If older adults want to live out their final years in their homes, they must have an aging-friendly environment. When most people envision creating a safe environment for independent aging, they think of upgrades that make a home easier to navigate, like walk-in tubs and slip-free rugs. Less often considered are essential upgrades to the aging house itself: safety improvements to prevent fires, electrical shocks, lead poisoning, and more.
By making the required aging-in-place adjustments, older adults can remove any safety threats from their home and make it fit for aging in place. But the process can be more challenging for those who reside in older homes. Let’s explore the reasons why an older home could present more safety issues than a newer one.
• Older homes may no longer be as “sound” structurally because of wear and tear over time.
• Some older homes lack essential accessibility features like wide doorways and ramps.
• An old house may require more work to maintain as a result of structural changes, plumbing issues, and out of date electrical wiring—all of which will drain a bank account.
• Government regulations for safety and accessibility must be followed in new homes. In addition to having fire escapes, smoke alarms, and sprinkler systems, new residences are also built to better withstand earthquakes.
For older adults who want to age in place, a new home may be the preferable option because new homes’ maintenance costs are lower. Plus, adding features, such as a generator, is much easier given updated electrical in the home. But for many people, staying in their long-time home is the whole appeal of aging in place. When older adults are deciding whether and
how to invest in home upgrades for aging in place, it’s an ideal time to consider the potential health and safety concerns unique to older homes—and address them in upgrade plans.
Three Major Health Risks of Remodeling Older Homes
Remodeling an older home can pose a number of serious, long-term, or even fatal health problems. Lead, asbestos, and mold are a few of the dangers that are known to exist in older homes. People involved in the demolition can come into contact with all of these. When these pollutants are not appropriately managed, respiratory troubles and other complaints might develop into major health problems (RE Resources Team, 2017).
During a remodeling project, you might come into contact with hazardous materials that can affect your balance and coordination, make it difficult to breathe, harm your nervous system, irritate your eyes, make you tired, give you coughs and headaches, harm your liver and kidneys, make you nauseous, irritate your nose and throat, give you skin rashes, and even eventually lead to lung cancer or mesothelioma (RE Resources Team, 2017). Proceed cautiously with any
home remodeling project! Arrange the required testing of any compounds when you’re not sure whether or not they pose harm to your health. If you are aware of the risks, you can take precautions to lessen their potential impacts both before and after your home remodeling project. Start by becoming familiar with the potential dangers and their hiding places in older homes.
Lead was used as a pigment and a drying agent for painting houses before it was outlawed nationally in 1978. New York City outlawed lead paint before the rest of the country in 1960. It is safe to assume that every home constructed before the ban in a given region contains lead paint, even if it is covered up by numerous layers of lead-free paint (RE Resources
Homes built before lead paint bans should not have paint removed by dry scraping or sanding, as lead poisoning is most frequently caused by lead dust from lead-based paint. While children are most susceptible to lead poisoning, people of any age are vulnerable, and symptoms could take weeks or months to appear (Cleveland Clinic, 2022).
Lead Water Pipes
Exposures to lead in tap water have significantly decreased as a result of policies and laws implemented over the past 20 years. Even so, some metal water taps, internal water pipes, and pipes linking a house to the main water pipe in the street may still contain lead. Lead detected in tap water typically originates from solder used to join pipes or from the deterioration of older fixtures.
Lead can contaminate water supplies when water is left in lead pipes for a long period of time.
Corrosion from service lines can cause lead to “leach” into tap water. Water utilities treat the water to reduce corrosion and leaching; this meticulously managed water chemistry is intended to safeguard the thin layers of biofilm and scale deposits lining water pipelines. These layers keep the water safe to drink by separating it from the metal, assuming there are no additional factors causing corrosion.
Another typical issue and risk in older homes is asbestos. Asbestos was used to strengthen cement and plastics, insulate hot water pipes, and for fireproofing and soundproofing (National Cancer Institute, 2021). It’s also in roofing, adhesives, and other compounds (RE Resources Team, 2017). The risk from asbestos comes from inhaling tiny asbestos fibers when they’re released into the air. These fibers become lodged in the lungs and can lead to inflammation, breathing problems, and cancer over time (National Cancer Institute, 2021).
People can be exposed to asbestos during home renovations. Insulation and pipe covers are the most likely source of asbestos in older homes (RE Resources Team, 2017). Although asbestos in roof shingles and floor tiles is less prone to go airborne, these materials still need to be handled carefully.
Older houses have undoubtedly suffered a few water-related events over the years. Moisture is left behind by leaking roofs, damaged pipes, malfunctioning water heaters, clogged drains, and flood water. Mold could be present behind walls, in the attic or base-
ment, or beneath carpets or other flooring if each wetness wasn’t thoroughly cleaned up (RE Resources Team, 2017).
In home inspection, “mold” is a catch-all term for fungi and bacteria that break down the structural integrity of the material they’re growing on (Gould Soloway, n.d.). Not only does mold threaten the home itself, it also poses health risks to people, including causing or exacerbating allergies. In homes, small areas of mold can often be cleaned by the homeowner, but larger problems will need to be remediated by professionals (Gould Soloway, n.d.).
The Value of Home Inspections for Aging in Place
One of the most important steps older adults can take to guarantee they may age securely and comfortably in place is to get their house inspected. A thorough home inspection will identify problems ranging from inconvenient to outright dangerous. For older adults, their families, and professionals who serve them, one of the initial steps in creating a strategy for aging in place will be to perform a thorough home inspection.
Cleveland Clinic. (2022). Lead poisoning. https://my.clevelandclinic.
Gould Soloway, R. A. (n.d.). Mold 101: Effects on human health.
National Capital Poison Control Center. https://www.poison.org/
National Cancer Institute. (2021). Asbestos exposure and cancer
risk. National Institutes of Health. https://www.cancer.gov/
RE Resources Team. (2017, February 10). Potential health risks
of remodeling an older home. The Oregonian. https://www.