An acronym for the Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity, ECHO is basically a high-end trailer that can be installed in a backyard; it functions as a self-sufficient home with several rooms and all the usual appliances. They are the invention of Bill Novak, an 82-year-old local contractor and thrill-seeker who rushed into flying his own helicopter, crashed it, broke a hip, and needed to live close to his family.
The idea of a backyard cottage for an elderly family member isn’t exactly new. In the 1980s, they were available as fixed-foundation homes. But the idea never took off; at approximately $50,000, they were pricey and difficult to demolish, a legal requirement within 30 days of the occupant’s vacating the home.
Bill’s son Bob hopes to bring these homes to market in the spring. Supported by a trailer chassis, the ECHO cottage is quickly placed or removed. It connects to the existing home’s water, power, and sewer hookup; a skirt masks the trailer base. The cottages are fully handicapped accessible, with wide hallways and doors.
The 400-square-foot trailer connects to existing utility lines, and includes a living room area (left) and fully equipped kitchen
The Novaks are finding that many local towns would only need minor amendments to their zoning regulations to allow for the cottages. “The towns are really receptive to the idea,” says Bob Novak, who hopes that East Fishkill will be the first municipality to approve the cottages. “It meets a growing need for senior facilities, and nobody even notices they’re there.”
The 400-square-foot ECHO cottage operates on a month-to-month lease of $1,300 and allows pets. Installation and removal is covered by a single flat fee between $4,000-$6,000, making it one of the cheaper options available. “You stay home and you’re closer to the kids and grandkids, but you all still have your own space,” says Novak. “And your money is going to last a lot longer and you’re going to stay out of the nursing home a lot longer. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”