Community Volunteer Project: Critical Home Repairs

Community Volunteer Project: Critical Home Repairs
  • Opening Intro -

    An aging population and a weak economy have combined to create a major problem in many neighborhoods: deferred home maintenance.

    Especially in cases in which an elderly or disabled individual lives alone.


By Ed Mostella

Seemingly minor issues can quickly become major problems that lead to displacement. Your volunteer group can make a meaningful difference in your community by helping to keep your elderly or disabled neighbors safe, warm and dry.

1. Choose Your Scope — If your group wants to do one weekend project per year, check to see if there is a program already operating in your neighborhood and volunteer your services. Churches and non-profit groups frequently partner with local neighborhood councils to coordinate such programs, so reach out to these organizations before getting started. But, if you’re intent on doing something yourself, you’ll need to decide what repairs you’re capable of handling. One-day or weekend projects should stick to critical, but not emergency repairs. Try to frame your projects as fitting one of these three goals: Safe, Warm and Dry.

“Safe” examples: repairing or replacing doors, locks & windows; fixing steps & ramps; removing pests; clearing yard debris; removing and properly disposing of fire-hazard volatile chemicals, paints, etc; replacing water damaged bathroom floors.
“Warm” examples: Weatherizing doors and windows; repairing leaking radiators; cleaning heating system; adding insulation.
“Dry” examples: patching minor roof leaks; resolving poor drainage issues; repairing or replacing sump pumps; ensuring proper function of kitchen and bathroom plumbing components.

You should also limit your scope to one set of repairs in a certain time period. That way, you won’t have to disappoint homeowners who were previously happy with you by turning them down in the future. If you’re clear about what you can do and how often you can do it from the onset, you’ll set yourself up for a better relationship with the neighborhood.

2. Learn The Code — Nothing would be worse than for you to start a project only to be forced to stop by a code inspector wanting to see your building permit. Some communities require permits even to change a door, so do your homework prior to getting started.

3. Qualify Your Homeowners — Ask local churches, senior centers and neighborhood organizations to help identify elderly or disabled homeowners who might be in need of important repairs, but lack the resources to have them completed. You should have a very specific list of qualifying criteria that will narrow your potential recipient pool. Otherwise, as soon as word gets out that you’ve done a good job, you’ll be inundated with requests! Limit your repairs to owner-occupied properties with a homeowner’s insurance policy in force. Be sure to see (and preferably photocopy) these documents before starting the project. You’ll be protected in case of accidents and the homeowner will be protected from the possibility that you do more harm than good.

4. Inspect and Triage — In some communities, you’ll be just the latest in a long line of well-meaning groups to come knocking on the door. Visit a pre-qualified homeowner and ask to be shown the areas of the home needing repair. Keep in mind that the homeowner may not be aware of critical issues that are not as obvious as the ones they point out. For example, a poorly performing and leaky kitchen faucet is obvious whereas the resultant water damage to the wall, cabinet and flooring may not be immediately apparent. Take pictures of every problem area.

Make a comprehensive list of needs and sort them into projects that do and do not fit your limited project scope. Do your best to connect the homeowner to other community resources for the repairs you will not perform.

5. Under-promise — Create a short contract between your group and the homeowner detailing the repairs you’ll complete and indicating when you will do these repairs. If your group has set a per-project monetary limit, be sure that the repairs you promised to complete will fit in your budget. You can always add another project once you’re finished with what you initially agreed to do, but you don’t want to have to back out of completing a project due to unforeseen expenses on another repair.

6. Over-deliver — With all necessary permits in hand, safely complete the repairs per your arranged schedule. Make sure that every repair is done with impeccable quality. Choose materials and finishes to match the rest of the house, making sure to purchase more materials than you’ll need so that you won’t have to waste time running to the store if you make a mistake or find hidden damage. Many cities now have tool lending libraries to serve community organizations. If there is one in your city, it may be an asset if your crew needs five ladders or six circular saws for just one day. Take lots of pictures of the project, clean up fastidiously when you’re finished and be sure that the homeowner is satisfied with your work before you leave for the day.

7. Seek Feedback — Check in on the homeowner about a week after the project to make sure that everything is still working properly. A happy homeowner will be an asset to you as you seek out your next project house.

8. Plan the Next Project! — You should have met several community leaders during the initial project. Keep in touch with them and find out how you can best serve the needs of the neighborhood. They’ll appreciate your deference and you will become a needed asset as you help their elderly and disabled neighbors stay safe, warm and dry.

Author Information

Ed Mostella is a freelance writer based in sunny San Diego, CA. As both a DIYer and manufacturing tools expert, Ed enjoys helping people work safely and effectively. He specializes in training on the torque wrench and the digital torque wrench.



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