Whether you need space for for adult children or elderly relatives, adapting your home means that several generations can live together happily under one roof.
Image: Granit designed the rear extension and basement of this south London house to create a three-generation home. The grandmother lives on the lower level, which can be reached from inside the house, but also has its own street entrance. Photo: Andrew Beasley
With some young adults unable to afford their own property and an increasing number of older people requiring support in later life, family homes with multiple generations living under one roof are a reality for many. In fact, a 2017 report by the house-building research body NHBC Foundation revealed that 1.8 million UK households include two or more generations of adults. If you relate to this situation, there are several ways to reconfigure or add to your home.
Conversions for extra room
Converting your loft, basement or an attached garage are options for gaining extra rooms, making use of existing volume in your home without having to extend. But any such alterations will be determined by the requirements of the people who will live there. An attic or basement conversion may not be an ideal space for somebody with limited mobility, for example.
There are alterations that can be made to your home under permitted development rights, without the need to apply for formal planning permission. These depend on the extent of the changes you want to make to the exterior of your property. But there are circumstances when PDR doesn’t apply, such as if your home is listed or in a conservation area.
Selling up and commissioning an architect-designed self-build is another route to consider, as your current and future needs can be incorporated from the outset.
Image: Featuring a weatherboard finish, this annexe was designed by Border Oak as part of a larger self-build. It’s home to the owner’s parents and is separated from the main house by an office and garages.
A self-contained annexe can be a great solution, but building a separate structure in the garden is not always viable due to insufficient outdoor space or strict planning limitations. When constructing an annexe in your garden, you’ll also need to check whether your local authority has any specific regulations relating to this kind of development. Some councils may have policies to support annexe builds, but they will also have criteria and guidelines that you must follow. Also, check for regulations regarding a new-build being used as a separate address.
For more advice, take a look at this guide to building a home in your garden.
Once you have a detailed picture of each person’s specific needs and wishes, review Part M of the building regulations. This covers ease of access and the use of buildings, including facilities for people with disabilities. Part M will give you a good understanding of the basics rather than best practice, but it’s an excellent place to start.
Practical considerations may include wider corridors and doors for wheelchair or mobility aid users, an accessible wet room, grab rails, and hoists and tracks for more severe mobility restrictions. Step-free spaces with level thresholds between inside and out are also helpful.
Contrasting colours will help people with visual impairments to navigate spaces, so you might paint doors a different colour to the walls or add contrasting strips to the edges of steps. This can also apply to door handles, handrails on stairs and light switches.
For more complex needs, such as for people living with dementia, there is growing research on how to design spaces for easy navigation. By introducing niches with personalised mementoes such as family photos, it might be easier for those with short-term memory issues to find their way around the space and live safely.
Future-proofing a home or annexe doesn’t mean merely filling it with clunky and sometimes unattractive mobility aids and safety features. Good design can overcome many of the challenges associated with old age. Thankfully there are also now lots of suppliers of well-designed mobility aids.
Image: Designed by Po-Co Architecture, this self-build in Australia houses three generations of the same family. Photo: Tatjana Plitt
Providing a degree of privacy is important as it helps individuals maintain a sense of independence. Where possible, for example, create a separate entrance for the new living space so the inhabitants don’t have to go through the house to reach it if they don't want to.
While there's no acoustic requirements for extensions or annexes related to a main house in building regulations, paying attention to this aspect of the build can help family members feel a little more self-contained.
Allocating a place for everyone to gather will help set boundaries for family members' individual and private spaces.
Image: The Miko Laneway from Campos Studio embraces the Japanese traditions of the family it serves though the creation of a sensitive modern response that facilitates multi-generational living. Photo: Ema Peter
Careful budget control is a vital component in any scheme’s success and essentially comes down to effective project management. It often makes sense to sink more of your cash into structural elements, such as glazing or exterior finishes, that will be trickier to change later on. Interior fittings can always be upgraded later, when funds permit.
Even though increasing the value of your property may not be your main reason for considering a project, it might guide you to think about how much to spend, and whether your house is the right property to add to. Talk to an estate agent about what value a project could add to your home to help you set a budget for the project.