Granny Flats for Multigenerational Living

This post is part of an ongoing series on where to live as you age

By Josie Bryan

As individuals grow older, housing options become more limited, so it’s crucial to find the right solution. Retirement communities can be expensive and often lack the comforting sense of home and family. While aging in place in their original home is a viable option, it can be costly, pose safety concerns and doesn’t address long-term care. However, there is a practical alternative that is gaining popularity: granny flats.

Granny flats, also known as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), in-law apartments, or guest cottages, offer a senior-approved solution. In fact,  The New York Times interviewed a grandmother who stated, “It makes total sense. The idea of having a family compound, being close but having separate spaces.” It’s a win-win solution that combines accessibility and support. 

Having senior parents close by creates an intergenerational support network, reminiscent of past generations where everyone helped one another. It’s a mutually beneficial situation where elderly parents can assist with childcare, cooking, and errands, while they are able and they will later receive the support they need when their health declines.

If a granny flat seems like the best living situation for you or your aging parents, here are some key factors to consider:

Understand your state’s laws on building ADUs: Different states have varying regulations regarding additional structures on residential properties. Make sure to familiarize yourself with these laws to avoid any issues down the road. Bloomberg has an article that explains how California has recently eased their regulations and permits on building ADUs, making granny flats more accessible. This trend is being observed nationwide.

Consider the design of the granny flat: One of the biggest advantages of building a granny flat is the ability to customize it to meet the specific needs of your senior. Sit down with your loved one and make a list of their limitations and desired features for their home. Granny flats are often single-level dwellings that feature softer materials, and good lighting to reduce the risk of falls and injuries. Accessibility features like flashing or loud doorbells, grab bars, ramps, wider entrances, slip-resistant flooring, and easy-to-open windows can be incorporated. Also consider heating and cooling systems separate from the main house, particularly since older people tend to feel colder.  In terms of style, granny flats can range from cottage-style to modern or minimalistic, depending on the desired aesthetic. 

Research builders and their teams: Hire an experienced builder who can ensure that the flat meets everyone’s preferences. Take the time to research and read reviews of builders in your area to find the best fit. Prefab ADUs are also an option that can simplify the building process. You can explore different layout options on websites like prefabADU.

Set boundaries: While having your parent(s) just across the backyard allows for increased support, it’s essential to establish boundaries to maintain privacy for both parties. Strike a balance between spending time together and having personal space. 

Explore the multifunctional purposes of ADUs: While granny flats or ADUs are ideal living options for elderly relatives, there may come a time when the space is no longer needed for this purpose. In the long term, these structures can serve as guest houses, workshops, or landing pads for children as they start their adult lives. Transforming your granny flat into a short-term rental, such as through Airbnb, is another great use of the space. 

Whether you are just reaching retirement age wanting to help out with your grandchildren or you are in your eighties and in need of more support but want to maintain a sense of independence, granny flats are an affordable and family-oriented option of where to live while aging. 


Josie Bryan is a multidisciplinary freelance writer and creative whose work is focused on life writing, poetry, copy editing, creative direction, and personal development. She published her first book of poetry, Strawberry Daydreams, last year. She is a world wanderer embracing the nomadic lifestyle.

Throughout the “The Nuts and Bolts” section of this blog, we will introduce you to the practical needs in retirement. 

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