DEAR TIM: I’ve got a somewhat perplexing problem. My wife and I are faced with moving her mom to an assisted care facility. The monthly costs for this are staggering. My mother-in-law is very mobile and needs just a little help. I did the math and it seems I can make her money last for many years if we just build a granny pod house on my lot. Fortunately I’ve got the room and the zoning code permits it. What’s the best way to go about this so the pod adds, rather than detracts, value to my home and property? What would you do to create the ultimate granny pod house that could be converted to something else in the future? John M., Austin, TX
DEAR JOHN: I’m beginning to get quite a few emails like this and it’s not surprising as mature children are faced with tough decisions concerning their parents. My sister and I had to make the same choice with my mother years ago, but we couldn’t do the granny pod option. We moved mom to a very nice assisted living facility in her community.
There are many things to consider and lots of them are quite important. If you decide to go down this pathway I can tell you that you absolutely want to get your mother-in-law involved in the planning process to some degree. You want to discover early on what are the most important things she’d like in a new home that will bring her great satisfaction.
For example, she may love indoor plants. If so, you’d want to incorporate a space where plenty of light streams into the space to keep the plants happy. Perhaps she still loves to cook. In that case, be sure there’s no wasted space at all in the kitchen and determine how much counter space she’d really like to have. Maybe she likes to sew or do crafts, so you need to create a convenient space to do that.
Just have her make a list asking this question: “Mom, if you could wave a magic wand and create the perfect small apartment, what are the top five things it would have?” Let her ponder that for a couple of weeks if necessary. Use photos from other granny pods to stimulate ideas if necessary.
I would talk to top realtors in your area and see if they have any ideas as they look into their crystal balls with respect to the future. For example, do they see a future trend for more detached home offices? Do they feel there’s a growing trend for deluxe man caves? Now’s the time to try to think about what the granny pod might be used for when the time comes your mother-in-law will no longer need it. You want to make the transition from her use to the future use to be as pain and cost-free as possible.
If I had to do this now, I’d be thinking hard about how I could make this detached building look as much like my existing home as possible so the two buildings look like they were built at the same time. Think about older homes you may have seen where there was a carriage house on the property that matched the larger home. I don’t think making this pod look like an oversized shed you see in the parking lots of the big box stores is a good idea.
I’d try to make the floor plan as open as possible. Doing this gives you all sorts of options with respect to the future use of the pod. What’s really important at this point is trying to guess correctly at the future use of the structure.
If I were doing this, I’d create two ultimate floor plans, maybe three, and see how they relate to one another with respect to the overall size of each use. Now’s the time to make the granny pod bigger in case your best guess of the future use requires 200 more square feet of space than what your mother-in-law requires.
If you’re going to build this granny pod house on a concrete slab, then it’s very important that you get your plumbing drain lines in the correct location for whatever you plan to do in the future. If you have the option of using a wood-floor system and can elevate the structure so that you have future access under it by crawling around, then it’s not so important.
You’ll probably have to extend utilities to the pod underground. If so, now’s the time to install blank piping for future use. You’ll never regret installing an extra electrical conduit pipe as well as a 4-inch-diameter schedule 40 PVC pipe that could act as a secondary drain in case something goes dreadfully wrong in the future.
I’m sure your mother-in-law has no interest in steps and will want everything on the first floor. If it’s in the budget and your zoning will allow it, I’d not hesitate to design the pod so the attic has a steep roof, and a giant dormer or multiple gable ends so the attic space can become bonus room for the future use of the pod. Never underestimate what you can do with all that extra space so long as you can design it with the minimum height for headroom as required by the building code.
Be sure you put in the best windows and doors you can afford. Make use of natural light and be sure to consider the compass orientation of the pod with respect to north and south. Plan for an outdoor garden space or a shaded patio or deck so your mother-in-law can enjoy being outdoors in delightful weather!