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Backyard Home For Elderly Parents – What Are Granny Pods?

By now, everyone has likely heard of tiny houses, but the term “granny pods” is still relatively unknown. That’s changing as the Baby Boomers age and begin to need a little extra help in their daily lives.

So, What Is A Granny Pod?

Granny pods (or granny flats) are tiny houses, often located in the backyards of adult children or other family who want to be able to keep an eye on their senior parent or loved one. They can be custom built so that they are designed specifically for a senior’s physical abilities or pre-fabricated units. They can allow the senior person to maintain their independence without compromising safety.

…it is a self-contained building that can be installed in the average back yard, which functions as an advanced elder care facility. – GrannyPods.org

For various reasons, it may not be practical to have an elderly parent live in the same home with their adult child(ren), but what if they aren’t ready for assisted living or a nursing home? In these cases, granny pods or mother in law pods can be a perfect backyard solution for seniors and their families.

Can I Put A Granny Pod In My Backyard?

Although this concept is a great backyard solution that many families could benefit from – it’s not allowed in every state / county so there are some factors you need to be made aware of – and we’ll go over those right now.

The physical requirements of an official “granny pod” are that it needs to have at least the following living spaces…

  • a kitchenette
  • a bathroom
  • a bedroom

These 3 areas are the bare minimum requirements for an official granny pod (aka granny flats).

Of course – since these structures are basically tiny homes built for older adults – they can come equipped with much more these days.

Many have a living area, an HVAC system, a porch, some closet storage, sunroofs, etc. Some are even equipped with smart home devices!

You can see the large variety of granny pods here on Google’s Images list.

Granny pods are normally designed to connect to the utility services of the main house. So, this means the sewer system (whether it’s septic or city sewer), the water supply, the electrical wiring, maybe even the WiFi. 

There are multiple zoning and legal laws in each state and each county that need to be looked at before you purchase a pre-fabricated granny pod or build a custom one in your backyard.

Are Granny Pods Legal?

The answer to whether granny pods are legal or not depends entirely on where you live.

Because these tiny dwellings are considered to be ADU’s (accessory dwelling unit) – they are under the same zoning laws and community restrictions as other houses.

But, with that being said, since the incredible growth of the Tiny House movement, there has been a growing number of communities and changes in zoning laws to allow these backyard dwellings to be built.

So, to find out if a granny pod is legal in your community, you can start by checking out this great resource at AccessoryDwellings.org.

Do All States Allow Granny Pods?

The short answer is “no”. 

According to AccessoryDwellings.org the states that DO NOT currently have laws concerning a permanent mini home structure to be built on your backyard property are…

  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Granny Pods Provide Practical Assisted Living Solutions

Granny pods are often referred to as mother in law pods or mother-in-law suites. They are also sometimes referred to as granny flats, mother-in-law-cottages, or auxiliary dwelling units (ADUs).

These pods are small modular homes that typically contain anywhere from 300 to 500 square feet of living space. The dwellings are usually built in the adult child’s backyard and come with the standard home amenities we all expect, such as:

  • Kitchens
  • Bedrooms
  • Living-Rooms
  • Bathrooms with toilet and shower

Granny pods are ideal for one person, but it isn’t uncommon for a senior couple to live comfortably in one of these.

One nice feature is that many of these pods can be set up with a virtual monitoring system that keeps track of your relative’s health. Furthermore, some systems can be configured to send the information to your family’s doctor, as well.

These systems can keep track of such things as:

  • Blood pressure
  • Glucose levels
  • Heart rate
  • Blood gases
  • Medications

Take A Peek At The Granny Pod’s Interior

There are various styles and floor plans for ADUs and granny pods, of course, but this video from The List Show TV gives you a good idea of just how homey they can be:

What Is The Average Cost Of A Granny Pod?

Though small, granny pods don’t come cheap. Depending on the style, area of the country you are building one, and the amenities you choose, a granny pod will at around $40,000 and can go up to $250,000 or more.

The cost of a granny pod can be returned over time if you figure that assisted living can run around $5,000 per month in, say, Massachusetts, according to APlaceForMom.com.  At $60,000 per year in this scenario, a granny pod could pay for itself within a year or two.

A senior parent wouldn’t have to live in one too long to offset the costs of skilled nursing facility (nursing home), though. Genworth reported that the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home ran about $7,500 per month (that’s $90,000 per year!).

Things To Consider When Buying A Tiny Home To Use As A Granny Pod

  1. First and foremost, you likely will not be able to carry a mortgage on a tiny home or granny pod.  That’s not to say you can’t get a loan – just not a mortgage type of loan. According to NerdWallet.com, the options available for financing tiny homes / granny pods are…
    • Personal loans
    • Financing through lenders
    • Home equity loans (if you own a primary residence)
  2. There is the question of whether granny pods are legal where you live, since you will be placing a second home in your back yard. Whether or not you can build one is dependent on your city’s zoning laws. Click here to read the information we have above about the legalality of these types of homes in your part of the world.
  3. Plus, your city may allow you to build a granny pod, while the Homeowner’s Association in your particular housing development may not allow it.
  4. Also keep in mind that the zoning laws may regulate just how big the pod can be. The same goes for every other type of tiny house featured on this list.

Clearly, it pays to do your research before contracting to have one built.

Last, but not least, a granny pod should be outfitted for seniors, so it will need to include amenities that will make the home safer for an elderly person, such as:

  • Locating the bedroom on the main floor
  • Raised toilet seats
  • Grab bars in the bathroom and shower area
  • A barrier-free walk in shower with no threshold
  • Non-slip or slip-resistant flooring
  • Ideally, one-level living to eliminate stairs
  • Senior friendly door knobs and faucets levers
  • You can take a look at some of the tiny home furniture that’s available for this size of a dwelling

Is There An Amazon Granny Flat?

At this point, I am not sure there is anything you can’t buy on Amazon! That includes a tiny house kit that can be used as a granny flat.

The Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit (pictured here) is a great example of a tiny house that you can purchase from Amazon. When finished, the cabin measures 540 square feet and features double gas windows and doors. This model currently retails for about $34,000 (in 20202) and even boasts free shipping!

The Allwood Avalon Cabin has 8 foot tall walls and can be configured for 3 to 5 rooms, including a bedroom, bathroom, office or second bedroom, living room, and small kitchen. This model also has a sleeping loft that a senior could use for storage.

The kit also comes with all the required nails, screws, fixings, handles and door locks. You will have to provide the foundation, insulation, and roofing material.

The cabin has triple glass windows and doors and will stand up to 120 mph winds. Its roof can hold up under 46 pounds per square foot, so it would be good in areas that get snow. There are also upgraded models available if you need an even sturdier building and you can request certain modifications from the builder.

There are many other options and styles of granny pods available on Amazon – check them out here!

If you aren’t sure you want to buy an actual granny pod or tiny house on Amazon, you can certainly buy the plans for building one instead. For example, Easy Cabin Designs has a plans package that includes complete working blueprints, several elevations, a rafter cut sheet, and a materials list for around $50.00.

Granny Pod Alternatives

The easiest way to go is to convert your garage into a granny pod. BobVila.com says, “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 your 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.”

Another granny pod alternative is an RV (recreational vehicle). They are mobile and much like a home inside, but one drawback to them is that they are raised off the ground. This means the senior would have to be able to climb several (often steep) steps to get into one.

Shipping container homes are gaining traction lately, as well. These homes are made of…you guessed it…steel shipping containers like the kind you normally see loaded on the decks of freighter ships or heading down the interstate, being pulled by a big rig. If you want to see their dwelling potential, check out this article from Curbed.com. There are also several books and plans online that have floor plans and ideas for building a shipping container house.

Conclusion

For something so small in size, granny pods and other types of tiny homes can bring huge benefits in terms of peace of mind. The adult children who are concerned about their parents are literally right across the yard, so the senior can still be independent. And, these small houses can be configured for the parent’s specific needs, as well as set up for monitoring the senior if need be.

All in all it’s a great solution for both older adults and their families – but of course only if it’s legal in your area.

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