All You Need to Know About Granny Pods
Find out if an accessory dwelling unit in your backyard will be the perfect place for the elder loved ones in your life.
You’re probably familiar with tiny houses—homes ranging in size from 80 to 400 square feet—that offer small-scale living. And if you’re a fan of home renovation shows, you’ve surely seen your share of sheds tricked out into backyard pubs, offices, exercise studios, and other cool close-to-home habitats. Now comes the latest and fastest-growing entry in the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) industry, a phenomenon known as “granny pods.” A tweak on the mother-in-law suite, which is generally created within the main house, these tidy outbuildings are designed to comfortably house one or two elderly folks, giving them an opportunity to live on your family property while maintaining some privacy and independence for themselves.
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With about more and more Americans taking care of elderly parents, it’s clear why granny pods—or MEDCottages, a specific brand of shelter named for the hospital-style features they may include—are so popular. Think one of these compact abodes might be perfect for the senior(s) in your life? Before you call a contractor or start remodeling that storage shed, read this guide to learn what a granny pod should be, its potential benefits and downsides, plus some important design details that will make it as safe, comfy, and pleasant as possible.
While the term “granny pod” may not exactly convey the respect you have for your elder loved ones, the concept of a diminutive dwelling that contains the basic necessities of a larger home is a truly considerate one whose time has come. A kitchenette, bathroom, and bed are the bare minimum requirements, but many granny pods offer additional amenities, such as a small living room, closet storage, and an independent HVAC system. The pod is designed to connect to the electrical wiring, water supply, and sewer system that serves the main house.
CODES AND COVENANTS
Occupancy ordinances and building codes ensure that all community residents live in a structure that meets minimum safety and health standards. Zoning laws determine where a structure can be built, and covenants regulate the aesthetic standards in a specific neighborhood. The following factors will help you determine if it’s possible to build a granny pod on your property.
- Feasibility: While a growing number of communities are changing their laws to allow ADUs, many still prohibit a second living structure in the yard. Your local housing authority can tell you whether community laws permit granny pods. Even if your city codes allow the construction of pods, if you live in a new development (less than 20 years old), covenants may prohibit building one (this info can also be found at the local housing authority). If you’re a member of a homeowner’s association (HOA), check with the association board to determine if granny pods are permissible.
- Occupancy standards: If you get the green light from all of the above, obtain a list of occupancy regulations from your local housing authority. Many communities regulate the maximum number of people per structure (often two per sleeping area), and some communities permit only a relative of the homeowner to live in a granny pod or other ADU structure.
- Zoning issues: Your local zoning board regulates how much yard space is required to construct all residences, and even if granny pods are permitted in your town, your yard will have to be large enough to meet the zoning requirements. You’re more likely to be approved if you have a large lot, and if you have a tiny yard, you may be prohibited from building a granny pod.
The rules governing ADUs are changing all the time as the need for supplementary housing rises. Check AccessoryDwellings.Org for a list of states that currently have laws on the books concerning accessory dwellings.
Expect to pay a minimum of $30,000 to build a bare-bones granny pod, and upwards of $125,000 for a high-end model with all the creature comforts your relative could want and health and safety accouterments they may need. Within that price range, you can purchase a prefab unit, have it delivered, and set on a foundation that’s constructed by either the prefab manufacturer or by a local contractor.
Instead of buying a prefab unit or having a granny pod built, you could save $10,000 to $15,000 by converting an existing shed or garage into a senior cottage. A DIYer experienced in framing, insulation, and roofing can serve as the general contractor and arrange for foundation, electrical, and plumbing subcontractors. Don’t underestimate the scope of this project, however—a granny pod is a real house, albeit a small one. And you’ll still have to meet local codes if you intend to have someone live in the converted structure.
PROS AND CONS
Building a granny pod will change your property description, impact your property taxes (they’ll go up), and might affect your home’s sales potential, so it’s a good idea to consider the benefits and potential drawbacks before you start building.
- You’ll have your loved one(s) nearby and will be able to monitor their health and safety while offering the companionship they might not have currently.
- Constructing a granny pod, while costly, is often less expensive than having your relative live in a nursing home or an assisted living facility, which runs an average of $5,000 to $7,000 per month.
- A granny pod offers an emotionally gentler alternative to admission in a nursing home, something many elderly persons are adamantly opposed to.
- Your property value could increase from 45 percent to 100 percent of the cost of construction with the addition of the ADU, depending on your local per-square-foot real estate valuation.
- If local occupancy standards allow, you may be able to rent out the structure in the future.
- Building a granny pod takes a lot of money up-front. You may need to get a loan or take a second mortgage on your house to swing it.
- While a granny pod will raise your home’s value, if other homes in the neighborhood are valued substantially lower, you may have trouble selling your property for its appraised value. Typically, it’s easier to sell the least-expensive house on the street rather than the most expensive one.
- Your utility bills will increase because you’ll be paying for electricity, water, and sewer for an additional residence.
Most granny pods have less than 800 square feet of interior living space. With that limited amount of room, it’s vital to optimize the layout to include the factors and fixtures that will make the unit safe and comfortable for an elderly person.
- Universal design is the key to a successful granny pod. Design factors such as doorways that are at least 36 inches wide, and an entrance that’s level with the ground (no steps), will allow a resident who’s in a wheelchair or power chair to get around with ease. The idea behind a universal design is the incorporation of construction details that are suitable for those with mobility issues as well as beneficial for households with young children.
- Incorporate plenty of light, via windows and skylights, to make the pod feel open and spacious.
- Remember to include safety features, such as a two-way intercom that allows your loved one to contact you inside your home without having to leave the pod. In addition, install safety bars in the shower or tub and consider installing a video camera that allows you to check on your relative.