Multigenerational Housing


Multigenerational Homes:  The next big thing?

The US Census bureau defines multigenerational families as those consisting of two or more generations living under the same roof.  Many researchers also include households composed of a grandparent as the head of household and at least one grandchild under 18 years old. 

There has been a rapid increase in these households over the last few years, attributed to the economic downturn in 2008 and other factors. It is estimated that one in six Americans lives in a multigenerational household.  In 1980, multigenerational households accounted for 12% of the total and that number increased to 16.1% in 2010 as measured by U.S. censuses.

The major reason for the rapid increase in multigenerational households include the following:

People are marrying later in life and more unmarried 20-somethings continue to live with their parents due to economic necessity.

Young adults (18+) are pursuing college education more so than their parents’ generation. Many live part time or full time at home while attending college.

Young adults who traditionally work in entry level and low wage jobs lost income and jobs following the economic downturn in 2008 that affected the U.S..

Latin American and Asians have immigrated to the U.S. in large numbers.  Traditionally and due to economic needs upon moving to the U.S., many families from Latin American and Asian countries are more likely to live in multigenerational households.

More Baby Boomers are financially secure and are able to offer their aging parents a place to live and provide care if needed in their own home. Children of minor or adult age may also share the home.

Optimizing the Multigenerational Home:

Universal design (UD) promotes accessibility, safety, flexibility, functionality, and comfort without compromising the aesthetics of space.  One of the key concepts of UD is visitability, meaning that all housing meets minimum levels of accessibility to enable persons with disabilities to visit and navigate around the house freely and without barriers. 

The basic requirements for visitability include

zero-step entries (no stairs in planned visit area, no level changes through doorways)

wide doorways

at least half bath on the first floor

An additional benefit of UD is that the design features involved make homes more livable for both residents and visitors as well as not compromising design and usefulness for able bodies persons.

Minimal cost is involved with UD, small investments can provide large functional gains. Let us consider some facts and human factors. Adults are physically bigger than children, and so a multigenerational home needs to be able to accomodate children, able bodies adults, and minor and major functional issues experienced by senior family members (consider: storage access, bathroom fixtures, laundry, doorknobs, child safety, security systems, technology interfaces, arthritis friendly applicances…). One example is the functionality added by installing grab bars in bath/shower combinations.

Additionaly the multigenerational home needs to be able to comfortably accomodate multiple generation’s different social and privacy needs. Bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and common rooms deserve special attention. Multigenerational homes must provide more privacy than homes where only one set of adults will be living and socializing. More living space than the traditional family home may be required.

There are many ways to provide separate living spaces for parents and children so that needed privacy will support family harmony. A spacious master bedroom on the ground floor and multiple bedrooms upstairs can accomodate parents and a family of young children on the career path of children becoming teenagers, then young adults in college, then welcome adult visitors with their own families.  A single floor but with parent and children bedrooms at opposite ends (for example: a long ranch style layout) gives easy access to bedrooms from the main entrance but with separation, so 20-somethings coming in from a late night out won’t wake parents. “Mother-in-law” suites are designed to accomodate a senior family member in their adult child’s house with built in privacy up to and including a separate kitchen and entrance (be careful of all those late night parties!).

It is so important to consider accessibility in multigenerational houses. Young adults living with parents won’t need any special assistance in getting around, but that is something to consider for senior members of the family. If your senior parents are moving in with you, make sure to discuss their accessability nees. Senior adults with physical limitations also need privacy. Evaluate spaces available to avoid them feeling exposed to traffic and to ensure integration with the family in the placement of bedrooms. When thinking about purchasing a multi-generational household take into consideration:

Where will residents and visitors interact?

Where will meals be served for routine purposes and family events?

What private space is available?

Where will the family spend communal entertainment time?

Will health aids for the senior family member come into the home?

Consider a designated working space, exam and discussion area/storage space for medication or equipment/parking for the medical professional.


Mandy Pajerski

Mandy Pajerski

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