The Hidden Hazard in the Home for Seniors

By Janet Stephens

The prospect of an older relative taking a serious fall can be a legitimate cause for worry. The CDC reports that each year, more than one out of four seniors falls (more than one in three, according to the National Institute on Aging), and one out of five falls causes a serious injury. More likely to fall than younger adults, seniors also have a more difficult time recovering from falls. Indeed, hip fractures set the stage for a whole host of activities detrimental to the senior’s health. It’s best to stay securely on one’s feet, and walk into the doctor’s office for regular check-ups!

Prevention is the best medicine: reduce fall hazards ahead of time.

What are possible causes of trips? According to the National Institute on Aging, common fall hazards include:

* a slick floor
* a poorly lit stairway
* loose rugs
* clutter on the floor or stairs
* carrying heavy or bulky things up or down stairs
* lack of stair railings
* lack of grab bars in the bathroom

Some of this information cuts close to home. My own mother fell in her home, ended up in the hospital, then moved to nursing facilities–and she never returned to her own home. The fall exacerbated her poor health and accelerated her death.

Until recently, my dad lived in a well-designed retirement home in Seattle, where it is evident that they’ve thought about all of these hazards. The floors are carpeted, everything is well lit, the common areas are uncluttered, there are well-situated elevators, the stairs all have sturdy railings, and there are grab bars and pull-cord alarms in every resident’s bathroom. Yet about one month ago, my dad took a fall in his apartment, hit his head, and ended up on the floor. Confusion meant that he didn’t pull the cord alarm, but instead walked down to the front desk. Now he’s in a skilled nursing facility trying to recover.

So I do wonder about those seniors who lack resources and don’t have family nearby to help them. Luckily, there’s CESC’s Home Repair Program, available to qualifying residents of Berkeley, unincorporated areas of Contra Costa County, and Oakland. It’s like having a handy son-in-law nearby—one with a day job in construction!

The CESC team begins by inspecting the home for safety. The team looks at the exterior, kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, and common living areas. In every area, the team is thinking about many different kinds of hazards, but especially about fall hazards. According to Gregory Clark, CESC’s Construction Services Manager, “Delayed maintenance and improper installation are the main culprits I’ve personally seen. Ragged carpet on stairs, hand railing mounts secured to nothing more than plaster or Sheetrock, bad lighting—the list is endless.”  

* Exterior
Is there a walkway, stair, or ramp? If so, are the steps in good condition, and are the risers even? Are there sturdy hand railings? Is there lighting for the stairs?

* Kitchen
Is the floor surface even and in good repair?

* Bathroom
Is the floor in good repair, and are any rugs adhered securely to the floor? Is there a grab bar in the shower? How about a non-skid surface?

* Bedroom
Is there adequate floor space for mobility, and is the floor space clear of hazards? Is the lighting from the bedroom to the bathroom adequate?

* Common living areas
Are there accumulated belongings blocking throughways? Do electrical cords pose a trip risk? Are interior stairs level, not slippery, and in good condition?

After CESC provides repairs, clients typically describe a sense of relief and of empowerment at the improved state of their homes. These repairs and education mean a greater sense of well-being that living in a safe and well-maintained home can provide. Here is what some clients from the Home Repair Program have to say:

“It feels good to know that you checked out all of my functions and brought me up to health and safety regulations. I just feel safer!”

“You made such a big difference on the comfort and safety that I feel now.”

“[CESC] put in something for us to hold onto as we go down the steps because we are slowly losing our balance. Because it’s easy to fall down at our age, we gotta be very careful. . . .I am hoping and praying that they continue to have this program. . . I recommend anyone that’s low-income to this service, because it’s very helpful.”  

Could you or someone you know benefit from this program? Contact CESC, or help us spread the word by sharing this blog.



East Bay Energy Watch 2017


Hitting the Ground Running

On Tuesday, February 28th, the new East Bay Energy Watch program launched, a partnership between CESC and DNV GL to offer businesses in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties opportunities to install energy efficiency upgrades while receiving technical assistance, project management and rebates.

DNV GL offices were packed with electrical contractors as well as PG&E, MCE Clean Energy, local government and program staff at the contractor training; they met to discuss best practices for the New Year. Although the program launched only recently, it already has many customers who have received lighting upgrades to LEDs, and many more installation projects in the pipeline.


History of Success

Previously, East Bay Energy Watch was the name for one of 21 local government partnerships between PG&E, local municipalities, and energy efficiency programs. EBEW programs and services are funded by California utility ratepayers under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The East Bay partnership was the first in California, beginning with PG&E’s partnership with first just the City of Oakland before expanding to all of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.  

CESC’s SmartLights program began work in Berkeley in 1998, expanding to neighboring cities in 2000. DNV GL’s BEST program began work in Oakland in 2002. In 2004 with funding from PG&E, SmartLights and BEST began offering services to small businesses in all of Alameda and Contra Costa County. The programs each had their own geographic territory, which reduced direct competition and allowed a complementary relationship to develop over the years.

SmartLights and BEST are based on different program models. SmartLights has energy assessors who provide turn-key services and start-to-finish support for small businesses. BEST works primarily with electrical contractors, providing them with the resources they need to market energy efficiency retrofits and deliver large energy savings. Yet both models have been highly successful – together SmartLights and BEST have saved local businesses more than 200,000 megawatt hours over the last 15 years in the East Bay!



For 2017, BEST and SmartLights programs are bringing their strengths together to form a single program, East Bay Energy Watch. For local businesses and contractors this collaboration will mean:  

 * One program offering throughout Alameda and Contra Costa County
* Streamlined and simplified paperwork for projects
* The ability to work with both DNV GL engineers and SmartLights energy assessors 
* Fast processing of rebates

Providing rebates and technical assistance for lighting retrofits, commercial refrigeration motors and controls, as well as heating, ventilation and air condition controls, EBEW is the new one-stop shop for businesses to take control of their energy use, reduce their costs, and improve operations.

Do you know a business that could use help with a lighting or motor upgrade, or is interested in learning about how they can be more energy efficient?

Contact EBEW today!  
(800) 576-6405
East Bay Energy Watch

Lighting the Way

When SmartLights Outreach Specialist Evan Riter gets a lead on a business that may be interested in saving energy and money, he’s immediately on the case. He’s eager to spread the word about saving energy, saving money–and making it happen for small and medium-sized businesses.

CESC’s SmartLights program is designed to help Bay Area businesses use energy more efficiently. This program offers free start-to-finish technical assistance and instant rebates, paid for by PG&E and MCE Clean Energy as directed by the California Public Utilities Commission, to help defray the cost of upgrading or repairing existing equipment. SmartLights can help with comprehensive lighting retrofits, refrigeration tune-ups, controls, and seals replacement, and referrals to appropriate HVAC programs. But some jobs are as simple as replacing out-of-date lighting with the newest, most energy-efficient lighting, LEDs.

Once Evan has a conversation with a potential client, he finds it pretty easy to convince the business owner or manager to participate in SmartLights and upgrade lighting or other energy-using appliances in their business. The decision means better lighting and lower energy bills.

Evan especially likes it when a SmartLights job is simple enough that he can handle it himself, rather than bringing in an in-house or external contractor. It means that he can make sure the customer is satisfied, because he is there in person gauging reactions, and he conducts a brief interview on the spot to find out if they are satisfied. He also leaves the client with his contact information and lets them know they are able to call him at a later date to fix anything that they are not happy with.


“I have a background in lighting. I designed and built exhibits for museums for about 25 years. I’ve also worked with live theatre doing lighting, so I understand some of the more esoteric concerns of businesses like beauty salons or art galleries. They are very concerned with color temperature (the warmth or coolness of the light), beam spread or width, and other lighting issues that influence the atmosphere of the business. I’m able to ask the right questions to understand what they need so that the project can go as smoothly as possible.”

On a few occasions, especially with hair salons, he has received a follow-up call about the quality of the light emitted by the new lightbulbs. What first seemed just right has become, after a week or two, too bright or harsh. In these cases, Evan happily returns and trades out the unwanted bulbs for those with a softer or warmer tone. That’s something that some contractors may not be  willing to do.

Evan notes that aesthetically inclined clients love the results they are getting. ‘I did a job at an art gallery in Sausalito called Galerie Elektra. Galerie Elektra cut its electricity bill in half. We replaced MR16s, little tiny round halogen bulbs that give out bright light, with LED equivalents. There was a lot of savings, because each of those bulbs was 50 watts. We replaced them with bulbs that were about 7 watts each. When you’re talking about over 100 bulbs, the savings adds up.”

Evan sometimes gets turned down, perhaps because some people suspect it must be too good to be true. However he is so persistent that most of his contacts turn into clients. The work is usually almost free to them, since the reimbursements typically cover the cost of the new lighting. And the savings are impressive. “The more they do, and the greater the difference between what they had and what they’re getting, the more savings they get. We do sometimes replace CFLs, because, depending on quantity, switching to LEDs can still add up to a pretty nice savings per month.”

Do you know of a business that could benefit from an energy upgrade? Call Evan! at SmartLights.

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