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Multi-generational living has always been around. Maybe less-so over the last few decades in the US, but still a part of many of our lives. You may be thinking about renovating your Chicago home to accommodate your in-laws, grandmother, or another family member. It could be to save money, care for an ailing loved one, or give your children the opportunity to have a close, memorable relationship with a relative. Whichever the reason, creating a space (commonly called an in-law space) that meets the needs of all parties is key to making the living situation successful. Here are a few things to keep in mind when designing and creating an in-law space:
Understand Your Needs
Before you begin any work, be it a remodel or a new build, it’s important to be clear on everyone’s expectations and limitations. Independence and privacy are important factors to consider when planning for a multi-generational household. So, things like a private entrance, bathroom, and seating area should be on the list of must-haves. Depending on your situation, you may also want to think about adding a kitchenette with a stovetop, mini fridge, microwave, and sink. Think about your in-laws’ mobility when choosing or designing the space— are stairs an issue now? Might they be in a couple years? Do cabinets need to be at a specific height for easy access, or will dimly lit areas be hazardous? By taking into account the needs, wishes, and limitations, everyone will be satisfied with the finished product.
Choose a Location
Once you’ve laid out your expectations and limitations, it will be easier to choose a location for your in-law space. If budget and property allow, you may be able to build a free-standing structure on the property that’s not attached to the main house. It’s obviously going to be a more costly endeavor, but it will provide heightened privacy and independence for your relatives. If you need a less expensive option, think about converting an underutilized space in the house such as a basement, garage, attic, or spare bedroom. Let’s break down your options if you’re going to convert an existing space.
In most cases, a garage will already have the square footage you require, but it may not be entirely habitable in its current state. You are probably starting with a solid foundation, a separate entrance, a functional roof, electricity, and finished drywall, but you may still need to add insulation, heating and cooling, water and sewer hookups, additional outlets, and windows. You’ll also need to research and ensure you’re compliant with building codes for kitchen equipment and a full bathroom.
If the house already has a finished basement, making the conversion to an in-law suite should be fairly easy and affordable. You may need to partition to create separate spaces for a sitting area with a kitchen and a bedroom, and adding a kitchen and a bathroom can be done relatively easily as you can tap directly into the existing plumbing. If the basement is unfinished, you’ll have some work to do. Basements can collect moisture and be at risk for flooding, so it’s crucial that everything is sealed tightly, and any existing moisture be treated with a dehumidifier or sump pump. Basements also generally have dim lighting, which can be an issue for someone with poor eyesight. Consider adding some windows and additional lighting to create a safe and well-lit environment.
If you decide that the attic space will work, it will need to be easily accessible. Narrow ladders and stairways can be dangerous. In addition to abiding by the building codes, you also need to remember that heat rises, so attics tend to get quite warm and stuffy. You may have to add additional vents, windows, and skylights to ensure good airflow. You’ll also need to be sure the space is insulated and vented for the existing HVAC system.
The typical guest bedroom may not provide enough space and privacy for someone who’s planning to live with you full time. Take a long look at the layout of the house and picture how your unused space can be reconfigured. You may have a dining room that’s only used on holidays located near a guest bath and bedroom. By Making the most of rarely used space and moving some existing walls, you can set-up a mini apartment for your in-laws that works for everyone. Adding an additional exterior door, so they have their own entrance, should also be a consideration.
Multi-generational living has many benefits and can be done successfully with a little forethought—and if everyone can maintain their own space and a feeling of independence, it will be a much better experience for all.
If you need any recommendations for local contractor or handyman, or if you’ll need more space than you have and want the name of an experienced, local Realtor, please reach out. I’d be happy to help.