Healthy Home Construction

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Spring is right around the corner; which for many means the start of allergies again, along with the sneezing, running noses, red eyes, and headaches. The side effects of allergies can be similar to those when you have construction going on in your home. The fumes of paint and flooring finishes can induce headaches, the excessive dust created from demolishing walls or sanding floors can cause sneezing and coughing as harmful pollutants are released into the air, and the influx of different people performing work in your home can introduce germs and spread illness, especially during the winter months when the flu season is in full swing. These common issues during remodeling and construction jobs can be more complicated for our senior population undergoing renovations to help them “age," or "live in place", especially since so many of them will be remaining in their home while the renovations are taking place. 

Here are some strategies to discuss with your contractor before beginning work in your home to help prevent and reduce the most common health issues during renovations.  It’s important when selecting your contractor, to discuss and understand how they handle dust and related health risks to ensure they are kept to a minimum. Contractors that use some of the equipment referred to, may also come in with higher bids, so balancing the cost and benefits during the contractor selection process should be performed. 

1. Forbid the Fumes: 
Most paints and floor finishing products contain chemicals that evaporate in the air. As with any chemical, the likelihood of a reaction and the extent and type of health effects will depend on many factors. These factors include the number of compounds in the indoor air, the length of time a person is exposed, and a person’s age. Eye, throat or lung irritation, headaches, dizziness, and vision problems are among the immediate symptoms that some people can experience soon after exposure. When picking paint for your home interior, make sure you select one that is for indoor use only.  There are two categories of interior paints:

  • Water-based: referred to as “latex” paints
  • Oil-based: referred to as “alkyd” paints

In general, water-based paints will emit fewer chemicals and lower levels of chemical vapors. Select primers and paints with low-volatile organic compounds (VOC) as these products release fewer fumes. Low-VOC materials are applied the same way as conventional paints and primers and cost about the same as most manufacturers' top-of-the-line paints. They can also be cleaned and disposed of easily without the use of active solvents; which is always a plus! As paint dries, harmful VOCs are released into the air at high levels, so this would be an essential time for seniors to open all windows, place fans around the house to direct the fumes outside, or better yet, get out of the house for a few hours or overnight. 

Another paint or finish option is to look for products that carry the “Green Seal.”  These products are guaranteed to meet precise environmental standards and contain VOC levels even below those of already low VOC products. Green Seal products are forbidden from using a long list of toxic chemical compounds and must meet specific performance requirements; so ask your contractor about selecting products with this certification, and to understand how best to incorporate these products in your project.

2. Defeat the Dust
Dust is everywhere on construction sites and will always exist. From cutting and sanding materials to excavation, drilling, and demolition, it’s an impossible substance to avoid. However, dust is an unnecessary health risk that can be efficiently managed on every construction site. 

The two most common and effective ways to reduce the risk of dust when performing standard tasks on construction sites are:

  •   Water dampening
  •   Extraction and filtration 

Water dampening is an effective method,  but can be challenging to manage. It requires the site to be thoroughly soaked before the work starts and a constant flow of water to be maintained during the task to prevent dust particles becoming airborne. A  sufficient supply of water and access to it are crucial elements. The second method is using specialist extraction and filtration units. Power tools and air scrubbers use dust extractors and collect dust as the work is performed and can reduce the dust that is emitted into the air by almost 90%.  Air scrubbers capture dirt before it circulates through your home.

Additional tips to reduce dust and dirt in your home include:

  • Place plastic dust barriers with zipper openings at all entry points to a room or space under construction and seal them tightly.
  • Review how debris will be eliminated from the home.  Will it be brought in and out through the central space, or can it be removed directly from the room in which it was created? 
  • Contractors should only walk through areas of the home where work is occurring.
  • Place sticky mats outside the doorway to pull the dust off shoes, and place floor paper from the construction area to the exit door to capture additional dust. 
  • Dust generating tasks should take place outside.
  • Adequate clean-up at the end of the workday including vacuums and sponge mops should be used to gather dust that has settled in. 

During the work, vents should be blocked off with plastic, and if there is a return vent in the room in which work is performed, that’s a bit trickier, so it may be easier to schedule the task at a time when the unit can be turned off.  Once the work has is completed, clean the HVAC system and air vents to ensure that you aren’t continuing to breathe in the dust. With the right dust extraction and filtration systems in place, along with barriers and enclosures, construction dust can be efficiently managed and contained.

3. Get Rid of the Germs

With contractors and others in and out of your home during a renovation, the post clean-up is another critical component to remaining healthy. For those aging in place, we would recommend hiring a professional to get rid of all the germs (and dust!)  living in your home. So after any renovations be sure to:

  • clean your walls (including all moldings).
  • vacuum all floors (if carpeted go over them a few times, and if they're wood, tile, or linoleum, follow your vacuuming with a quick mopping).
  • vacuum all upholstered furniture (couches, chairs, and even mattresses).
  • take down and clean all light fixtures and window treatments.
  • unscrew and clean your vents.
  • check and change all air filters. 
  • Use disinfecting products to wipe down all surfaces (countertops, hand railings, toilets, vanities). 

It's important when planning a home renovation project to review health and safety concerns, and build these strategies into the project before the work begins to remain healthy, happy and ready to enjoy your new home!

Aging in Place Row Home Style

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Our job is to help our clients understand the benefits and challenges associated with making home improvements to “age in place”.  Often, we are called in to perform Home Safety Reviews, to evaluate the issues and offer solutions to help someone remain safe and live independently in their home for as long as possible. We encounter many different types of homes; ranging from single family homes, to apartments, to town homes, as well as city row homes. Each home comes with different design limitations, cost implications, as well as overall neighborhood concerns. The topic of this story relates not only to our ability to help our client create a beautiful and safe environment in her row home at a price that she can afford, but how to best help her address the overall safety in a neighborhood that has changed.

We recently met our client at one of our workshops, “Designing for Home Safety”, where we educate seniors, care providers and loved ones on how to keep a home safe.  The presentation focuses on fall prevention, as falls are one of the leading causes of hospitalizations for seniors, and eventual health decline. She approached us after the presentation and asked if we would help her not only freshen up the interior design of her home, but to provide recommendations and solutions to to help her safely remain in her home.

We were happy to help, and quickly scheduled an appointment. As we drove into the neighborhood, we noticed many homes in disrepair and many stairs to get to the front door. As we walked through the front door it was like taking a time machine back into the 70’s; the layout, decor, and overall feel was one that has been lived in and loved. For those of you who have never stepped foot in a row home, they are typically extremely narrow with few rooms per floor, very steep slender steps, little natural sunlight, and few, if any first floor bathrooms. 

Some significant home safety issues that we discovered on our tour of the home:

Exterior Steps : There are two sets of stairs leading to the front door, the concrete paving is uneven, cracked and in need of repair. We would recommend repairing the paving, installing rails on both sides of the steps, and installing motion detected security lighting.

Master Bedroom and Bathroom: Both located on the second floor, up very steep narrow steps. Although there is a double railing on the stairs, it’s so narrow that putting a chair lift in may be problematic when she is no longer able to walk up the steps. We typically recommend a first floor bedroom and full bathroom to avoid the safety issues surrounding steps, but due to space constraints, this may not be possible. 

Laundry Room in Basement:  Remaining independent involves performing your daily activities, including doing your laundry. Here, the laundry room is down poorly lit, steep stairs with no rails. We would recommend reconfiguring the kitchen and installing a small stackable washer/dryer to eliminate the need to use these stairs. 

Elevators and platform lifts are now a more affordable option, can add to a home’s equity, and can be one of the best investments homeowners can make, especially for seniors planning to age in place and remain in their home for several years. Since our client's home is so narrow, this  solution would take up a significant corner of a room on each floor and may not be an acceptable design solution. 

These are only a few of the issues and safety solutions we noted inside the home. In addition to the safety problems inside her home, we noticed that the neighborhood had changed. Once a vibrant and convenient neighborhood to both Center City and the Suburbs, it has become more transient, and she no longer has the long standing relationships in her neighborhood that could offer support and oversight in the case of a home emergency. 

Our client story is a common one; she has lived in her home for almost 50 years, raised her family there, and has been living alone for a number of years, since her husband's  passing. She remains independent and active in the community by volunteering and attending classes at a senior community center, and has family and friends in the local area. She can’t imagine living anywhere else at this point in time, but may not be able to afford either making the needed home improvements or moving to a new living situation, even if her home no longer supports her, a reality many seniors face. 

We work with our clients to help evaluate the cost and benefits of making these much needed home modifications, and also provide a much needed connection to other resources to help evaluate other living situations that may better support your age and lifestyle.  



Building Around Memories

I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying, “A house is made of walls and beams, but a home is made of love and dreams.” This saying couldn’t be more true. It takes hands to build the house you live in, but the hearts inside are the only ones to truly make it a home. Some of you may still be living in the same house you raised your kids in, while others have moved on to new homes, a new living situation, new cities,  or their children may now occupy the homes they grew up in. Regardless of where you are, everyone has something in common; memories are built into the foundation of any home. 

Now think about being in your 80’s, living in the same house you raised your family in, and having made the decision, along with your family, to make significant renovations to your home to age in place independently and safely.  Many seniors have lived for years in their home, never having made any significant renovations,  much like one of our favorite clients. Her desire to remain at home and create a first floor master bedroom and bath will uproot and change the very essence of the home she shared with her family for over 50 years. She’s nervous that new construction and the change of furniture, walls and home renovations will create a space that feels unfamiliar, and along with it, will go the connection with the deep rooted memories embedded in the home.

With the first phase of the construction contract signed, renovations will start shortly on the 2nd floor to freshen it up, and along with this, her anxiousness towards the process is evident. What will happen to the memories? Will she miss the familiar reminders of happy times, and how will the adjustment to her new surroundings serve her? How do these changes affect family members and their memories also embedded in the structure? It’s often as difficult, if not more difficult, for the children of the seniors that no longer live in the home to suffer the loss of home as they have known it when construction occurs. They have moved on, and out of the house, but their memories remain. How will a lifetime of memories be maintained and incorporated into the new framework?

Prior to the start of the renovations, we have spent a significant amount of time working with her to declutter, clean out and eliminate the items that are no longer needed. As part of that process, wonderful memories have presented themselves in all forms, like old photographs, letters, trinkets, and even unopened presents.  We uncovered an entire collection of Norman Rockwell commemorative plates that were never opened, and in their original packaging (which we will put on display and enjoy!) All of these unexpected moments have not only occupied our client’s  time up until construction, but given her the opportunity to find, review and reflect on these memories and find comfort in this time of change. There have been moments of her wanting to call the renovations off, but because of her trust in us, and our constant support she pushes through. 

It’s our job to help her, give her peace of mind, and reassure that the construction is not diminishing the memories; instead it’s adding to them while enabling her to live safely for years to come. Our design will incorporate not only favorite pieces of furniture, artwork and now, new found treasures, we also plan to create a full gallery wall to display photographs, letters, awards, and other memories in her new environment. She will continue to be surrounded by her memories,  and be reminded of her life full of laughter, joy, and love. 

A Slice of the 2018 Kitchen and Bath Show


With each new year comes new industry trade shows featuring the best products, trends, and technologies in the industry. The KBIS, Kitchen & Bath Show, took place last week in Orlando, alongside the IBS, International Building Show. KBIS certainly is one of the largest trade shows in the country hosting 600+ leading brands, as well as, 100 new companies with pristine products for the interior design industry. The exhibits mimic whole houses, each packed with fully built kitchen and baths that allow you to easily experience the full impact of new innovations, design, and technology on display at the show. 

Kitchen and baths are two of the most important rooms in the home. They are the rooms people often remodel, requiring the largest investment, which in general, provides the largest return on investment related to the value of any home. Homeowners often decide to update kitchens and baths when moving into a new home, looking to update their space as part of a larger remodeling project, or when deciding to age in place. These rooms now require modifications to better support a changing lifestyle, and along with it, mobility, accessibility, and safety issues.  

The products and exhibits highlighted the ever evolving design trends, colors, and styles. Whether the style is modern or classic, cabinetry is not only functional but evolving into beautiful home furnishing pieces. Appliances, however, are showing up in vibrant colors and in a variety of styles including historic, retro, and vintage, combined with cutting edge technology. We were in attendance at the show not only to preview some of the latest kitchen and bath trends and products, but also look for those products or manufacturers that specifically addressed the needs of our aging population or anyone with accessibility issues. Here’s just a slice of the show pie, so we hope it gets you hungry for more: 

The Intelligent Toilet

Every toilet manufacturer was highlighting these personal hygiene or bidet-toilets and making the statement: “once you have one, you will never go back.” Often highlighted as an “Aging in Place” toilet, as it promotes bathroom independence, it is now being promoted as “hands-free,” so you can toilet and text while remaining germ free. These toilets sense when you are entering the room, they have heated seats, provide a nightlight, wash and dry you in multiple locations, and offer other anti-bacterial and sterilization features. You can either purchase the toilet or just buy the toilet seat, just make sure you have an electric outlet nearby.  Here’s a link to the new top of the line Toto:

A Shower Experience

“It's not a shower. It's an experience.” Kohler’s DTV+ touchscreen interface technology allows you to create a multi-sensory spa experience at home by infusing the shower with water, sound, scented steam, and light. You can select from a variety of mood setting experiences including Relaxation, Well-Being, and Energy. The touch screen interface eliminates multiple knobs and levers, allowing you to pre-program your experiences, become more present in the moment, while increasing overall accessibility.

Designer Shower Doors

Have you always thought that shower doors are considered to be more function over style? Well think again, as these shower doors are the new bathroom centerpiece. Coastal Showers has collaborated with designers including Bobby Berk and Vanessa Deleon to create an inspiring series of doors, panels, and room dividers.

Smart Appliances:

One of our favorite exhibits included the Samsung 4 Door Flex Family Hub refrigerator (pictured above). You can shop for food, organize family schedules, listen to music, share calendars, photos, notes, and more between your refrigerator and your family’s smartphones. Create shopping lists, look inside your refrigerator from anywhere and set expiration notifications to keep all your food fresh. In addition to the technology, the 4 Door Flex allows you to easily interchange compartments from refrigerator to freezer, making it incredibly accessible. 

The Kitchen Workstation:

Sounds like an office environment, but the kitchen workstation offers a large counter space that incorporates a variety of functions and culinary tools, to help prep, cook, serve, entertain, and clean up, all in one convenient place. Marketed to be the new all-in-one “cooking triangle,” it may include a double faucet, an extra wide sink, different tiers of sliding boards including cutting boards, grates, drying racks, as well as, an upper deck to create additional work surfaces. Offered by many manufacturers, the one that really caught our attention was The Galley Dresser.

Steam Ovens:

Steam ovens offer tremendous cooking flexibility and nutritional benefits. These ovens easily cook many different types of foods including vegetables, fish, bread, custards, and so much more. When reheating foods, the steam re-hydrates foods, and as a result, offers superior warming to leftovers over microwaves. The steaming process also allows the food to retain all the vitamins and minerals with using less fats and oils, and is preferred over boiling as the food retains its color, texture, and flavor, as well as, reducing the possibility of burns from boiling water.

Automated Storage:

Regardless of your range of motion or accessibility issues, the automated pantry, wardrobe, and shoe systems (offered by Storage Motion) will improve your overall storage. It will allow you to access items regardless of storage height, through its automated rolling shelves and wardrobe lifts. The shoe system, called ShoeSelect, maximizes shoe storage by rotating the shoes on a vertical carousel, and can be operated by a wireless remote or wall switch. Any person with a large shoe collection should not be without this luxury!

All in all, KBIS was a big success for discovering new and improved products not only for our clients but also for our own homes. It certainly left us hungry for more, so we hope this post did the same for you! 

New Year, New Master Bathroom


With a fresh 2018 calendar hanging on your wall and all of its empty boxes yet to be filled with to-dos, the start of a new year is naturally an optimistic time. Resolutions can come in all forms: eat healthier, become more patient, establish an exercise routine, get more sleep, or make changes around your home. For our client, the new year means a new, safe, aging in place home. 

You’ve followed us so far on our journey to making an 82 year olds life at home easier. We’ve shared our remodeling plans and heartwarming personal stories, but this week is going to be more technical. We are going to discuss planning for safety in the bathroom, and how these tips can improve independence and reduce the risk of falls in the bathroom. 

 Most people want to stay in their homes as long as possible. The trouble is, their homes may not be aging as well as they are. So, take your bathroom for example. Due to its hard and slippery surfaces, thousands of people visit the emergency room each year with injuries suffered while bathing, showering, or using the facilities. Despite that, many homeowners resist even small changes that would make the room safer because they fear their beautiful bathroom will end up looking institutional. However, the time has come for that fear to no longer exist. The very things that make your bathroom safer and easier to navigate— walk-in showers; higher toilets; grab bars— are also some of the latest design trends for any home! 

Bathroom modifications to safely age-in-place can be seamlessly integrated into any design plans, and can be tailored to meet the specific needs of an individual, while following general guidelines offered by ADA standards. Here are some practical yet aesthetically pleasing ways we will be transforming her master bathroom into a safe place to keep her independent and loving her new room:

Barrier Free Shower

A curb-less shower provides an accessible approach for anyone, with no tripping hazards. A pitched floor with a linear drain allows the water to drain toward the back of the shower and looks great.  Additional shower safety items include a handheld shower (the hose should be at least 6 feet long), and a seat (whether it’s a built-in, fold up or the most flexible: free standing). Make sure you have good light in the shower, and hang a shelf or install a cubby that keeps toiletries within easy reach.

Double Duty Grab Bars

Properly installed grab bars provide the assistance needed to navigate through the bathroom, to pull yourself up, and to maintain balance. In case you slip, you should place these at the entrance and inside the shower or tub and around the toilet at a comfortable height. Bars are typically hung horizontally, but hanging them vertically or on a diagonal is easier to reach if you’re on the floor after a fall. Grab bars are now showing up undetectable in bathrooms, camouflaged as part of many common bathroom fixtures such as toilet paper holders, towel bars, soap dishes, and as shelves. All of these are available in a variety of styles and finishes to match any decor and color scheme.

Tile Style

Tile shape, color, and size add to the design and personal style of any bathroom. For floor tiles, be sure to check that the coefficient of friction for wetness exceeds .60 as a general indicator of slip safety, and also select a tile rich in texture. Shower floors also benefit from smaller scale tile as increased grout surface will provide more grip. It’s also helpful to include an “orienting” border of tile in the shower so that it’s easy to understand where you are in the space (instances where there is vision or other cognitive impairment). 

Keep It Handy

Open shelves can be attractive if they’re tidy. Putting glass-front doors on your cabinets lets you see what’s inside without opening them. Look for cabinets with easy-close doors, interior pull out drawers, and all drawers using D-shaped pulls instead of knobs.

Re-Think The Sink

Sinks can be wall-mounted, pedestal, or open with a space underneath the cabinet.  Many cabinetry lines now offer standard accessible options to compliment your style, so ask while you are planning your bathroom.  Automatic faucets or ones with lever handles are best for ease of operation.

Toilet Envy

Personal hygiene toilets are all the rage, offering a modern all-in-one toilet/bidet option. These toilet seats go up and down as you approach, are heated, include multi area wash and dry functionality, and even offer a night light. If you are remodeling make sure you have your electrician provide an outlet near the toilet so you can upgrade from your basic toilet at any time. They are offered in a variety of styles and colors, and you can purchase the complete toilet or just the toilet seat, which provides the same functionality at a much lower cost. All toilets should be “comfort” height or 18” height for ease of use.

We are excited to incorporate many of these features in our client’s new first floor Master Bathroom, which will allow her to continue living independently and remain at home.  There’s nothing more rewarding then knowing you’re making a New Years resolution a reality while creating a safe, comfortable, and beautiful environment!