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What Is An In Law Suite And What Does It Add To My Home?

We’re all interested in ways that we can improve our houses — not just to make them more attractive and convenient for ourselves, but to really add value to the property. But for most of us, selling a house isn’t in the immediate future. As much as you should be conscious of the value a renovation or addition can give, you should also be aware of exactly what you’re going to be getting out of it on a personal level and how it can best suit your family’s current needs.

For some, this is going to mean considering how best to expand our homes and make them work for the entire family. This may even include multiple generations. Multi-generational living is common across most of the world. In many European countries, for example, it’s common for children to live with their parents until they marry. And when the parents are older and less able to work and care for themselves, they move in with their adult children and their families.

While Americans have long believed that the norm is to move out as soon as possible and then live on independently for the rest of your life, this actually isn’t as common as you might think. It’s estimated that about 64 million Americans currently live in multi-generational homes. But not all of those homes were automatically ready for multi-generational living on a structural level. This has pushed some to consider in law suite designs.

But what is an in law suite? The concept may be completely foreign to you. These design features are much more common in other parts of the world, where they’re sometimes referred to as “granny flats.” However, they’re becoming more popular in the U.S. as many homeowners intend to age in place.

That said, an in law suite doesn’t have to be made for your in-laws. It could also be used by guests, adult children, or even an Airbnb guest if you’d like to monetize an empty in law suite down the road. Not everyone makes an in law suite because they need it immediately. But regardless of why you’re considering adding an in law suite, they offer a lot of different benefits. There are now a multitude of different in law suite designs to choose from, as well. With that being said, let’s look into what an in law suite actually is and what you may need to consider before making this addition to your house.

What Is An In Law Suite, Exactly?

An in law suite is a nickname for what is essentially an extra apartment added to your home or property. Essentially, these compact additions or areas have all of the basics that someone (theoretically, your mother or father in-law) would need to live somewhat independently on your property. The key to an in law suite is being able to maintain privacy and independence while still being accessible.

Now, the extent to which a suite is completely independent depends on what you want out of the suite and the different in law suite designs that your contractor may offer. But at the very minimum, an in law suite would offer a bedroom, as well as a private bathroom and possibly a small kitchen and dining space. Some in law suites also come equipped with private entrances, which add to the general privacy that they offer. Essentially, an in law suite allows the person living within it to come and go as they please without having to share space constantly with the rest of the family. Most in law suites will be attached to the house in some way, perhaps through a basement, a separate addition in the back or side of the house, or even occasionally in the attic, though this isn’t ideal if it’s being made to facilitate senior living. From time to time, in law suites are also made to be separate from the rest of the house, perhaps existing much like a guest house. Again, this is really up to you.

But as with any home remodeling job, an in law suite requires something of an investment, as well as available space. You will most likely either be remodeling or finishing an unfinished space in order to create an in law suite. Alternatively, you could to your home from the ground up. This could require an investment that is somewhere in the tens of thousands of dollars. However, an in law suite is often quite attractive to potential buyers if you plan on selling your home down the road. Essentially, it’s adding a great deal of livability and uniqueness to your property. There are multiple benefits to considering in law suite designs — even if you aren’t yet sure if your mother or father in-law will be coming to live with you for the long term.

What Should I Prioritize When Planning an In Law Suite?

It can be difficult to begin an in law suite remodel if you’re just beginning to learn about the concept. Therefore, you should make a list of priorities to handle as you launch into the project. This will ensure that you’re doing it correctly and do not waste time and money.

Firstly, you need to make sure that the in law suite designs that you’re considering are compliant with your local planning and subdivision regulations. Every area is different regarding what they allow in terms of in law suites and home expansions in general. Remember that you’re essentially building an apartment when you build an in law suite, so there may be difficult requirements regarding safety features and zoning depending on where you live. For example, some areas may require that you equip your in law suite with its own separate fire alarm systems. Others may require that the in law suite is a specific size.

Next, think about the importance of accessibility. While not everyone wants their in law suite to be specifically designed for seniors, only using the term in a colloquial manner, accessibility is crucial no matter who you’re building an additional suite for. Of course, it’s especially important for seniors, who may have greater difficulty getting up and down the stairs. While it’s possible for some to get around an attic more easily than others, there are other issues that make first floor or basement level in law suite designs more appealing than others. It can be difficult to have residential plumbing repairs handled in an efficient manner when an in law suite is harder to access. And in general, expansions are often easier to make if you’re doing them on the first floor. While basement level in law suites present their own challenges, a basement offers the right amount of space for an in law suite. With the help of just a few steps or even an accessible ramp, they can host separate entrances as well. Plus, you can’t get much better in terms of privacy than an in law suite in the basement.

What Are Some Issues To Consider When Creating a Basement In Law Suite?

Because basement in law suite designs are so popular, it’s important to tackle the specific kinds of issues that can crop up when turning a basement into an in law suite. Basements tend to offer different climate conditions from the rest of the house. For example, you need to be careful about the types of materials that you work with when designing an in law suite within the basement. While you may be tempting to use wood when creating a basement in law suite, there is a certain level of dampness inherent to a basement that can warp the wood. For that matter, residential concrete can become quite cold within the basement. This makes matters even more difficult when seniors are living within the basement, as they’re often more susceptible to the cold than younger people are. You should be conscious of this when choosing your materials.

Speaking of the cold, this means that basement in law suite designs must come with extra precautions to ensure that they’re properly insulated. The last thing you want is for your loved one to get sick because they’re living in a space that is too cold for them. You need to make sure that your in law suite is insulated, but you’ll also need to make sure that as little heat escapes the in law suite through the windows you use. Some basements are more difficult to outfit with windows than others, but you can still add windows to most of them with little difficulty. Consider new construction windows, as these will often be the most insulated and will provide better energy efficiency. You may also want to add in heavier curtains to further lock in heat, as well as carpeted floors (rather than ceramic tiles or other types of flooring) that can “hold in” the cold over the warmth.

How Can I Make An In Law Suite Feel Like Home?

If someone is moving into your in law suite on a long-term basis, you’ll of course want them to feel as comfortable as possible. A part of that means valuing their privacy and creating a space that is separate and personal. While it’s lovely for the whole family to be together, moving into a home with family again after living independently for an extended period of time can also be an emotional process. It may be easier for relatives, especially in a multi-generational household, to experience conflicts in this type of situation.

With this in mind, you should try to facilitate some degree of personal control for the person living within the in law suite. You may want to add in a separate air conditioning system when planning their AC installation, as this way they can control their own heating and cooling. Often, those living with generations older or younger than they are have different heating and cooling needs. Being able to control their own temperature, without asking you for permission, will make them feel more independent, and that’s always appreciated.

Another thing to consider in general is the separation between the in law suite and the rest of the house. This will extend to practical matters; if the in law suite has its own water heater, this heater may break on its own will need a separate water heater repair compared to the rest of the house. Of course, this has the added benefit of the rest of the house acting as a “back up” in case there are issues within the in law suite. On a more personal level, you may want to have the person living within the in law suite place their own design stamp there, in terms of paint colors, furniture, and the general aesthetic design. Now, if you’re looking at in law suite designs simply to add value to your home or even list it on a short-term rental site, you’ll probably want to consider designs that are convenient and stylish, but not too individualistic. This way, the suite will appeal to people on a much broader scale.

Whether you are considering in law suite designs for personal or financial reasons, there are clearly a number of great benefits that come from making this addition to your house. The chances are high that the number of multi-generational homes in this country will only grow over time. This means that you should plan accordingly and invest in both your home and your family’s future. Adding an in law suite can be a lot of work, from mapping out additional plumbing to picking paint colors — moving your in laws in, if that’s the ultimate goal. But they’re sure to pay off!

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