The Popular In-Law Suite
With the aging boomer population, mother-in-law or in-law suites are becoming an increasingly popular project. Our phenomenal interior designer, Heather Dunn, knows first-hand the importance of providing a living space for aging loved ones. She wanted to create a place for her in-laws to enjoy their retirement, remaining close to family but still maintaining their independence.
Naturally, they worked with Meyer Builders to revamp their existing basement into a full in-law suite that was more like a home apartment. Heather shared her experience with the design and building process and passed along her tips for turning basements into amazing senior living spaces.
Benefits of building the Dunn’s basement mother-in-law suite.
For the Dunn family, building a mother-in-law suite was a no-brainer. The benefits they saw can extend to anyone building in-law suites or basement apartments. Read on to learn what the Dunns considered when building an in-law suite in their basement.
It gave them peace of mind.
Thankfully, Heather’s parents are in their mid to late 60’s and still able-bodied. However, they’d seen some of their aging friends and relatives get into a circumstance where, with no convenient place to stay with family, they had to move into senior living, assisted living, or a nursing home. They never wanted to end up in a situation like that with their family. So they made the decision to build an in-law suite while the seniors were still young and able-bodied enough to make the move easily.
It was the practical solution.
Moving into the Dunn’s in-law suite gave the senior parents a solution. They could live close to family members, the solution offered low-maintenance living, but still gave them privacy and independence. Heather’s brother and sister-in-law had been living in a condo down the road from their parents when their family grew a little unexpectedly. The family decided they needed more space, and the perfect solution was to move into their parent’s old house. That meant Heather’s parents would take advantage of the Dunn’s brand new in-law suite.
With the in-laws living on the lower level of the Dunns home, they are close to their children if they need help, but when they want their private time, they have a space of their own. Heather says, “There’ll be times when our parents sneak home without us even noticing!”
It saves time and money over a home addition.
Various factors contribute to the overall costs of projects like these, including size and amenities. Generally, repurposing existing spaces like attics, garages, or basements proves more budget-friendly compared to constructing a brand-new space. And, while building an addition on your home as a mother-in-law suite is entirely possible, in this case, it just made sense to work within the confines of the existing home—utilizing the basement as a living space.
Repurposing existing space also tends to be much faster than building a home addition. To be on the safe side, expect a four to eight-month construction process, but it may be shorter. The Dunn’s basement was completed quickly and efficiently to get her parents into their new “home” in no time!
It increases the resale value of their home.
Adding an additional dwelling unit (ADU) significantly increased the Dunn’s home value. An ADU is any separate residential structure on the same lot as your single-family home with its own entrance, kitchen, and bathroom.
In Wisconsin, homes with ADUs were priced 30% higher in 2023 on average than those without. Also, studies in the Appraisal Journal show that properties with mother-in-law units can see an increase in value ranging from 7-10%, or between $20,000-$40,000. With recent home prices averaging nearly $400,000, this additional value can be tremendous.
Buyers recognize the potential of a mother-in-law suite. Suppose the Dunns decide to sell at some point in the future. In addition to accommodating family members, buyers will recognize the potential of the remodeled basement to act as a rental unit, Air B&B, or guest house.
8 tips from the Dunns when building an in-law suite.
Turning a basement into an in-law suite is a major undertaking, so the Dunns wanted to make sure they did it right. Here are 8 tips the Dunns have for other homeowners who are looking to complete a similar project:
#1 – They started before they needed it.
They made sure to start while their parents were still able-bodied. Heather suggests incorporating stairs to keep loved ones mobile, a practice called “active aging”. Right now, the only way to get into their basement apartment is the stairs. But the stairs’ width is wide enough to accommodate a stairlift in the future. (Others building a lower-level in-law suite may consider an elevator if space allows, or a walk-out basement.)
#2 – They provided all the basic amenities.
As a ranch home, the Dunn’s basement was large at 2,000 square feet. So it has essentially become a whole house with a laundry room, walk-in closet, dining room, living room, and full kitchen with an island. They even incorporated a 30 sq ft shower! While a 2,000-square-foot basement is somewhat unusual, Meyer Builders often recreates the same style of living space in 1000 square feet. We frequently build the in-law suite with a smaller kitchen and accommodate an eat-in space. Then we’ll include a separate bedroom with a full bath.
For Heather’s mom, it was important for her to have square footage similar to her previous house. She loves to decorate and wants the space to do it. “She loves to make a house into a home,” Heather says, and with a 2,000 sq ft in-law suite, that’s something she didn’t have to sacrifice.
#3 – They thought about accessibility and privacy.
As much as the Dunns love having their parents living in their in-law suite, they also want to maintain privacy. Avoiding a design and floor plan for instance, where the stairs entered directly into the bedroom was a must. So they devised a layout where the stairs entered into an open-plan kitchen and living space.
We also talked about how to achieve accessibility if at some point they need it. For people that are either aging in place or in a basement like this, we consider details like where to place the microwave. In most of our new construction homes for example, we like to keep microwaves hidden, sometimes under a kitchen island. But it’s not easy for some people to reach down and bend over to access it or see the buttons. That’s why we went with a microwave drawer in the island so they can access the microwave from the top versus from the front.
Attention to detail and pre-planning like this make Meyer Builders stand out from the rest.
#4 – They maximized natural light.
Despite being located in a basement, it was critical for the Dunns to provide for natural lighting in the living space. By installing three additional windows in the kitchen and living room, it doesn’t feel like a basement. It is just like you’re looking out into their gorgeous yard!
Since mother-in-law suites are often a primary living space, the goal is to make it homelike and not feel like a basement remodel. Meyer Builders will take advantage of site elevation like the slope of the lot when possible to allow for more exposure. But even if you do not have large exterior expanses of exposed basement wall, relatively minor excavation can bring in natural light and, if needed, provide secondary egress.
#5 – They thought about egress and building codes.
For an in-law apartment with a bedroom, egress considerations come into play. Here in Wisconsin, building codes require certain window sizes. You need to be able to have that fire escape accessibility to be able to classify a room as a bedroom on the lower level. When the Dunns originally built the house, they used the now-bedroom as a flex room. The bedroom is attached to a full bathroom with a large shower and walk-in closet, so we wanted to check all the boxes with the necessary window escape. Our creative skills at Meyer Builders came into play at this point. We got a custom-made fire ladder made of stainless steel with a black powder coating. Since mom likes to decorate, she hung blankets on it and made it look like it’s part of the decor!
To provide access in a basement in-law unit, there are two key considerations: emergency egress and entry. Meeting code requirements for emergency egress can be achieved through a door leading to the garage or a properly sized window.
In general, for building code purposes, it is possible to utilize the main house entrance for entry into the in-law suite. However, in larger homes, the basement door may be hidden within the depths of the house, which creates a challenge for convenient access. Additionally, basements may have limited or no windows, emphasizing the need for careful planning when accessing these spaces. Whenever possible, a separate entrance is preferred, and that’s exactly what the Dunns have.
#6 – They worked around the existing infrastructure.
There are a lot of components to consider when remodeling an unfinished basement. The Dunns started with a partially finished lower level and were happy with the location of the bathroom so they were able to leave everything where it was. According to Heather, “We had to make some small cuts in the concrete, but nothing major.”
Regarding ceiling heights, if you’re looking for a secondary to primary living space, the minimum ceiling height will be 8 feet. If you have lower ceilings in your basement, we can do a spray out of the ceiling versus a drywall ceiling to make it feel more open.
We also needed to ensure the basement was comfortable year-round in our changing Wisconsin weather. This includes incorporating air vents into the floor plan and determining the need for an air return. Careful planning for heating and cooling is especially important in a lower-level mother-in-law suite with multiple rooms like this one, as it requires additional power and ductwork. We work with HVAC technicians early in the planning process to assess the equipment, basement layout, duct dimensions, and insulation to determine the best solution.
Basements often house essential home systems, such as furnaces and water heaters. While you’ll want to conceal this equipment for aesthetic reasons, it’s important to create a properly ventilated area with sufficient space to access these systems to avoid unnecessary wall removal in the event of needed repair or replacement.
Finally, the type and location of ductwork can affect the overall comfort of the space. Depending on your system and available space, you may need to install slim ducts, reroute existing ones, or work around them when drywalling. We may also consider adding more return vents to ensure proper airflow throughout your home.
Overall, key points to keep in mind:
- Obtaining the proper ceiling height will affect your choice of lighting fixture choices and ducting.
- Access to circuit breaker panels, water shutoff, furnaces, sump pumps, and other house systems must be preserved.
- Plumbing for new baths and kitchens will most likely require cutting into the floor, but a creative layout will minimize the amount of concrete cutting needed.
- Moisture and water issues will affect the types of flooring and wall treatments used.
- Wall cuts for windows or egress must be planned and implemented correctly so that there are no foundation or structural risks to the home.
We are experts at keeping track of all these details at Meyer Builders so you can focus on the bigger picture.
#7 – They thought about the future.
When the Dunns originally built the house, they had no idea their parents would eventually move into the basement, but they were open to the possibilities the basement would offer when the time came. When you are building or buying a new home it’s helpful to consider how the space might eventually be used. As an experienced interior designer, Heather was ahead of the game, keeping in mind her parents and the convenience of a home that can accommodate aging in place.
If you’re creating a finished basement, consider that a future owner may treat it as a guest room or basement apartment when planning your design. If you have children, you may also want to consider how they may utilize the space as they grow older.
#8 – They hired the best home builders!
At Meyer Builders, we’d love to help you transform your basement into the perfect mother-in-law suite for your loved ones. Building custom homes is our family legacy, spanning three generations. Our dedicated team will lead you through the fun parts of a remodel, like picking out quartz countertops and paint colors, while we take care of all the not-so-fun details like building codes and zoning laws.
While the Dunn’s project hit close to home, we proudly serve customers all over Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Walworth Counties for mother-in-law suites and beyond. Whatever your project, we will be there with you every step of the way, from planning to handing you the keys to your dream home. Call us and start building a sanctuary for you and your loved ones today!
Click on any of the images below to view the entire basement remodel project.