Why CAPS Matters
A general contractor can build pretty much anything but serving the aging-in-place market requires putting on one’s thinking CAPS. BuilderFish is designated by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) as Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS). Given the alphabet soup of industry designations, I know this doesn’t mean much so I’ll explain why it matters.
First a little background, the NAHB reports the fastest growing segment of remodeling projects is home modification for aging-in-place. That might surprise given the seemingly constant stream of publicity for “green building” and energy sustainability; but, it’s understandable when you consider the median year built of all U.S. homes is 1974 (HUD’s 2009 American Housing Survey), Boomers begin turning 65 in January at a clip of 10,000 daily and there are no regulations (only suggested guidelines) governing accessibility requirements for residential homes. (Americans with Disabilities Act regulates public and commercial spaces.)
So AARP and NAHB partnered to develop the CAPS designation program, classes and testing, which includes a code of ethics and continuing education. And this isn’t a flimsy pay your fee and pass class, candidates fail the TESTS. Yes, there are three full days of instruction followed by tests, which are shipped to and graded by NAHB, not the instructor.
The training is surprisingly comprehensive but not in the way we imagined beforehand. Most builder classes obviously focus on construction techniques but not CAPS, which instead concentrates on PEOPLE. Look back at my first sentence. Indeed anyone can build something, it’s construction not rocket science, but a CAPS design builder will consider the future while solving the present day issue.
CAPS training teaches a long term, flexible (i.e. one size doesn’t fit all) and case specific perspective. Each client’s life circumstances are unique. For example, even two people with arthritis will age differently so a CAPS designer/builder will ideally consult the client’s health care professional to learn how that individual likely will be affected years or even decades down the line. CAPS training teaches a partnership approach among professionals in different fields as well among multiple decision-makers and “influencers” within a person’s family.
To be avoided on any aging-in-place, home modification is a proposed solution that is either wrong (due to miscommunication), or temporary, requiring the same issue be remedied again later at additional cost. Any builder can boast of understanding “barrier-free living” and throw up a ramp and grab bars but the CAPS approach is about more than wider doorways and hallways. CAPS is involved, we don’t lump everyone together as “seniors” or, something someone said recently that made me cringe, “houses for old people.”
The CAPS method specifies a design and build solution for the clients’ activities of daily life and interests, not only how a person gets around, it’s about promoting independence and enjoyment of life so we consider hobbies (e.g. gardening) and personal preferences. The CAPS design builder must LISTEN, observe, ask questions, put on the thinking cap and consider possibilities beyond the immediate fix as the mission is to build houses that serve as home for a lifetime. We not only help people avoid the nursing home but also support what I call “enjoyable independence”. Supporting the need to care for oneself is the minimum, we promote safety, ease, comfort and convenience for activities inside or outside the home so the client remains active and engaged with family and friends.
Over the next few years I’m certain we’ll see a surge of builders attaining the CAPS designation after the green fad runs its course, but few will make it the mission of their business as we do. Why? Because it takes time, the typical process from getting to know the clients to designing and building is slow, the design phase can last half a year or more depending on the circumstances. (The exception is for immediate accessibility and mobility needs following a traumatic event such as an illness or accident.) So the CAPS approach is counter-builder in many ways as most contractors want to get in and get out, which is EXACTLY the reason you should consider carefully whether to hire a non-CAPS builder for aging-in-place projects. CAPS is a mind set, beyond doing things right, it’s focused concentration on helping older Americans continue to enjoy their current home and community.