Throw Momma in a Shed: Is the MedCottage a Solution for Millions of Older Americans?

©. Washington Post

Two years ago I first wrote about the MedCottage, describing it as A Hospital Room in a Shed for Your Backyard. It was a big shed, at 288 square feet, and would not be legal in much of North America. However the Virginia State Assembly passed legislation to permit their installation as "temporary family healthcare structures", and the first has now been installed.


Medcottage/Promo image

In the Washington Post, Frederick Kunckle describes what he calls a "granny pod", " a self-enclosed space that blends bedroom, kitchenette, foyer and bath the way that a fork and spoon combine to form a spork."

The MedCottage in Fairfax is about 12 by 24 feet, the size of a typical master bedroom. With its beige aluminum siding — and cosmetic touches such as green shutters — the cottage looks a little like an elaborate dollhouse. The interior, painted gray and white, seems so airy and comfortable that Soc jokes about reusing the dwelling someday as a mountain cabin.

It sounds expensive at $ 125,000, but so are assisted living facilities and this at least has some resale value. Granny had to be dragged in kicking and screaming, but now likes it. Neighbours do not; one wrote to the Post:

...Structures such as MedCottages put neighbors in a difficult position. On the one hand, they may be sympathetic to the challenge of caring for aging loved ones. On the other, the structures force them to compromise the aesthetic enjoyment of their property — and potentially their safety.
distance between

CBS/Screen capture

The neighbour goes on to complain about the ease with which fire could jump between the houses. Considering that most houses are just a few feet from their neighbours to the side, the argument that a dwelling eight feet from the rear property line is a hazard sounds specious. But there are larger issues.

I did a little consulting last summer on the issues of getting these kinds of sheds approved and in fact there were all kinds of problems that had to be faced. There was so much resistance to the idea from so many people, and some serious impediments as well.

  • How many houses actually have backyards that big enough or are accessible enough to drop one of these in?
  • How do you connect plumbing in an affordable way?
  • Do fire hoses reach from the street hydrants to the backyard?
  • Can EMS teams get their equipment into the backyards?

In fact, where the video suggests that there are millions of elderly Americans who could be housed this way, I suspect that by the time you go through the problems of access and servicing, let alone zoning, the numbers are a very small fraction of that. Surprisingly it works far better in our older, more urban areas that have back lane networks; there a servicing and access solution already exists.

It is a great attempt at trying to solve the rapidly mounting problem of how people will age in the suburbs. It increases density, which is needed to support essential social services that are often thin on the ground in the suburbs.

I just worry that there just are not that many North American yards that can support this kind of thing, and not that many families that can afford it. Maybe it should be on wheels and be parked in the driveway in front; That way Mom isn't hidden in the back, and if it doesn't work out, it is a lot easier to move the thing. Then it could be a sort of Cul-de-sac Commune for seniors.