Multi-Generational Living: 4 Ways to Add Mother-in-Law Units to Your Property

Peter Chambers

Dec 5, 2022

mother in law units

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Multi-generational living is more popular than ever. There are multiple advantages, from keeping your loved ones nearby to always having a helping hand around the homestead when something goes south. Plus, it’s the only way for some folks to afford the cost of living amid today’s housing crisis. Some families might want the room for the traditional in-laws — others might perform the upgrade for their children and their young families. 

Regardless of your reasons, you need a practical method of integrating several independent adults into one living space. Here are four ways to add mother-in-law units to your property. 

1. Upgrading Your Basement

One of the simplest ways to add a mother-in-law unit to your property is to convert space you don’t currently use. If your basement is nothing but a pile of moldy boxes, it could be your ideal space — especially if you live in a hot climate. These regions maintain a more consistent interior temperature even without cooling, thanks to their underground location — although they can get chilly in winter. 

Upgrading your basement may or may not entail walling off separate rooms. At a minimum, you’ll want to install a bathroom. That way, granny doesn’t need to navigate steep basement steps in the middle of the night when nature calls. However, a kitchenette is also a nice feature, even if you typically take meals together. A half-wall with a counter can provide division from the living area while including a handy counter for dining. 

Another bonus of this method is that some basements already have separate entrances. If you want your mother-in-law — or your children’s young family — to have a private entryway, there’s no need to add another door. 

2. Renovating the Garage

Maybe you’re one of the fortunate folks with a multi-car garage. If you don’t have a fleet of Porsches you want to keep safe from the elements, this space can make the ideal mother-in-law unit for multi-generational living. 

An open floorplan is your best bet if you want to keep your project budget-friendly. Each wall you construct costs lumber, plus insulation and finishing materials. On average, you can anticipate paying upwards of $3,000 to add a bathroom to the space. Fortunately, you can extend the plumbing to create room for a sink in the kitchen area. 

What about the door? Your cheapest option is to leave it intact, allowing your tenant an unfettered view of the outdoors. They might appreciate the ability to switch from indoor to outdoor living at the touch of a button. However, this method does make some feel less secure and can pose cold-weather woes if you don’t insulate properly. 

Conversely, you can hire a contractor to convert it into a wall complete with a separate front entry. That way, you and your mother-in-law enjoy greater privacy and don’t have to worry about unannounced strolls through your living area when you’re partially dressed. 

3. Divide Your Floors

The first two ideas only work for select property types. What if your home lacks an attic, basement or garage? What if you live in a split-level or two-story without these amenities? 

In such cases, you can achieve multi-generational living by dividing floors, moving rooms around and perhaps adding a kitchen to your upstairs quarters. The idea is to convert your home to a condo-like design with one dwelling unit on top of the other. If you plan the unit for your real-life mother-in-law, they’ll likely appreciate the lower level to avoid the stairs. 

It might be slightly more challenging to add a separate entrance using this method. However, you might be in luck if you have an existing deck or balcony. Folks with a split-level design whose front door opens to a dual staircase might divide this area, adding a double front door — or merely respecting privacy by going the right way upon entering. 

4. Build an ADU Out Back

For the ultimate in privacy while building a mother-in-law unit on your property, consider adding an accessory dwelling unit. These typically take the form of a smaller house that shares the same utilities as the main property. However, you can install a dual breaker panel if you intend to use your mother-in-law unit as a long-term rental and don’t want to be responsible for your tenant’s utilities. 

This option can be cost-effective or rather pricey, depending on your choices. Some folks have considerable success converting big-box hardware store Tuff Sheds into ADUs. You might consider a manufactured or even a modular home if you have a larger property and budget. The former is more cost-effective but decreases in value over time. However, you can move them should your circumstances ever change. Modular builds are cheaper than a comparable site-built home and enhance your property value. 

Adding Mother-in-Law Units to Your Property

Multi-generational living is an old trend made new again by modern realities. It’s simply not practical to pay multiple mortgages unless you’re among the privileged few and rent has reached record highs. 

Why not save money and keep your loved ones close by adding a mother-in-law unit to your property? You have several options for doing so, and you may find that the arrangement enhances your overall quality of life.

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