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Seminar Spotlights 

A sampling of what you'll hear from the experts at the expo.

Universal Design: Rebuilding for Life
3:30 p.m. Friday

Kerrie Ramsdell, an assistant professor at the LSU Health Sciences Center School of Allied Health Professions Occupational Therapy Program, will conduct a seminar on universal design (UD), a concept that addresses homebuilding options and strategic design choices that are particularly important to aging homeowners.

Universal-design homes are built to accommodate human functional diversity and projected changes in how people perform their daily activities. These homes can readily accommodate people who differ in height, size, strength and mobility. For many baby boomers who are rebuilding their homes post-Katrina, now is the ideal time to take these issues into consideration.

"We want New Orleans homeowners to incorporate UD principles in their rebuilding to help them stay in their homes longer," says Ramsdell. "It is so much cheaper to do this now, than to make changes later, requiring retrofitting."

Many of the features suggested by Ramsdell are based on wheel-chair accessibility and include sloped, zero-step entrances; handrails; widened doorways and hallways; and non-slip flooring.

"If you incorporate these now in your rebuilding -- before you put the electrical in and drywall up -- you can prevent injury and disability, enabling you to 'age in place' without institutional care," she explains.

Energy Conservation in the Home
4 p.m. Friday

Ron Chenevert of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore will discuss energy conservation in the home, with a focus on simple things families can do to lower their energy bills.

A programmable thermostat is a great investment. "You can set it on a seven-day program and get about 3 percent savings on your energy bills," says Chenevert. To limit unwanted airflow, he suggests buying foam insulation inserts for electrical outlets, an often-overlooked insulation problem.

He also recommends compact fluorescent light bulbs, which use one-quarter of the energy of regular incandescent bulbs. "They're now being sold in packs of five and are more affordable than they used to be," he explains.

Chenevert encourages people to take a closer look at their water heaters, too. "About 20-25 percent of your energy bill goes toward heating water, so you should set it to the lowest comfortable temperature," he says. That can be a seasonal adjustment, as water coming into your house during the summer in the New Orleans area is already pretty warm. "Adding insulation along hot-water pipes and around the hot-water heater itself can also make a difference," says Chenevert.

4:30 p.m.

Friday Kenneth Lanier of the Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals will give a general talk on mold -- what it is and how to keep it from becoming a problem from a health perspective.

"I'll talk about controlling moisture with mechanical ventilation, which is especially important in kitchens and bathrooms," explains Lanier.

When mold growth is detected, Lanier advises homeowners to correct moisture problems first -- repair the busted pipe or leaky roof -- and then address the mold issues.

"If you have mold on porous materials such as carpet and sheetrock, you will have to replace those items," says Lanier. "Most solid, non-porous materials like plastic and sheet metal can be cleaned with soap and water. Sometimes we recommend using bleach or borate-based detergent solutions." Lanier also stresses the importance of wearing protective gear including gloves, boots, a respirator and protective eyewear.

The Road Home Program: Separating Fact from Fiction
12:30 p.m. Saturday

The largest housing recovery program in U.S. history, the Road Home program is ready to help thousands of Louisiana residents get back into homes damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. A seminar by Road Home community outreach manager Julie Harris aims to dispel misconceptions and give homeowners the information they need to make the program work for them.

"Some people think this is an allowance program," says Harris. "It's not. It's a compensation program. It's meant to help you fill in the gaps for losses your insurance didn't cover."

Harris says there are a lot of people who don't try to take advantage of the program because they assume they will not qualify for benefits. "We encourage everyone interested to apply to see if they are eligible," she says.

"We had a registration process that ended Aug. 14," says Harris. "People need to know that, even if they registered, they still must submit a separate application. And you can still apply, even if you never registered."

To get an application, call (888) ROAD-2-LA or visit Proof of ownership is required. Documents such as mortgage coupons and insurance documents are very helpful in the application process.

Harris estimates that, on average, it takes six to eight weeks from the time an application is approved to when the money is disbursed.

"It does take a little time, but people have to remember that this is a real estate transaction," explains Harris. "The difference is that there are a lot of emotions involved, and that complicates things a little bit.

"We have a highly compassionate program where a large percentage of our employees were impacted by the storm as well. When you come in, we don't rush you to make your decision. But we do have housing advisers who are there to help you."

As of Oct. 10, Road Home Program had 37,480 applications on record and $18 million in benefits verified and calculated. The average award is $48,536, and the maximum benefit is $150,000.

Rebuilding Green
1:30 p.m. Sunday

Saving the rainforests is important, but Kent Sjolund thinks it's just as important to keep an eye on the forests just beyond our own backyards.

In his seminar, "Rebuilding Green," Sjolund will talk about the importance of considering the environmental impact of the products you choose to build or repair your home, especially when it comes to lumber. Instead of automatically saying, "I have to have oak or maple," Sjolund asks people to first consider the potential consequences and the implications of hardwood forest depletion.

"So many people [along the Gulf Coast] are rebuilding anyway," says Sjolund. "Why not take a little time to ask your contractors, suppliers and retailers to show you items from sustainable sources?"

In order to be considered "sustainable," timber products must be harvested in a way that maintains the forest's biodiversity, productivity and ecological processes. They also must be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an organization that promotes environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world's forests.

"We need to take a much more responsible approach toward harvesting our resources," says Sjolund, pointing out that it takes more than 75 years for an oak tree to be mature enough for commercial harvest, while teak is marketable in 15 years.


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