More and more Americans are keeping it all in the family these days, as multi-generational living -- where three or more generations share the same household -- continues to rise.
In 2014, a record 60.6 million people, or 19% of the U.S. population, lived with multiple generations under one roof, according to a recent analysis of Census data by the Pew Research Center.
Maybe it's because of lingering economic fallout from the recession, increasing lifespans, or different cultural norms in our diverse population. Whatever the reason, sometimes preserving family harmony among cohabiting adults means creating an extra layer of privacy.
Enter the in-law suites, aka granny suites. They're converted garages, basements, sheds, and attics that contain living, bathing, and cooking quarters that allow Grandma or Junior to live in a separate but connected space. There's privacy -- often a separate entrance or at least a locked door -- but there's also enough togetherness so that help, if needed, is only a holler away.
"Many seniors want to retain their independence but live in a more age-friendly environment," says Todd Nelson, business development officer at LightStream, an online consumer lender that finances, among other things, in-law suites that can range from $40,000 to $125,000. "While that may seem like a lot upfront, they can save families thousands of dollars in the long run."
If you're considering adding your own in-law unit, keep these tips in mind.
Before deciding where you're going to create an in-law suite, discuss the remodel with your parents or adult children to find out what they need and want.
Older adults might have trouble climbing stairs, seeing in dim light, or reaching up or down. For them, a suite in a converted attic could be too difficult to access. Adult children, on the other hand, might prefer one large, open, loft-like space.
Whatever you construct for elderly relatives, make sure to incorporate universal design. This includes wide doors and raised cabinets that can accommodate walkers and wheelchairs; lipless shower stalls that eliminate tripping hazards; walls reinforced with plywood that can anchor grab bars; and lever door handles that are easier for old and young hands to grab.
Know your options for in-law suites
You can go all out and build a 300- to 600-square-foot standalone granny pod in your backyard, which could cost as much $125,000. Or you can throw up an addition, which will cost an average of $32,700 to $63,000.
But you'll save money if you convert underused space you already have. Here are some options.
On the plus side, garages have foundations, roofs, and framing, and many have separate entrances that provide privacy. So that's a good starting point.
When converting a garage, you'll have to install wiring to meet residential building codes for kitchen equipment and wall outlets; plumb a kitchen and bathroom; and condition the space with heating and air conditioning by tapping into the main house's systems or installing separate HVAC systems.
Depending on where you live, you'll either have to insulate the garage door to protect against summer heat and winter cold, or replace it with more functional, residential doors -- which could require additional framing. Also plan on raising the floor to install insulation.
Cost: $20,000 to $50,000 (add another $15,000 to $25,000 for a bathroom)
Unfinished basements present a bigger challenge. You might have to add sump pumps or French drains to guard against flooding, and a dehumidifier to suck moisture out of the air and prevent mold. Also, you'll probably have to add above-grade windows, window wells, or a door to create an easy exit to meet local building codes.
Cost: $10,000 to $27,000.
- Making sure you have enough habitable space -- by code, 70 square feet where the ceiling height is 5 feet or higher.
- Creating a stairway that's at least 36 inches wide, by code, and doesn't eat up too much room below the attic.
- Extending plumbing to a bathroom.
- Adding enough insulation and HVAC systems to condition the space.
- Reinforcing floor joists and adding sound-proofing to the floor to reduce the noise overhead.
- Brightening the space with lights or skylights.
Cost: $41,400 to $90,000.
If you have enough space, carve the big room into a bedroom and bathroom, which will require framing, plumbing, tiling, and electrical work. Or, if a bathroom is nearby, divide the space into sleeping and reading/TV areas.
This converted space might not provide maximum privacy, but it does give everyone a room to call their own.
Cost: Framing a wall costs $2 to $4 per square foot; adding a bathroom can run anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000.