What is an in-law suite?
Now, it’s important to note that “in-law suite" is just one name given to this type of addition or extension. It’s not to say that accommodating your in-laws is the only purpose for such a project, which is perhaps why the in-law suite has more aliases than Jason Bourne.
An in-law suite may also be known as (deep breath): garden home; secondary suite; granny flat; granny suite; backyard suite; extension; secondary home; laneway home; guest nest; and perhaps most officially (but not all that helpfully), Accessory Dwelling Unit, or ADU for short. All you really need to know is that this type of construction typically takes the form of an extension to an existing home or a smaller detached home on an existing property, and will usually have its own entryway to ensure privacy for the property owners and whoever will be residing in this new addition.
A secondary suite can have many uses, the main ones being a space for your parents or in-laws to reside once they have retired and sold the family home, or an income property. With the cost of homeownership on the increase, particularly in larger centres, there is a growing trend towards multi-generational living in Canada. Although the concept is nothing new, the benefit of having more incomes working to tackle that mortgage can be a modern masterstroke.
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Having the conversation(s)
There are many factors to consider before building an in-law suite. Firstly, if the plan is to house your parents, you might want to let them in on the idea. Are they going to be open to discussing it? Are they the ones pushing for it – in which case – is that a commitment you and your family are willing to make? (Yes, you are most definitely going to want to talk to your significant other before inviting your folks to live on your property!) If all parties are agreeable, then comes the question of privacy. You’ll want yours, they’ll want theirs – and this is just as much the case when the tenants are family as it is when they are renting non-relatives. (Maybe even more so!)
If you are looking to move your parents in – and you’ve had that all-important chat with your other half – there is then the conversation with the parents themselves. This will be different in every situation, but it’s important not to assume they will be favourable. They may relish the chance to live close to you (and, if applicable, their grandkids!) Or, they may be hesitant to uproot. Perhaps they are attached to their current home or location. They may be hesitant to move away from friends, neighbours, or their community. Whatever the case, be sure to approach the subject with respect and patience. Don’t rush the process. Give everyone time to process the idea and assess all options.
Questions to ask before you build
There are lots of questions to be answered before you commit to building an in-law suite. What’s the cost? What’s the long-term plan? Can I even build one in my neighborhood?
What's the cost?
Cost is going to vary considerably based on what you decide, of course. If you have enough space in your existing home, maybe all that’s required is a quick reconfiguration and some minor renovations. If you are building an extension or a wholly separate unit on your land, that’s likely going to be a more costly affair. Do your research, identify your builder of choice, and start getting into the details to understand what your in-law suite will set you back. (If you want to start discussing options for a detached home or a brand-new home with an in-law suite with Prestige Homes, you can find your local retailer here.)
If your in-law suite is going to live up to its name and house either your parents or your partner’s parents, you’ll need to discuss the financial arrangements with them. Perhaps they will be in a position to pay the full cost using either savings or the equity built up in their current home. If not, are you going to cover the expense? Will you split the cost with your parents? Will you pay the upfront costs and then rent the space to them? Working with your parents to come to an agreement on these matters, then being very clear on what is decided, is key to a harmonious outcome. And just because they’re family doesn’t mean you don’t need to get the agreement in writing. Keeping things official will help prevent the chance of misunderstandings that could lead to a family feud.
In the zone
You’re also going to need to take a look at local zoning regulations or reach out to a municipal authority to see if you are allowed to build a secondary unit in your existing neighbourhood. Different communities will be subject to different rules about the addition of extensions to an existing home, or the building of an entirely new home on an existing property.
Another option is to sell up and start over. Maybe adding to your existing home isn’t practical or even possible, but you still like the idea of having your parents under the same roof (or, at least on the same plot of land!) Perhaps you can pool your resources to build a new home with an in-law suite as part of the package. Again, you will have to check in with a municipal authority for other land options to ensure they will approve this type of construction. While it may be an initial upheaval for all involved, this option does offer great flexibility and freedom in the building choices you make, without any restrictions related to the existing structure.
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Designing your new home or the new extension can be a very exciting process. Let’s get into more detail about the various ways you can come at an in-law suite; namely:
- Designing a detached home
- Building a brand new home
- Renovating your current home
Building a detached home on your existing property provides the chance to design a space that aligns perfectly with your parents’ or future tenants’ exact needs. Depending on your lot size, it will also give you a chance to create a bit of a privacy barrier between the new structure and your own home. A separate driveway and parking area can be ways to help maintain some distance. You may also choose to create a fence between the properties – either manmade or using hedges or trees. Whether or not your tenants are your parents, they will surely appreciate a little privacy as much as you will!
Pictured above is a Prestige Homes model called The Stewiacke which may be the perfect option for a detached suite. Designed as a two-bedroom cottage, this versatile little home can also be configured as a one-bedroom. The Stewiacke boasts a beautiful front porch, an eat-in kitchen, and a small living area perfect for entertaining friends and family. Features such as 36” doors, a walk-in shower and support bars can come in very handy for folks with mobility issues, or to future-proof the home for aging residents.
Of course, this is just one example and there are many designs for a detached suite. If you are looking for ideas on floorplans, try using the following keywords in your searches:
- Garden home
- Small detached home
- Laneway home
- Guest nest
Adding an attached suite onto a new home may be a more cost effective option compared to building new with a detached suite, but it does come with its own challenges. You’ll want to make things as soundproof as possible so as to ensure two-way privacy, while a separate entrance to the in-law suite is also a great way to add to a sense of personal space.
Layouts of the homes will vary greatly depending on your needs, but there’s no need to feel overwhelmed. Taking an existing floorplan, like the one above for our Lunenburg model, and then customizing it to include a secondary suite on the side of the home is just one example of how this approach might work. Removing internal doorways between the main house and the in-law suite, then adding a separate entryway, is entirely possible. Then, create the suite in your own image!
There are a lot of designs available for an attached suite, but if you are looking for ideas on floorplans, try using the following keywords in your searches:
- In-law suite
- Mother-in-law suite
- Attached suite
Renovating your current home is another way to work in an in-law suite. Remember, you’ll need to do your research to find out if local zoning regulations will allow you to have a secondary suite in your current neighborhood. Then, you’ll need to consider how much space you have available on your existing lot to be able to make this happen.
An in-law suite can be added either by building an extension or converting an existing space in your home. Extensions can be built onto your home, or perhaps you already have an attached garage that can be reconfigured and brought up to code to be habitable. Spaces to convert can also include basements or other unused or underutilized parts of your home.
While it isn’t something any of us like to think about, if you do plan to use your new in-law suite as a place for your parents to stay, you may also need to think about how you will use the space beyond their lifetimes. Options could include:
- Renting out the space
- Apartment for the kids
- Home office, gym or studio
If you have young children, you may also think ahead to a time where they – and you – could use a little personal space! When they are setting out in the world, either attending college or university, or starting out in the workforce, they may need a space to sample what it’s like to live on their own, but with the reassurance that their parents aren’t far away (and that they won’t be evicted if they can’t make the rent!) Even with close family members, remember to always be clear on the terms of any rent agreements or timelines for move-out, and to get those things in writing. This can help avoid disagreements down the line.
Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash
If you don’t have family members in need of a living space, and the idea of becoming a landlord isn’t for you, start thinking about how to utilize the space for your own needs. You may decide that you want to turn that vacant in-law suite into a home office, a gym, or a studio, for example. Perhaps you will be able to work from home more, or are self-employed. Converting the suite to a separate office opens up the opportunity to invite in clients or co-workers to a space that is away from your home. Or, maybe you’re a Yoga enthusiast or a personal trainer, a painter or a sculptor. What better than a personal space to pursue your passions, or rediscover one you haven’t taken up in a while?
Hey – you may even decide to leave the space alone and make plans to retire into your own in-law suite! The possibilities are truly endless!
Whether it’s for family or guests, kids or paying tenants, professions or personal passions – an in-law suite can be a great addition to any property or home. Secondary suite, guest nest, Accessory Dwelling Unit – whatever you want to call it – if you’re ready to start discussing a detached option or a new build that includes and in-law suite, your local Prestige Homes retailer is ready to help!