In the early part of the 20th Century, seniors were typically cared for by their families, often within a home that housed grandparents, parents and children within a mutually supportive ecosystem.
An expanding economy in the 1960s and 1970s saw younger generations move to other regions of the country in pursuit of better-paying jobs. These individuals, who are now Baby Boomers in their late 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s, had children in what were dubbed ‘nuclear families’ of parents and children only within a home. Nuclear families continued to live far away from their parents and grandparents through the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s and early 2000’s.
Predicting a future where their children would also live independently, far away and with their own careers and families, some Baby Boomers began to downsize from their large homes to smaller homes, condos or apartments. Others, unsure of their options and with a desire to host visiting children and grandchildren, remained in the large homes where they raised their families.
The economic and social changes of the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s that created geographically-distant ‘nuclear families’ are now shifting back to conditions where multi-generational living is again necessary for many. The children of Baby Boomers, including Generation X (born after 1965) and Millennials (born after 1983) are now experiencing financial and social challenges. These generations are having difficulty purchasing homes within out-of-control real estate markets. They may have a tough time keeping monthly expenses under control. Hundreds of thousands are also challenged to provide direct care for parents and other older relatives who cannot afford the cost of professional in-home care or move to a senior living community.
The term “sandwich” generation – people in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s caring for both young children/adolescents and aging parents – was born of these demographic shifts. The dynamics are fueling the need for housing that will again accommodate three or more generations under one roof. According to a 2018 Pew Research study, a record 64 million Americans (more than 20 percent of the U.S. population) live in a multigenerational household of children, parents, and grandparents within the same property.
Are you thinking about building a new custom home or remodeling a home to accommodate extra family members? Here are important things to consider.
Multi-generational Living Situations
You have multiple options to create a home that will be shared by several generations. You may choose to build a separate guest cottage if allowed by town building code. You may build a separate entrance to a new addition in your home. Before you begin, think about:
Need for Living Quarters
What additional space do you need for full living quarters? This includes a separate bedroom or bedrooms, bathroom(s), living room, and kitchenette that is still attached to the home. This option may have a door connecting a living space to the main home.
Two Master Suites
Do you need an additional bedroom suite that is still a part of the main home?
Older or Aging Family Member
To accommodate privacy of a parent or in-law, yet still maintain proximity so you may support their activities of daily living, consider building an apartment-like space (bedroom, bathroom, living area, kitchen) that has its own entrance.
Essential Features for Multi-generational Homes
Family members in multi-generational homes often have different needs. You’ll need to think about more than simply adding square footage or finding rooms for family members. Some easy solutions include adding grab bars in the bathrooms for safety, ramps between uneven room transitions or a seated lift device on a stair wall.
Are your existing hallways wide enough to accommodate walkers or wheelchairs if they become necessary?
Will older family members have to negotiate stairs? Can you come up with a plan that allows single- level living for them? Think about installing non-slippery floors. Think about the height and accessibility of light and light switches and outlets.
Build or Remodel
Does it make sense to remodel your existing home to accommodate the needs of multiple generations? Or would it be more efficient and cost-effective to build a new home that allows you to include the features you’ll need from the beginning? One advantage of a spacious room with an adjoining bathroom is that whomever occupies it has enough room, but also has privacy—without feeling cut off from the rest of the family.
Communication is Key
Get Everyone on the Same Page. Multi-generational living can be a great thing, but before you make decisions, take into account family dynamics and each family member’s daily living needs. Even if it seems to make sense financially, you’ll want to make sure all the involved parties are on board. Do you generally get along well together? Do you have a history of being able to resolve conflicts comfortably? There will be adjustments. Make sure that everyone understands what those will be. It’s essential that everyone’s expectations align as much as possible.
How do you want to live? This is the most important question to ask yourself and your loved ones. You want everyone to be comfortable in the space and feel at home. A great first step is to have everyone sit down and discuss their expectations. That also is a great time to discuss responsibilities and monthly expenses.
Privacy. Another great consideration is to know how much privacy everyone is going to need. It may be that you would like everyone to be a part of every meal and have regular family time in one space. Others may still have quite a bit of independence and would prefer a little more distance.
Avoid Common Mistakes
Keep in mind that whether you build a new home or remodel your existing home, you are doing more than simply adding space. This isn’t like any other kind of building project. You’re trying to meet the different needs of a variety of people. That’s not impossible, but it doesn’t happen without planning. It can be easy to overlook challenges such as how to protect family member’s privacy. How will parking accommodate more vehicles? How will everyone have access to the living quarters or common spaces they need?
Don’t forget about increased utility usage and expenses. The water heater that adequately provides for two or three people may not be able to keep up with five or six. If you add a room in the basement or the attic, will your HVAC system be able to keep things comfortable in those spaces?
Whatever your family situation, creating a home that will work well for all of your family members isn’t something to take lightly. And it’s not something you’ll want to tackle on your own. It’s one reason you want to make sure you deal with an experienced builder who has been down this road before so that you don’t get hit with unwelcome surprises. Go here for list of qualified builders.