When your aging parent is no longer safe living alone, moving them into a nursing home or a spare room in your house aren’t the only options. With a small, senior-friendly modular home, also known as a granny pod, you can provide housing that’s both safe and convenient for the whole family.
As a completely self-contained living space, a granny pod keeps mom or dad close enough to check in on regularly while still letting them maintain their independence. Given the cost of nursing home care, a granny pod is often the more financially sensible option. These homes take a little more planning than your average guest cottage, though, so get familiar with the requirements before you start clearing land.
Granny Pods Offer Freedom and Security
At its simplest, a granny pod is just a small pre-fabricated modular home or “tiny house” of between 400 and 500 square feet. It offers just enough space for one person or a couple. Most include a sleeping area, living room, bathroom, and kitchenette to allow the resident to take care of all their needs independently. Alternatively, a smaller version of 12 to 24 sq. ft. can be designed for an individual who spends most of their time in bed.
The granny pod is placed near the main house, usually in the backyard, to allow an elderly family member to enjoy the freedom of living alone, yet still get help quickly when they need it.
What makes a granny pod different from an ordinary tiny house are the modifications included to adapt the space to the needs of an elderly adult. Wide doorways, floor lighting, and hand rails are common. The most elaborate models resemble hospital rooms kitted out with home medical equipment such as monitors and assistive devices.
Because these little houses are mobile, you can bring the whole thing along if you ever decide to move.
Home Design with the Elderly in Mind
Senior-friendly design in a small space takes planning and creativity. Many space-saving tricks common in tiny houses, such as lofts accessible by narrow staircases, don’t work for elderly people with limited mobility and vision.
To make sure your granny pod will be comfortable for your family member, whatever the state of their health, start by planning for wheelchair accessibility. Pre-fabricated wheelchair-friendly tiny houses are out there, and many other modular home companies can modify their existing models for accessibility. For good accessibility, you’ll need at least 400 sq. ft., which is on the large side for a tiny house. The exception is for those who are no longer mobile and whose granny pod will contain only a bedroom and bathroom.
Ground level entrances and French doors make it easy to get in and out of the building. Inside, sliding barn doors are more convenient for elderly adults to use and save space, too. In the bathroom, plan for enough space around the toilet, bath/shower, and cabinets for a wheelchair user to maneuver freely. Choose a walk-in tub or roll-in shower and install grab bars near the toilet and in the bath/shower. In the kitchen, a roll-under sink and adjustable-height counters will make meal preparation and clean-up easier. If you’ll be including a laundry area, go with a front load washer and dryer.
Make sure light switches, door knobs, and work surfaces are low enough to reach. Choose built-in storage with adjustable or varied-height shelving and pull-down closet rods. Overhead and underfloor storage are still options, but they’re best used for seasonal items you can get out for mom or dad when they need them. To expand your storage options and lend a more spacious feeling to the home, consider including a vaulted ceiling.
Lighting is another concern for older adults with low vision, but adding large windows to let in plenty of natural light is the only major modification you might need. Beyond this, install floor lighting, task lighting in the living room and kitchen, and lighting in storage areas, including closets.
To make sure you and your elderly family member can reach each other easily, connect the granny pod to the main house with a path made from concrete, pavers, or another smooth material. For wheelchair accessibility, choose a width of at least 3 1/2 ft. and a gradient of no more than 1:15.
Managing Legalities and Financing
Before you set your heart on building the perfect granny pod, look into your city’s zoning laws on accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. Local regulations might address the amount of land the new structure can cover as well as who can live there, stipulating that only immediate family or dependents can occupy the space. If you’re close to a historic district, biosphere reserve or another protected area, you might need a variance or exemption to build at all.
Just like plans for any inhabited structure, plans for a granny pod must be approved for structural and fire safety, so you’ll need to obtain building permits and have the building inspected by the proper local authorities. Most granny pods are hooked up to the main house’s power, water, and sewer lines, so you’ll also need to get the building approved by your utilities suppliers. Expect to spend around three months on the whole process of getting your permits in order.
The cost of a tiny house averages around $35,000, but for more elaborate, custom-built models, the cost can rise to $200,000 or higher. Because a granny pod requires a relatively large space and senior-friendly modifications, you can expect your costs to be somewhat above average.
Considering the cost of residential care facilities, though, investing in a granny pod could still pay off financially. A year in an assisted living facility can easily cost over $40,000, while nursing homes are even pricier.
Designing a granny pod on a budget is possible, but it takes a little creativity to manage your costs without sacrificing safety or comfort. To estimate the budget you’ll need, start by making a list of the features you want. This way you can you easily add, subtract, and modify features to suit your needs. Building the granny pod you can afford now, then making modifications as the need arises is another way to keep your costs in line.
Home loans and personal loans are the most common methods of financing a granny pod, but some banks offer loans specifically developed for small modular houses like these. While you can use your home’s equity as collateral for a new loan, you’ll still need to demonstrate you have enough income to meet the monthly payments. You might also need to have your home revalued, so dig out your house plans and get ready to talk with an appraiser.
If you’re looking for a way to keep an aging parent close while still letting everyone enjoy their own space, a granny pod could be the answer. While the extra space and disability-friendly modifications these homes typically include make them somewhat more expensive than the average small modular home, they’re often less costly than a year or two in an assisted living facility. Best of all, you’ll gain the peace of mind of knowing you’re just a few steps away whenever mom or dad needs you.