21 Jun Flexible Housing for All Ages
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, mainly because my husband and I have been absorbed in launching a big project – building new housing to see us into very old age. I’ve been urged to write about our experiences around this, to get down to the nitty gritty of all that is involved. I hope it might be useful to others contemplating renovations or new construction.
Given my background in occupational therapy, I was quite taken with CMHC’s (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) Flex Housing concept. This makes it possible to easily and cost-effectively adapt a single house, duplex, condo, or apartment building for various needs throughout the life span.
For example, you can make entryways and doorways that are wide enough to easily accommodate strollers are also a good size for wheelchairs and walkers. You could design a bedroom in such a way that it can later be subdivided to create two bedrooms, or a bedroom and study. Incorporate electrical wiring and plumbing for future needs when walls are open during renovation or construction. For instance, you might want a laundry room now in the basement to someday be on the main floor. And so on. CMHC’s Flex Housing gives a wealth of ideas and details.
With expert help, we’ve designed a house with an open concept (and wheelchair accessible) kitchen, dining, and living room on the main floor, with easy access to outdoors. A soundproof music room (where I can practice without disturbing anyone) can later function as a home theatre or bedroom or study, and there is room for a laundry room on the main floor. The roomy three-piece bathroom will have blocking built into the walls to later accommodate grab bars where needed.
On the second floor, we’ll start with a master bedroom, a large study/guest room, and a large sewing room. One or more of these rooms can later serve as rooms for rent as part of home sharing, for people to possibly provide companionship and/or help to us in later years, or for extra income if we need it. As well, I’m sensitive to how fortunate we are, and want to share our home as we age with others who may need affordable accommodation.
A rental unit
Alternatively, we can readily transform a bedroom into a kitchen and living area to turn the second floor into a complete rental unit. We’ve also planned for a closet-sized space for a stackable washer and dryer (which will be pre-plumbed for future use), and a large storage room for us now, and possible tenants in the future. A rentable unit could help augment our income, or provide space for a live-in caregiver or family member.
If ever we turn the second floor into a rental unit, it will be one that is connected to the lower floor. If, however, we had wanted to create completely separate units, we would have had to include fire stopping methods during construction, a ventilation system that could be separated later, and a second power panel. We chose not to go that route, in part because of the additional cost.
Our staircase between floors is one of the items that is not the best design for flex housing. Ideally, one would have a wide, straight run of stairs to later accommodate a stair lift if needed. Our stair case is in two parts, such that the stair landing between floors can serve as entryway for an upper suite and a lower suite. As well, we can live entirely on the main floor without a need to go upstairs.
Because we are currently gardeners, we are including a greenhouse attached to the main floor (perhaps serving as extra living space in the future). The greenhouse will also help serve as solar heating for the house, with hydronic in-floor heating using solar-heated hot water as our main source of heat. The house will be very well insulated with a ventilation system that will help to pull greenhouse heat into the house.
We’re aiming for a Net Zero approach, so that our roof covered in photovoltaic panels will help us produce as much energy as we consume over the span of a year. We will want to tie in to Nova Scotia Power so that we can sell our excess power or purchase power if we need to. With a greenhouse and solar capture, we are orienting the house to face solar south.
We will also be building wind-resistance into the physical infrastructure of the house, given that stronger winds will likely come along with climate change.
So that’s the plan. I’ll tell you next time about the challenges with city planning rules of living in our current house while we build the new one behind, and why we chose to go that route.