Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mike Holmes And Special Needs Renos

On the last episode of Mike's latest show, Holmes Makes It Right, Mike worked with a deaf woman through her interpreter and not only improved her home but also her quality of life by making the home safer and more open. (See Mike Holmes Helps The Deaf Community for more information). Through this particular reno, it's obvious that Mike learned a lot about the special needs of those who are deaf and hearing impaired. I know from experience that there is a great deal of technology out there designed to help deaf people overcome the challenges of living in a hearing world. Both my brother and sister in law are profoundly deaf and have three small children, so I have a knowledge of much of what's out there along the lines of strobe blinkers and bed shakers. Along with these relatively easily retrofitted adaptations, Mike wanted to make a more permanent improvement in this deaf woman's home by opening up a wall to improve line of sight. Placing a window in an existing wall turned out to be more challenging than Mike and his crew bargained for, as illustrated by this clip entitled "Deaf Space":

Mike also wrote an article about his experience working with the deaf and helping them adapt their home to their own special needs. In the article, Mike explains how living in a home where the homeowner could not take advantage of the door bell or smoke alarm was not only inconvenient, but also dangerous.

From the Montreal Gazette:

Mike Holmes: Renos and special needs

You don't have to live in an inconvenient home

Over the past 10 years, Mike Holmes has focused on educating homeowners about proper renovation and building methods.

I’ve always said your house should work for you. It should be built to make your everyday life easier, not harder. But when you have special needs, a standard home doesn’t cut it. You might not be able to reach the kitchen cabinets, or get in and out of the bathtub easily, reach light switches or even leave the house without help. These things can make you feel like a prisoner in your home.
Sometimes it’s not even about convenience — it’s a matter of life or death. What if you couldn’t hear the doorbell or smoke or carbon monoxide alarms? It’s a huge safety issue. But that’s the reality for over a million people in Canada living with hearing issues — and that scares me. Can’t imagine how it feels for them.
Not everyone can afford a custom home. So instead of changing their house to fit them, most people just live with it as is. I’ve seen people try to deal with these kinds of issues on their own. On one job I recently worked on, the homeowner was deaf. So she would get her friends to text her when they got to her house since she can’t hear anyone knocking on the door. But that doesn’t work if the person at her door doesn’t know her or have her number.
And what if there’s an emergency like a fire? If she’s awake, she can probably see and smell the smoke. But what if she’s sleeping? When it comes to residential fires, it’s usually the smoke that kills you, not the fire; and if you can’t hear a smoke detector, the chances of that happening is practically 100 per cent.
Some people assume nothing can be done about it. But homeowners have the advantage of small things that can make a big difference.
For example, on the job I mentioned earlier, my guys installed an electrical system that is interconnected with the doorbell, smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector. So when the doorbell rings a strobe light flashes. Same thing with the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors; if there’s smoke or a carbon monoxide leak, the strobe light goes on. The system works with a plug-in unit that the homeowner can take with them anywhere in the house. So it doesn’t matter where they are, they’ll be able to see the strobe lights.
There are also bed shakers, devices you put under the mattresses or your pillow. Depending on the system it’s connected to, the device will shake the bed. So let’s say the bed shaker is connected to the smoke or carbon monoxide detector. If the detector goes off, the bed shaker will vibrate the bed to wake the person up. These devices can even be connected to your alarm clock or telephone.
There are bigger projects you can do, too. A few years ago. I worked on an ASL interpreter’s house and she talked about how a house can be “deaf-friendly.” This means having clear lines of sight between rooms so people can communicate using sign language even when they’re not in the same room.
Clear lines of sight are created by getting rid of any non-load-bearing walls. If there is a load-bearing wall, a contractor can create a pocket window. But the size of the window needs to be determined by an engineer. These professionals will make sure the size of the window doesn’t compromise the strength of the wall, which still needs to support the weight above. The last job where we installed pocket windows, they were about four feet wide, which is perfect for line of sight but doesn’t compromise structure.
Not everyone can afford to knock down the walls in their home. I get that. But like I said, there are smaller modifications that go a long way. To learn about them, speak to the pros.
A good electrician or plumber will know about the latest gadgets and fixtures for people with special needs. A contractor will tell you how to make your home work for you. They have their noses in the research and talk to other professionals about things that will help them do their job better.
There’s no harm in asking about your options — especially when the stakes are high.
Catch Mike Holmes in his new series, Holmes Makes It Right Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit For more information on home renovations, visit



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