You might be familiar with accessory dwelling units (ADUs), the small backyard abodes frequently used as offices, exercise studios and rentable apartments. Now, the so-called “granny pod” has joined the lineup, offering senior citizens and their loved ones a new option for care.
The senior population is expected to more than double in the next 40 years, and today citizens are living longer lives than ever before, making eldercare a pressing issue in our society. The preference of many seniors to age in place is often unrealistic or unsafe due to their inability to care for themselves. The granny pod, which typically houses one or two elderly residents, is a good compromise. It allows seniors to be close to family and maintain their independence while living in a safe environment, customized for senior care.
This guide addresses what a granny pod is, potential modifications and amenities, pros and cons, cost, zoning laws, and insurance considerations. Read on to find out if a granny pod is the best option for you or your loved ones.
Table of contents
- What are granny pods?
- The benefits of granny pods
- Potential downsides to granny pods
- Are granny pods legal?
- How much do granny pods cost?
- How to install your own granny pod
- Insurance for granny pods
Granny pods are guest houses with wheelchair accessibility, safety technology and medical features built into the design. The idea was brought to market by the Virginia-based company, N2Care, which began selling MEDCottages in 2010. The dwellings, similar to tiny homes, are designed to be installed on the family property, near the main home, giving seniors the opportunity to be close to family while maintaining privacy and independence.
The typical size of a granny pod is between 250 and 900 square feet. Common safety features include handrails, lighted floorboards, soft floors to minimize injuries upon a fall and ankle-level camera monitoring systems. Residents can use smart technology to control the temperature, door locks, and lighting with voice command.
- Proximity to loved ones. Seniors can be close to loved ones, providing social and emotional support.
- Continued independence. Granny pods allow seniors to maintain their privacy and independence.
- Customized safety features. They have the safety features that traditional homes lack, including ankle-level cameras, hand railings, and voice-activated emergency communication systems.
- Cost-effectiveness. If used for several years, granny pods can be less expensive than nursing homes and assisted living homes.
- Increased property values. An additional dwelling on your property could improve your home's value.
- Prolonged aging-in-place. They provide an alternative to nursing homes and can provide a better quality of life.
- Too much independence. Some argue that family could fail to care for elderly members when they are in their own building.
- Unhappy neighbors. Residents in some neighborhoods have argued that housing for seniors would change the character of the neighborhood.
- May not be cost-effective. Granny pods may be more expensive than moving in with a loved one.
- Large upfront cost. The upfront expense could be a burden or require refinancing your home.
- Not legal in some areas. Zoning laws often prevent them from being built.
- Difficulty selling your home. Beyond buyers being uninterested in owning a granny pod, raised property values could make your home the most expensive on your block and therefore harder to sell.
Not all municipalities allow granny pods, which are considered ADUs. Some communities that do not typically allow ADUs have written special ordinances that make exceptions for healthcare-related dwellings. You should check with the local authority to find out if you can legally install a pod on your property.
Some jurisdictions may have restrictions, such as:
- Requiring you to demonstrate a need for the granny pod: A written medical evaluation confirming the resident's inability to live independently in an ordinary home may be needed.
- Requiring permits: You may need to obtain special permits before installing a granny pod in your backyard.
- Assigning a temporary status to the dwelling: A temporary status means that the granny pod cannot be built on a permanent foundation and can only be used as long as needed.
- Size limits: Some towns will only allow temporary dwellings of a certain size.
Other areas of consideration worth researching upfront include zoning laws, HOA agreements, and utility agencies since granny pods hook up to the main house’s existing water, sewer, and power.
Granny pods vary in price depending on whether you choose to buy a prefabricated model or convert an existing shed or outbuilding. Expect to spend at least $40,000 for the simplest structure and upwards of $100,000 for a prefabricated model with all the medical features and technologies needed for exceptional care and comfort.
If you and your family cannot pay the upfront cost of a typical granny pod, there are affordable options. MedCottage has a kit that allows owners to convert their garages into senior-friendly apartments. Evernest offers a leasing option for $2,000 per month and does not require a minimum rental term.
There are many creative ways to build granny pods, but you have four primary options:
- Purchase a prefabricated granny pod
- Purchase a prefabricated tiny home and modify it to meet your care needs
- Convert an existing structure
- Buy plans and build your own
We’ve broken down the process and main considerations for each option below.
Prefabricated granny pods
Buying from a company that specializes in granny pods is the simplest option for installing an eldercare dwelling unit. There are several manufacturers that sell prefabricated granny pods, complete with all the safety modifications and technology. These pods come in models between 250 and 900 square feet, and you can install them on cement blocks or on a permanent foundation.
Some considerations to keep in mind when choosing a company and model:
Do you want to rent or own?
You may want to consider renting your granny pod, especially if your municipality only allows temporary ADUs. Not all manufacturers offer rental options, so check with the sales team first.
Would you like monitoring and care coordination services included?
Check with your sales consultant to find out if care coordination and monitoring of important health factors, like vital signs and movement, is included or available for an additional fee.
Do you have design preferences?
All prefabricated granny pods are designed for safety, but some are undeniably more fashionable than others. While some granny pods look much like hospital rooms, others look and feel like traditional homes.
Check out the leading granny pod manufacturers.
Prefabricated tiny homes with modifications
Tiny homes are great options for those who want full control over design. They can be used for multiple purposes and some can even be used for travel. Many seniors are downsizing to tiny homes after retirement.
There is some work and creativity required to ensure the proper alterations are made, but modifying a tiny home gives seniors and their loved ones many more design and layout options than purchasing a prefabricated granny pod would.
Tiny homes allow seniors to live on family property, close to loved ones, no matter their health condition and make modifications, like adding lighting to floorboards and installing handrails, as needed. However, to prepare for future modifications, you’ll want to make sure the tiny home you purchase meets these basic requirements:
- It is one level
- It has an open floor plan
- The bathroom has ample room for adding handrails
- All spaces are wide enough for wheelchair accessibility
Converting preexisting structures or building from scratch
If you have an existing ADU or shed already on your property, you may save money by converting the structure into a granny pod. You can also purchase building plans and build your granny pod from scratch. Both options will typically require a contractor unless you have the construction knowledge to take it on yourself.
Because granny pods are frequently less than 800 square feet in size, it’s important to keep your layout open and safe for elderly residents. You won’t want tight corners or any obstacles that could become tripping hazards.
Here are some tips for making your granny pod safe, accessible, and comfortable.
General building tips:
- Bring in lots of natural light. Windows will make the space seem larger and airier. Plus sunlight is a great mood-lifter.
- Make entrances at least 36 inches wide, the minimum width for easy wheelchair access.
- Build an entrance level with the ground.
- Build living areas and the bathroom with extra room for wheelchair accessibility should you need it.
Safety features to include:
- Safety bars in the bathroom
- Rubber floors
- Lighted floorboards
- Automated medication dispensers
Technology to include:
- Smart home features: Door locks, lighting, and temperature can be controlled remotely or automatically.
- Ankle level camera monitoring system: Floor level cameras allow loved ones to monitor the emergency event of a fall while allowing residents to maintain their privacy.
- Virtual caregiver: Voice automated caregivers can check in with residents, remind them to take medications. They can also answer medical questions and provide social interaction.
- Health monitoring system: Advanced technology can monitor a resident’s vital signs and activity and alert family, medical personnel and emergency services if needed.
Once you've navigated the legal aspects of your granny pod, it comes time to think about insurance. Most often, your granny pod will be covered under your current homeowners policy under the "other structures" section. Other structures are typically covered to up to 10% of your primary dwelling coverage amount. If your primary dwelling is insured to $250,000, then your granny pod will be covered for $25,000. Personal property would be covered under your policy as well, but you should check to confirm whether the property is considered on- or off-premises.
Issues can arise if your granny pod is valued at more than $25,000. Should this be the case, you'll need to increase your other structures coverage for an additional premium. There may be other types of granny pod insurance available that provide more specialized coverage. Coverage may be more comprehensive, but may not be necessary if your homeowners insurance policy has high enough limits.
Granny pods are an exciting new option for aging in place. They allow extended independence and safety to coincide while keeping seniors close to loved ones for emotional support and social engagement. If you think a granny pod is the best fit for you, check with your local authority to make sure pods are legal in your area and be sure to check with your home insurance agent to find out how granny pods might affect your plan and rates.
- Research and Statistics for Seniors
- Paying for Senior Care: Medicare, Medicaid & Veterans Benefits
- Research Suggests a Positive Correlation between Social Interaction and Health