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Multi-generational households; opening more doors for contractors

If you build it, they will come…(and they will stay!)


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July 4, 2017 by John Bleasby

The family nest is getting bigger. More adult children are living at home with their parents. At the same time, more parents and grandparents are finding their way back to their children later in life. From laneway homes to basement suite apartments, it’s a trend that has shifted with overall economic factors over the past 50 years or more, often correlated today with the availability of urban housing, rising student debt, and the cost of elder care.

There’s a growing market waiting for creative contractors
This opens the door for contractors looking for a growing niche market; adding a separate living space in an existing home. Statistics indicate that there are more than 360,000 multi-generational households in Canada, i.e. at least three generations under one roof. In terms of actual numbers, that’s an increase of nearly 40% individual Canadians from 2001. Yet most houses today are not suited for the privacy demands required.

Multi-generational living can be good for all concerned
There are both benefits and costs to the multi-generational household. Studies show that seniors live longer when sharing homes with the younger generation. Recent grads have a better chance to pay off debts and prepare for a truly independent life in a financially responsible way. Grandparents can offer child care, while in turn their children can help their parents by reducing the cost burden and impersonal lifestyle of senior homes.

Beware the usual pitfalls of living with mom and dad
When the children don’t leave home, even after graduation for college or university, it puts pressure on all members of the household. On one hand, the children aren’t really children anymore and value their independent social life. They’d love to have their own place but if they work in a large metropolitan area,  true independence may be cost prohibitive.

Parents will always be parents, and therefore maybe a bit too inquisitive about the comings and goings of their offspring. They may also feel that a little rent needs to be paid to cover overhead expenses. Each family will have to work out those issues if they decide to move forward with a shared home. The main objective, however, is to separate and accommodate the generations in more ways than one if a happy household is to coexist.

When older parents or grandparents move in with their children, it’s often for economic or health-related reasons. While the need for privacy may differ, there is often a need to accommodate a more restricted physical lifestyle, along the lines of aging-at-home. Access to the outside, access to washrooms and kitchens, and reduced staircase and floor level changes are things that may be part of the equation.

Creative contractors can help clients prioritize
Contractors should be prepared to approach clients considering the idea of modifying a single-family home into a multi-generational home by helping them prioritize and budget for the required changes.

Here are some thoughts.
Separate entrances
A renovated back or side door, allowing the second family to enter and leave without disturbing the others, offers privacy and maybe the awkwardness of questioning who is going where.

Renovated basements
The lower level is the obvious first place to look for a second apartment, since it provides suitable physical separation. Furthermore, the basic mechanical infrastructure required to service a living space is likely already there, such as plumbing, heating source, and electrical panels. However, staircases may be an issue for an older generation.

Addition or wing with extra bedrooms and/or another kitchen
With a larger budget and sufficient lot space, an addition at the main floor level might be the answer. For older parents moving back, this will result in easy same-level access to almost the entire house without stairs, and easier access to the outdoors for walks.

Main floor in-law suites
If there is an extra bedroom or office space on the main floor that is under-utilized, this might be a suitable room to convert into a separate bedroom suite for parents. Adding a private bathroom is something that might be considered, space allowing. In the case of older parents with health issues, wider doorways and halls allow the use of wheelchairs and walkers.

Additional living space ideas: laneway homes, above detached garages and converted attic spaces
Some major Canadian cities are permitting laneway homes which, while being an expensive option, offer almost the same benefits of a fully detached house. Converting a garage or attic space of the house, although often more expensive than renovating the basement, presents similar privacy advantages. However, stairs will be involved, as this might be better suited for children moving back home rather than for older parents. The cost of bringing in the required mechanical services needs consideration too.

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