Deciding to take in your parents or in-laws can be a life-changing event. Here are a few things to consider to make your in-law suite a safe and enjoyable place for those you care about most:
An in-law suite, more commonly known as a mother-in-law suite, is a private space within or near the home where our relatives can live independently and close enough to you to make it easier for you to assist them. An in-law suit may be be an addition to an existing home; basements turned into apartments or stand-alone guesthouses. These “apartments” are typically fully equipped and have all the features and functions of a typical house while being close to family so your loved ones feel safe. At its core, the most important aspect of a in-law suite is its ability to make everyone feel safer while providing your loved ones the ability to live with some independence.
In the new Airbnb world, some municipalities are taking a little closer look at in-law suite additions to make sure they’re not actually guest suites. Before making any addition plans, we’ll want to check with your local zoning and building departments to make sure there is a good understanding of what they will and will not approve. For instance, some municipalities won’t allow stand-alone apartments to be built on the same property as a primary residence. Others will have requirements such as:
Working with a design-build contractor that is experienced in navigating the various code requirements will ensure your project doesn’t get held up when it comes time to get the plans approves.
Need help with finding a great contractor to guide you through the process? Check out these posts for some helpful information: Trusting Your Contractor Can Be Difficult: Here’s Our Guide to Help You with That, and Hiring and Architect vs. A One Stop Design-Build Remodeling Company
It’s important to consider who will be using the suite and their abilities to complete specific tasks. Consider how older hands might struggle with a kitchen faucet or failing eye sight might misjudge a step into the shower. It’s these kinds of every day things that may not seem like obstacles that can actually be real daily pain.
One of the most critical parts of any accessible design is lighting. Falls often occur because of something as simple as misjudging an edge because of a shadow, and what is just an embarrassing trip when we’re young, can be a dangerous fall when we’re a bit more seasoned. Things like task lighting in a kitchen can make preparing a meal or making a cup of coffee much safer and easier. In a bedroom, over-head lighting is key to brightening the room and making obstacles move obvious when navigating the space. And something as simple as a light switch next to the bed can mean the difference between a safe walk to bed at night, and stumbling in the dark to find the bed.
To learn more about lighting design you can watch our video here: Lighting Design: What You Need to Know to Avoid Mistakes.
Things like wheelchairs and walkers that are designed to make moving around safer, can actually become more dangerous when used on a surface like plush carpet. They can also be damaging to surfaces that are not as durable as something like tile or hardwood.
When making flooring choices, consider products like porcelain tile in the bathroom and even hallways and entrances. In family rooms and bedrooms, hardwood or laminates can be a great choice for durability and safety. These kinds of low maintenance materials will also be easier to keep clean and looking good without needing to clean all the time.
Countertops can also take a beating with daily use, and products like quartz are beautiful, durable, and stain resistant. They also doesn’t require any sealers which means less maintenance as well. When picking patterns for your countertops, consider the difficulty of seeing small objects on a busy pattern. A more solid color may be a good choice for bathroom tops where it could be easy to lose that small earring in pattern.
To learn more about tile materials watch our video: The Different Tile Material: What You Should Know
Many of the small things we don’t give a second thought to when we’re younger are the hardest to do as we get older. Something as simple as turning on a faucet can be hard with arthritis. Installing a single lever faucet will make it easy to turn the water on and off, and will look great too! Most single lever faucets meet the Americans with Disability Act requirements because of their ease of use!
More falls occur in the bathroom than any other room of the house, which makes decorative grab bars a must for in-law suite bathroom design. Grab bars are especially important around toilet and shower areas where soap and water can combine to make hard surfaces very slick.
Wider doorways and hallways are a critical design element to ensure there is ample space to get around with ease in a wheelchair or with a walker if needed. Doorways should be at least 32” wide but 36” is even better where possible for optimal access. Hallway need to be at least 42” wide and 48” is even better.
Another small detail to consider is cabinetry hardware. Aging hands may find it more difficult to grip a small cabinet knob to open heavy cabinet drawers. Using a cabinet pull that has ample size to grip it provides a more comfortable use for weaker fingers.
To learn more about designing kitchens and bathrooms read our blog: Making Your Bathroom and Kitchen Accessible
At the end of the day, the most important outcome of an in-law suite is creating a space where loved ones can live independent, full lives in a place where you, and they, have peace of mind about their safety.
Our goal with these pieces is to help you get the information you need to make educated choices for your home and family. If you have found this helpful, or have questions or requests for other topics, please leave them below and we will make sure you get the answers you need.
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