Aging in Place: Granny Pods Provide Privacy and Independence

If you’re thinking about how to take care of aging relatives and concerned that you might not be able to provide the level of care you’d like to, you’re not alone: the population of Americans ages 65 and over has seen a 33% increase between 2006 and 2016, according to the latest research. What’s more, the Population Reference Bureau states that the aging of this group deemed “baby boomers” could fuel more than a 50% increase in the number of Americans ages 65 and older requiring nursing home care.

As after-retirement care prices soar, some families are looking for a new solution to offer assistance to their elderly loved ones. If you find yourself in the position to provide such care, one solution is to build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on your property.

While these miniature homes have been given the not-so-great nickname of “granny pods,” they are a great way to allow you to care for your relatives while affording them the privacy and independence they deserve.

Let’s shed some light on the granny pod phenomenon, including zoning, costs, and the pros and cons of adding an ADU to your property, to help you decide if this is the right option for you and your family.

The interior of a granny pod.
Source: (Lupiphoto/ Shutterstock)

What is a granny pod?

You may or may not be familiar with the not-so-technical term “granny pod”; The official term used by architects and city planners is accessory dwelling unit, but an ADU is synonymous with granny pod, granny flat, care cottage, in-law suite, and a host of other creative descriptors. These small permanent structures are built on a single-family lot that already has a house on it.

The dwellings are essentially fully functioning mini-homes and include everything one needs to live independently. They often have their own wheelchair-accessible entrance and can be outfitted with as many or as few nursing care safety and technology features as you choose to include. A typical granny pod is between 250 and 900 square feet.

When it comes to adding a granny pod to your property, you have a few options. You can DIY the project and hire a contractor to oversee the build out of an existing shed or garage, you can build a new structure from the ground up, or you can have a prefabricated home delivered to your back doorstep.

Before we get into the particulars of granny pod build outs and the pros and cons of adding one, let’s address a very important point — the legality of adding an ADU to your property.

Are you legally allowed to add a granny pod to your property? 

The laws on adding an ADU to your property vary from state to state and even from municipality to municipality. The first thing you should do if you are thinking of adding a granny pod to your property is do some research to see if they are allowed in your area.

We spoke with Rita Shaw, a top-selling Redlands, California, agent with 42 years of experience in the industry, who told us that in 2019, California passed a law “that requires cities to allow people to build second units on their property as affordable housing units.” Shaw just built such a unit on her own property and says buyers are very interested in ADUs for a variety of reasons, including housing family members. (If you live in a state other than California, you’ll need to make sure your area is on board.)

When it comes to determining whether you are legally allowed to add a granny pod to your property, you’ll see a few technical terms that you’ll need to understand before proceeding with construction.

Zoning codes tell you where you are allowed to build a granny pod. Zoning varies greatly between municipalities, and regulations are changing all the time.

Here is a handy source to check if ADUs are approved in your district. If you don’t see your area on the list, you can call your local zoning or planning department. Once you determine that you are indeed zoned to put an ADU on your property, you’ll need to learn about how the construction must proceed.

Building codes tell you how to build your granny pod. These codes focus on public health and safety. They will dictate minimum square footage, fire safety requirements, and more. If you hire a licensed contractor, they will be aware of all of the codes, and they should discuss this with you during the planning phase of your project.

Covenants regulate aesthetic standards in specific neighborhoods. If you live in a new development, covenants may prohibit you from building a granny pod even if zoning and city codes do allow for such construction. Be sure to check with your neighborhood association if you belong to one. In addition, if you are a member of a homeowner’s association, the board will determine if granny pods are allowed.

What’s included in a granny pod?

A granny pod should not be confused with a tiny house. Many tiny houses fall under the recreational vehicle code because they are on wheels and can be moved. If a tiny house has wheels, it is classified as an RV, which makes it a no-go on 99% of residential properties.

A granny pod, on the other hand, is a permanent structure, which is built on a concrete slab and designed to gather its energy, sewer, and water needs from the main house on the property. In some cases, you can modify a tiny house to become a permanent structure on your property with its own energy metering.

The one-story building will generally comprise a living and sleeping space, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The space is designed to ensure the safety of your aging loved ones. These ADUs are equipped with handrails, open floor plans, soft padded flooring, and accessible bathrooms. Some prefab units come complete with smart home adaptability so that you can monitor what is going on inside at all times. You can even set alarms so that the resident is reminded to take medications, turn off appliances, and more.

A granny pod.
Source: (Gayatri Malhotra / Unsplash)

How much does a granny pod cost?

You can expect to spend at least $40,000 to build the simplest structure and between $100,000 and $250,000 for a prefab model chock full of all the medical features and technologies needed for top-of-the-line care and comfort. There are several companies that have conceived and crafted elder-care cottages.

Each of the following companies has a range of prefabricated granny pods that you can easily and quickly install on your property. Some are only available in certain states, so be sure to check those details. They all offer several floor plan options and amenities to suit your needs.

Better Living Express 

Better Living Express provides a project estimator to help you create estimates around different options so you can find the one that works for you.

MEDcottage

MEDcottage is focused on providing medical technology with remote monitoring available so caregivers and family members can have peace of mind. It’s basically a remote hospital room for those who need more medical monitoring and attention.

There are three options:

  • A Living ROO, designed for a garage buildout
  • A Mother Ship, which sits on an RV platform
  • A MEDcottage Classic, which comes in a do-it-yourself kit you can assemble yourself or hire someone to install. Prices for the MEDcottage Classic range from $85,000 to $125,000.

ElderCottages

Elder Cottages are on the low end, price-wise; they range in price from $44,960 for a one-bedroom, one-bath, 568-square-foot house to $60,440 for a two-bedroom, two-bath, 947-square-foot house. You will still have to pay a contractor to build a foundation, move the cottage onto your property, and hook up the utilities.

If you don’t feel that a prefab unit is right for you, there is always the option to DIY. Many of the companies above offer building plans you can purchase to build the new structure.

If you have an existing outbuilding on your property, it may save you money to convert the structure into a granny pod.  The cost of this option varies greatly depending on the area in which you live. The best bet will be to do a Google search for contractors in your area that specialize in ADUs.

No matter which option you choose, there are two other costs you will need to take into account. Shaw shared a great point with us: “You can run utilities, the electric, water,  and gas directly from the main house, but the biggest concern is sewer. You need to have your plumber survey the sewer lines to make sure you are going to make the grade.” Many ADUs are built in backyards, while the sewer connects to the street out front, so that’s another consideration — and if you’re on a septic unit, you’ll need to make sure it can handle the addition.

One more cost to take into account is insurance for your new property. Your granny pod may be covered under your current homeowners’ policy under the “other structures” section, but the extent to which your ADU is covered depends on your current insurance policy.

In general, other buildings are covered at 10% of your primary dwelling coverage amount. So, if your primary dwelling is insured to $300,000, then your granny pod will be covered for $30,000. If your granny pod is valued over the 10% number, you will need to increase your ‘other structures’ coverage, which will increase your insurance premium.

Pros to building a granny pod 

Proximity 

You will have your loved one in your own backyard and thus will be able to monitor their health and safety as well as provide companionship while still respecting their autonomy.

Long-term cost

Constructing a granny pod is often less expensive than having your relative live in a nursing home or an assisted living facility.  According to Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey, on average in the United States, a private room in a nursing home costs $8,365 per month, or $275 a day.

Property value increase

Your property value could increase with the addition of the ADU, but this depends on several factors. In some areas, ADUs can be rented out separately from the house, and potential buyers could see this as an asset.

The addition of the ADU can add square footage to the resale value of the property. If you have specific questions about your neighborhood, get in touch with a real estate agent in your area.

Cons to building a granny pod

Upfront costs

Building a granny pod can cost a lot of money upfront. You may be able to leverage the equity you have in your home to withdraw the money to make the improvement.

Utility bill increases

If you do not install solar energy for your granny pod, the building will be an extension of your home with respect to electric, gas, and water — thus, your utility bills will increase based on the new consumption.

Property tax increases

When you add an ADU to your property, you are increasing the value of your property. Along with this increased value will come a new assessment of your property’s worth. The amount of additional tax will depend on where you live and how the tax percentage is calculated. You can get in touch with your mortgage company to get more information, and decide if the additional taxes will be worth the investment.

Granny pods offer the ability to age in place. Keeping your loved ones close — but not too close — affords them the independence they deserve while providing the safety they may need. This option enables you to provide them with emotional support and social engagement while maintaining your own personal space. If you are considering this option do remember to check in with your municipality first to check on the zoning regulations. Happy building!

Header Image Source: (Jean Carlo Emer / Unsplash)

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