Air Quality in the Home: VOCs and Envelopes

Air Quality in the Home: VOCs and Envelopes

Recently, Charles spoke at “Living Well in Your Lifetime Home,” a workshop featuring three certified aging-in-place specialists and industry experts: Charles; Amy Homan Depoy, OT/L, founder and owner of Cardinal Care, LLC; and Gabby Koontz, principal of Rendered Homes. This event was sponsored by VPAS in partnership with Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation. What a wonderful opportunity to share with the community. 

While Charles discussed a wide range of designs and considerations, he highlighted indoor air quality as a very important design consideration for everyone. This is especially true as you age because you can become even more sensitive to poor air quality. 


Charles speaks in front of people sitting at tables about Aging-In-Place design.


There are many considerations when it comes to indoor air quality, and one is VOCs, which are present in all of our homes and potentially hazardous to our health.

VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound. Many products used in home construction have these chemicals that are released into the air post-installation, called off-gassing. You might be surprised to know that VOCs are in every house and can be found in many common products including paints, lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials, printers, correction fluid, and glues. This is something to be taken seriously. VOCs can trigger asthma, eye irritation, cough, dizziness, and other adverse long-term health effects, and they are known to cause certain cancers. 


Envelopes and Energy-Efficiency

Concentrations of VOCs are often found to be higher indoors than outdoors (an obvious conclusion looking at air circulation and volume of space). To compound the problem, the level of these chemicals could even be higher in an energy-efficient’ home that does not have a dedicated fresh air system. 

This is because the more air-tight a building envelope is, the more likely it is energy-efficient. (A building envelope refers to the walls and other materials separating the indoor air from the outdoor air). Creating an airtight home reduces energy leaks at all the gaps and cracks in your home’s walls (around windows and doors, where materials meet, plumbing penetrations, and more). This traps the air inside the home and doesn’t allow in outdoor air. While this prevents energy loss (or gain depending on the season) it also prevents the house from “airing out.” Air pressure around the home and in the home also plays a part in that, but that is for another blog on another day.


What should you do?

So what should you do if you want to save money with an energy-efficient home and you want to decrease VOCs and their harmful effects? Is this a catch-22? As scary as this may sound, it is not all doom and gloom, and there are ways to mitigate the amount of VOCs you will come into contact with in your home.

  1. In the construction stage, carefully select products. VOCs can be found in many products including paints, lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials, and glues. We typically select products that have low to No VOCs in them for our clients when possible.
  2. Include a dedicated fresh air system integrated with the heating and cooling system. This will draw in conditioned and filtered air into your home rather than relying on leaks in your home for “fresh” air.
  3. Open your windows occasionally (if your allergies are not too triggered by the pollen levels).

Until products are no longer made with VOCs, these strategies will not eliminate 100% of VOCs, but they will diminish a known health risk to your family. 

Aging-In-Place Part 2: Misconceptions About Aesthetics

Aging-In-Place Part 2: Misconceptions About Aesthetics

It’s been awhile since we’ve written about Aging-In-Place, but as promised, we bring Part 2 to this series focusing on aesthetic misconceptions about this type of design. (Read Part 1 here). As a reminder, you can hear more about Aging-In-Place Design on the on the WSVA Early Mornings podcast where Charles recently joined Beth Bland of Valley Program for Aging Services (VPAS) to talk about Aging in Place.

In the podcast, Beth addresses the common belief that Aging-In-Place modifications/aging friendly design can’t be beautiful or aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, this is a common misconception that prevents people from adding these modifications to their homes. We want to break that stereotype. You can make a beautiful house that is also accessible to people with a wide variety of abilities.

This misconception stems both from misinformation and often, a confusion of the terms “ADA compliant design” and Aging-In-Place design.” Here’s a recap from Part 1 in case you missed it.
ADA compliant design vs. Aging-In-Place modifications Recap:

Often ADA design and Aging in Place modifications overlap, but Aging in Place is centered around customizing spaces for you and your abilities. It expands beyond simply meeting the bare minimum requirements of basic building codes to creating something unique and beautiful for your day to day life. This sort of design can be added to your existing home or built into a new one.

Not only is Aging in Place customized around each individual’s physical design needs, but the entire process can be customized around your needs and might include financial, location, and relational considerations.

Beth asks, What things can you do to make aging-in-place modifications in a home look pretty?

Many designs are becoming popular that also happen to be aging friendly. In showers, you can take a tub out and put in a roll-in shower. In the interview, Charles says that he now puts no-step showers into most new houses because “they’re just gorgeous… people love them.” Example pictures below.

Hilltop house roll-in shower

A roll-in shower from #HilltopHouse.

Hilltop house bath and roll-in shower



Bathrooms are particularly important for modifications because water and soap can lead to slip and fall related accidents. For those with balance and mobility challenges, a towel bar that functions also as a grab bar can be installed. (One example here). Sinks can have open space beneath them to allow wheelchairs to slide underneath and give more access to the faucet. A curved front of a sink not only makes a sink more accessible for wheelchairs but gives easier reach for everyone because the sink follows the natural curve of our bodies.

This Modern Home has a beautiful sitting area in their restroom at the vanity (right).

View this custom home portfolio here.

sitting area in the bathroom by the vanity

Detached Garages

Detached garage at Penn Laird
Another example is to have a detached garage (left) that’s connected to the house by a breezeway. This distance from your house keeps chemicals and fumes out that come from your car and things that are often stored in a garage. Air quality is important to everyone, and you can be even more sensitive to poor air quality as you age. A breezeway creates visual interest to a house design and gives space for creative landscaping options. (See left for a beautiful example).


In the kitchen, you can also have a roll-under cabinets, islands, or bars. The space underneath functions dually for stationary chairs and wheelchairs. Counter tops of varying heights make it more accessible for kids, wheelchairs, and any height! Examples of a roll-under island design below. 
roll-under kitchen island
Aging-In-Place modifications can be an expression of your creative style. For example, this home has a unique pull-out spice drawer that’s hidden in it’s design and allows for easy access without overhead reach (pictured left).
Roll-under kitchen island

Grand Doorways and Beyond


These modifications are often a common part of design that you may not even notice unless you were paying attention or it was helping with your specific need. One such example is bigger doorways that allow wheelchairs and every size person to easily get through. Imagine too that you’re carrying a large platter of food for dinner or moving a couch into your home. A wider doorway like the one pictured below accommodates these kinds of common activities too. Aging-In-Place is for everyone.

sliding barn door interior
front doorway

For more information on making a home aging friendly, see these links to a few professionals and experts that are right here in the Valley:

You can listen to the full episode mentioned in the post here: Issues in Aging with Beth Bland of VPAS and Charles Hendricks of The Gaines Group talk about Aging in Place. It’s a short 25 minutes that is definitely worth a listen. #DesignMatters
Aging In Place – Part 1: Where to begin?

Aging In Place – Part 1: Where to begin?

Charles recently joined Beth Bland of Valley Program for Aging Services (VPAS) on the WSVA Early Mornings podcast to talk about Aging in Place. As a certified Aging in Place Specialist since May 2012, Charles has had many years of experience making these considerations, both professionally and through personal experience with family. In the episode, he addresses questions regarding everything from the basics of what Aging in Place is to specifics of what you can do to implement these modifications.

We begin this Aging in Place blog series with definitions and ways to begin, summarized from the episode, and will expand on the process of design implementation in further blog posts.


What is Aging In Place ?

Aging in Place is all about making a home adaptable as we all inevitably age and have abilities that change. Not only is this design approach about aging but it’s designing for a wide range of abilities. This sort of design can be added to your existing home or built into a new one. It doesn’t have to be a large-scale renovation and can be as simple as adding a towel bar to your bathroom that functions dually as a grab bar.

How does this differ from ADA compliant design?

Often ADA design and Aging in Place modifications overlap, but Aging in Place is centered around customizing for you and your experience. It expands beyond simply meeting the bare minimum requirements of basic building codes to creating something unique and beautiful for your day to day life (In another blog, we will discuss the misconception that Aging in Place design can’t be aesthetically pleasing).

Not only is Aging in Place customized around each individual’s physical design needs, but the entire process can be customized around your needs and might include financial, location, and relational considerations.

Why might I need an Aging in Place designed home?

All of us experience changes as we age and simply through life’s ups and downs. When possible, it’s better to plan ahead for life’s variability and unexpected times. Some things you might consider adaptations for are:

  • balance issues
  • reduced vision
  • reduced hearing
  • decreased mobility
  • reduced mental capabilities
  • loss of strength or endurance

The Planning Phase:

What questions should I consider for where to begin?

  1. What are the needs for your specific situation and what might you need in the in the future?
  2. Can your current house be adapted to what your needs will be?
  3. What are you able to do financially?
    1. Do you want to renovate or move to a new house?
    2. Do you have a budget?
  4. Do you live in a location that can support transportation needs changing, such as being near a bus station?
  5. Could a family or nurse live with you in this place?

Who can I talk to in advance to answer these questions and help start the process?

Because Aging in Place is so customizable, not all of these people will be pertinent to you, but these are some options to begin.

  • Architect: to assess how adaptable your house is
  • Contractor: for pricing
  • Professionals for more specific needs:
    • Occupational Therapist: for specific/personal adaptations
    • Financial Advisor: to discuss budget
    • Realtor: if moving location


Making things even easier, we have a wealth of knowledge right here in the Valley with many professionals that are experts on Aging in Place! Here are some places to go for more information on making a home aging friendly

You can listen to the full episode here: Issues in Aging with Beth Bland of VPAS and Charles Hendricks of The Gaines Group talk about Aging in Place. It’s a short 25 minutes that is definitely worth a listen. #DesignMatters

Designing for Accessibility in Multifamily Communities

Designing for Accessibility in Multifamily Communities

We understand residents who are seeking accessible homes already face numerous challenges in their day-to-day lives. Our goal is to design accessible spaces that minimize these challenges and promote the highest quality of life and a sense of independence in everyday living. We prioritize creating both indoor and outdoor spaces that are conducive to varying gathering sizes and movement abilities while minimizing excessive ramping or paved surfaces.

There are a variety of standards that regulate the requirements for designing spaces that promote equal access for varying abilities including Fair Housing regulations, ADA, ANSI 117, Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS), and Universal Design standards. Meeting these regulations can often be challenging, but we believe they can be an excellent opportunity to provide housing equality to all residents and visitors. Following and adapting to these regulations inspires our architects to be creative in the design process and deliver solutions that serve all abilities.

The above sink has been lowered in a clubhouse kitchen for increased accessibility.

Although the different classifications of accessible homes can vary within a multifamily community, most homes do not require much more space than a standard kitchen or bathroom. The clearances required for these homes make the space more adaptable for people of all abilities, ensuring a functional arrangement that can be well utilized by everyone. Designing spaces that are adaptable to changing needs allows residents the ability to remain in their homes despite changes in health and mobility.

These are removable cabinets with a shallow roll-under sink. The adjacent cabinet is removable and can be lowered into a work surface.

The biggest challenge in designing for accessibility in multifamily projects is creating accessible routes throughout the community. It is critical to provide easy access for people of all abilities to fully utilize all amenity spaces. One of our team’s favorite challenges is designing a swimming pool that can be used by many different ages and abilities. This is an example in which we consider specific pool depths, layouts, and entry points. In a previous project, the first apartment leased was a fully accessible home because the resident fell in love with the ramp access to the pool!

Accessible pool entrance at the Goose Creek Apartments Project in Fishersville, Virginia.

Blog post written by: Adrienne Stronge

Why Should You Want a House Designed for Aging-in-Place?

Why Should You Want a House Designed for Aging-in-Place?


Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Over the past few months, the concept of aging-in-place has come to the front of my mind. I have been training to run / walk a 5 mile race that is coming up in October, and for all those who knew me before I was overweight (yes that was a long time ago), I was never a runner. However, I needed a goal to motivate myself to exercise, and by some overwhelming depth of evil and bad decision-making, I decided that a 5 mile race would be the goal. So I run / walk / crawl a couple of miles two days a week and then run / walk / cry 5 miles on Saturday mornings. It has taken me a couple of months to get to a point where I could go the 5 mile distance, but now I know I will finish the race. Now I am working on finishing in under 1 hour. This sounds easy to some, but for me, that would require cutting 10 minutes off my time in the next 2 weeks. I am not sure I will get there unless by some very good luck the entire race is all downhill and perhaps has a portion that is run while sitting down…. So, I do love a challenge and want to beat my goal. I had a thought, perhaps if I go further in training, come race day 5 miles will go faster. Since I have been able to make 5 miles for a few weeks in a row and not die, I decided to go further this Saturday. After the relief sale, after walking 10,000 steps, after eating a lot of really good food that was not really good for you, I realized that this was not good decision-making. I made it 7.2 miles and did not die; mission accomplished – sort of. Two days later, my legs are still very tired. Not really hurting, just tired. They are heavy with every step. It is hard to walk up stairs. I know this will pass, but what if every day felt this way even if I did not run? How would life be different? How would my house work for me?

As I age, my body has new aches and pains. Things hurt that I did not know could feel pain and for no reason. My body has decided that torturing me is a fun activity. Assuming I am not alone, this is a problem for many of you, right? Tell me I am not alone… Please?


Assuming some of you also are aging (and I hope you are) and feel new aches and pains that you did not in the past, you might be interested in this concept of design called aging-in-place. This concept unfortunately has the word aging in it, and nobody wants to think about that concept in-place or out-of-place. So put that aside for a moment and think about living with ease in-place. According to AARP, over the next 14 years 10,000 people will turn 65 years old each day. If some or many of these people face new aches, pains and possibly mobility issues, where will they live? Will they want a house that has stairs? Will they want a house with multiple floors or many small rooms? Will they want a big yard to maintain? These are all new factors in this next boom in housing. The popular designs of the past, two-story homes or split level homes, are hard to adapt to when there is a mobility issue. It is not just about aging people, but what if you have a baby, stroller, and groceries – a house designed for aging-in-place provides ease of use. What if your daughter breaks an ankle? Having a house with a first floor bedroom and bathroom will make life easier for recovery. What if your friend in a wheelchair wants to visit? A house designed for aging-in-place works well for building a community of friends with all abilities. What if you want to sit down to work in the kitchen? What if you want more light at times in a room? What if you don’t want to bend over to plug in something? What if you need to move in a new refrigerator? What if you want to shave your legs in the shower? All of these things are answered by aging-in-place design strategies that make living easier. So when you are deciding on what you want in your next new house, you might think about this question: “Why should you want a house designed for aging-in-place?”


Classic design for aging-in-place

Classic design for aging-in-place

We are working on classic design for aging-in-place house for a couple in Harrisonburg. The goal is to make the home a forever home. Using aging-in-place strategies we are designing a home that can adapt over time to the needs of our clients. From the open floor plan to wide doorways the home can accommodate people of all abilities.

harrisonburg aging-in-place house

Making the home energy-efficient and comfortable keeps the house usable for a long time and affordable to heat and cool. Reducing long-term expenses due to conditioning the home provides payback every month. This is important as you age and you move to a fixed income. It is also important at all other points in your life as you want to spend as little as possible on heating and cooling so you can maximize enjoyment.

harrisonburg aging-in-place house

Using durable materials will make the house long-lasting and easy to maintain. Again reducing long-term costs associated with maintenance of the home.

harrisonburg aging-in-place house

 We are including a roll-in shower, sitting space in the kitchen, no-step entry, and doors with lever handles to make the house flexible for changing needs.

harrisonburg aging-in-place house

There is no way of knowing what will happen in the future, but making the home as affordable as possible and adaptable will increase the possibility of making this a home for a lifetime.