Want parents close by? Build a granny suite
FIFTEEN years ago, it was frowned upon to apply for a permit to build an addition called a granny suite. In those days, the preferred nomenclature employed by the City of Winnipeg was servants’ quarters. Apparently, the city’s mandarins believed granny suites would become rental units in parts of the metropolis not zoned for rental. Therefore the prudent choice for a name for such an addition became servants’ quarters, with its implied understanding only family retainers would occupy the renovation, certainly not street plebs who might clog respectable neighbourhoods with beaters and beer cans. This logic could have made sense at the turn of the last century, when even middle-class families could afford to keep a maid or two, but in this post-modern world, very few of us can afford or desire to do so. It took about a decade before modern city planners realized the windfall in tax revenue that would be generated by allowing granny suites (servants’ quarters weren’t cutting it) to proliferate throughout the city, and, after 10 years, a lot of the old prudes who had favoured the term servants’ quarters over granny suites had retired and were living in the latter. Admittedly, granny suite is not a moniker that will win the approval of feminists, or even normal women. Personally, I would not be offended if they were called grandpa suites; however, that might suggest something untidy and, well, un-vacuumed, such as a man cave. Better, I think, to retain the title of granny suites as we all know grannies are impeccable housekeepers, accomplished cooks and really great babysitters. (Is grandpa going to read to the grandkids at bedtime? No, he’s going to keep them up to all hours watching a Jet’s game.) Granny suites, if you have been wondering, are classified as renovations that include their own sources of power, water and sewage. They average 800 to 1,000 square feet into which is fitted a bedroom or two, a bathroom, a living/dining area and a family room. Depending on size, some suites have a laundry, but this is not required because the main house to which the suite is attached has a common washer/dryer area shared by all family members. A large, outdoor deck is accessible from a door in the kitchen.
MARIA and Miguel Santos kindly showed me their granny suite in St. Vital. About two years ago, it was added onto a large house owned by Maria’s daughter and son-inlaw. Maria said she and her husband decided to sell their condo in a distant part of the city so they could live next to her family, including two grandchildren aged two and four. “My daughter and her husband both work, so the grandkids stay with us when their parents are at work or away,” said Maria. The granny suite is separated from the main house by a four-car garage, a short, indoor walk for Maria or Miguel when they pick up or return the grandchildren. “It is such a joy for us to be close to our family and to be a part of their growing up,” said Maria, who has lived in the suite with Miguel for more than two years. “When we lived in our condo, it was so much work to get the kids. Now we can be with them whenever we want,” she said. For his part, Miguel said he enjoys watching the family grow and appreciates the short drive from St. Vital to the centre of Winnipeg. The couple’s daughter said she recommends the living arrangement because her parents are available to babysit and, more importantly, can participate in family life with the option of returning to their own private space when they are tired. The suite was built by Larry Larwyn of Larwyn Custom Homes for about $130,000, a very respectable price considering the cost of renovating in today’s market or the price of a new home. Larwyn said granny suites are popular because they are an inexpensive alternative to condos or single-detached dwellings. “They also keep elderly people out of care homes where they are left alone and shut off from family and friends,” said Larwyn, who has built a number of suites in different parts of Winnipeg. One of his most recent was completed in Wolseley, an area with a stock of larger homes that are being converted back to their upper-middle-class 1900s splendour— many include servants’ quarters or, as we now call them, granny suites. Larwyn can be reached at 204-9976770.