planning a mother-in-law apartment

glad2gardenJanuary 30, 2009

We're planning to put an addition on our small ranch that would have a bedroom, bathroom and combination kitchen, dining and living room. Does anyone have any suggestions about how to start, or some caveats you'd like to share?

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First, you have to check zoning. Most areas don't allow anything that could be interpreted in any way as a potential rental unit. This is a shame because I feel like it adds diversity to a neighborhood and is efficient use of land, roads, etc. Besides, with the current economic situation, families may have to combine generations similar to "The Walton's"

Second, I am in the mortgage business so I know a little about this angle. If you add an auxillary residence and that is not common in your neighborhood, it can actually be viewed as a negative by your friendly mortgage lender. If you ever sell or refinance your house, unless the appraiser can find three similar homes WITH auxillary residences within close proximity to your house that have sold within the past 12 months, then an underwriter may consider this as a deterent to marketability and not look favorably upon it.

If the first two paragraphs don't concern you, then my next suggestion, for maximum eye appeal, is to try to repeat the style, materials and colors of the main house's exterior and connect it to the main house with a walkway or courtyard that repeats or at least compliments other hardscape on your property.

Next, plan carefully and use every square inch of available space inside. Use furniture with built in storage like storage beds, storage ottomans, etc. And definately, only one sink in the bathroom to allow as much useable counter space as possible. This arrangement also leaves room in the vanity for drawers. Even in "big" houses, how many times do husbands and wives brush their teeth at the same time anyway?

My last suggestion is to incorporate useable, covered outdoor space into the main roofline and access this space through something like a sliding glass door or french door with lots of glass to visually expand the interior space into the outdoor space.

All in all, a very exciting project! Good luck.


    Bookmark   January 30, 2009 at 9:39PM
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Thank you Scott, that's a wonderful idea about combining the outdoor space with the indoor space! I would love that.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2009 at 9:50PM
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I imagine it looking a bit like a pool house (with or without pool). It would be at right angles to the main house, but share the outdoor space, be it a pool, garden, or courtyard. If the yard is not already landscaped, that should be included in the plans.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2009 at 10:50PM
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Nancy, that's just the way I've imagined it. I love my garden and it would be so nice to actually live in it. I don't have a large amount of money to sink into it though.

If I'm careful with materials and don't go crazy with high end stuff, would 30k go very far? I'm just in the beginning stages of this project and don't have a clue about building.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2009 at 7:58AM
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You might want to look into "park model" mobile homes. They are downsized little apartment-size freestanding units with some great uses of space and efficiency. You might even end up deciding to use one instead of building since you can take advantage of the economy of scale that mass-produced building offers.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 9:18AM
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Well, got bad news from the city. We can't build closer than 30 feet to the property line. So there's not enough room to build back, but there is enough to add a 2 car garage on the side with an apartment above. We could use a garage especially in the winter, and also would cut down on car theft too. We've had 3 cars stolen in the last 10 years. Not too bad really for the city.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2009 at 6:22PM
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If you are planning on putting an apartment above the garage take into consideration your MIL's health. I am assuming she is going to live there until "the end" and her health may deteriorate in the years ahead to the point that stairs are an obstacle.

Also consider the extra cost in building a detached living unit. You won't be able to just wire in from your box. You will have to excavate and put in a run to the garage with the associated living unit above. Again, as previously mentioned check with your city about zoning. Detached living units are always considered rentals, even if it is your MIL living there rent free.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2009 at 12:57PM
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We did an addition for my Dad & it turned out well for him. We built on the side. Would you make the garage insulated? We are in a split level with bedrooms above the garage & they get cooler than the rest of the house during winter.

The top photo is Dad's addition. We did it last year. Let me know if you have any questions. We started with the city codes(changed our plans too) & ended it w/ a divorced contractor filing bankruptcy. It all turned out & very glad we did it, but it was a bumpy road. Good luck to you & keep us updated.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2009 at 2:58PM
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Thank you! Those are inspiring pics!
We got an estimate for a two car garage with an apartment above: $120k. That's way out west of our budget. That's more than our whole house would sell for in this market. Last week a house on our street sold for 48k. And it was a nice two story, well kept up, but had been unsold for over a year. Another one two streets over, 42k. Unbelievable.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2009 at 8:29AM
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How about converting a portion of your garage into living space? If you've got water and power in there, insulating, putting up walls and installing a bathroom would not be too difficult to do. If your garage is a double one, you could still have room for storage.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2009 at 10:51AM
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What do people think should be the minimum size of an in-law quarters? We have a 750sqft outbuilding with plumbing, electric, and a new roof. We may be able to enlarge slightly but I'm wondering if this would be enough space for the in-laws? Ideally I'd like it to be 2-bedrooms to accommodate the grandkids coming to visit.

As the original poster noted, the cost of a small addition on this building could be cost prohibitive. Another 150sqft would make it more livable but would cost a ballpark $30k. Ouch!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 12:54AM
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A recent survey I ran across last year says that the average new home built in the UK is 850 square feet. And that is the average so some must be smaller. My zoning allows up to 500sf for a detached, auxillary residence. That limits you to one bedroom but I have looked at plans and it very doable, especially if you are creative about incorporating covered outdoor space. That space can be additional sitting or dining space and if properly integrated, visually extends the interior space.

On the inside, you ditch the king sized bed and go with a queen or full. You install a bar as part of the kitchen and eat there or on folding TV tables. My MIL had a full sized house and rarley ate on anything but the TV tables in her living room.

Think outside the box and you can do this quite comfortablly in a tight space.


    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 8:03PM
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Our zoning was for 800sf for a Mother-in-law. It's plenty of room for my Dad. He has a bar instead of a diningroom table, flatscreen on the wall, & we share our laundry. It's perfect for him & us. He has his own place but close enough I can visit anytime.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2009 at 8:45PM
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I live in a 600ft2 condo in the winter- it is VERY comfortable as far as amount of space- it could probably be smaller and I would still have enough room. Just remember to put in a couple good sized closets. I have 1 walk-in closet in the bedroom- I would like to have another somewhere, but I just stuff everything into it. The bedroom is bigger than I nee, the livingroom could even be a foot or two smaller and still have enough room. The kitchen is ok, and the diningroom is big enough for a 2 chair table and a hutch.
Your mom won't be able to bring all her furnishings that she has accumulated- she will need to downsize- but that is a good thing, at least for me.
I am very comfortable in 600 ft.
Remember to take advantage of any city.county/Federal things that are out there for new construction. Such as grants for low-E windows, grants for insulation. Use a mini-split air/heating- it is more economical, yet better. Many cities will give you a low-flush toilet for free. Get all appliances that are Energy Star so you can send in for rebates. Use more insulation than you think you need- it helps with utility costs and makes a person more comfortable. Put 'double-duty' items in the 'house', a shower with a built in bench is better than a bathtub for older people, the mini-split air/heat can both cool and heat- you don't have to get a separate furnace. One dishdrawer is better than a big dishwasher for a single person.
I get excited just thinking about what you are going to do for your family member- I love doing these things!! Have fun!

    Bookmark   February 13, 2009 at 12:37AM
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I wish I could talk my mother-in-law into downsizing into a guest house behind us! You are all so lucky to have your loved ones so close.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 11:34AM
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depends on the age of the mother in law...and her health.
Stairs might be a problem and if not now then they sure could be later, esp if a wheelchair might eventually be needed ..i think apartments over the garage are wonderful, but for someone growing older they would be a nightmare..however..the value added to your house would be fantastic

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 11:58AM
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FWIW, it may be considered by some to be slightly unethical, but a freestanding kitchen that can be removed in an hour or so can in some areas get around the zoning issue because it's not a permanent installation. Ikea's Varde and Bravad collections would be ideal. We looked at a house when we were househunting that had what amounted to a studio apartment in the finished cellar, which the owners had set up for their college-student child - the city did not consider it a rentable apartment because it did not have a proper exterior exit, the main entrance/exit was into the house and there was a bulkhead for emergency exit. They used a sink cabinet like this one plumbed through the shared wall of the three-quarter bathroom and easily capped off, another storage-and-counter unit with a countertop oven and two-burner hotplate (the induction ones would be especially safe for an elder since they only heat up when the right kind of pan is on them), and a small refrigerator. (We did not give the house very serious consideration because of the rather dumpy apartment house next door, though.) I know about the stairs issue but I'm just throwing the "modular kitchen" notion out there.

Per minimum size... When I lived in Chicago and Boston my apartments were both loves, being able to socialize with folks her own age and "do her own thing" without being answerable to anyone, but there are people to keep an eye on her in case she runs into problems) and I think her apartment is something like 500sf; my mother and brother (and his daughter part-time) share a 2br2ba doublewide and if it's 800sf I'll eat my shoes.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 11:41AM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Whatever you decide, make the doors and hallways big enough for a wheelchair. And it would be ideal to skip the cabinet under the sink - skirt it if you have to - and a large shower
unit. You never know.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 8:25AM
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