About a year ago, after Hurricane Irene tore siding off their house and sent a tree plunging through the roof, David Bacon and his wife called Simply Home, a remodeling company in Charlotte Hall, Md. The couple, both registered nurses who work in the emergency room, often deal with the elderly or disabled. After talking with Simply Home owner Greg Carpenter, Bacon — a former combat medic — and his wife ended up working as consultants for the remodeler on aging-in-place projects. Bacon is currently working on obtaining his Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist certification.

REMODELING: What made you suggest to Greg Carpenter that he get his company more involved with aging-in-place clients?

David Bacon: We started talking about it when he was remodeling my house. I mentioned that I was seeing so many people come into the emergency room with broken hips and other types of problems brought on by the physical circumstances where they live. If they were in a wheelchair, for instance, they might roll into the kitchen and try to stand and then fall while trying to hold onto the sink.

RM: How would you describe these clients?

DB: It’s primarily elderly people, but also the obese, and people with disabilities.

RM: So what do you do, as a consultant, for Simply Home?

DB: I go in, as a nurse, and do a medical assessment. I find out the homeowners’ medical history. Say, for instance, the homeowner had a hip replacement. That’s often debilitating because the replacement can pop out so easily, or the person can fall and snap that hip. So I or my wife come in as nurses and gather that history from the homeowner. If the homeowner has a medical situation — let’s say dialysis — we look at the underlying disease, which in that case would be renal failure.

RM: How open are homeowners to talking about this?

DB: They’re very forthcoming. These are not situations that ordinarily come up in a remodeling sales call. Why would you bring it up if, for instance, you have a catheter bag for urine, or you get short of breath really easily? This is especially true if it’s an appearance issue, such as a colostomy bag. Homeowners are not going to talk to a contractor about that.

RM: How do you know what these homeowners might need a year from now or three years from now?

DB: If someone had a heart attack, there’s an 80% chance that they’ll have another one within five years if nothing changes. If the owner is on dialysis, you’re going to install a hospital bed at some point because he or she isn’t going to have the energy to climb stairs. So you want to consolidate living arrangements onto the ground floor. Let’s say the homeowner has emphysema. They’re going to require oxygen, which means they can’t be near an open flame, so a gas stove has to be changed to an electric.

RM: Once you’ve made a medical assessment, where do you take it?

DB: We look at the layout of the house. Access, width of the doors, room function. For instance, if the person’s in a wheelchair, it doesn’t do much good to widen the bathroom door to 36 inches if he or she can’t maneuver the chair inside the room because it’s too small. Recently, in that situation, I suggested that the bathroom be expanded into unused adjacent bedroom space. Many of the houses we visit were built in the ’70s and have boxy rooms and tiny hallways. I make suggestions for changes, and Simply Home does the design. Common

Scenarios & Solutions

RM: What are some typical solutions to physical problems people face in their homes?

DB: Getting people onto the first floor is the best way to solve many of these problems. Chair lifts for stairs are neat, but they’re not the most efficient solution nor the most cost effective in this market, which is rural Maryland. If the homeowner is in a wheelchair, we get rid of the carpet and lay down cork flooring or bamboo. We open rooms up as much as possible and customize them for use. For instance, it might be difficult for a person to get onto the toilet without grab bars or even to sit on the toilet, so we install grab bars and raise the toilet. We remove the tub and install a roll-in shower. Sometimes just removing a cabinet here or there makes it so much easier.

More REMODELING articles about aging in place:

Tips for Capturing Universal Design/Aging-In-Place Leads

Greening in Place: How Aging in Place and Energy Efficiency Go Hand in Hand

Getting Older, Staying Put