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.  

 

 

Making a Difference

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This past Saturday was national Make a Difference Day, where millions of Americans participate in many acts of kindness. Whether it was community cleanups, neighborhood painting or even acts as small as buying someones coffee or giving a stranger a compliment; what matters the most is that people participate in making a difference in someone else’s life. Sometimes, you don’t have to leave the comfort of your own home to make a difference in someone else’s life. 

In the work that we do, we try to make a difference everyday, and making a difference can come in all forms. Whether we are suggesting a bathroom or kitchen remodel to support the changing needs of our clients, a home safety inspection along with some easy to implement home modifications, or helping a client celebrate their birthday with a cupcake and candles, we know how interior design with a focus on accessibility and safety can make a difference by providing safety and peace of mind.  One of our clients shared a personal story that encompassed compassion, support, and an eager willingness to help someone she loves. 

The conversation with our client began by her explaining her interior design goals for the project. She had recently moved and downsized, but with a busy career she had not been able to prioritize herself, and create the home environment she desired and that made her feel happy to come home to at the end of the day. The conversation then took a turn and she explained that her 88 year old mother was living with her. She shared the struggle her mother had when facing the reality that she wasn't able to live on her own any longer. Her mom was persistent that she didn't need assistance, and she didn't want to live her days in the nursing home. With few siblings in the picture, our client was the only one to step up to the plate and volunteer to have her mom move in with her family. This selfless act can be a difficult one. 

Our discussion quickly shifted to talking about not only what our client’s needs were, but to discuss how our design suggestions would be modified to best accommodate the needs of her mother as well. In addition to caring for her mother, she also mentioned that she is the “one” in her family to entertain and hold the family gatherings, and that many of her family members were elderly.  Allowing for her mother to “age in place” at her home will mean adjusting her own home lifestyle and environment to best support not only her mother, but the family, as well as all visitors. We finished the conversation talking about her goals for her personal space, but ensuring that the proper living conditions were in order for her mother. Such as completing a home safety evaluation, creating a first-floor bedroom, securing all rugs, and installing proper lighting throughout the house. This eye-opening experience has educated her on the importance of maintaining a safe home, not only for her mother but for the rest of her own family too. Her simple act of kindness by creating a safe home for her mother and her family will really make a difference. 

This story is just one of many acts of kindness that happen daily.  It doesn’t need to be a national day to help someone in need. So although this day has passed, take some time to make a change in your neighborhood or in your family; big or small! We like to think we make a difference everyday, by helping others live safely and comfortably in their homes!

Stairways to Safety

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We’re all familiar with the phrase, “watch your step.” It doesn’t just pertain to walking on a sidewalk or path, it holds true to elevated surfaces, especially stairs. Stairs can quickly become you're worst enemy if you don’t step on them properly.

At the beginning of summer my friend decided that it was time for a furniture face lift; so I helped her move pieces out of her home. While carefully carrying her couch down her staircase she slipped and fell down several steps. Her fall resulted in a severely sprained ankle, which was debilitating; and to make matters worse it was the beginning of prime time beach season. 

Looking back, I've thought about all the ways in which her fall could have been prevented. She should have been wearing proper shoes (sneakers not flip flops). We should have cleared the stairway before moving anything, especially at the top and base of the stairs (clutter definitely hindered our path). Her beautiful, yet slippery, hard wood floors could have been treated with some sort of clear anti-slip treads. Unfortunately, the fall occurred which at the time was out of our control. However, what we can control are the means in which we prevent it from happening again. 

Here are a number of ways to combat the causes for falls and make stairs safer to use: 

1. Take Your Time: There’s no need to rush down the stairs. A phone call or visitor at the door can wait. Be alert and deliberate. Hold on to the handrails and be extra cautious when there are any transition between surfaces.

2. Tread Lightly: If your stairs are made of a smooth material (wood, painted, tile, etc) install rubber, abrasive treads or anti-slip tape for proper footing and grip. You can find clear anti-slip treads that won’t take away from the beauty of your floors. If your stairs are carpeted, be sure the carpeting is securely installed and not sagging or loose in any areas. 

3. Clear the Clutter: Keep the top and bottom of stairways clear of loose rugs; they are a tripping hazard. Remove any objects like books, shoes, clothes, kids toys, etc., and make sure that any furniture on landings doesn’t block the pathway.

4. Let there be Light: Stairs should never have lower illumination levels than adjacent areas; that’s just a recipe for disaster. Use low-glare overhead lighting, and in senior homes install a stair lighting kit to ensure each step is distinctly visible. Verify there are light switches at both the bottom and the top of the stairs; if there aren’t, have them installed.

5. Use the Railings: Handrails are strongly recommended. In fact, it’s suggested they be installed on both sides of the stairwell when possible. Position handrails at adult elbow height and attach them securely to walls and posts.  Be sure to extend them the full length of the stairs, including beyond the top and bottom.

6. Safe Soles: Proper footwear influences balance and can alleviate the risk of slips, trips, and falls. Walking indoors in socks, high-heeled shoes or even barefoot has been shown to increase the risk of falls, especially for older individuals. Be conscious of what is on your feet while moving up and down your stairs.  

At some point in our lives, stairs will become an issue for all of us. That doesn’t mean we have to stop using them entirely, or even be scared of climbing them. It just means that taking some extra precautions to make our stairways safe is important and necessary to remain injury free!

Every Path Leads to Home Safety

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Daily routines consume our lives. Whether you’re a stay at home mom, working dad, high school student, or retired grandparent, everyone has their own schedule. 

We were recently contacted by a client to review and update the interior space for his mother, who had been living in her home for 52 years. Her husband had passed away in the last year, and she was looking forward to remaining in her home and "aging in place". Our job was to create a safe, comfortable and beautiful home to help her remain happy and independent for as long as possible. The son was busy decluttering, going through photos, and clothing in preparation for our work together. As we toured through the home, they both shared some important stories regarding their home and their lives. 

Although we were hired to help with the interior space, we were asked to review some plans that were already in process regarding improvements to the exterior yard. As the story was told, the mother had recently fallen on the front step while running across the front lawn to reach the covered porch to the front door. The son explained that he had just cleared the yard, was installing new sod, and repaving the driveway and pavement and creating an additional pavement from the driveway to the front door to alleviate the issue which had recently occurred. Upon examination of the plan, and review of the space, we discovered that the primary problem with the path to the door was actually the one step up to the front door. To our surprise, one pathway took us in another direction that changed how we were helping our clients.  We brainstormed a few different options and decided to schedule another meeting with the landscaper and the pavement contractor to determine the best cost effective solution. 

At our next client meeting, we agreed that the best solution would be to retain the step, install a railing around the entire raised porch, and install two small handrails next to the step to assist in walking up the step. Although the preferred solution would have been to put in a gently sloping ramp at the front entry, we decided to install a small ramp in the garage in order to create an accessible entryway into the home, so safety mission accomplished. 

At the end of the meeting, we said our goodbyes, got in our car (which was parked on the street in front of her home), and to our dismay we witnessed an entirely separate issue that wasn’t even on our radar. Our client was slowly walking down her front lawn to her mailbox. No walkway, no railings, no safety what-so-ever! She was so sweet, smiling and waving not even realizing our dropped jaws from what we just witnessed. Her daily routine incorporated walking down that unpaved railing-less path to her mailbox and back to her house. Questions began streaming through our heads: 

  • Does she walk to her mailbox everyday or does her son normally get the mail? If so, what is she using for support? Is it lit at night?
  • What does she do if it's raining, or in ice and snow? Does she walk this same unsafe path with an umbrella in her hand? 
  • And the biggest question of all, why hasn’t her mailbox been moved to some place that’s easily accessible (like next to her driveway or mounted to the wall directly outside of her front door)? We actually discovered this unlikely location was "grandfathered in". They went out of their way to keep it in the same place it had always been!

It seems like such an obvious problem right? Yet we didn’t even catch it until witnessing it ourselves right before we left. This brings us back to the notion that we discussed in last weeks' post about staying aware, proactive, and up-to-date on home safety recommendations, and the need for a full safety review to highlight these issues. Sometimes we can catch these things if we, stay long enough in your home, but sometimes a complete Home Safety Review is required to uncover areas we may not quickly observe.  

Since we pride ourselves on providing our clients and others, with cost effective and easy to implement ways to improve home safety and home independence; when we saw our client take this trek to her mailbox we knew our work here was just starting. We suggested moving her mailbox from the street to the front porch. Since collecting her mail is an essential part of her daily routine, it’s important that we ensure the process is convenient, easily accessible, and can be executed safely everyday. Moving her mailbox to the porch will lower the chances of her falling, eliminate any restrictions of gathering her mail in a variety of weather conditions, and ultimately allows her to continue with her daily routine in a safe manner.  

Where is your mailbox located? Whether it’s at your home, your parents home, or the homes of your neighbors in your town, I'm sure everyone could take the time to check it out. All pathways must be clear, accessible and safe (especially those to exterior locations like your mailbox). So, we hope this information encourages to take a closer look at your current routines and make any adjustments to improve your home safety.