Experts share secrets to home maintenance when you can no longer do it on your own
For seniors, a proactive approach prevents costly repairs
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Richard Bitner counts himself lucky that his elderly parents live nearby. As a vice president for Visiting Angels, he hears countless stories about seniors’ home maintenance challenges. And, while some of the tasks for Visiting Angels’ private duty home caregivers include everything from laundry to transportation to housekeeping and light home maintenance like changing light bulbs, finding help for heavier lifts—like weatherization or pressure washing—can be real impediments for those aging in place.
Bitner and other experts we talked with offer home maintenance strategies for those who may have limited strength or mobility.
Learn to use online tools for socialization and assistance
Since the onset of the pandemic, Visiting Angels has put a focus on socialization—especially social media. Learning to use tools to communicate virtually with loved ones like grandchildren can stave off depression, says Bitner.
And, once seniors have more surfing skills, they can use social media to assist with home maintenance, including seeking Facebook recommendations or researching handymen by perusing reviews.
“With social distancing, ‘word of mouth’—like asking a neighbor for a recommendation, a neighbor who may even have been willing to help—became trickier,” says Bitner. “That’s why we encourage research, and especially contractors who have already been vetted.”
Bitner often suggests Angi for interior and exterior work, and lawn and garden maintenance; TaskRabbit for furniture assembly and fixing running toilets; and Mr. Handyman, since many of their regional teams are Certified Aging in Place Specialists. These organizations are not affiliated with Visiting Angels.
Connect with community members
The Village to Village Network, a membership-model non-profit that aims to keep seniors in their homes, keeps its own list of vetted local handymen, available for those who belong to each regional chapter. Volunteers perform minor household repairs, help prep meals, or even provide technical assistance with computers and cell phones.
Carolyn King, of the network’s Villages of the Berkshires community, says that the network provides that important social component for seniors to feel involved and engaged in their communities, too.
Local college students are active volunteers, and physical therapy students host sessions on fall prevention. Others help seniors clean out their garage, for instance, so they can use it for the car instead of storage.
Of the latter point, King explains, “The garage bay can open safely this winter, and the senior can get to the mailbox easier. Maintenance that helps prevent falls is a big deal for us.”
Educate yourself and lean on services that know what to do
Large-scale complementary maintenance and repair work is available through the national non-profit Rebuilding Together, which offers a Safe at Home program where 65–70% of services include modifications such as smoke detector installation, improved lighting, and raised toilets.
A lot of the mission is education, says president and CEO Caroline Blakely. “If seniors get a roof leak, they will get mold and they won’t be able to stay and will have to go to a nursing home,” she says. “Do you know you have to clean out your air ducts? Seniors need to understand how their house works and budget for what might come up.”
Take a proactive approach
Blakely and Bitner agree that accessing a house should be more proactive versus reactive so the approach is more about maintenance versus repairs.
These dialogues should also include relatives and loved ones when possible, although having a skilled professional with fresh eyes helps for such audits, says Bitner.
Seniors who have brushed up on their internet savvy can even do virtual walk-throughs using a camera phone. AARP HomeFit Guide Worksheets offer room-by-room to-do lists, and “This Old House” offers a yearly inspection checklist that also includes important preventative tasks like weatherization.
Snow plowing is a great example of a task that can be contracted in advance, says Bitner. Many landscapers will offer such services in winter on a pre-arranged, come-as-needed basis. Once the flakes fly, it can be harder to find help.
Seek out free weatherization services, too
Free weatherization services are also available through many state and local agencies.
On Massachusetts’ North Shore, for instance, Action Inc. appliance management assists low-income and senior households by replacing inefficient air conditioners, refrigerators, and updating lighting. Heating systems can be repaired—or cleaned—and weatherization work includes adding insulation, weather stripping, and repairs.
Elliott Jacobson, Action Inc.’s vice president for energy services, recommends seniors reach out to their local Community Action chapter or senior center to find services available to them.
Consider investing in a home warranty
Seniors aging in place will likely be spending more time using appliances that can break versus those who may still be working and thus spending less time at home—which opens up a host of possibilities for things to need repairs or replacements.
Bitner suggests seniors look into residential service contracts, which are essentially warranties for a home’s appliances and systems when they break down due to normal wear and tear.
These include air conditioning and heating systems, plumbing, ductwork, refrigerators, stoves, and more, depending on the contract.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.