in-law suite planning

The Best Place to Start When Planning Your In-Law Suite

There comes a time in many families when caring for a parent or in-law is on the table. This care can often begin by adding an in-law suite to your home. While it can be an ambitious undertaking, it’s usually well worth it and more than worth considering.

What is an in-law suite?

An in-law suite or an in-law apartment can be:

  • A detached structure residing on the same property as the home.
  • An attached as a home addition.
  • Or even a conversion of an existing attached space. 

Most commonly, these suites are converted basements, garages, or unattached apartments in the backyard. They’re also often called an additional dwelling unit (ADU), or a granny flat. These suites are full apartments with one or two bedrooms, a living room, a full kitchen, and a bathroom. Typically, the square footage is between 600 and 1200 square feet.

An in-law suite is traditionally used to create multi-generational housing, with a focus on accommodating an aging parent. Now, in general, there isn’t a large difference between an in-law apartment and adding any ADU on your property. However, when the ADU is an in-law suite, you’ll have additional and more specific considerations than a general additional living unit.

Start by Determining Your Purpose

Purpose is the main consideration when planning for an in-law apartment. If you’re looking into this option for your home and family, you likely have a specific person or people in mind that you plan on living in the apartment. Thus, you’re going to want to consider the needs of who you’d be designing the space for and how it’ll adapt with your family. This could mean needing to look into accessible design. You’ll also want to decide if it’s best in the long run to create direct access to the main house from the apartment or if solely having its own private entrance is best. Mapping out these decisions will lead to asking and determining all the rest.

For example:

  • Are you building an attached or detached ADU?
  • Do you have enough room for an additional structure on the property?
  • What kind of maintenance is feasible for you?
  • What new insurance considerations need to be part of the plan?

Next, Understand the Costs for Your In-law Suite

One of the biggest considerations when adding an in-law suite or ADU is your budget. First of all, you need to make sure you work with professionals who have budgeting and estimating experience. This is important in order to expect real estimates for a clear picture of what is required. Depending on the size and design of this space, it can range from as little as $20,000 to over $400,000. Here are a few cost areas to expect:

  • Materials, interior, and exterior finishes
  • Site work Installation or upgrade of utilities
  • Contingency construction costs
  • Design team and contractor

Also, Consider Accessibility Needs and Costs

If this is truly an in-law suite, providing accessibility through ADA compliance may be a factor and add to the overall costs. ADA is short for the Americans with Disabilities Act. They have specific standards for an accessible design that incorporates ramps, handrails, wider hallways, bathroom accessories, and other features that could be needed down the line. Your design team and contractor should be able to provide a cost analysis to give you a general idea of costs and if the property has enough space.

Then, Check Building Codes and ADU Regulations

There are tons of building codes and regulations for ADUs. They vary based on where location and use. For example, if you’re considering using the ADU as a potential short-term rental property in the future, there are some cities and counties in the Bay Area with regulations against it.  Understanding these codes and regulations will not only help with your planning now but also for the future.

Further, there are additional codes that may have a bearing on whether the in-law suite can be built on your property, such as zoning, HOA rules, water and utility hookups, size, etc. Your contractor will have the latest regulations, building codes, and guidelines on what can and cannot be done when assessing the design and space designated for the structure.

Finally, Know the Experts You’ll Want for Your In-Law Suite Project

Nothing beats having the advice and guidance of a design team who understands the logistics of creating an in-law suite on the property. You’ll need an architect, project manager, contractor, interior designer, and an overall team that can start and complete your project.

The best place to start is finding a team with experience in the design and construction of ADUs able to give you a clear picture of what they provide. For example, Drafting Cafe Architects has a series of ADU plans that are pre-planned and ready to go, with pricing, timeline, and all specifications managed from beginning to end. Having a team knowing what to anticipate from the beginning can help save time and money without gambling your budget.

When working with these professionals:

  • Get referrals from people you know, or a professional organization that can vouch for their work. 
  • Check all licenses and certifications.
  • Ask for examples of successful projects. 
  • Look to see if they have worked on projects of the same, or similar nature.

While working with someone with new experience can be advantageous in terms of costs, you want a team that won’t make mistakes likely to result in additional, unexpected costs.

Take Your In-Law Suite One Detail at a Time

Adding an in-law suite to your property is not a simple project and has many moving parts. Carefully consider all the variables when making a final decision on what would be the best solution. In the end, it can be a great investment for both your current and future needs. Plus, being in the position of taking care of loved ones comfortably can really be the peace of mind that is worth the cost.


Get in touch with us. We would love to help you get your project off the ground