Building a Versatile Mother-in-Law Suite for Your Long-Term Plans

Bedroom with a white bed.

As multi-generational living is becoming increasingly common, more homeowners are converting or building dedicated spaces to accommodate family members of different ages. One popular solution is a “mother-in-law" suite, also called a granny flat, granny unit, in-law apartment, or an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). Adding independent living quarters to your home can solve a variety of residential issues for your family today, add versatility for the future, and boost your property value. Planning and execution for this space are often beyond most DIYers. When you need the benefits of a house with a mother-in-law suite, call in the pros.

What Are ADUs or Mother-in-Law Suites?

Granny flat, ADU, and Mother-in-law suite—these names all refer to self-contained living quarters added to a home or carved out of an existing structure. Typically, the unit contains a private bedroom and bath. A kitchenette or private entrance are popular additions. The goal is to provide the resident with comfort and privacy while sharing the security and amenities of the larger home. Many find an in-law apartment to be an excellent option for caring for seniors or giving grown kids a helping hand. 

Some mother-in-law suites are detached dwellings built on the primary home’s property, while others are additions built onto the house. A third option is to modify the home’s internal space, reconfiguring existing rooms to form a self-contained living space or in-law apartment.

One of the great benefits of adding a mother-in-law suite is the potential flexibility: when an aging parent no longer needs it, it can be reused by a college student or other family member. It can also be used as a guest suite, long-term rental, home studio, or home office. Flexible spaces can be a great asset to your home, providing enduring value and functionality as your family changes.

How to Build an In-Law Suite 

Some mother-in-law suites can be pretty simple, such as a garage or basement remodel. Others, especially ground-up builds, are just like building a small house. When building an in-law apartment, professional design and construction is paramount. The space should incorporate appropriate accessibility and usability features for seniors yet be suitable for any resident.

This approach is known as “universal design” and is best included from the start. Universal design can enable truly independent living for seniors and others with mobility challenges while keeping the space perfectly usable for everyone. Following the universal design philosophy ensures your new in-law apartment will be a valuable and versatile addition to your property for years to come.

Many universal design elements can make the mother-in-law suite‘s kitchen, doorways, lighting, and windows more accessible and comfortable for all potential residents. 

Accessible Bathroom Features

Bathrooms often present several hazards for seniors. Features such as curbless showers, shower seats, grab bars, vanities with knee space, and comfort-height toilets enable independent living for seniors and can be useful for other people, as well. If you’re dealing with an outdated bathroom, now is a great time to update your bathroom with features that are more senior-friendly

Inclusive Kitchen Design

In the granny unit, kitchen, base cabinets with drawers keep all items easily visible and accessible, so there’s no need to bend over and peer into a dark cabinet. Including features like touchless faucets, ranges with front-mounted controls, variable-height countertops, and sink cabinets with knee spaces make for a kitchen anyone can use.

Safe and Accessible Lighting

Well-designed lighting makes tasks more pleasant and is an important safety feature for preventing trips and falls in a mother-in-law suite. Motion-sensing light switches simplify daily life for seniors and anyone using a wheelchair or scooter. Whenever possible, add windows or skylights to maximize natural light. It’s both a mood-lifter and an excellent way to save on electricity.

Other In-Law Apartment Features

Other desirable features of a mother-in-law suite include:

  • Casement and awning windows that crank open rather than single or double-hung windows that can be difficult to use. 
  • Lever door handles are much easier to use than knobs for people with limited grip strength. 
  • Electric deadbolt locks provide keyless security.
  • Wide doorways are helpful for folks in wheelchairs as well as when moving furniture in and out. 
  • A front-loading washer and dryer are easier to use than standard units and don’t require reaching into a deep tub. 
  • Open plans and step-less entries are friendly to people with mobility challenges, walking or using a wheelchair or scooter.
  • Covered entries are desirable for all residents. 
  • Gentle site grading ensures that people of all abilities can move about safely. 

People with limited mobility can thrive and remain independent when their home accommodates their needs.

Costs and Best Ways to Finance an ADU

Building a mother-in-law suite is a wonderful investment in your family and home that comes with a hefty price tag. To convert an existing space into a granny flat, you’ll pay anywhere from $10,000 to over $100,000. For building a detached in-law apartment, expect to pay between $40,000 to $125,000. 

Some of the best ways to finance an ADU or in-law apartment include:

  • ADU construction loan
  • Personal line of credit
  • Government assistance
  • Refinancing your home

An excellent resource to help you evaluate your options is the nonprofit housing advocate Casita Coalition’s ADU Finance Guide for Homeowners.

Guest House vs ADU: Breaking Down The Difference

While both guest houses and ADUs or mother-in-law suites are built on the main home’s property, there are several critical distinctions between the two. A guest house is akin to a hotel room, whereas an ADU is more like a small apartment. A guest house is intended for periodic brief stays, while an ADU is designed for long-term, independent living. For this reason, guest houses often do not include a kitchen, whereas an ADU does. A guest house is always a stand-alone structure at some distance from the main home. Although fully self-contained, an ADU may be a stand-alone structure, an addition connected to the house, or even a converted interior space.

What guest houses and ADUs have in common is that both offer independent living quarters, can generate rental income, and add value to the property.

Trust Mr. Handyman for Your Mother-in-Law Suite

No matter the scope of your ADU project, reach out to find your local handyman. Enlisting the help of a professional dramatically simplifies details like complying with zoning and building codes and setting up separate utility services. We will handle that for you, as well as the remodeling and modifications you need. The Neighborly Done Right Promise backs all our work, which ensures we’ll get the job done right.

When you’re ready to create the space your family needs, request service or call Mr. Handyman today. We have the expertise to design and build the project that meets your needs, now and for the future.