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Modern Health Talk | Wayne Caswell

Wayne founded an online community about low and high-tech solutions for home health care and aging in place to avoid institutional care. Lots of cool technologies help, and more are coming, but how does one find them or decide which is best? That’s the role of Modern Health Talk.


future house

The Future of the Home Industry

The biggest trends affecting the future of the home industry are in demographics, not new technologies or green & sustainable building materials and products, although they are important too. MOBILITY – Sadly, working for one employer for 30 years seems to be a thing of the past for most people, meaning there will be much more demand for rental units. Moore’s Law and the accelerating pace of tech innovation is largely to blame, since automation and artificial intelligence are obsoleting skills & jobs faster than creating new opportunities. That increases the need for lifelong learning to retool skill sets, as well as the flexibility to relocate more often for the next job opportunity. AGING POPULATION – With 10,000 baby boomers reaching age 65 every day and living longer, homes designed with Universal Design principles that work well for anyone regardless of age or ability will be in high demand. Digital sensors and telehealth technologies are making it possible to age-in-place and avoid the high costs of institutional care, but the homes need to accommodate the needs of older residents (or visitors). For the future of Universal Design, see http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2014/02/the-future-of-universal-design/. If builders don't jump on this trend themselves, it may be forced upon them. Austin, TX, for example, recently changed its building codes to require that all new homes be accessible to accommodate the aging population. See http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2014/01/austin-requires-new-homes-to-be-accessible/. COMMUNITIES – It’s not just home designs, but neighborhood and community designs as well, that need to accommodate the changing population, and that includes public transportation. Former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, working with the University of Texas, published a book for urban planners on that topic (http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2012/08/make-life-long-homes-a-priority/). TECHNOLOGY – More products in homes will get connected and smarter, but I don’t think homes themselves will get smart any time soon. That’s because there are too many vertical application silos with different network requirements (consumer electronics, lighting, HVAC, window treatments, sprinklers, etc.). We won’t need structured wiring any more, since connections between devices will be wireless with a combination of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee, each having their own strengths for different applications, so I don’t see one winner but many. Wearables will play a role in the smart home. Smart watches already have sensors to track steps taken, stairs climbed, and miles ridden, as well as being able to monitor heart rate and skin temperature and moisture. They hopefully will then tell that NEST smart thermostat that I’m hot because I just finished exercising or that I’m cold because I just ate ice cream. After all, NEST is not that smart after all, at least not on its own.
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Aging in Place for Homeowners

As Peter Pan said, "I won’t grow up. I don’t want to go to school. Just to learn to be a parrot, And recite a silly rule." ... The problem is, Peter did grow up and is growing old, but he still lives in a Peter Pan home with stairs, inaccessible bathrooms, inadequate lighting, and lacking many of the safety features that would help Peter avoid falls or move about with a walker or in a wheelchair. Even today, with all we know, builders still build Peter Pan homes.
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Aging in Place for Homeowners

Modern Health Talk features dozens of articles on getting your home ready for the disabled or elderly. (See http://www.mhealthtalk.com/tag/getting-ready/.) Some of the best ideas are included here. WHAT CHANGES SHOULD BE MADE FIRST? Focus on Safety before convenience, Easy before difficult, Temporary before permanent, and Affordable before extravagant. Making homes safe and friendly for seniors can include major considerations like eliminating stairs, expanding doorways, building a first-floor bedroom/bathroom suite, and making sinks, counters and appliances wheelchair-accessible. But there are also smaller projects that can go a long way toward improving mobility and the ability to safely live independently. Just remember that as we get older, or suffer an injury or other disability, our sore joints, weakened muscles, and a lack of balance, dexterity and vision make simple tasks difficult, including reaching, bending, lifting, and moving about. This can contribute to accidents and affect our personal hygiene, nutrition, and well-being. So remember what Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” With planning and preparation, you can help prevent falls and injuries rather than react to them. FIRST, AVOID FALLS – This may be the single most important objective, because here are the statistics: • Each year in the United States, one of every three persons over the age of 65 will experience a fall. Half of them are repeat fallers. • Falls account for 87% of all fractures among people over the age of 65 and are the second leading cause of spinal cord and brain injury. • For people aged 65-84 years, falls are the second leading cause of injury-related death; for those aged 85 years or older, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death. • Half of all elderly adults (over the age of 65) hospitalized for hip fractures cannot return home or live independently after the fracture. (See http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2013/04/slip-proofing-your-home/) GET A GRIP – Replace rocking chairs and unstable furniture, because seniors may try to use them to steady themselves. (See http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2012/08/singing-in-the-shower-more-than-accessibility/) DE-CLUTTER & REORGANIZE – Clean house and discard everything that’s not needed, remembering to reuse (donate) and recycle where possible. LIGHTEN UP – Replace heavy pots, pans, vacuums, and trash cans with lightweight models. WHAT PROBLEMS MIGHT HOMEOWNERS FORGET TO CONSIDER? SEE THE LIGHT – Bright lighting is important to people with poor eyesight, so replace existing light bulbs with the new compact fluorescent or LED variety. STAY WARM – Seniors can get cold when not moving around, so cut the chills with attic insulation and weather stripping to eliminate drafts, and add ceiling fans for use during summer months. PHONE HOME – Cordless phones can be put in any room, or every room, but look for models that are easy to use. Mobile phone access away from home is a safety issue in my book, but rather than look for the simple models with big buttons for seniors, consider smartphones and the benefit of apps designed for seniors. FRIENDLY FURNITURE – Consider adjustable beds and chairs that recline easily, but avoid cushiony furniture that’s hard to get in and out of. APPLIANCES – Front-loaded appliances are easy for someone in a wheelchair to use. Top-loaded models are not. But get the extensions that raise the washer/dryer to make them easier to load. PERS – Personal emergency response systems ($50 install, $15-35/month monitoring) provide a wearable pushbutton for summoning help. They are often available as accessories to existing monitored home security systems. DOORWAYS – Remove doors that serve no useful purpose, and make doorways wider (at least 36”) so people can get around with canes, walkers or wheelchairs. STAIR RAMPS – Make sure all stairs and outside steps have sturdy handrails, and for wheelchair entry, replace or cover steps with ramps. They can be made permanent or temporary. STAIR LIFTS – If your two-story home lacks a bedroom and full bath downstairs and you can’t remodel, then consider a stair lift ($3,000-$12,000). They can be purchased or rented, and you can often find good refurbished models. They can even traverse a spiral staircase. (See http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2011/06/managing-stairs-the-stair-lift/) DO YOUR CHORES – In addition to any professional medical help that’s needed, consider the relatively inexpensive cost of weekly maid service, lawn care, and Meals on Wheels. SAVE MONEY AND THE ENVIRONMENT – Purchase wisely, buy second hand, recycle, and donate. OTHER OPTIONS – Add up the total costs of adding a room downstairs, remodeling a bathroom, or reconfiguring cabinets and counters to add knee space and pull-out shelves. You may find that remodeling is more expensive than moving. HOW CAN PEOPLE BUILDING HOMES FROM SCRATCH PLAN FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF ADAPTING THEIR HOME LATER? UNIVERSAL DESIGN – The concept is to design homes and products for use by anyone regardless of age or ability. Doing that broadens the market appeal and increases your home’s value. Wide doorways and zero-step entryways, for example, are just as useful for a young couple with a baby stroller as a road warrior with wheeled luggage or a disabled person with a walker or wheelchair. It’s a lot easier to make the right design decisions up front, because the cost of doing a complete kitchen or bathroom remodel, replacing a tub with a walk-in shower, for example, can be quite expensive and cost over $30,000. CAPS – The National Association of Home Builders has a Certified Aging-in-Place program to teach contractors about building and remodeling for aging-in-place. This training gives them an appreciation of the problems faced by the elderly and disabled, as well as the various solutions available. But be sure to check out your contractor, since some states have laws that shield builders and contractors from lawsuits and accountability. INDEPENDENT FOR LIFE – There are many good references for designing homes and neighborhoods, and one is this book coauthored by Henry Cisneros, the former HUD Secretary under Clinton. (See http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2012/08/make-life-long-homes-a-priority/.) LOW MAINTENANCE – An important part of aging in place is making caring for a home more manageable. Cut down on grass that needs mowing by making your yard more natural, with low-maintenance native plants and trees that also provide shade and can cut cooling costs. Driveways and walkways made of gravel, pavers or other permeable systems not only allow rain water to reach the ground, but they can offer seniors a safer, less-slippery walking surface if well maintained. When building from scratch or remodeling, ask your contractor to use materials that are low-maintenance and support our environment for future generations. Examples are wood species that rapidly renew such as bamboo, finishes that are low in volatile organic compounds, and recycled-content materials in carpeting, siding, concrete, decks and fences. BLOCKING – Even if you decide not to install grab bars, it’s a good idea to include wood blocking behind the sheetrock in showers and by toilets, similar to what builders already do for the future installation of ceiling fans. CHANNELING – When your lot or zoning dictates a two-story design, consider having the architect include a channel between floors that can be used initially as closet space but converted later to a shaft for a home elevator if needed. (See http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2012/07/home-elevators-a-rising-trend/.) ARE THERE ANY CHANGES THAT AREN’T WORTH THE COST? Even a $50,000 remodel for wheelchair accessibility can be financially better than the nursing home alternative, which can cost over $100,000 per year for a private room and shorten one’s lifespan. Because of the much lower cost of home healthcare, if that’s an alternative, and the fact that most remodeling projects can be entirely funded with home equity, remodeling can help save the family estate. On the other hand, you might want to question the value of permanent and expensive improvements that don’t add value to the home, especially improvements that scream, “I’m old and frail.” But if you get good advice and plan carefully, you should be able to avoid that problem.
Home Hazards

What updates can make a home healthier?

Modern homes are more airtight, driven largely by a push for increased energy efficiency, but that can trap pollutants inside and make it more likely to breathe toxic air inside the home than outside. The concentration of toxic compounds emitted by common household products and furnishings can cause dizziness, headache, nausea, fatigue, allergies, and other symptoms. It can also affect your ability to get restful sleep, which is so important for cell health and the body’s ability to recover. As much as 15% of the population is sensitive to these chemicals, especially those with asthma and other respiratory diseases. Green builders and remodelers often choose less-toxic versions of building materials and products to gain green-building credits, but the rating is scaleable. The higher the rating, the more likely the home is built with nontoxic materials and a healthy focus. So ask to see the scoring sheet that shows how they earned their rating, and look for ads with keywords such as green, healthy and natural. If to you remaining healthy at home means staying safe and avoiding falls and other health risks, a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) can help. They know how to assess each situation and suggest improvements that vary in cost. Some of the simplest improvements are free or cheap, such as removing throw rugs that pose tripping hazards, or moving furniture to make it easier to get around. Many home modifications done to accommodate a wheelchair after an injury or stoke can be temporary, knowing that the patient will eventually (hopefully) recover and be able to move about on their own with a walker or a cane. But permanent updates to kitchens, baths and doorways can be more extensive, and much more expensive. Still they can help avoid the higher costs of nursing home care and avoid future health risks.
home security

Top Home Security System Advice

Do home security systems really protect your home? First, I don’t think you can make anything 100% secure and view security systems as I do door and window locks. They keep honest people honest and are only effective if used. And like door locks, some models are more effective than others, but more expensive. Security systems are ineffective against a motivated and skilled criminal with harmful intent. If I were a burglar and wanted to break in to a home with a security system, I won’t even bother with doors or windows, because it’s easy enough to just go through the roof or walls, including brick walls, and I’d be less likely to trip an alarm. I’d pick homes without pets, however, because they probably don’t use motion sensors or pressure pads. Which features are most important to look for when installing a home security system? The cost and effort to protect your property should directly relate to the chances of being compromised and the damage if it is. A modest home in a dense subdivision with nosy neighbors and loud dogs, for example, requires less investment than the same home in a high crime district or an expensive multimillion dollar home. Likewise, I only recommend monitoring services if you live too far from neighbors or if false alarms have made them complacent. More advanced features, like home automation and remotely accessible surveillance cameras tend to provide more benefits to large, multistory homes than in much smaller homes where you can easily see if lights are on and doors locked while standing in the middle. The large home I lived in 10 years ago was very well automated, with security tied in with lighting, HVAC, etc., but the smaller home we downsized to only have a few convenience-based controls. (see www.mhealthtalk.com/2012/04/smart-homes/) Are internal alarms or external alarms a better option? Except for large properties, I don’t much like external systems that can be set off by animals or weather or disabled by burglars. A better question is interior alarms based on motion sensors and touch pads or perimeter systems protecting doors and windows. I prefer perimeter systems, because the objective is to sound an alarm BEFORE they actually enter the home, rather than surprise them once they’re inside. Should all security systems be connected to a law enforcement agency? Alarms and alerts can escalate as needed. First sound an alarm to scare burglars away, and if connected to a home automation system, turn on all interior lights and flash the exterior lights so law enforcement can easily identify the house. Most law enforcement agencies require that you register with them – often for free unless you’ve had too many false alarms. If you’re diligent about avoiding false alarms, they’ll be more diligent about responding. But have your system call other numbers first, including your cell phone, so you can address a problem before they’re dispatched. What about home monitoring services? Are they similar? What advantages or disadvantages do they represent? I generally don’t trust monitoring services and especially not the same company installs the equipment, because I don’t want them to know what technology is installed. Even though monitoring services are bonded, and their employees ideally have background checks, it seems like a great place to intern as a future professional burglar. What about professional burglars? The skill and motives of amateurs is quite than that of professionals, so deterrents must address both. I learned about the different vulnerabilities, motives and skills some 35 years ago, before I had a security system. Since my house was burglarized twice, exactly month apart, I also learned that the chances of a recurrence go up dramatically once buglers now know how to get in and type of things you have. They also expect insurance to pay for new stuff and are more likely to return later. I was a student by day and an IBM computer operator at night, and I came home one night to find glass on the front porch under the front door and the door unlocked. I called the police, and they dusted for prints but got nothing usable since cold winter weather makes hands and fingers dry. It seemed like I must have surprised a small group of teenagers who escaped out the back, because of what was taken, and what was not. Among the items missing were several bottles of liquor, a suit, pair of old sneakers, and some cool silver & gold jewelry that I made in the army. They left behind a full carat diamond ring, possibly to avoid questions from their parents that they couldn’t answer if they got caught. Since they left in a hurry and I feared they might return, I asked the police how to better secure my home. I installed double-plunger deadbolt locks on the front & back doors that need a key to exit too. And I drove large screws into the windowsills so the windows would only open 6” for ventilation. A month later to the day I again found glass at the front door, but the door was still locked, so I unlocked it and went in to find that burglars had hit again. The back door was still locked too. The kitchen window was open, but just 6” – not enough to get in. Another window was open wider. They used a small crowbar to pry open the window, breaking the window lock, and then they banged the window up hard again & again until the screws bent upward enough so they could crawl in. I would have loved to watch as I imagined how the crime scene unfolded: Rip the stereo & speakers from the cabinet while leaving the wiring intact. Rush to the front door but then realize they can’t escape there. Run to the back and find the same secure lock. Use the crowbar to unsuccessfully pry open both doors, leaving the door frames severely damaged. (Repairs required replacing half of the old wood & lath wall.) Dig through all of my drawers until finding a Phillips-head screwdriver to remove the window frame screws, and exit through the window with booty in hand – at least the part that would fit through. My expensive racing bike wouldn’t. That’s when I learned about motives and skills and how amateurs are easily scared off by the higher risk of homes with a security system. (Actually, I didn’t have to install an alarm. I just added stickers on doors & windows saying I did.) Alarms, however, don’t deter professionals with skills learned from internships at alarm companies. They know how to circumvent them. That’s why I don’t trust home security monitoring services and would surely not have the same company to do the installation. I don’t want them knowing what type of protections I have installed. Understanding motivations and skills will help you craft protections against dishonest people, and anything that decreases their profit and increases the risk of getting caught & prosecuted is often effective. So in addition to the alarm stickers, I also engraved my driver’s license number on high-value items and added “Operation Identification” stickers to say everything was marked and registered with the police. With both stickers, I made my home less of a target for both amateurs and professionals.
Marketing tools

Marketing Tools for the Home Improvement Industry

The phone book is one way to know if you’re dealing with a local company or a storm chaser, but I can’t remember the last time I opened a phone book and now throw them out as soon as they arrive on the doorstep. That’s why my marketing focus is almost entirely online. Having a good online presence these days is a must, with a well designed website featuring lots of photos of your work. Many of the website and social networking tools are free, but the cost is in the time involved, so proceed wisely. Still, even very small organizations (I’m a sole proprietor.) can do effective marketing online, but be sure to keep branding & messaging consistent across your different marketing channels, and have them refer to each other. Physical assets, for example, should include URL references to your online assets. Social media helps create a virtual sales force by engaging with happy clients, identifying key influencers (realtors, designers, etc.), using them as references and for referrals, and helping them become your advocates with special attention and support. Social media is also a good way to quickly learn of, and resolve, complaints. Find ways to tie your website and social projects together so work that’s done in one place populates to others. When a post on your blog automatically flows to Twitter and your Facebook fan page, you save time while improving your Google ranking. Include different media, including video, and consider hosting your own YouTube channel and posting video blogs of each new project. Great photos of great designs get more attention from people shopping online for ideas, so I’m getting involved with the highly visual Pinterest and Houzz communities that are favorites of my target audience. I like LinkedIn and think it’s great for business networking, and getting involved in the discussion forums is a good way to promote myself as a subject matter expert. I often include links to related articles on my blog when appropriate, but I’m careful not to overdo it and understand that Linkedin is not where my real target audience hangs out. I use Google Alerts and Twitter hash tags to follow keywords and anything said online about my company and industry. If I find an interesting and educational article, I’ll write and ask permission to republish it on my own site, with full attribution and links back to the author, of course. I’m also willing to share my own content with other organizations. At Modern Health Talk, for example, I write many articles on Universal Design principles and remodeling projects for the disabled and also feature byline articles from other industry experts. I’ve not yet experimented with ads on Google and Facebook but plan to soon, because the ads can be very narrowly targeted, making them more affordable and effective.
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How do you avoid scam repairs after a storm?

We’re into Hurricane season, and Isaac is barreling down on New Orleans, so this reminder about potential scams is timely, especially since local laws often favor builders, remodelers and contractors rather than homeowners. (At least they do in Texas.) Here’s some advice when hiring a contractor to fix your home or replace your roof. • Avoid storm chasers,” those unscrupulous contractors that show up after disasters to prey on people in a hurry to fix their homes. You can recognize them by the magnet signs on their trucks and their temporary offices and phone numbers. You may also notice yard signs popping up everywhere to promote their services. • Deal only with local contractors, because if a problem occurs, it’s easier to resolve. Local businesses are also more concerned with protecting their reputation, so make sure they have a physical address and ideally a local address (not a P.O. Box). You can verify that it’s a real address with the Street View feature of Google Maps. • Contact the Better Business Bureau to check contractor status, but pay particular attention to how long they’ve been listed with a local address. Storm chasers can register themselves and get a AAA rating until complaints are reported. • Angie’s List is another good reference, because it has both good & bad consumer comments. Although there’s a small fee, it’s probably worth it. • Ask your insurance adjuster for contractor references. • Ask your contractor for customer references (and call them). • Ask what State agency regulates the contractors and contact them to make sure the contractor is registered or licensed, whatever the law requires. Promptly report any contractor problems to the State regulatory agency. Note that States like Texas don’t require roofers to have a license, and that leaves consumers with less protection. • Don’t pay anything up front, not even for materials. It’s common for a contractor to do one good job and then canvas an entire neighborhood referring to the first, getting up-front payments and then disappearing. • Make sure the contractor has workman’s comprehensive and liability insurance. • If you can, require a performance bond since that provides a source for collecting damages if problems or disputes occur, even if the contractor files for bankruptcy protection or skips town. • The written contract defines the rights of each party, so understand your contract and get help from an attorney if you don’t. Avoid contracts with a mandatory binding arbitration clause, since arbitration almost always favors the contractor.

Toilet Buying Guide from the Experts

'Good comments so far, but here's a fun and different perspective involving high-tech and health care. Consider a Smart Toilet if your budget, or curiosity allows. Kohler, Panasonic and Toto offer models with different feature sets. I wrote about them last year in "Smart Toilets, a royal flush for Home Healthcare?" (http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2011/04/smart-toilets-a-royal-flush-for-home-healthcare/) but sure would like a plumber's perspective on them.
happy customers

What are the benefits of repeat business?

Consumers looking for new contractors or service providers should do their research, look for reliable local companies, and be careful not to trust referrals on face value. A common scam for small jobs such as patio installation and roof repair includes doing a good job on one home in a neighborhood as a prospecting reference for others, promising discounts for doing several other jobs at once, and then running off after getting a down payment of money for materials. They know that as long as the loss is small, few people will pursue criminal or legal action. Even the Better Business Bureau has problems since companies pay to be listed. I don't trust the rating, but it tells me how long they've been listed locally, and bigger ads in the Yellow Pages suggest a company has a local reputation to maintain. Another good option, which is even better than asking neighbors for references, is to use the membership-based Angie's List service. Let the company know you found them on Angie's List, and you may get even better service since they know you can easily tell thousands of other members about your experiences with a company. Angie's List is great news for the companies that do good work - and not so great news for the companies that don't.
kid construction

How can you keep a remodel safe and kid-friendly?

A better question is "How Do UNIVERSAL DESIGN Elements Factor Into Remodeling Projects?" It's less about designing homes and products that are kid-friendly, senior-friendly, or accessible and more about making things usable by anyone regardless of size or ability. That requires designers to think more about usability, safety, styling, and value, but isn't that what we want from products? More importantly, universal design expands the addressable market (i.e. increases profit). People without kids don't want homes that scream "designed for kids" just as many others don't want homes that say "I'm old and frail." They just want homes and products that work for them. Anti-scald, lever-action faucets, for example, are kid-friendly and accessible at the same time. And zero-step entrances work well for roller blades, strollers, wheeled luggage, disabled visitors in wheelchairs, or those who had a accident and are temporarily in a wheelchair or on crutches.
home improvement career

What career advice do you wish you had been given?

ENTREPRENEURSHIP – Because of the increasing pace of change in this world, working as an employee makes you reliant on someone else for your education, advancement, healthcare, and retirement more than at any time in American history. One way to get control yourself is to start a business and work for yourself or freelance, but few schools prepare students for that. Colleges instead prepare workers for corporations. They mostly don't prepare people to compete with corporations. If you go the entrepreneur route, you'll still need to find a mentor, be flexible and prepared and responsive to opportunities that present themselves, and invest time in building a network of supportive contacts.
home improvement career

What career advice do you wish you had been given?

KNOW YOURSELF and your interests, innate talents, and how you relate to others. Schools generally do a poor job of guiding students into fields that best suit them. The military does better at that, so that may be an option. Another option is the book, “What Color is My Parachute,” but my two favorites are tests that you can take online: Meyers-Briggs and MAPP. MEYERS-BRIGGS – I didn't learn about this personality test until I retired from IBM, and it was an eye opener. It helped explain why I could be the opening keynote speaker at a conference and have hundreds of my peers eating out of my hand but was often unable to get management buy-in to projects I felt important. You can find free versions of this test online. MAPP – Motivational Assessment of Personal Potential examines innate talents. A free version is available online, but I recommend the $30 version because it gives more insight and maps your talents to the top 10, 20 or 50 job titles as listed by the US Department of Labor, including descriptions of salary ranges, working conditions, and skills & education needed. CHANGE is occurring at an increasingly rapid pace in this technology-driven world, and even if you are not in the tech sector like I was, you'll need to keep up. For many, change also means and end to life-long employment. I was lucky enough to work at IBM for 30 years and retire with a pension, but these days people change jobs and entire careers every 2-3 years, each time needing new or different skills. So the point I'd like to make is the importance of life-long learning, whether in a trade school, community college, or university. That increasingly means, for ALL careers, you'll need basic PC and Internet skills. SKILLS & EDUCATION – My brother is an exception to the above, and so are many other skilled tradesmen. He's a highly skilled cabinet maker at the US Capitol in Washington, and he makes a good salary with good healthcare and a good retirement package. He also has a Bachelor's in Business Administration degree. So one suggestion I'd make is to invest in both marketable skills and higher education. New statistics show that certification from a trade school can sometimes yield higher salaries than a 4-year college degree, so I wish our nation would put more emphasis on vocational training and apprenticeships. I also recommend mixing fields. If you like working with computers, don't just go into information technology; mix that with interests in other fields like medicine, architecture, etc.
buy home

What do home buyers need to know before buying?

In a buyer's market, sellers are more willing to add value with lower prices or improved quality & features, but some builders still get into financial trouble, cut corners, and hide behind laws that shield them from accountability. Those laws, which mostly related to tort reform and were enacted over the last 10-15 years, unfortunately led to a large number of shoddy homes built by unscrupulous builders who have given the entire industry a bad name. So even existing homes have hidden dangers, and here are three things to watch out for. CONTRACTS. Know that contracts “always” favor those who write them. They often include binding arbitration clauses such as, “Any dispute that arises between the builder/seller and the purchaser will be decided in binding arbitration.” Even if the seller refuses to negotiate contract terms, as many do, you should still hire your own legal counsel to help you understand the rights you have retained or have relinquished. Have ALL legal documents reviewed by your attorney BEFORE signing and be prepared for new ones to appear on closing day when the pressure mounts. You may want to delay closing if need be so your attorney can review the new documents too, because a common practice is for sellers to present buyers with a “gift” of a pre-paid home warranty. But that warranty may also force disputes into arbitration, and it may be better to buy your own home warranty with terms you've already agreed to. INSPECTION. No home is perfect, but you need to learn about major defects and have them fixed before the sale. So hire your own inspector, and if you're building a new home, have them check each stage of construction to make sure they comply with local building codes and rules. City building inspectors are often overworked and “rubber-stamp” inspection reports or are beholden to builders. You need someone representing you. Inspectors are trained to look beyond what consumers see, such as rounded corners, crown molding, granite counters, and high-end hardware and appliances that imply quality. You want someone who can point out structural problems or things you can't see, such as improper land grading or foundation engineering. Ask about wind proofing, energy efficiency, and universal design features. Such features serve people of all abilities and include zero-edge entries & showers, doorways wide enough for wheelchair access, and lever-style door handles instead of doorknobs. They'll make it easier for grandma to visit when she's older and using a walker, or for you as you get older or injured. RESEARCH. Use the Internet to search for complaints about the home builder, especially those related to structural integrity, because it's hard for inspectors to notice problems hidden behind walls. Also check out some of the consumer sites representing home buyer issues, such as HADD.org and HomeownersOfTexas.org. They'll have additional advice, including “10 Things Contractors Won't Tell You” (www.homeownersoftexas.org/What-Contractors-Wont-Tell-You.html/).

Where do you find inspiration for remodeling projects?

I agree that visiting model homes and open homes is a great source of design inspiration, but so is the local bookstore. You can browse magazines for free and only buy the ones that strike your fancy, and my wife and I make an evening of that every week or two. But I've noticed a distinct lack of Universal Design ideas for making products or building homes that serve the needs of everyone universally, regardless of age and ability. It's an important design concept for baby boomers and their parents wanting safe homes without accessibility features that scream, “I'm old and frail.” Think: Form, Function, Value and Investment. Here are some resources: • Ageless Design (http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2011/04/ageless-design/) • Need to Redo your Loo? (http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2011/05/need-to-redo-your-loo/) • Household Tips for Aging in Place (http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2011/03/household-tips-for-aging-in-place/) • Health Care Comes Home: The Human Factors (http://www.mhealthtalk.com/2011/07/health-care-comes-home-the-human-factors/) • The Center for Universal Design (http://www.ncsu.edu/www/ncsu/design/sod5/cud/)


Future Home Industry: Home Expert Awards

The biggest trends affecting the future of the home industry are in demographics, not new technologies or green & sustainable building materials and products, although they are important too. MOBILITY – Sadly, working for one employer for 30 years seems to be a thing of the past for most people, meaning there will be much more demand for rental units. Moore’s Law and the accelerating pace of tech innovation is largely to blame, since automation and artificial intelligence are obsoleting skills & jobs faster than creating new opportunities. That increases the need for lifelong learning to retool skill sets, as well as the flexibility to relocate more often for the next job opportunity. AGING POPULATION – With 10,000 baby boomers reaching age 65 every day and living longer, homes designed with Universal Design principles that work well for anyone regardless of age or ability will be in high demand