“I can install a grab bar, why do you need an Architect?”

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I’ve stewed on this comment for quite some time, and  I figured it was time to speak up.  Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I work with wonderful General Contractors every day, and they are a vital and valuable part of the design and construction team.  They understand this discussion and are in agreement with me, and I’m not “preaching to the choir”.  This is a higher level discussion… so, let’s all settle down, take a deep breathe, and move on to an educated discussion on a very vital and timely discussion topic.

It’s been relayed to me more than once, second hand, about some GCs (General Contractors) out there, as they are talking to a client about wanting to make alterations to their home so that it will work for them better as their needs change at home (a.k.a. “Aging In Place” as the industry is referring to it now).  I normally wouldn’t take offense, but in this situation I find that it’s a good time to stand up for my industry as a designer, and help set the record straight about “Why you DO NEED AN ARCHITECT”, a professional designer, and especially one that understands this specific client’s needs and project type.

So a question or two, to that “non-CAPS certified” G.C. about your client –

1) Do they know what the client’s Occupational Therapist recommends?  Which grab bar is going to work best for them?  What their options are?  What the specifications are on that particular mobility device?  At what height and angle it should be installed for each specific movement and mobility need in each location it is required?

2) Do they know the specifications on the client’s wheelchair, walker, or other mobility devices if they have one?  Turning Radius?  Options that may suit them better than their current device if they don’t have an occupational or physical therapist?  Recommendations for who could help with OT/PT input, if they don’t have a relationship already?  Where they can go with their family members to look at other mobility device options for themselves and their home?

3) Do they know not just what their budget is for the potential construction project work at the house, but also how that budget/cost ties into their overall plan for their funds in retirement?  Their monthly cash flow and expenses?  Their ability to pay for in-home care?  Their ability to make a financing payment based on the income distributions that their investments are paying out monthly / annually?

4) Do they know how to address and advise them on different ways they can fund the project, who they can trust to finance an “aging in place” remodel, what a “reverse mortgage” is and who they can talk with to see if it might make sense for their situation?  Do they have the ability to discuss with them “other housing solutions” if staying at home is not the best answer for their situation upon learning about their situation and conditions and wants / needs?  Do they know where in their area they could go to look at their other housing options if they are considering those as well, in comparison to remodeling their home to stay there?

5) Do they know all the aspects of a quality “Aging In Place” experience?  Do they understand how daylight affects the client’s psychological health?  Do they understand that white surfaces can cause vertigo in Alzheimer’s clients?  Do they understand that colors, transitions, lighting, fixture locations, heights, floor plan layout, cabinet elevations & upgrades, appliance selections, heights, locations as it relates to the specifics of the client can “make or brake” their happiness, functional use of and therefore success of, their “Aging In Place” remodel… just to name a few points?

BOTTOM LINE: Does the General Contractor know what our “Aging In Place” client’s GOALS are?  Do they know their LIMITATIONS?  Do they know their CONCERNS?
 (The truth is always “3 levels deep”… Are they TRAINED to ASK the QUESTIONS that will get you REAL ANSWERS?)

Why am I throwing my hat in the national “Aging In Place” ring, per se?  Why am I working so hard at sharing the “Aging In Place” message as an option, and offering my services in this realm of the residential building industry?

We are an “Aging In Place” COACH in all reality.  A professional concierge of sorts.  We (our industry, if you’re educated in this realm) know that I we’re just ONE piece of a puzzle, and ONE VALUABLE TEAM MEMBER among many other professionals that equate to a full systems and a best case “turn key” or “one stop shopping” solution for helping a client to stay in their home, ie. to “Age In Place”.  Our clients in this field and demographic want respect, trust, value, and a complete “turnkey” solution where all team members are honest, ethical, and communicate well with each other.

Their own home is where AARP polls state that 89% of “Older Americans” would prefer to live, regardless of a possible change in their physical, mental, or emotional state that may occur with age.


So…Why use an ARCHITECT?  

Speaking only for ourselves, it would be based on these credentials:

1) We have the training (NAHB National Association of Home Builders national accreditation of being a “Certified Aging In Place Specialist” – CAPS).  We have the niche industry and business model homework established, and continually ongoing.  We have the professional relationships established over 2 decades in the fields of architecture and real estate investing.  We have the professional networking connections across western Washington state, growing quickly to cover the entire NW and soon-after toward a nationwide database of connections and relationships.

2) We have a clear understanding through that ongoing homework, of the other industries that are required to interface with this client and their “staying at home” solution.  I can refer my clients to all the potential “team members”they may need in their area, for completing that dream of “Aging In Place”.  This is including (but not limited to) – CAPS certified General Contractors, CAPS certified interior designers, CAPS certified occupational therapists, physical therapists, financial & retirement planners, and reverse mortgage specialists, just to name a few.

3) We also have an Architectural License, with 15+ years of experience in the field.  As of 2002, We’ve completed the required 8 years of combined college level architecture education via schooling and the subsequent associated apprentice work under a licensed architect in a firm.  Then by the latter part of 2003, We’d completed the preparation and studies required to sit for the the 9 tests (totaling 36 HOURS of exams) to become a licensed architect in our state.

4) We’ve been a part of over 1 million square feet of (inherently, with public use) “ADA Accessible” Commercial Buildings – Including the design, permitting, and construction of shell & core office buildings, retail tenant spaces, interior tenant improvements, warehouses, and R&D facilities.  We’ve worked in all construction materials including steel, concrete, CMU, stucco, wood, etc.  We’ve done site planning for millions of square feet of public facilities, which includes working with civil engineers for layout of parking, sidewalks, egress into and out of buildings, and accessible restrooms and commercial elevators, just to name a small part of our own professional background.

5) We’re also well versed & experienced as a residential architect & real estate investor.  We bought 18 houses in a 24 month period during the last 5-7 years.  We have rehabbed & flipped houses for retail sale, held rental homes and been a landlord for multiple homes, as well as executed “lease options” (rent-to-own programs).  At some points during this time, we were buying a home, remodeling two homes, and selling or renting a home – all at one time.  Therefore we fully understand discussions about “recouping remodeling costs” and the “resale” concerns of my clients.  We have a solid understanding of real estate contracts related to purchase and sale, how to evaluate investment and spending decisions related to the clients’ ROI (Return on Investment) if that is a concern of theirs in remodeling for Aging-In-Place, as well as an understanding FMV (fair market value) of homes in different areas.

Most importantly, as a result of all this training and experience – We can listen and empathize with the emotional challenges that face the client in relation to spending money on their home at any & all levels throughout this process and discussion.

So, in our own humble yet educated opinion, “I can install a grab bar  just isn’t enough for our clients.  It doesn’t address their DREAMS.  It doesn’t address their GOALS.  It doesn’t address their limitations.  It doesn’t address their CONCERNS.

It doesn’t even come close to answering the question of “How can I Age In Place Successfully”.

We can help with that question.




Aaron D. Murphy, Architect / CAPS

Owner at ADM Architecture – (including “Aging In Place – Home Consultation”)

Managing Editor at Empowering the Mature Mind

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