Home Adaptations for Independent Living


The In-Law Suite

Posted on August 22, 2011 at 11:26 AM
Our social and financial pundits have been telling us that it is become increasingly more frequent to find households comprised of parents and their adult children.  Whether it’s young adults moving back home to live with their parents post college , elderly parents moving in with their adult children, or adults moving in with their elderly parents,  we’re seeing more and more instances where families are combining households.   The reasons for this housing shift are many and range from financial necessity to care giving practicality.  Whatever the reason, home environments often require modification to accommodate the disparate needs of varying aged family members.  

One growing trend is to add a private in-law suite for aging parents.   Plans with full in-law apartments might have a separate entrance from the main entrance and be entirely self-sufficient having a small, but complete kitchen and utility/laundry room.  Other plans might just include a privately located first floor bedroom and bath designed to accommodate parents, family or help, or even a free standing accessory dwelling unit (ADU).   Depending on your lot size, zoning and building codes, and your budget, the space can be designed to whatever configuration and size works best for you.  

Alternately, a more cost effective solution to creating a safe and comfortable in law suite might be to remodel your garage.  The garage conversion is one of the most economical types of home improvement in a cost per square foot basis.  It creates a living space that keeps your loved one close to you, while creating two separate living spaces for privacy and the highest level of independence possible.

If the entry from the garage to your home includes steps it’s a good idea to raise the garage floor level to meet the house floor level. Aesthetically, raising the floor to match that of the house incorporates the finished garage space into the rest of the house.  Practically, it removes any steps that a senior might have to negotiate when joining the family in the main house.  It is also a benefit to construction.  The resulting crawl space can be utilized for plumbing such as drain lines from the toilet, shower, sinks, along with electric runs, etc.  

If your access to the house is on the same level as the garage floor, you might have to break the garage concrete floor to install the plumbing for the new in-law suite. The good thing about this elevation is that you will wind up with a fully accessible entrance without the need for any ramps – present or future.

The standard dimensions for a single car garage are 12’ x 24’ or 288 sq ft.  The standard dimensions for a two car garage are 24’ x 24”, 576 sq ft.  Obviously the more square footage you have to work with, the more you’ll be able to include in your floor plan. 

So what can you include in 288-576 sq ft?  The minimum size for a bedroom that could accommodate a twin size bed  is 10’ x 10’.  A standard sized bathroom is 5’ x 8’ and while not spacious, is still usable as people get older.  A single car garage can certainly accommodate a bedroom and bathroom.  A double car garage could even accommodate a small kitchen.  Here are sample floor plans for both a single and double car garage.

You may be considering constructing an in law suite because of an immediate need, but it’s smart to keep future accessibility needs in mind as well.  Here are some minimum dimensions and clearances to use when planning for accessibility. Of course you’ll need to check everything with local building codes. 

   General Interior 
Doors: 2 ft. 8 in. clear opening
 3 ft. wide
Wheelchair turning space = 5 ft. diameter
Sink: counter on both sides = 2 ft.; knee-space below
Oven/cooktop/stove: counter on both sides = 2 ft.; pull-out shelf below oven
Refrigerator: counter on open side = 1 ft. 6 in.
Wheelchair turning space: 5 ft. diameter
Sink: 2 ft. 6 in. clear width; knee-space below
Toilet: 1 ft. 6 in. to grab bar wall; 3 ft. 6 in. clear width  


Susan Luxenberg
HomeSmart LLC

Categories: Homes for a Lifetime

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