Multigenerational living is not a new concept, but it has witnessed a resurgence in recent years. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of multigenerational households in the US has quadrupled since 1971, reaching an incredible 59.7 million in March 2021. This trend is showing no signs of slowing down, driven by baby boomers opting to live with their children to save on the costs of assisted living facilities and retirement communities.
Additionally, more young adults are prolonging their stay at their parents’ homes. Since 2011, over half of men and women aged 18-24 have consistently lived with their parents. This trend can be attributed to several factors: longer academic pursuits, increasing student debt, late marriages, and the rising cost of housing, to name a few.
The COVID-19 pandemic further contributed to this trend, with urban cores and college campuses being vacated as students and working professionals moved back in with their parents.
Why Add an In-Law Suite to Your Home
Building an in-law suite benefits multigenerational families and can increase the value of your home. Contrary to its name, an in-law suite isn’t exclusively for in-laws. It can serve as a guest house, private living quarters for adult children, or even a rental unit for supplemental income.
Furthermore, in-law suites can save thousands of dollars compared to the costs associated with assisted living facilities or retirement communities.
Beyond providing a comfortable space for loved ones, your in-law suite can be a rental unit for generating passive income or a versatile living area that can adapt to your family’s changing needs.
What Should You Include in an In-law Suite
Consider the following components when building an in-law suite for multigenerational living:
1. Accessibility: A main floor suite will be more accessible than a second floor or basement. Wide doorways facilitate movement. Avoid steps and floor level changes.
2. Bathroom: A walk-in shower is essential for accessibility and comfort. Install grab bars, a seat, and a handheld showerhead with adjustable height. Anti-slip flooring and a raised toilet seat with a built-in safety rail are additional features to consider.
3. Privacy and Atmosphere: Place the entry and door in a private but accessible area. Ensure the suite has a cozy and accommodating atmosphere, with furniture suitable for aging residents. Consider a bed with storage space below to minimize clutter and adjustable lighting for different tasks.
4. Living Area: Arrange furniture to allow for ample walking paths and easy access to all parts of the suite. Proper lighting, comfortable seating, and unobstructed views of the entrance and outdoor area contribute to a welcoming space.
5. Separate Entrance: A private entrance enhances autonomy and ensures that occupants can come and go without disturbing the rest of the household. It’s important to make the entrance accessible and well-lit for safety. Accessible ramps or elevators may be necessary for wheelchair users.
6. Storage: If space allows, built-in closets, wall shelves, and cabinets can help keep the suite functional while minimizing clutter.
7. Kitchenette: For more independent living, include cabinet and counters, coffee maker, a refrigerator, microwave, and other appliances. For aging occupants, consider opting for pull-out cabinets and lowering countertops for easy access.
What is the Best Location for an In-Law Suite
You’ll want to fully evaluate your home’s layout and choose the appropriate location for your in-law suite based on local building ordinances, zoning laws, and the occupant’s mobility. Here are some commonly used spaces and related considerations:
1. Basements and attics offer extra square footage but may require structural modifications and insulation upgrades as well as steps or a lift to the main level and to entrances.
2. Converted garages provide space but may necessitate the construction of a new garage to replace the one being converted.
3. Additions offer flexibility in design but require a larger budget than converting an existing space. Zoning regulations are important to investigate early when considering an Addition.
4. Free-standing guest houses maximize privacy but are severely limited by zoning ordinances in most jurisdictions. Some forward-thinking counties in Virginia are amending their regulations to make separate structures, known as Accessory Dwelling Units, more achievable.
5. Unused rooms within the home are often the low-hanging fruit. Ideally, simply re-purposing a room adjacent to an existing or new full bath, could be the most convenient solution.
Considerations for Building an In-Law Suite
Consider the following factors when planning your in-law suite:
1. Size and Budget: Determine your budget early in the planning phase, factoring in professional consulting fees, materials, and potential contingencies. It’s important to review your wishlist with your design/build partner so they can help you realize what’s doable once you have your budget in mind.
2. Accessibility: Prioritize barrier-free design and accessibility features to help aging occupants navigate the space comfortably. Consider doorways, clearances, and lighting.
3. Local Building Ordinances and Zoning Laws: You or your design/build partner will need to consult with your local building department for restrictions and permits required for your project. Failure to comply can result in costly fines or delays.
4. Construction Timeline: Effective project management and communication with your design/build partner can reduce the risk of deadline postponements or budget overages. If you have a strict deadline for moving someone onto your property, this should be discussed upfront.
5. Rental Potential: If you intend to rent the suite in the future, make sure that your local zoning ordinances allow for this.
6. Privacy: Balance the need for privacy with the creation of a sense of connectedness by strategically designing entrances, exits, and layouts.
Why Hire an Architect Who Knows How to Design for Aging in Place
An architect experienced in designing for aging in place can anticipate potential challenges and offer solutions to ensure your in-law suite remains safe, accessible, and comfortable as occupants age.
Design/build professionals can plan for and integrate features such as barrier-free interiors, accessible entryways, and adjustable height countertops, which are essential for supporting the long-term wellness of elderly occupants.
See how Commonwealth Home Design helped a client bring her mother into their home and plan for their own aging-in-place through a new, accessible in-law suite addition.
Building an in-law suite is an excellent investment for multigenerational households and homeowners aiming to diversify their property’s functionality. With careful planning, expert guidance from an experienced design/build team with an architect on staff, and consideration for accessibility, your in-law suite will become a versatile living space that adapts to the evolving needs of your family.