Few family responsibilities in life are greater than making sure our parents are comfortable in their golden years — but the options can be daunting. Finding a quality nursing home can feel overwhelming, as can the price tag attached. You might be in the position to share your home with your parent as a solution — or that option might be a nonstarter due to space limitations or other obstacles.
Especially if you’re a member of the sandwich generation, you might recognize yourself in this scenario, and you may be searching for an alternative setup — and a granny pod might just be the answer you’ve been looking for.
What is a granny pod?
So-called granny pods are essentially just guest houses on a residence’s property — only with a special design to accommodate an elderly occupant’s needs. The Washington Post notes that some of these extras might include a lift to help the resident move between the bed and the bathroom; a video camera system for monitoring the space (it might be placed at floor level to provide privacy but also an added measure of security); and smart devices such as a toilet equipped to measure temperature, weight, and urine content. Other lower-tech safety features might also include railings, softer floors to cushion any falls, and first-aid essentials.
You might have heard similar spaces referred to generically as in-law units or ADUs (accessory dwelling units). Or perhaps you’ve actually heard of the MEDCottage, designed by Virginia-based company N2Care with Virginia Tech. Think of these as having state-of-the-art hospital room-like features on the inside, and a charming residential look on the outside so you can install these in the backyard behind your main home if zoning laws in your area permit. Each has a footprint of about 12-by-24 feet (about 288 total square feet) and includes a small kitchen, bedroom, accessible bathroom, and visiting space.
The company makes three varieties. The Living ROO is meant to fit inside the garage, with HD monitors framed as windows with a corresponding HD camera outside to create the illusion of window views. The Mother Ship is designed on an RV platform and can be placed in 90% of the municipalities around the country. And the redesigned MEDCottage Classic, which comes in a kit you can assemble yourself or hire a local contractor. (This one is currently only available in Virginia.)
Other companies, too, offer pre-manufactured housing products like these with features to support aging residents and those with medical needs. Seattle-based FabCab makes home kits ranging from 300 square feet on up. And The Home Store also offers custom ADUs, according to AARP.
How much does a granny pod cost?
According to The Week, these cottages begin at about $85,000, but you’ll need to budget about $125,000 when you consider installation. And certainly that’s a major in-vestment. But do consider the alternatives — assisted living or nursing homes — also come with significant price tags. CNBC cites the cost of skilled nursing care as reaching nearly $93,000… each year. (Although Medicaid may foot the bill for many residents.)
Are granny pods legal in the United States?
You’re going to need to look into your local zoning laws to determine whether or not a granny pod is legal for you. Zoning laws may dictate whether you can have an ADU on your property, and also how much total space on your land may be covered by a structure.
Of course, you may face additional obstacles if you are part of a homeowners association and bound by its rules, or if you’re in proximity to certain parks or watershed areas for which you’ll need to obtain a variance or exemption.
AARP notes some additional legal considerations: reach out to your local power, sewer, or water agency for clearance. And check on the septic system as well. Adding an ADU with its own kitchen and bath may mean your system no longer complies and needs updating.
While you may have to file for a variance or special exemption from local regulations, and that can take time, AARP notes — most of these potential obstacles don’t disqualify you off the bat. So if you think a granny pod is right for you … keep at it.