The year was 1999, and Linda Gridley was faced with a tragic set of circumstances. Her father had recently passed away, and her aging (and still grieving) mother could not live alone. Gridley was faced with moving her mother across states, from Idaho to California. The problem: Gridley’s three-bedroom house was already crowded, with four people, including young children.

Over the years, Gridley had dealt with clients experiencing similar situations. She is the owner and president of The Gridley Company, a Campbell, California-based design, building, and remodeling firm she founded in 1976. Clients bemoaned their parents needing extra care, while the parents resented living in a cramped home with no independence. Now, perhaps for the first time, Gridley could empathize.

Her answer was to build her mother a cottage of her own in the backyard.

“I started hearing people when they were talking about what they were going through, and it really hit home a lot deeper than it had in prior years. I knew the logistical nightmare,” she says. “I experienced it, and that’s when we started talking more about it and really wanting to have an impact to help people through it.”

Booming Opportunity

As baby boomers continue to age, many more families will be doubling or even tripling up their homes with multiple generations. For Gridley as well as for other builders and remodelers in the residential construction and housing industry, multigenerational housing represents a growing market.

In September, the Census Bureau reported that from the spring of 2007 to 2011, doubled-up households-;those including at least one additional adult who is not a student, householder, or partner of the householder-;increased 10.7%. That means the number of doubled-up homes grew by 2.1 million-;representing 18.3% of all U.S. households-;in just four years, for a grand total of 21.8 million.

The Gridley Company has worked with families for years to figure out how to best outfit homes to accommodate aging parents--many of whom need extra care. But now amid the recent downturn, the firm has seen more requests to accommodate other family members: brothers, sisters, in-laws, and children who are having financial difficulties.

Gridley has had several clients whose older children, facing the tough job market after college, flew back to the nest. According to the Census Bureau, the number of young adults ages 25 to 34 who live with their parents increased by 1.2 million from 2007 to 2011.

“Our college-graduate children can’t find work,” says Gridley, whose son lives in the cottage on and off. “It was built in 2000, and lo and behold, it housed my aging mother and now my adult children who can’t find employment.”

Construction Industry Picking Up

The multigenerational housing market is gaining in popularity as the residential construction and housing industry as a whole is regaining speed. According to market research firm IBISWorld, the industry is expecting revenue to hit $303 billion in 2017, an increase of 63% from the $186.5 billion that’s expected this year. 

Gridley is looking forward to the recovery of her industry. Her company, which employs 15, was hit badly in 2008 and is still recovering. In 2009, the company made just over $2.1 million in sales, which boosted to $3.2 million in 2010.
 
For multigenerational housing-;which makes up about 10% of her business-;Gridley says her firm typically adds 400 to 500 square feet to create a private space, with a bathroom, sitting room, and bedroom. She believes it’s important to allow some independence between the generations to make the transition easier.

Aside from additions, others in the industry have also come up with solutions to make room for extra family members. Las Vegas-based Fusion Homes has branded a line of multigenerational houses and live-work homes. These homes feature locked-off suites or offices for nontraditional households.

Architect Howard Perlman founded Fusion Homes after seeing the household demographic shift to help house hunters find suitable homes. His website, at myfusionhome.com, provides a directory of where these multifunctional houses are available.

“It’s kind of like Expedia for new homes,” says Perlman.

Perlman also works with Lennar Homes, a Miami-based public company that recently launched a home called the Next Gen residence--described as “the home within a home,” as it allows for separate living spaces under one roof.

Bringing Families Closer

For Gridley, multigenerational homes are not just about creating a basic living space, but about the opportunity to bring families closer together.

She once built an extra sitting area and bathroom for a daughter who was moving back in to take care of her aging mother. Although Gridley describes the mother as a little Italian woman unwilling to speak with anyone but her daughter, once Gridley’s employees started turning up at the house, the woman began cooking for the crew--and even danced to Frank Sinatra with the painter.

“She was so thankful that the house came alive,” Gridley recalls. “We added just 300 square feet but saved a family’s life 100%.”