel your way in the dark. Install a light above the shower for easy bathing. However, keep in mind that not just any kind of lighting will do.
“Vanity light fixtures that illuminate the ceiling and walls are best, rather than ones that shine directly in your eyes,” said Kiriu.
Entryways. Adequate security is especially important for aging people, and adding motion-activated lighting to entrances can make also looking for your keys a much safer process.
Ramps, rather than stairs, allow for easy wheelchair access and avoid tripping when walking up to the door.
However, if you’d like to keep your stairs in place, widening the depth and width of each stair and widening the landing can make it much easier to navigate.
Stable railings and no step up entrances are an obvious must for entrance ways as well.
Grab Bars. This is one a no-brainer. Adding grab bars in the bathroom, hallways, entrances and any other vulnerable places gives home owners peace of mind. And you don’t even have to sacrifice aesthetics for security.
“When we first started out everything was stainless steel,” said Ashley. “Now, they have slim designs with different finishes and they really look nice and ornamental.”
For builders and remodelers, a CAPS designation can expand your market, and offers an extremely rewarding experience with your client. It requires empathy, critical thinking and creative problem solving, but the reward is unlike any other.
“The type of work that many CAPS professionals do has the opportunity to make a direct and immediate positive change in their client’s lives,” said Kiriu. “They are not many businesses, jobs, careers, that can make that statement.”
For more on how to earn a CAPS designation, go to nahb.org.