Granny pods are a creative small home design that families install to keep their parents close as they age. Granny pods, or accessory dwelling units (ADUs), are an alternative to long-term care homes. There is an initial upfront cost for ADUs, but most granny pod arrangements are less expensive than assisted living or nursing home care in the long run.
The benefits of granny pods are not just financial. Having someone who needs living assistance close as they age gives you everyday access and the ability to monitor their care. These reasons go a long way toward explaining the growing popularity of granny pods for elder care.
Granny Pods: The Basics
What is a granny pod? Granny pods are small, sometimes modular homes that allow people who are elderly or disabled to live in an independent manner. At a minimum, granny pods will have a kitchenette, a bedroom, and a bathroom. Builders and manufacturers also equip these homes with safety features such as wheelchair ramps, grab bars, and emergency call buttons to make medical care easier. Most people build these “granny houses” on an adjoining piece of property, often a backyard, so that they can monitor the health and safety of their loved ones.
Granny pods are just one name for this structure. Along with ADUs, people also refer to them as elder cottages, backyard cottages, and MEDcottages.
States That Allow Granny Pods
As of this writing, no states outright ban granny pods, but this does not give you a complete green light. City and town guidelines in each state guidelines govern the building of granny pods. Certain cities have banned granny pods, so you must look at the laws in your area. The guidelines regarding the construction and use of granny pods vary by locality. The following list will help you understand what codes you will need to consider before building a granny pod in your backyard.
General Building Guidelines for Constructing Granny Pods
- Zoning Regulations – Most city guidelines consider granny pods accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Therefore, there will be specific guidelines regarding parking, size, and location of the unit.
- Building Codes – Most city codes will require granny pods to follow the same building codes that they maintain for other structures. These include codes related to fire safety, electrical and plumbing systems, and access for the disabled.
- Setbacks – Setbacks refer to the amount of space you will need to leave between the granny pod and other structures on the property and the property line.
- Lot Size – Some city guidelines require a minimum property size that you must have in order to build a separate dwelling like a granny pod.
- Utility Connections – A granny pod must have connections to water, sewer, and electricity. Most granny pod structures share utility connections with the main house.
- Occupancy – Some cities and municipalities have guidelines regarding the number of people allowed to live in granny’s house. This may impact nursing staff and family members who want to occupy the house with their loved ones.
- Permits/Inspections – Similar to larger buildings, cities require building permits for granny pods. You must obtain these before you begin construction of your granny house. Most cities will also require periodic inspections throughout the building process in order to ensure that you are following all the city guidelines.
- City-Specific Rules – It is vital to check with the city where you live for specific guidelines. For instance, a state regulation that lawmakers in Virginia passed requires a doctor’s prescription for MEDCottage structures in the backyard. Along with Virginia, Tennessee, Minnesota, and North Carolina are states with laws on the books that regulate the construction and use of granny pods.
Backyard Granny Pods Cost
The cost of granny pods will vary according to the size, scope, and interior design elements of the house. The cost for granny flats ranges from a low of around $40,000 to $250,000 for larger and more custom-style cottages. The cost of maintaining a granny pod per month ranges from $500-$3,000, depending on the size and energy needs of the particular house. As expensive as this might sound, it is important to weigh the overall cost of granny pods with long-term care homes. You can mitigate the costs of building a granny pod according to the following factors.
Factors That Impact the Cost of Pod Houses
- Size – The size of the structure is one of the most important factors determining the cost of the granny pod. Typical granny pods range between 250-900 square feet. Bigger homes require more materials as well as use more energy to run over time.
- Construction Method – There are three options for building a granny pod: a custom build, converting an existing structure, or using a prefab design. The most expensive option is a custom build. Prefab units and converting an existing building are both cost-effective options for granny pods.
- DIY – Using your own skills as an architect, planner, and builder is a less expensive option than hiring professionals to do the job, but it is not always the best option. Unless you have experience with creating blueprints, preparing the site, and building the house, it might take you longer to get the permits and build the house than to hire a professional.
- Permits – The building permits that your city requires will increase the cost of your project. It is best, in the long run, to get all the permits you need in order to build your house with the most legal oversight.
- Property Taxes – Granny pods will increase the value of your property. They will likely add a 20%-50% increase in your property taxes.
- Utilities – You can help to mitigate the utility costs by using energy-efficient measures.
- Construction Site – You will need to prepare some construction sites more extensively than others before you construct the granny flat. You might need to tear down existing structures and prepare the landscape by clearing and leveling.
- Ongoing Maintenance Costs – You will see an increased cost on your energy bills to maintain the granny flat.
Best Practices for the Interior Design of Granny Pods
Some people compare granny pods to tiny houses. This is true in terms of size, but granny pods should contain elements that make it easier for an elderly or disabled person to live there in a comfortable manner.
To create ease of movement for your loved ones and the ones who care for them, it is important to give the granny pod an efficient layout. Many granny pods feature an open floor plan with either none or few thresholds. This makes wheelchair access possible in all areas of the house.
Wide doorways, those exceeding 36” or more, are important in granny pods. These allow access to wheelchairs and walkers. Wide doorways make caregivers’ jobs much easier by allowing them to maneuver care equipment like hospital beds into the spaces they need them. Wide doorways also serve the aesthetic purpose of making the small homes feel more open.
It is important to use smooth and even floors in granny flats to avoid tripping hazards. Consider floors with a good reputation for durability, slip resistance, and easy maintenance. Hardwoods and Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) and Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) are good options. Carpet is soft, but it does hold smells and fluid. In most cases, this is not the best option. Feel free to soften hard floors with large area rugs that have a low profile and will lie flat.
Energy Efficient Features
Energy efficiency is not the primary concern of granny pods, but it does mean a cost-savings and less environmental impact in the long term. Creating an energy-efficient granny pod house can also give your loved well a more comfortable environment. Some common energy-efficient measures include better insulation, high-efficiency appliances, and energy-efficient windows and doors.
Ground Level Access Point
Ground-level access is an important feature for granny pod houses. This allows people with mobility issues to access the home easier and reduces the possibility of accidents. It also allows caregivers to help their clients navigate inside, bring in the equipment they need, and admit emergency personnel.
Safe Bathroom Features
Safe bathrooms are a necessary component of granny pods. Safe bathrooms for the elderly and disabled include walk-in showers without a threshold, grab bars in the shower and around the toilet, textured or non-slip floors, a raised toilet, good lighting, and an emergency call button to alert help.
Where to Find a Granny Pod for Sale
Prefabricated granny pods are an important part of this market. You can find prefab granny pods at a wide range of places, including large companies like Amazon to smaller and more niche companies like Small House Solutions. Other granny pod store options like Evernest and MEDCottage offer granny pods with important medical features like health monitors, automatic emergency response sensors, pressurized ventilation, and easy and remote access to caregivers.
Consider each building plan before you buy it to determine what the kit contains. Some kits contain everything you need to build the house, including appliances. Some will contain just the basic building materials.
Pros and Cons of Granny Pods
Building a granny pod for your loved one is not the best solution for everyone. Consider these pros and cons to help you decide if this type of solution works for you.
- Independent living – Granny pods allow someone an independent living environment for as long as possible because of the proximity to help and assistance.
- Cost – Granny pods are a more cost-effective way of living than living in assisted senior care. In most cases, you make up the upfront costs of the granny flat in one to two years.
- Accessibility – Having a loved one live near you will give your greater accessibility to them and to their care.
- Family interaction – When a loved one lives near your family, there is more natural interaction.
- Customizability – You have the ability to customize granny pods for the particular needs and desires of your loved one and yourself.
- Flexible use – You can use granny pods for assisted living or to house guests or older children as your needs change.
- Upfront costs – There is a high initial cost if you want to build a granny pod. Some people will not have access to the complete cost and will need to obtain a loan to build the home.
- Building and zoning restrictions – Some cities and towns ban granny pods, and others have heavy restrictions on their use.
- Size – The small size of the granny pod will not suit everyone’s needs or lifestyle.
- Privacy – The proximity of a granny pod to the primary home will decrease the privacy of the people in both structures.
- Utility bills – A granny pod typically shares utilities with the primary house. This will increase the price of the utilities on an ongoing basis.