RESIDENTIAL BY DAVID SHAPIRO
The Employee Benefit Research
Institute asked people this January
whether they would have enough money
when they retire. Close to half said they
are nervous about it. For more details of
the survey, go to
By “retire,” I don’t necessarily mean
reaching the point where a substantial
pension kicks in, either. They expected
to work longer or to keep working part-time even after they retired. However,
a fair number stopped working even
sooner, because their jobs disappeared.
Also, close to one-third retired earlier than they had expected because
they weren’t healthy enough to keep on
at their jobs. That’s the second reason I
don’t call it a “healthy” market. Still, it
is a market that needs electrical work.
In this column and the next, I won’t sell
a get-rich scheme—just another way to
earn an honest living.
January 2016’s NFPA Journal
explored problems with healthcare in
retirement-age people’s homes. The article stated almost one-third of the homes
owned by a person 65–74 years old contain one or more disabled people. This
number rises to more than half of the
homes when owners are over 75. They
need electricity to operate equipment
that helps them cope with their issues.
Looking at the numbers I shared last
month, it’s clear that is going to amount
to a lot of houses.
If it is hard to imagine, consider older
electricians. Quite a few residential wire-
men have been exposed to attic insulation
for years. At their worst, this insulation
can cause aggressive, life-threatening
cancers such as mesothelioma. Even
when not quickly fatal, occupational
diseases can afflict unlucky electricians.
Then there are smokers. People with
problems milder than chronic obstructive pulmonary disease still may rely
on continuous positive airway pressure
(C-PAP) machines to help them breathe.
Meanwhile, you may know someone who
relies on a motorized wheelchair with a
battery that holds a limited charge. Others have a parent who would have trouble
getting about at night during a blackout.
Anyone could get badly hurt if they fell.
Suppose a hurricane causes extended
power outages, but it doesn’t flood people out of their homes. Hardening homes
against this risk is a whole level beyond
what we normally offer as electricians.
The Federal Emergency Management
Agency and other emergency management planners try to keep track of these
homes. Aid workers may have to get to
chronically sick people if they suddenly
can’t take care of themselves.
Sometimes it’s not just individual
homes but neighborhoods. There are
whole clusters of older citizens living
in naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs), in part because they
started out as middle-aged or younger
adults living near each other and stayed
put. They may like the comfort of being
in their own homes rather than moving
to retirement communities or nursing
homes, or they may not be able to afford
If you take good care of customers who
are aging in place, consider the possible
benefit from the fact that neighbors like
to ask neighbors for recommendations.
Other families in the same NORC will
need electrical work, too.
We can protect people relying on
durable medical equipment well before
FEMA needs to get involved. Would an
uninterruptible power supply offer good
value? Are regular, extended power outages frequent enough that families with
the money would see benefit from generators? Do they already own generators,
but have them in dangerous locations? I
would see it as my duty to speak up and
suggest alternatives if a homeowner
planned to use a generator in such a way
that it could defeat anti-islanding measures, ditto if it could put someone at risk
of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Beyond helping elderly customers ride out blackouts, there are simple
things we can do to reduce their risk of
falling and make life a litte easier. Johns
Hopkins Occupational Therapist Allyson
Evelyn-Gustave mentions several in the
Johns Hopkins Health Review, and she
told me more when I interviewed her.
Most hadn’t occurred to me.
I’ll share the story of her project,
along with her suggestions, next month.
For now, here’s the simplest: I’ll ask
about extending paddle fans’ pull chains.
I won’t assume that, just because I can
reach the chains, every adult in my customer’s home can reach them.
Old Customers and Uneasy Ones
Serving an aging market
LAST MONTH, I wrote about the substantial market of older customers. I was going
to describe them as a healthy market, but I backed away for two reasons. Money’s
first: older customers’ bank accounts may not be all that full.
SHAP IRO is the author of “Old Electrical Wiring,” “Your Old Wiring,” and co-author, with
W. Creighton Schwan, of “Behind the Code.” He is a contractor, consultant, writer and local
IAEI officer in Greenbelt, Md. He can be reached at