HomeBuilder? Modifications can do much more to transform lives

Increased wellbeing, safety and independence flow from appropriate home renovations.

senior couple coming out of their house

Phillippa Carnemolla, University of Technology Sydney

The stated purpose of the Morrison government’s HomeBuilder program is to stimulate the economy and create construction jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research shows home improvements could do much more than just add capital value and a spare room. They can also restore or maintain a person’s ability to live independently – whether they are older, have a disability, are unwell or have been injured.

In other words, these home improvements could transform life for any one of us at some point in our lives. They greatly improve people’s wellbeing and reduce dependence on carers. This affects a great many people – including nearly a million who receive some form of aged care in their own home.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, CC BY

Our study of 157 people receiving community care found home modifications reduced the overall hours of care they required by 42 per cent. Their quality of life (measured as health-related quality of life) improved by 40 per cent.

By reducing care needs and costs, and increasing independence and wellbeing, home modifications lead to a multitude of government, community and personal benefits. These include lowering the risk of COVID-19 transmission that providing and receiving personal care entails.

What do home modifications involve?

Doors might have to be widened to enable a resident in a wheelchair to continue living in their home. Shutterstock

Home modifications specifically help residents to live safely and independently in their own homes.

The range of possible renovations is diverse, so costs vary widely. Minor modifications might be installing a grab rail in a bathroom to aid stability, or levelling a step at a front door. A major modification could install a ramp or a lift, widen door frames or provide a new bathroom.

Modifications must be tailored to individual needs, as no ‘one size fits all’ – just like every home renovation.

Enabling greater independence for longer
My research measures how home modifications directly influence the amount of care needed to live, and continue living, at home.

The study included 157 Australians aged from 15 to 92 who received community care. Some had arthritis, cancer or a motorcycle injury. Others were born with a disability. All required care in their home.

Hours of care for participants (most of it unpaid care by family and friends) were compared before and after home modifications. The changes liberated them. Home modifications reduced or eliminated their need for help, restored their confidence in caring for themselves and reduced carer stress.

As people’s confidence grew, they were happier to venture out into the broader community. Importantly, relationships improved.

Stories of lives transformed
Simple home modifications meant David* no longer had to help his mother shower as she could safely do that herself. His mother was saved the embarrassment of her son being involved in what is normally a private activity. Instead, they could enjoy each other’s company with regular activities like shopping and having afternoon tea together.

Ravi* had a spinal injury as a result of an accident. He was glad to be back at home but was sleeping in a converted sunroom at street level because he couldn’t get to his bedroom upstairs. The only bathroom for showering was a small ensuite, up three stairs.

Adding an entry ramp makes a home accessible again. Shutterstock

The house was not suitable for a wheelchair, so his wife had to help him get around their home. The effort required to take care of basic daily living activities left them too exhausted to even think about going out.

An accessible bathroom with a hand-held shower was installed, as well as a ramp at the home entrance. Not only was Ravi able to shower independently again, but he and his wife also regained their energy and interest in going out. He attributed home modifications to enabling them to go to the movies and a restaurant for the first time in the three years after the accident.

Simple modifications can enable a person to go to the toilet unaided. Claire Cunningham, Author provided

Genevieve* needed to go to the toilet often at night, but was unsteady on her feet. She had to wake her husband to escort her safely to the bathroom. Installing handrails from the bedroom to the bathroom, as well as reconfiguring the bathroom, meant she could safely take herself to the toilet at night.

Now that he was getting a good night’s sleep, her husband also expressed relief that he was able to continue his full-time job – he had thought he would have to give it up.

People regain choice about where they live
The design of a house can be the single reason that forces a person into an aged care home. A bathroom, kitchen, entrance and exit, as well as how rooms connect, can all dictate whether a person lives independently in later life.

Research shows how home modifications reduce fall risks. Think about an older bathroom where the shower has a hob or is over a bath. Such features commonly lead to falls, which can dramatically shorten lives or send us straight from hospital into residential aged care.

Of all the home modifications, my research showed those in the bathroom were most central to reducing dependence on others. They provided the freedom to shower and use the toilet without help.

Bathroom modifications that allow people to shower while seated greatly reduce the risk of slipping and falling. Claire Cunningham, Author provided

For example, Heath* was 72 with a few overlapping health conditions. He had lost confidence using his shower and toilet on his own. His daughter, who lived five hours’ drive away, was convinced he would fall if he remained at home.

But Heath didn’t want someone coming in to help him shower. He absolutely did not want to go into a nursing home. Home modifications meant he could sit while showering independently and use grab rails to get in and out safely.

A minor home modification like a hand rail might be all a person needs to continue living safely in their own home. Author provided

Modifications protect lives in a pandemic
The ability to take care of our own bathroom needs during a pandemic is particularly critical. The close proximity required to receive and provide care has been well documented. Who knows how much home modifications have helped to curb the spread of COVID-19 to people most vulnerable to it?

Australia is managing a pandemic while rolling out the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and reforming aged care in the context of a diverse and ageing population.

This research into home modifications highlights why renovations could be so much more than a new pool, kitchen island or cinema room. The government has a golden opportunity to reform HomeBuilder and encourage take-up of grants for home modifications. It would be a win for both tradies and the many Australians who may need help to stay at home.

* Names have been changed to protect anonymity.The Conversation

Phillippa Carnemolla, Senior Research Fellow, School of the Built Environment, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Does HomeBuilder make sense to you? Do you need any renovations and updates to your home? Would these works make your life safer and easier?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    14th Jul 2020
    Re the part about
    A minor home modification like a hand rail might be all a person needs to continue living safely in their own home.
    This doesnt make sense to me. Home Builder is where one has to spend at least $150K ?? Anyone know any more ??
    Horace Cope
    14th Jul 2020
    Spot on, johnp, this article is totally misleading. The policy has limitations and this is what it states, inter alia:
    "HomeBuilder applicants will be subject to eligibility criteria, including income caps of $125,000 for singles and $200,000 for couples based on their latest assessable income. A national dwelling price cap of $750,000 will apply for new home builds, and a renovation price range of $150,000 up to $750,000 will apply to renovating an existing home with a current value of no more than $1.5 million."
    14th Jul 2020
    How much do you get back if you spend 150k on home modification.
    14th Jul 2020
    I believe it's $25,000, Jan, which makes the scheme a rort for the rich and totally useless to the aged who need to modify houses to retain their independence.
    14th Jul 2020
    Thank you youngagain.
    14th Jul 2020
    Yes would have been better for those in vulnerable situations and who cannot afford to get big reno's done. Many pensioners just need a few smaller upgrades to make their lives safer and more comfortable.

    My neighbour is going to renovate his whole house, was going to do it anyway but now he can get the extra $25,000, his house has never had a reno since it was built in the 1970s.But only because his lady friend won't move in until he does it lol. He did not need the extra $25,000, he is now spending more just to get it, because he can.
    15th Jul 2020
    This article is an argument for changing the criteria for Home Builder, and a good one; but poorly written - they hide the most critical point (government has an opportunity to reform Homebuilder) in the last paragraph - should have been at the beginning, then the rest of the article makes sense.
    17th Jul 2020
    Do people read the news properly? The so called home builder grant was designed to be very, very restricted (to save the government money) scheme. In fact, Josh's crew went too far as the conditions to be met limits applicants to a few lucky hundred or so that don't even need the extra grant. How many retirees have $150,000 to splurge on renovations to enhance their homes. This is way in excess of basic requirements to provide non slip floors, better toilets with disabled access and the usual handrails. Some homes cannot be modified as their size prohibits any expansion, especially those who downsized and bought small apartments or strata units. There is absolutely no room to widen a doorway, and as a wheel chair user needs to access every door, you might as well demolish the house and start again. Trust me, I've designed and manged thousands of disabled modifications. I would say 2 out of 5 residences can't be modified properly.

    Other places simply can't fit or accomodate a ramp, there is no room. So this scheme carefully excludes people who have a real need, that is, the infirm aged people and people with disabilities. What a piece of frogshit Mr ScoMo. Carefully planned by the PR LNP department, to make it look like the LNP is doing something, but at the same time costing very little in the scale of things, remembering also, not one sent comes out of Josh's or ScoMos pocket. It's the taxpayer stupid!

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