Renovate for live-in parents

For Cathy and Michael Hetherman of Mississauga, Ont., the decision to have her parents move in wasn’t hard.

For her parents, John, 71, and Cynthia, 63, moving in was a godsend. After three leg surgeries, including a recent arterial bypass, John needed somewhere to recuperate that offered convenience and accessibility. Arthritis in both of Cynthia’s knees made negotiating the stairs in their Scarborough townhouse painful.

What was difficult was determining how-and even if-their house could accommodate the growth.  

Assess your home
According to Paul Gallop, owner of Men at Work General Contractors in Toronto, assessing the viability of your home for a renovation or addition is the first step. 

“To maximize your possibilities, seek the guidance of someone in residential design,” advises Gallop. Whether you’re thinking basement apartment, an addition or simply adding one extra bedroom, there’s a lot to consider.

“For instance, a renovation could be extremely challenging technically because of ceiling height in a basement,” says Gallop. “And even if it’s doable, it might be a bad investment.”

<srog>Consider future needs
A major consideration is your parents’ needs-or future needs.

“Assume some day, stairs will be a problem,” says Gallop.

“There are stair lifts and other kinds of automatic devices you can install, but that can become quite costly. So, for example, is a basement the right place for a renovation?”

Find right contractor
Once you’ve determined you want, the next step is finding the right people for the job.

When John and Dorothy Funnell of Winnipeg, both in their 70s, moved in with their daughter and her family, they were lucky–they knew exactly who to call.

“We had a great contractor from years past, so I showed him the plans I’d drawn up, he made suggestions and we went from there,” explains John.

“Ideally, the hope is to find someone who can steer you through the entire process from beginning to end, including providing design and general planning,” says Gallop.

“The kind of contractor who does that is described as a design-build contractor, one who offers design services as well as construction.”

Next page: Estimate the costs

Estimate the costs
Going this route can pinpoint costs as well. Estimates for any type of home renovation project is difficult when you consider all the variables, but these ballpark figures can help you decide if you’re even playing in the right league.

According to Gallop, who works mostly in the Greater Toronto area, converting a basement into a fully contained apartment will cost $30,000 to $50,000.

If you need to lower the floor for more headroom, add another $20,000 to $30,000.

Of course, these figures depend on the quality of construction-everything from windows and kitchen cabinets to flooring and hardware.

Some cost estimates
For an addition, a rule of thumb is $135 to $170 a square foot. With a 500-square-foot addition (adequate for most people), that works out to $67,500 to $85,000.

Adding a single room to a house runs about $150 a square foot; so a 10- by 10-foot room (100 square feet) works out to about $15,000.

According to Gallop, a basement apartment will take a month, on average, to complete.

“If the job involves lowering the floor or significant structural alterations, then it can easily take another month,” he says. And, if the addition involves installing a kitchen or bathroom, count on three to four months.

Who pays?
When deciding who will pay for what, communication is crucial. For Cathy Hetherman and her parents, the money discussion was tackled first.

“Mom and Dad sold their townhouse and put a large part of that into the renovations. They contributed their portion,” explains Cathy.

“We had a legal agreement drawn up to protect them.”

For Cathy Bacynsky of Winnipeg, the money discussion followed her invitation to move in.

“We don’t have a mortgage, so the property taxes were split, and my parents contribute toward the utility bills.”

For her parents’ peace of mind after spending $20,000 on the basement apartment, “We have an agreement that if Cathy sells the house, we’re reimbursed that $20,000,” explains her father. “It’s even spelled out in her will.”

Next page: Plan for mobility

Plan for mobility
Another important step in ensuring that your new living arrangements work is bearing in mind what will make your parents comfortable.

“Hiring a good architect or designer can really help,” explains Gallop. “Especially someone with experience designing for people with disabilities, pending disabilities or limited mobility.”

Even if your parents have no trouble getting around now, think about some small additions that may be handy down the road.

Some design basics
When designing, consider:

  • Widened doorways to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers.
  • Levers instead of knobs to make opening doors easier for people with arthritis.
  • Larger spaces in general (bathrooms in particular) to make moving around easier.
  • Grab bars in bathrooms.
  • Showers instead of bathtubs for ease of access.
  • No thresholds between rooms. 
  • Good lighting, especially in stairways, kitchens and bathrooms.
  • If the person is in a wheelchair, consider lowering the light switches.
  • Minimal stairs and level changes.
  • Where stairs cannot be avoided, a chair lift is an option. It’s costly but can make a basement apartment more accessible.
  • Bath or shower seats that fold down and tuck away when not in use.
  • Rubber bathmats in tubs and showers.
  • No small area rugs or rugs that are firmly attached to the floor.
  • Night lights throughout the area for midnight rambles.
  • Raised toilet seats for easier access.
  • Sturdy handrails.
  • Build stairs with closed risers, so feet don’t go through the back of steps.

The Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation has several booklets and fact sheets about adapting housing for seniors including Flex Housing: Homes That Adapt to Life’s Changes ($10).

The book contains how-tos and sample plans for renovations or additions. Call 1-800-668-2642 or visit their site online.