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Making home modifications can feel like a daunting process. Sometimes you need to make them quickly and without a lot of time to plan, other times the process seems to go on forever with many hiccups along the way. There’s nothing like talking to an insider, someone who has seen nearly every mistake made, and helped countless people find solutions that fit them better. This is where PATF Funding Assistance Coordinator and Self-Determination Housing Project (SDHP) Regional Housing Coordinator, Kevin Huwe, comes in. Kevin has helped hundreds of Pennsylvanians with their home modification needs over the last few decades. Here, Kevin lets us in on his top 25 things to consider when preparing to make home modifications.

Contractors and the Construction Process

  • On choosing a contractor: Consider multiple bids for the work that needs to be done. Every contractor has different pricing methods and ideas for removing barriers, and being an informed consumer means you can choose the best option for accessibility and for your budget. Always check references on the contractor you choose. Ask to see pictures of other jobs so you can see the workmanship.
  • The construction process will involve noise, dust, vibration and construction workers coming in and out of the home. If you or your pets cannot tolerate this, you should plan to be away from the residence while they are working. If the only bathroom is being made accessible, you may have to make other arrangements for using the toilet and shower while the work occurs.
  • Many things can delay the start and completion of a modification. Winter will delay all outside installation work until spring. Concrete work cannot be poured when it rains or during the winter months. And, items on backorder may mean suspending the job until they come in.

Funding for Your Home Modification

  • If multiple accessible features are needed, does the cost of accessibility amount to more than the cost of the residence? It may be worth considering moving to a more accessible place that would cost less overall to meet your needs.
  • There may be other home improvements that need to be completed before the modification can occur. For instance, a leaking roof may need to be fixed before an accessible bathroom can be installed, or your electrical service may need to be upgraded to add a stair lift or porch lift. Some home modification funding resources won’t cover home improvements. Contact us and we can help you find the funding you need to get the project completed.
  • If you are planning to use funding other than your own pocketbook, be aware that sometimes it can take a while for funding to go through. This may mean delaying the start date on your project.

Which Modifications to Make?

  • When choosing an accessibility option, think about how your disability will affect you in three, five and ten years. If you have a progressive disability, will the modification still work for you in years to come? Or is it a quick fix that will need to be redone in the future? Sometimes a quick fix is necessary, but if you have the time, it is worth doing your research to avoid spending undue money and time on a modification that isn’t ideal.
  • There are always multiple ways to complete a task. Research your options before choosing a costly accessible modification. For example, removing a tub for a roll-in shower could cost as much as $10,000. If a bath lift like this one works for you, you could spend as little as $2,000 and achieve the same result.
  • Keep in mind that, unfortunately, some modifications may not be possible. The home/building may not be able to structurally withstand the modification, or local building codes won’t permit the change. A good contractor can help you determine if the modification is possible for your situation.

Lifts, Elevators and Ramps, Oh My!

  • Planning to build a ramp? Perhaps you should consider a porch lift or elevator instead. To build a ramp, you need one foot of ramp for every inch in height so that it isn’t so steep as to make it unsafe. For example, if you have three steps that are each six inches high, you will need 18 feet of ramp. Sometimes there is not enough space for a ramp and a porch lift/elevator is another solution.
  • When choosing a ramp, be sure to consider the maintenance of the material you’re looking at. A wooden ramp will need to be coated with a protectant every three to five years. Aluminum ramps need much less maintenance.
  • If you choose a porch lift, remember that your electric bill will increase, and maintenance from a professional will be necessary as often as yearly, or more. You may want to consider adding an awning or overhang to help protect the lift from the weather.
  • When building a ramp, consider adding additional lighting for night time use.
  • A stair lift can allow you to ascend a flight of steps comfortably but can become costly when there is a landing or turns in the staircase. It may be worth considering whether it is more cost-effective to move the bedroom or other necessities to the first floor.

Bathroom Modifications

  • Many bathrooms are small, and space may need to be added from a closet or bedroom to make it truly accessible.
  • There are a few things to consider regarding the bathroom sink: First, a wall-mounted model can free up floor space in the bathroom. However, if you remove a vanity sink to replace it with a wall-mounted model, you may need to add additional shelving for the items that were stored in the cabinet. Also, be sure any exposed pipes under the sink are insulated to avoid burning yourself if your leg touches it. Finally, consider lever handles or a motion-sensor for the faucet which may be easier to use than a knob.
  • Bathtubs do not necessarily need to be removed. As mentioned above, there are many lifting devices and specialized bathing products that may solve your accessibility needs and are less expensive than removing the tub and installing a roll-in shower. Do your research to determine what the best solution is for you.
  • When installing grab bars in the bathroom, be sure you’re installing them at the height you need them. You do not have to follow ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) rules and regulations in your own home. Do what works best for your needs. ADA guidelines are for public accommodations.
  • A hand-held shower wand on an adjustable rod allows for individuals of different sizes to use the shower. It can also allow a caregiver to help wash a person more easily.
  • When choosing bathroom flooring, test the material to be absolutely sure it will not be slippery when wet.
  • There are commercials that say a tub with a door in it will solve all your accessibility problems. Buyer beware! Read why walk-in bathtubs may not be the “dream come true” you imagine them to be.

Other Considerations

  • Kitchen modifications can be costly, and most barriers can be solved by placing items the person regularly needs within their reach. Consider placing Tupperware and cereal boxes up high and heavier items down below. If something falls, it is less likely to break or hurt someone.
  • The front door does not always need to be made accessible. It may be easier or less costly to add a door to the side or back of the home. Consider multiple options.
  • When you need to widen an interior doorway and space is tight, consider a pocket door, which will keep the door out of your way.
  • Smart home technology: Home automations can help you open your doors and windows and operate appliances like lights, fans, TV and thermostat all with your voice, or from your smart phone/tablet. These items are becoming less expensive and more user-friendly. Smart home technology can afford you more control and independence at home.

The most important thing when choosing any kind of assistive technology, is to consider whether it works for you. This list simply provides suggestions based on others’ experiences, but each person and each situation are unique. Sometimes what works for one person doesn’t work for another and vice versa. You know yourself, your home, and your needs and priorities best. Once you know what modification will fit your life, it’s just a matter of finding someone to do it and finding a way to fund it.

Need help with figuring out your funding options for home modifications? We’re the funding experts, having helped hundreds of Pennsylvanians get the funding they need for the home mods they want, whether through our loan program or through a referral to another funding resource. Contact us today!