That is the question on the minds of many older adults. According to the AARP, more and more older homeowners are choosing to remain in the home in which they raised their family, in spite of the fact that they may have the ability to reap a hefty profit if they were to sell. Remaining close to family and friends, satisfaction with one’s community, and a comfort level and familiarity with one’s living environment are some of the reasons Americans are opting to “stay put.” Deciding to remain in one’s home often leads homeowners to make significant renovations to the home in order to live comfortably, independently – and most importantly – safely.

              As a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), I have been called upon frequently in the past several years to modify homes for maturing adults. In some instances, younger family members have constructed additions to their homes in order to have older parents or an in-law join them while still living independently. Some homeowners have planned financially for these renovations, while others take home equity loans on their mortgage-free dwellings. In October of 2006, the governor of
Pennsylvania signed into law the Residential Visitability Design Tax Credit. This law gives municipalities and counties the ability to offer tax credits up to $2,500 to people who make their homes more accessible for themselves or loved ones. Other states have similar laws under consideration, though
Maryland is not one of them.

            Aging-in-place modifications are varied. Some may be a combination of minor changes like the installation of bath and shower grab bars, the adjustment of countertop heights, hardware changes or additional lighting. However, as the unique needs of an older adult or the onset of physical infirmities present additional challenges, the need for more significant changes becomes more critical. Design modifications may include:

  • widening hallways and doorways for wheelchair accessibility
  • minimizing grade slopes to front and rear entrances
  • installing curbless shower and specialty bath fixtures
  • installing a lift or mini-elevator to second stories
  • creating multi-functional first floor master suites
  • removing carpets and installing floor material for easier maneuverability and maintenance

            The adult communities that are being constructed throughout the
United States are incorporating the special needs of this population in both the individual and communal areas of their facilities. Still, for many, there is no place like home and the potential for living comfortably and safely is accessible for those who choose this option.

            The National Association of Homebuilders provides a checklist to help you modify your home:

·        Figure out how much money you have to spend on the home modification project.

·        Seek referrals from friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and others who have had similar work done.

·        Contact trade associations such your area’s local Home Builders Association or Remodelors Council.

·        Check with your local or state office of consumer protection and the local Better Business Bureau.

·        Verify the remodeler has the appropriate license(s) in your state.

·        Look for professional designations such as CAPS, Certified Graduate Remodelor (CGR) or Graduate Master Builder (GMB).

·        Ask your professional remodeler for a written estimate of the work to be done based on a set of plans and specifications. Be prepared to pay for this package.

·        Select a professional remodeler with plenty of experience with your type of project. Remember, the lowest price does not ensure a successful remodeling project.

           There are strategies, techniques, and products that designers use to create aesthetically enriching, safe, and barrier-free environments. And, there are designers who understand and apply these resources in designing for this growing population.

I just read the article “What custom really means” by S. Claire Conroy in the April edition of Residential Architect by Hanley Wood.   I couldn’t agree more!  As a residential architect, I feel a duty to try to educate the masses about what we do.  We do not just work on multi-million dollar projects and we certainly do not just draw up some blueprints.  Design is a process.  And the truth is, every one of you can have a custom home designed for you.  Your design will be exactly what you need and want your house to be.  It doesn’t have to be a kit of parts that is good, better, or best.  It can be just as Ms. Conroy says, “Only the best of everything, by design.”

In an age where customer service seems to be secondary, BGE Home has really impressed me. 

Last fall, my husband Scott and I, finally decided to work on our laundry/mudroom to make it more usable.  We had an enormous 80 gallon electric hot water heater in the corner that took up 25% of our room.  In an effort to be more “green” and save space, we decided to go with a gas tank less unit.  Larry Kinsey of BGE Home came out to talk about specifications and clearances.  The two units that Rheem had available at the time was an indoor unit that had to have internal combustion air and an outdoor unit.  I was not about to put louvers in the 100 year old doors that I had so painstakingly relocated in our remodel two years prior, so we decided to go with the outdoor unit.  After some research, Larry actually advised us against that model.  He was worried about placing it in the
Maryland climate and a little concerned about BGE Home’s inexperience with outdoor units, as we were to be their first install of this model.  But he also said that Rheem stood behind their product and they said it would work here in Maryland.  I usually defer to the experts, but in this case I didn’t like the other option, so we went with the outdoor unit model RTG-74XN-1.
 

Installation went smoothly and soon we had an outdoor water heater.  Our neighbors were inquisitive and the fact that we had a hot water heater hanging on the side of our house was met with mixed reactions:  apprehension by those who fear change and excitement by those who love new technology. 

Our first issue with the unit came the following weekend, when there seemed to be no hot water.  I called the Rheem support number and went through diagnostics with them.  We had the control panel placed in a storage area under our stair, because the installer suggested that it was a “set it and forget it”.  It can be set from 100 – 120 degrees.  I personally like really hot showers, so I just set it to 120.  According to Rheem, having our kitchen sink on full-blast hot water isn’t enough draw to kick the unit on when it’s set at that temperature.  He said that we should have had the controller installed in our bathroom, next to the shower, so we could each regulate the temperature from the controller rather than the faucet.  This sounded a little bizarre to both Scott and I, but when I set the unit to 108 degrees, it worked fine, so we let the issue drop. 

Any of you that live in the North East know that this winter was a very mild one… Right up until February!  Our home town of Oswego, NY got 120” of snow in just a few days!!  In Maryland, we had an unusual cold snap that the temperatures didn’t get above freezing for several days straight.   Our pipes, being on the outside of the house, froze.  I called BGE Home and they came out within a couple hours and thawed the pipe and installed heat tape.  This was a temporary solution until we could decide what we wanted to do about it.  Patrick Reeve of BGE Home called me to discuss our options:  add a circuit and just keep the heat tape or buy a new unit and move it indoors.  As the extreme temperature was a fluke, we opted to just keep the heat tape. 

Fast forward to this past Saturday.  Mid-shower the water went cold.  Scott went out to check the unit.  An in-line fuse had blown, so off to Home Depot he went.  As soon as he replaced it, it blew again, so I called BGE Home.  On a Saturday, they sent someone out in only a couple hours.  The technician did his analysis and decided that we needed a new circuit.  It couldn’t be ordered until Monday morning, but they would probably receive it late Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.  Understandable, so we plan on showering elsewhere until Monday.  Here is where BGE Home falls a little short, but in the end they make it right.  On Monday afternoon, I call to find out the status of our part.  Sorry, the parts department closes at 3:30.  I call back at 7:00 AM on Tuesday.  Sorry, the parts department doesn’t open until 8:30.  I call back at 8:30 and am told it looks like someone came out yesterday at 4 PM, so I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’ll call you back.  Indeed I did receive a call within a half hour, but was told that an assessment needs to be done of the unit and the scheduling department would call me shortly.  By 1:00, I hadn’t gotten a call and called them.  I am told that an assessment needs to be done on the unit and they could probably fit me in tomorrow.  Poor Wayne.  I am stunned and outraged all at the same time!  I tell
Wayne this is ridiculous as someone has already done an assessment on Saturday – THREE DAYS AGO!  The situation is unacceptable and someone will come out today to find out what’s wrong and get us hot water.  He politely tells me that he will see what he can do and call me back.
 
This is when I start calling anyone in BGE Home who will listen.  My first call is to Larry Kinsey, my sales representative.  I leave him a long message about the sequence of events.  Wayne calls me back and says someone will be out there today to look at it.  Then Patrick Reeve calls me to let me know what’s going on.  Here’s where I start being impressed by the thinking outside the box.  BGE Home has an indoor unit in stock, they are going to get the parts they need from it and fix my unit.  It takes the technician roughly 5 ½ hours to get us up and running due to a faulty main board in the new unit.  A bad flow regulator was the diagnosis.  I thought that explained our issue from the beginning.  At 8:00 PM on Tuesday, we have hot water.  Shower, here I come!  Scott has a golf tournament that day, so doesn’t get home until later.  He uses the hot water in the kitchen, then goes to take a shower.  The shower is cold.  Needless to say, he is not happy. 

At 7:00 AM Scott is on the phone with BGE Home telling them that the unit WILL be fixed today or they will come out and uninstall it and give us our money back.  As soon as I get to my office, I call Patrick Reeve and give him the lowdown.  We discussed the options.  Rheem has a new internal unit on the market that gets its combustion air from outside instead of the room.  I talk to Scott and we decide this is what we want.  Pat said that he had a couple meetings that morning, but we would have hot water by the end of the day. 

At around 2:00, Scott gets a call from Pat who tells him the plan.  I love this part!  BGE Home cannot install the new unit until tomorrow, but what they are going to do is tap into our HVAC electrical line and install a standard electric tanked hot water heater in our driveway so we can have hot water until tomorrow.  Talk about WAY outside the box.  They are at my house right now installing the new gas tank less unit in my laundry room.  I will lose some of the cabinet space that I had, but hopefully we won’t have any more trouble with it. 

I am very impressed.  Thank you BGE Home.

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