by Olesia Chikunova, ADU Specialist.
Have you noticed how conversations with friends that once centred around concerns for younger family members are turning more and more to worries about our older loved ones? It seems that all of us face very similar issues as we see their physical and mental capacities slowly decline with age.
But what can we do? Maybe we live many miles away and cannot be on call to offer help when it is needed. Or maybe distance is less of a problem than time. You have your own life, job, hobbies and other family members and friends who all demand your time and attention. You know your family member doesn’t need residential care just yet, but you can’t just ignore their needs. After all, they may have spent many years caring for you when you were a child, so surely you should do the same for them now?
One option that is often discussed is having your family member move in with you. You have a spare bedroom and, if you’re an empty nester, there’s plenty of living space for everyone. But anyone who has done this will tell you that living full-time with an older person can be fraught with difficulties.
All of us can get very set in our ways as we get older and unwilling to change habits that have developed over a lifetime. Turning a parent-child dynamic on its head by requiring them to fit in with your lifestyle can be the stuff of nightmares.
And being constantly on hand is not necessarily in an older person’s best interests either. Maintaining as much independence as possible, both physical and emotional, is a very important part of successful aging.
If you’ll pardon the pun, an attractive halfway house solution is the so-called “granny pod”. Also known as in-law units, or more formally Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), these are small detached, often pre-fabricated, buildings that are specially designed for the needs of older people and sit in your backyard, rather like a guest house. They allow all the advantages of independent living but with the reassurance that family is just a stone’s throw away. Families often opt to move in to one property, though a lot of conversations are needed to reach a multigeneration agreement.
Granny pods are becoming more and more popular in the USA as families appreciate just what a cost-effective and flexible solution to elder care they are. But they are not a new idea. Americans have been building extra homes on their land for centuries, but it became largely illegal after World War II as tighter zoning codes permitted just one home per building lot, whatever its size.
By the 1980s however, faced with the need to provide more affordable urban housing, granny pods started to make a comeback. The trend has accelerated since 2000 as more and more cities and counties have changed their zoning codes to allow ADUs for a whole variety of purposes.
Given that the number of seniors in the country is expected to reach over 70 million by 2030, their suitability for offering family-centred and affordable elder care is a major reason for the growth in their numbers.
Granny pods do not need to be a charmless box just sitting in your backyard like it’s blown in on the wind. There’s a huge variety of architectural styles on offer, ranging from cute cottage styles to the sleek and modern. Choose whatever complements your existing home so the new arrival looks like it’s always been there.
Neither are you limited by a standard size and shape. It’s up to you to decide how much space you want the unit to take up and how it can best fit in with its surroundings. Sizes can range from as little as 400 to over 1200 square feet and units can be designed to accommodate slopes, tight corners or to take advantage of views.
For many people, a home is as much about what’s outside as what’s inside. If someone enjoys sitting outdoors, then a covered deck or porch area, complete with seating and planters would be very welcome. Or why not create a small garden area that blends the unit into the rest of the outside environment?
If gardening is something they enjoy, then incorporating raised beds for flowers or vegetables are ideal when bending over is more difficult. Low fences or hedges around the area can create a sense of privacy and ownership of personal space.
No need for ugly retrofitting of all those interior features that make seniors’ homes safer and more comfortable to live in. Everything is built into the design from the foundations up so a sleek finish is ensured. For example, doors can be made wide enough for wheelchairs or walking frames, thresholds eliminated between rooms to avoid trip hazards and easy-to-reach controls and switches installed.
In the kitchen worktop height can be made to measure and appliances selected with ease of use in mind. Bathrooms, potentially dangerous spaces for seniors, can incorporate features like walk-in showers, shower seats, non-slip surfaces and easy-to-operate faucets.
These newly built granny pods often look and function better than the main house.
Older people can be heavy users of energy for heating and cooling but your granny pod’s eco-credentials can help avoid sky-high utility bills. They are built to be very energy efficient, using the most modern insulation materials and dual pane windows, making them warm in winter and cool in summer.
Solar panels are a popular option to cut down on energy usage still further.
An amazing variety of sophisticated safety features can be fitted if necessary. Falls are one of the main dangers to an older person so special soft flooring and floor-level lighting can reduce the dangers of falls. Interactive video, floor cameras and sensors and alarms can provide 24-hour monitoring. There are even systems that let you check on someone’s vital signs and if they have taken medications.
Make sure to follow best practices when planning a bathroom in an ADU for a senior.