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Practical remodeling tips for modern multi-generational families

(BPT) – Parents, grandparents and children all living happily together under one roof — it’s an iconic American image you may associate with “the good old days.” In reality, more Americans are now living in multi-generational households than at any time in the past 75 years, according to Pew Research Center. The growing number of multi-generational households means homeowners, remodelers and builders are rethinking what it takes to make a home livable for multiple generations.

While some home builders have begun offering models designed specifically to facilitate multi-generational living, the reality is most people who decide to share a living space with extended family members will need to stay put and remodel their current homes. But it’s no longer good enough to simply convert an attic room, garage or basement into an extra bedroom to accommodate the extra occupants.

Modern multi-generational dwellers want privacy when they need it, the ability to be together in shared living spaces, and the cost-savings of sharing expenses among multiple generations of adults. Families may find it difficult to achieve those objectives with a traditional mother-in-law suite, or by putting grandma in the guest bedroom or adult children in a converted garage or basement.

Instead, homeowners and remodelers are seeking to redefine existing spaces within homes. If you plan to renovate with an eye toward accommodating your modern multi-generational family, keep these key points in mind:

Create privacy and separation

What happens when the 20-something kids want to watch a reality show and Dad wants to watch the news? What will you do when you’re in the middle of dinner prep, and Grandpa wanders into the kitchen to fix himself a snack? The more people living under one roof, the more important it becomes to create privacy and separation.

If you’re converting an existing space such as a basement, garage or guest suite into living space for one generation, think about how you’ll facilitate privacy. Is it possible to create two entrances to the space — one that provides access to common areas and another that allows occupants to enter and exit directly outdoors?

Comprehensive compartmentalization

In order to create effective separation, you need to ensure each generation’s private “compartment” is equipped with everything the occupants need for independence — such as cooking facilities, a bathroom, sleeping and living spaces. You may find you need to create a bathroom or kitchen in a space where installing traditional plumbing might be problematic. Above-floor plumbing can be a cost-effective solution for virtually anywhere in a house.

Traditional plumbing may require you to open walls, add costly and extensive new piping, or even cut through concrete if the area you need to plumb sits on a slab. Rather than taking on the expense and time of traditionally plumbing a new kitchen or bathroom, above-floor plumbing allows homeowners to quickly, easily and cost effectively install sinks, showers and toilets.

Above-floor plumbing features such as a macerating toilet and drain pumps, like those from Saniflo, allow you to easily add a complete bathroom or kitchen where no drainage existed before. For bathrooms, the compact systems can fit into a closet or area beneath a stairway, and new vitreous china, floor-mounted bowls feature contemporary styling that complements modern bathroom designs.

When creating a new kitchen, choosing above-floor plumbing for sinks means you don’t have to be limited to areas where in-wall pipes already exist, or where space is available to add them. Products like the compact Saniswift graywater pump make it possible to use above-floor plumbing where no below-floor drainage exists, transporting wastewater away from a kitchen, laundry, bar sink, shower or bathroom sink. Learn more at

Establish communal areas

Successful compartmentalization means plenty of privacy, and privacy ensures your family shares time together because they want to — not because they’re elbow-to-elbow in one space. Communal areas allow you to fully enjoy time spent together, so when planning the space, think about the activities you’ll want to do together.

Will you share daily dinner or a big breakfast every Sunday? Will you have a family movie night? Does Grandma need a comfortable space where she can pass on to the grandchildren the finer points of her favorite craft activities? Shared space should be easily accessible to each generation’s compartment, and incorporate features that are universally useful and appealing.

As more baby boomers enter their golden years, and millennials strive to establish their own households in the wake of the Great Recession, experts predict the number of multi-generational households will continue to grow. Multi-gen living is already at an all-time high; Pew says there were 57 million multi-generational households in the U.S. in 2012, representing more than 18 percent of the total population. In the bygone era of the 1940s, there were only 32 million multi-generational homes, Pew says.