Our Green Gurus

Guest bloggers share all you need to know to lead a greener lifestyle.

Multi-generational living


My husband Jeremy's parents, with my kids, and a visiting cousin, outside our current multi-generational home. The name of our 9 star house series is 'solar sollew', from the Dr. Seus books, where it says, "I Had Trouble In Getting To Sola Sollew".


Kitchen is the heart of the house, and we design them to be sunny and friendly to use. This is Plow house designed by my husband and I from Positive Footprints.


"Plow House" by Positive Footprints was awarded high commendation for Sustainable Renovation at 2010 BPN awards.


"Junction House" by Positive Footprints was the winner of Master Builders Housing Excellence Award for Best Sustainable Energy House in 2013.

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By Mother and building designer Chi Lu, from
Positive Footprints.

Multi-generational living is not the 'norm' in Australia. But in today's society, this is changing, as our population is getting older, living longer, working from home more, and adult children are staying at home longer.

In my case, my husband Jeremy and I returned to live with my parents after living and working overseas and interstate, and our children have since been born into multi-generational living. Last year, when we finished our 9 Star design house, we moved in with Jeremy’s parents to give them more support.

Our children are now aged 9 and 11, and they have very strong bonds with their grandparents. All of us have close connections with our brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and cousins, due to frequent family visits to our multi-generational home.

The design of the house is one key factor that can make or break multigenerational living, but fortunately, that's what both Jeremy and I specialise in.

What makes our home so sustainable'?
Of course, one house uses fewer resources than two, or more! The way I see it, if a house is designed to be flexible to change with a family's needs, then the longevity of that house is likely to be better than more rigid designs.

Environmentally, higher-density living can reduce the need for urban sprawl, and the infrastructure it entails. Operationally, the energy use for regular chores and costs – such as grocery shopping, or heating and cooling the home – are minimised through sharing.

Shared households also have financial advantages, such as the sharing of bills, economies of scale by buying in bulk, savings in childcare, and perhaps the freeing-up of other assets (say, a second dwelling) to be used as additional income generation.

All this saves waste, time, and energy, among other social benefits.

Socially, successful multi-generational living creates closer meaningful relationships; the mere availability of more support for each age group provides an emotional anchor, and improves the wellbeing for all, as well as extending an aged dependent's stay within the same community. Plus there's the convenience of last-minute childcare options.

What does our multi-generation house look like?
Flexibility is key to allowing the house to grow with its occupants.

In our design practice, we sometimes get requests to allow for sharing the household with adult children, frequent guests, or special needs bathroom's for elderly parents who visit.

Multi-generational needs like these can be met fairly easily by including a separate living zone for when peace and quiet is needed by some members of the home. It’s also useful to include an easily accessible bathroom – or one that can be made accessible. In some cases, a separate entry door can be all that’s needed.

The house we live in with our children and in-laws, is rated 9 star in house energy rating and has been made suitable for universal access.

The master bedroom with accessible ensuite is on the ground floor. Ramps lead to the garage, the front door and backyard, so the entire ground floor is wheelchair friendly. Lever tapware, wider doorways and clear circulation spaces, light switches and door handles at suitable levels, are just some of the design features.

Our kitchen joinery consists of a lower bench top where Jeremy’s father can sit and read in his wheelchair while being in the midst of the action in the kitchen.

The upper floor is where my husband and I, and our children, sleep – we share a bathroom and a separate living area. This upper living area is flexible for play, for homework, and for friends to sleepover.

Most of the time however we live downstairs, cooking and sharing meals, sharing house chores and gardening with the grandparents. Taking our meals, and spending quality time together is a priority.

What's the key to successful multi-generational living?
Living in a multi-generational household is not unlike living in any other relationship – everyone needs basic mutual respect for one another. It’s a good idea to identify boundaries, to keep communication channels open, and to know that the shared common aim is to live together happily.

For me, just hearing the daily conversation and laughter shared between my children and the grandparents is confirmation enough that our household model has enriched all of us in immeasurable ways.

Chi Lu will be speaking at the Grand Designs Live Home Show in Sydney and Melbourne. For your chance to win one of six double-passes to the show, click here.