New Year, New Plans

Happy New Year!   Even if you do not make New Year’s resolutions, most of us do think about where we have been and where we want to go when the calendar turns over to a new year.    If 2018 is the year that you’ve decided to finally start modify your house to accommodate your changing needs as you grow older or live with a disability, let’s look at some general ideas to jump start your thinking.  Our theme for 2018 is to Age Well!

First, safety and function come first.  Be honest with yourself.   Maybe you aren’t the person who should be going up on a ladder to change light bulbs or clean the gutters.  You can still do it, but the risk/cost factor is probably too steep. If you fall and injure yourself, you’ll likely endure a longer and more painful recovery than when you were a younger person.  So now is the time to arrange for a handyman to help with these things around the house, or to install gutter covers to eliminate the problem.  If you can, continue to do the things that you can safely do, because these small tasks can contribute to your overall satisfaction with life.

Next is a theme you have heard from me many times before: do things that add quality to your life.  Arrange your household and your circumstances to accommodate something that gives you happiness or expands your possibilities.   If you like to bake, set up a mini baking center in your kitchen where everything you need is close at hand and easily accessed.  Things don’t have to stay where they have been for the last forty years!   Shake it up a bit! If you are taking a new class, make sure that you can get in and out of your house safely and easily.

Finally, enlist the help of your community, otherwise known as your family and friends.  Oftentimes when I meet with my clients, I meet with additional family members as well.  These are the people who understand your desire to stay in the home that you love.  They are the people who can help you make the right financial decisions.   There is a lot of decision making that goes into any home renovation project to decide what is necessary and affordable, and what is worth stretching the budget to accomplish.  Your loved ones can help ease the way through all of the changes, too.  It may be difficult for you to reconcile yourself to some of the changes, but keep in mind that, when the time comes, an updated home is much easier to sell for a reasonable price than an out of date home.

*Always consult with your healthcare provider before making any changes that may affect your health.

Home Automation-It’s Easy and Intuitive!

Let’s take a look at easy to implement home automation ideas that many people with limited mobility will find very useful.

If you are as handy as the average person and have a smart phone, there are simple options to begin to make some everyday tasks easier.  For a modest investment, you can get a system that controls your lighting, thermostat, electrical outlets, audio and home theater and some security cameras.  The do-it-on-your-own home automation industry is going through an exciting period of growth right now.  The reliability and features of two major systems, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home, have improved dramatically over the past year.  Next year promises even more functionality and new devices that are compatible with these hubs.

Let’s look at the Amazon Alexa hub.  Over the past year, Alexa and its smaller component, the Echo, improved in reliability and added new devices and functionality to the system.  Alexa’s starting retail price is $180 and many of the devices that can be controlled by the hub retail for around $30 each.  As a smart home hub, Alexa acts as the controller for smart plugs like Wemo, TPLink, and Belkin.  You simply plug in the appliance into the smart plug, plug that into the wall outlet, and add the appliance to the app on your smartphone.  The outlet can then be controlled by your voice command via Alexa.

Installing smart bulbs like the Phillips Hue or Sylvania’s smart bulb is equally as easy.  The bulbs need another small controller, the Phillips Bridge or Samsung’s Smart Things, to convert your home’s wifi signal to a Zigbee, or z signal, which talks to the bulbs.  Alexa can control thermostats like the Nest, Sense from Emerson, and the Lyric line of thermostats from Honeywell.  If you have a newer smart TV, add that to the list.

A full line up of supported smart home devices for Alexa can be found on the Amazon website.  Just search for Echo Home compatible devices on the Amazon home page.

The information and entertainment functionality of Alexa is equally impressive, and like the expanding list of devices, promises to grow rapidly in the next few years.  Alexa’s built in speaker plays music, and will inform you about the news or the weather.  It answers questions with internet connectivity.  Alexa handles your shopping lists, and provides a timer and an alarm function.  One new feature allows you to add five contacts to the Ask My Buddy list. Ask My Buddy calls, texts or emails your contacts via your voice command, helping to ensure your safety and security.  The rumor in the tech world is that Amazon will add a touch screen to the table top model in 2017, which promises new functions for Alexa to control.

If you have the resources, you may want to use a professional installer who will guide you through the most useful applications and devices for you, install the hardware and configure the software, and teach you how to use the system.  This can be a costly option, and isn’t really necessary.  Some home security or internet providers are moving into this market with hardware and plan level options, and monthly monitoring plans.

Next time, we’ll look more closely at other easy home automation ideas, including smart thermostats, tvs and doorbells.