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A white and red house surrounded by a garden.

4 Types of In-Law Suites That May Be Right for You

Want to Live Closer to Your Family? Try an In-Law Suite

An in-law suite is a small additional property located on the same site as a single-family home. You might also know them by another name, such as a granny flat, multigenerational unit, or a casita.

An In-Law Suite Historical Overview


Prior to the post-war period, it was not at all uncommon to have at least two generations living under the same roof. But in the late 1940s and 1950s, children began to leave the family home to pursue their own careers, leaving everyone to live in their own homes.

Today, some families go back to the pre-war year style of living and they remodel their homes to be able to accommodate their elderly parents or in-laws. The in-law suite allows an aging family member to achieve a balance by being close to their relatives should they need help, but still being able to maintain some privacy and independence. The suites can also be an excellent solution for growing living costs by bringing two homes into one.

As far as zoning is concerned, the suite is classed as an accessory dwelling unit if it is completely independent of the main house. So, that means that it has its own entrance, living area and bedroom, as well as a kitchen and bathroom. So, do remember that you will probably need permits to allow you to establish extra living space within your home. We recommend checking with your city and municipal zoning laws before you get started.

Different Types of In-Law Suites

The wonderful thing about this type of arrangement is that there are few rules about how they might look. You'll want to include a bedroom and bathroom as a minimum, but apart from that, it is all about making the available space work.

Basement Suites

One of the most popular places to locate an in-law suite is a basement. Assuming there is enough headroom (at least 7 feet 6 inches), the area can make a great space that stays a constant temperature throughout the year. For this area to work well, it needs openness and light to give it a suitable living environment. If the basement is entirely underground, window wells can be dug in to provide a source of natural light.

Although, dampness can sometimes be a problem in basements, and this can then cause or aggravate respiratory problems. Resolving damp issues can be as simple as removing the source of the moisture, such as the clothes dryer. Remember to check drainage systems for any missing gutters or downspouts, as this can then cause rainwater to be directed towards the basement causing a moisture problem.

Garage Suites

Now, making a suite from a garage may not sound the most appealing prospect, but with some creative interior design, no one would ever know the original purpose of the space. A minimum of 350 square feet is recommended. This provides enough space for a bedroom, bathroom and a small kitchen and living area.

One of the advantages of converting the garage space is that it probably has electricity and water supplies in place. You'll need to install more sockets and consider how to dispose of wastewater if a bathroom is fitted, but you have a starting point. Many garages have an interconnecting door into the main house, meaning you just need to add an external entry point as an exit point in an emergency.

The garage suite is a perfect combination of providing independence while still having family close by.

Garden Suites

If the garden area is large enough, then it can provide a perfect space for an in-law suite. Many areas require a garden suite to have a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping and living room, so some careful measuring and planning are needed to make sure that you can fit each of those into the space available.

There are now some beautiful garden suites available which come ready prepared to be installed onsite. All that is needed in advance are water and electricity connections along with the preparation of the foundations.

While the detached nature of the garden suite may be perfect for independent relatives, it may just be a little too far away for when additional care or nursing is required.

Attic Suites

This is one of those spaces which is rarely used to its true potential, with most of us using it as an area to hide things we have not yet sorted through or thrown out. Now, it is possible to convert an attic into an in-law suite, but there are some challenges that may make it more complicated compared to other options.

Access may be the first challenge. Many attics are reached through folding ladders and this is not a viable option for everyday use. Stairs can be installed, but they take up a lot of space when situated inside the home. External stairs may be a way around the problem, but the accessibility of these for elderly relatives may rule out that option.

The headroom is the next aspect to consider. Generally, you'll have sloping rafters where the ceiling height is the greatest right beneath the apex of the roof. Then, it gradually decreases as you approach the eaves. Adequate headroom is needed so you have enough height to walk through the living spaces to use the kitchen and bathroom.

In Conclusion

With a little planning and imagination, an in-law suite can be a perfect solution while also celebrating the togetherness that comes from bringing the family together, under one roof.