How do I figure out what home modifications are necessary and where do I get cost information?
One of our basic services is a home audit. We visit people currently living in a home where they want to stay and Age-In-Place. We identify areas of concern and suggest appropriate improvements either verbally or in a written report. We can also provide approximate price estimates or have contractors submit actual bids to do the work. People who are shopping for a new home often ask us to evaluate a property for long-term living and accessibility before they make an offer to purchase a home. We use a detailed checklist to examine critical areas of the house and determine what homeowners can expect to need for the length of time they plan to remain in the home. Clients who are building a new home for their retirement years use us for a range of services from reviewing building plans to selecting contractors and sub-contractors familiar with Universal Design and residential accessibility. We can usually offer several design alternatives and product options that work within a variety of budgets.
My parents insist on living in their home but I am not sure it is safe. Can you help?
Yes. If you are worried about the safety and comfort of your aging parents, we can perform a home audit. Our audits evaluate key interior and exterior elements of the home. We identify hazards that often lead to household accidents and injuries common in older adults’ homes and we will recommend modifications that increase safety, comfort and independence. We consider both the current and future needs of your parents as well as family members connected to the home, including young grandchildren who may visit frequently. There are usually several options for repairs, improvements or adaptations to help keep parents living in their own home, so we offer a prioritized list of possible modifications. You, your parents, other family members and caregivers, if they are involved, can then go over the list of modifications, decide which ones you think are needed most and we will work with you to get the job(s) done. Home modifications are often very cost effective when older adults compare the price of fixing their own home with other housing options like moving in with their children or relocating to a retirement community or assisted living facility.
Do you install ramps?
This is a great example of what we do best. Ramps are not always an ideal solution where people are Aging-In-Place. Some homeowners refuse modifications, like ramps, because they: 1) impact a home's appearance, 2) advertise that a vulnerable person lives in the home, 3) lower property values and 4) are hard to remove when the house is eventually sold. Most ramps are poorly constructed and too steep for northern climates. For example, a ramp incline can meet the MINIMUM Federal regulations but be too steep for the homes of older adults. (See FAQ “Will my work meet ADA requirements?” below). While these ramps may work for young people with good upper body strength or those using power wheelchairs, they are usually too steep for people using walkers or someone pushing a wheelchair. Another example is a ramp designed without handrails at the home of elderly people with mobility or balance difficulties and where older friends may visit. Although elderly people need handrails to use ramps safely, most ramps lack handrails or the handrails are pieces of lumber that are difficult for older hands to grasp. We see many examples where people with good intentions install ramps that are more of a safety hazard than the steps they are trying to work around. Wherever possible, we recommend Universal Design solutions to improve access to a home. Sometimes this means modifying the original steps or re-landscaping part of a yard. Sometimes it means building a ramp that is age-appropriate and suitable for Alaskan weather.
How are your services different from other home contractors?
We are experts in this industry. Homeowners want to Age-In-Place but don't always know how to communicate their expectations to architects, designers and contractors. Most developers, homebuilders and remodeling companies are unfamiliar with this type of residential construction. Some think Universal Design means “handicapped” and therefore believe it is expensive, unattractive and difficult to achieve. Others lack the foresight to incorporate the necessary building materials, products, design features and installation techniques that help keep costs down. Many have never considered the specific needs of aging individuals so they do not know how to accommodate mobility equipment, assistive devices and caregiving into residential settings. All too often, well-meaning contractors look at Federal regulations (See FAQ “Will my work meet ADA requirements?” below) and apply them to a project without modifying them for an individual’s needs, home or anticipated lifestyle. Unfortunately, many clients call us after their new home or remodeling project is completed and paid for but does not work for them.
How does Lifespan work with other residential construction and remodeling businesses and services?
We work with a wide variety of clients like homeowners, health care providers, government and non-profit agencies, homebuilders, remodelers, commercial contractors, retirement community developers, architects and designers. We always begin by determining the scope of work our clients expect. Anything beyond an initial discussion or home audit requires a signed agreement detailing the work to be done, timeline and cost of our services. Often we work as part of team. We handle those parts of a project that we know well and either work with a client’s preferred team or bring in skilled trades specialists from our network to help in their field of expertise. This means we can do some projects in-house. We also work with skilled homeowners, family members or handyman services and we collaborate with homebuilders, remodelers, developers and design teams.
Will my home look like a hospital?
Clients seek us out specifically because they want to avoid unsightly ramps and clinical-looking grab bars. We pride ourselves on meeting our client’s tastes, preferences and aesthetics for results that are attractive and homelike rather than institutional. Take a look at the examples on this website to see what we mean.
Will my work meet ADA requirements?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is just one of several national accessibility standards including the Uniform Federal Accessibilities Standards, the Fair Housing Act and the Architectural Barriers Act. All of them apply to public spaces or multi-family housing. None of them are intended for single-family homes. Residential guidelines follow less proscriptive Universal Design concepts. Universal Design is the construction and modification of homes incorporating features that are universally usable by people of all ages, sizes and abilities. Rather than using Federal regulations with fixed measurements intended for the “average” person, Universal Design improves how a home functions for a wide range of people. It improves housing features for children and older adults in both seated and standing positions. It accommodates tall and short people and those who can walk, as well as people in or pushing wheelchairs. It makes life easier for people of all sizes who may require assistance with eating, mobility, dressing, grooming, bathing and toileting, as well as those with cognitive impairments or other disabilities. This broad approach results in residential environments that are user-friendly for a wider variety of people over a longer period of time.
What do you sell?
Lifespan Home Modifications is not a sales representative for any manufacturer or item. We do keep current on the thousands of products and materials specifically developed for people with disabilities and older adults. And over the years we have seen many products targeting the Universal Design and Aging-In-Place markets come and go. Our years of experience have enabled us to identify those building products and materials that function well and endure over years of use with minimum maintenance. Locating the best available components for our clients’ specific projects, requirements, preferences and budget is our first and only priority.
How long does it take you to do a job?
That, of course, depends on what we are doing. We always ask clients to evaluate our job performance after we are done (See “Customer comments”) and occasionally they mention that things took longer than they expected. Given Alaska’s weather, distances and shipping challenges, delays can happen. We make every effort to provide realistic timelines and to keep everyone (clients, contractors, sub-contractors, suppliers, etc.) aware of any changes. Interior remodeling and home improvement projects vary by job and location, but we try to schedule work according to out clients’ preferred timetable along with other factors like building trades availability and jobsite weather conditions. The best schedule for new home construction usually has our planning and design work completed a year before the construction season begins.
How much do Lifespan Home Modifications services cost?
Our residential projects often begin with a free 1-hour home audit where we look at your home or project to see if we can be of service. A written home audit report is a possible next step. It includes documentation of the audit including photographs, drawings and a report with prioritized recommendations and rough cost estimates. Reports usually cost $165 to $495 depending upon the level of detail and complexity. Additional services can be based on time and materials, a fixed fee per project or hourly rates.
Commercial clients can take advantage of our free “quick-fix” consultation services for immediate answers about a particular job design, specification or client situation. For collaboration on multi-family or commercial projects we meet with you to determine your needs and work out a fee schedule.
Are you a green business?
As environmental concerns become increasingly important for Alaskan communities and for the planet, we believe that our company needs to work towards a sustainable future. We recognize that “green” means different things to people. For us it starts with remodeling work that includes repairing leaking faucets to save water and replacing inefficient lightbulbs. With new home construction, Energy-Star rated lighting and appliances are the norm for our projects. We specify water conserving dishwashers, kitchen and bathroom faucets and low-flow toilets and showerheads. We recommend energy efficient heating and hot water systems that balance the needs of older adults (who are more sensitive to heat, cold and drafts) with the high cost of keeping warm in Alaska. Most of our clients prefer building materials, fixtures and products with lifecycles that are longer than average. This reduces waste and saves money on parts and labor replacement costs. We usually specify materials with a percentage of recycled content and / or those where jobsite scrap materials can be returned to the manufacturing plant for recycling. Concern for the health of our homeowners as well as people working on and around our jobsites means that we minimize the use of toxic chemicals and processes during construction. Whenever possible, we use products manufactured in Alaska or nearby to help reduce the environmental impact of our projects and to reduce long-distance shipping costs.