Home is not only where the heart is. Louis Tennebaum, founder of the Aging in Place Institute, says, “Our homes are the key to aging well.” Seniors who age in place are often healthier and happier. It is no surprise that it is the preference of most seniors. Those who want to age in place would do well to heed Tennebaum’s advice that planning ahead-before a crisis-is the key to aging well and safely.
A June 2015 article in the newsletter of the Harvard Medical School, HealthBeat, stated that adapting one’s home to the changing realities of aging is Step Number One in aging well.
Could the “tiny house” trend serve as a possible solution for seniors who want to age in place? There are plenty of positive aspects of tiny homes as places for seniors to age in place. There are also some negative features. Let’s look at both.
The pros of tiny houses for aging in place
- Tiny houses are very affordable, often involving a small mortgage or an outright cash buy. Averaging about $65,000 and $70,000 in price (some are lower and others higher), they can be very economical from the standpoint of purchase.
- Usually classified as impermanent structures and travel trailers, they do not require the payment of property taxes.
- Because of these reasons, they can be legally parked in many places, including Recreational Vehicle parks, adult children’s back yards, one’s own back yard (while adult children or caregivers rent the big house), or in pleasant natural settings.
- Heating and cooling costs are low.
- They are highly mobile; many of them are on wheels.
- They can be plugged into a normal power source or can use battery or solar and wind power.
- They are easy to clean. Even hiring a housekeeper is inexpensive because while the average traditional home is about 2,000 square feet, tiny houses are defined as being less than 1,000 square feet-and many are less than 500, and go down to even 200 square feet.
- Tiny rooms and hallways make for safe navigation, especially with the addition of hand bars.
- Many have fold-up decks and porches, allowing seniors access to fresh air and the outdoors.
- They often have costly high-end features like solid hardwood floors, wood paneling and granite counters. These features are economical because of their small scale and make tiny houses more homelike than a standard RV.
The cons of tiny houses for aging in place
- Since they are not attached to a sewage system, the on-board septic system needs to be emptied. Usually, this needs to be done every two or three months because the toilets compost.
- Water tanks need to be refilled as well.
- By parking in a remote natural area, security issues may come to the fore.
- Many tiny homes keep their square footage low by using ladder-accessed lofts for bedrooms and storage. Lofts would not be an option for most seniors in the short run and certainly not in the long run.
- Many couches in tiny homes are simply benches with a pad and back cushions. Comfort may be sacrificed.
- Likewise, dining areas are small, often with benches, and may be difficult for seniors to get in and out of.
- To live in a tiny home, one must pare possessions to a bare minimum. This means photo albums, precious possessions, and memorabilia may need to be sacrificed.
- Tiny houses are trending now. Their disadvantages have not been fully identified yet. Stricter regulations on parking and higher prices as their popularity grows may follow.
Tiny houses are an interesting and innovative idea. There is worldwide interest in this ecologically responsible way to live large while keeping one’s carbon footprint small. With proper adaptations, such as no lofts and wall-length hand bars, tiny houses may be part of the solution of affordable and safe senior housing for aging in place.
Sheik, Sherwin. “Louis Tennebaum: ‘Our Houses Are the Key to Aging Well.'” The Huffington Post, August 28, 2015, posted 7/22/2015. Available online at:
HealthBeat, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School. “6 ways you can prepare to ‘age well.” June 27, 2015. Available online at http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-aging/6-ways-you-can-prepare-to-age-well.