Building houses that are future-proofed for larger families, multiple generations and aged users is increasingly common internationally and may be one of the next big things in New Zealand home building.
With an ageing population requiring care and more young adult children returning to the roost to save money while starting their careers, multi-generational homes are becoming more prevalent. Add to this the need for aged-friendly homes, rising living costs and reduced income in retirement, and more people may choose to retire in their family home.
Catering to diverse needs
Having older and multiple generations under a single roof means homes must not only provide enough space for everyone, they must meet the functional and mobility requirements of the elderly, be safe for toddlers and children, be technologically capable for young adults and be comfortable and aesthetically appealing for all. Also, they must be readily adaptable to changing mobility and access needs of occupants over the years.
Green building practices are now a given for some. The next evolution of the home may be its ability to house more people and efficiently cater for family members between the ages of 1 and 100.
Two houses in one
The 2009 US Census showed that 51 million people – 17% of the population – lived in a house with at least two adult generations under one roof. A 2012 survey by homebuilder PulteGroup found that 32% of adult children expect to eventually share their house with a parent. With the over-65 population expected to double to 92 million by 2060, it’s a trend that is going to continue.
In 2011, US builder Lennar introduced its first Next Gen brand of house, designed specifically to house more than one adult generation. Now Lennar offers more than 50 Next Gen floor plans. The concept provides two houses in one – the main home has 3 or 4 bedrooms, with a separate yet integrated second home with its own front entrance, kitchen, bedroom, living space and garage. Far from being a detached structure, on many designs, the second home is almost entirely contained within the larger home.
Drummond Houses is a major US house builder with 20 franchised offices that also caters for the larger family market. Among its categories of standardised plans are the Multi-generational, Full Family and Mother-in-law Suite house designs, which can be purchased off the shelf or customised.
Universal design is key
Universal design (UD) becomes important when homes are shared by varying ages, all with different levels of mobility. The term ‘universal design’ covers a home’s ability to be navigable and accommodate people of different shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. UD features include wider doors and hallways, non-skid flooring, no-step entries and pathways, raised easier access toilets, multi-height countertops and workstations, easy-to-grasp cabinet knobs and so on.
UD concepts have existed long before any move towards multi-generational living. However, its emphasis on accessibility fits well with building homes used by people of all ages.
Lifemark universal design standard
The Lifemark standard in New Zealand provides criteria for assessing the UD attributes of New Zealand homes. It promotes 33 specific standards that were developed based on international best practice in UD.
Lifemark is administered by Lifetime Design, an independent not-for-profit organisation established by CCS Disability Action in 2006, primarily to provide design solutions that address safe housing for people with a disability and the ageing population.
A Lifemark 3, 4 or 5-star rating is an independent seal of approval that a home is accessible, safe and adaptable and that all people can live comfortably in the home, no matter their age, stage or ability.
Universal design best in new builds
In 2009, the Ministry of Social Development used a sample of homes to discover the cost difference between installing UD elements in a home during the build compared to retrofitting later. They found that it was 22 times more cost efficient to install during the build rather than retrofit when an unplanned need arises.
In May 2013, the government announced funding to help promote the uptake of Lifemark design standards in the country’s future residential building developments. Lifemark has recently signed agreements with Christchurch City Council and retirement development provider BUPA that will ensure 900 new houses are built annually that meet Lifemark 3-star standard.
Lifemark General Manager Andrew Olsen sees the proposed visions for Auckland and the Christchurch rebuild as major opportunities to advance adaptable housing design. ‘Homes that are affordable, adaptable and accessible for all persons have to be the way of the future,’ he says.
Government supports bigger homes for large families
Lifemark has made strides in adaptability and future-proofing homes. However, construction of homes purpose built for multiple generations is still a relatively new proposition. Provision for large families in New Zealand homes has primarily focused on assisting those who are less well off and living in overcrowded homes.
Housing New Zealand’s home extension programme will see 2,000 3-bedroom state houses converted into 4 and 5-bedroom homes over the next 2 years to accommodate larger families in a single dwelling. When they are expanded, upgraded kitchens, living areas and insulation will be incorporated into the homes.
Starting in August 2013, 20 houses in Auckland will be converted. The first house in Mt Roskill is being extended from 3 bedrooms to 6 bedrooms and will go to a family of 11 who are currently living in a 3-bedroom home.
Unitary Plan allows division of housing
Auckland Council’s Draft Unitary Plan also proposes housing more people by altering existing houses. One of their draft polices will allow homeowners to divide their existing house into two units without resource consent and use the second unit to accommodate family or even rent out.
These council measures indicate a belief that some future family household units will be bigger and that dwellings will need to accommodate more people. Interestingly, a result of these changes may be an increase in a property’s value, which contrasts with drives to increase housing affordability.
Kiwi homes getting bigger
Specific provision of large multi-generation homes in New Zealand for those that can afford to buy them is on a much smaller scale. However, that’s not to say our houses aren’t getting bigger and more capable of housing big families.
Kiwi houses have been growing in size in response to consumer demands for more bedrooms, guest bedrooms, en suites, studies and dens. Significantly, too, limited free building space in our cities means that developers can more easily increase their profits through selling a bigger house over a smaller one, given the relatively high price they pay to secure land.
In 1976, the average new house in New Zealand had a floor area of 121 m2. By 1986, it had grown to 134 m2, by 1996 175 m2 and 209 m2 by 2006. At Stonefields in Auckland, 4 and 5-bedroom 2-storey villas have a floor area of between 216 and 260 m2.
These bigger homes are not explicitly designed for grandparents who need assistance in later life or young adults starting their careers who can’t afford high rents, but they can accommodate them much better than houses built two decades ago.
Flexibility with prefabricated extensions
In New Zealand, there is no dedicated provider of specifically designed multi-generation homes. However, some house builders are aware of the future need for homes that can be readily adapted to suit older people and multiple generations and are developing products to suit.
Salmond Architecture’s High Performance Houses division creates architecturally designed homes that use combinations of prefabricated pavilions and linkways to expand a home’s size over time. This means that potential room additions can be seamlessly incorporated into an overall design with the addition of a matching pavilion. High Performance Houses have a 5-star Lifemark rating and 8-star Homestar sustainability rating.
It is possible that future growth in prefabricated home construction could provide more homes that can be easily reconfigured and enlarged over the life of the building as needs change.
Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.