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A Senior-Safe In-Law Apartment- Part 1

37 Tips for Designing the Perfect “Granny Flat”

When constructing a backyard “in-law apartment” for an aging parent, planning is paramount. Just throwing up a small house on your property will not get the job done.

Even mature adults who are physically active today may require safety adjustments to their home in the future. Incorporating senior-friendly features into the building now can save expensive remodeling later.

In-Law Apartment Design Checklist

Grandfather sits with laughing granddaughter's arm around his neck.  Caption reads "Make room for grandpa with an In-Law Apartment."TIP 1: This warning cannot be overemphasized: DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Before you plan anything, check with your local building permit department for zoning, restrictions, regulations, guidelines, and easements for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in your area.

Examine your property title for ADU constraints. Be sure your homeowners association does not prohibit or limit ADUs on your property.

TIP 2: Choose an overall size for the in-law apartment based on the senior’s needs, the space available on the property, and your building budget. Elder cottages average about 800-1,000 square feet. However, larger in-law homes of 1,200-1,500 square feet may better fit the needs of a senior couple.

Design the ADU as a single story structure, with a one level floor plan.

In planning, also keep in mind the alternative uses for the structure in the future.

For example, if you plan to rent the ADU as an apartment later on, you may want to increase the building space. However, if you plan to convert the structure into a home office down the line, a smaller ADU may be better.

TIP 3: Keep power sources to the in-law dwelling separate from your main house. That way if you ever decide to rent the home, you can easily keep the utilities separate. It also allows you to cut the power when the ADU is unoccupied.

TIP 4: Design the granny flat exterior to be both attractive and low maintenance.

TIP 5: For easy maneuverability for seniors who made need walkers or wheelchairs, allow 60” of clear, unobstructed turn-around space in every room—and in front of the kitchen appliances.

TIP 6: Hallways should be 36” or more in width.

TIP 7: Include additional bracing around tubs, showers, toilets, and along hallways to support grab bars or hand rails. Install attractive, sturdy grab bars and hand rails as needed.

TIP 8: The minimum width for stand-up showers should be 36” with a fold-down seat. Add a handheld showerhead with a 6’ hose. Use shower stalls with built-in antibacterial protection.

TIP 9: Lever-handled faucets for sinks and showers prove easier for seniors to operate. Choose faucets with anti-scald controls. Add a pullout spray faucet at the kitchen sink.

TIP 10: Choose chair-height toilets.

TIP 11: Choose slip-resistant flooring for both the bathroom and the shower.

TIP 12: Throughout the home choose easy-to-clean building materials. Avoid fabrics and composite wood materials, which may outgas and contribute to poor indoor air quality.

TIP 13: Exterior and interior doors should be a minimum of 36” wide. Entry doors with sidelight panels insure privacy, increase natural lighting and offer additional security.

TIP 14: Build a well-lighted covered entrance without steps to help prevent tripping.

TIP 15: Wheelchair ramps must not be greater than a 1:12 slant— meaning a one-inch rise for every twelve inches in length. Include curbs on both sides of ramps at least 2” high.

TIP 16: Falls are one of the major causes of a sudden downward spiral of health in the elderly. Create a home that diminishes the chances of stumbles and falls. Keep thresholds at the entry— and throughout the apartment— as low as possible to avoid a tripping hazard.

TIP 17: Choose levered-style door hardware. Levers are often easier for arthritic hands to operate than twisting a standard doorknob.

TIP 18: Let there be natural light! As vision dims with age, exceptional lighting becomes vital to seniors. Ample natural light not only improves sight, but often plays a critical part in mood as well.

Plan for numerous, large windows. Install windows lower in the wall, to increase lighting. Invest in well-insulated double or triple-pane windows to decrease drafts and increase energy efficiency. Be sure window hardware is easy to operate.

TIP 19: Include an extraordinary amount of interior lighting. Make hallways, entry way, closets, baths, laundry area, and pantries exceptionally well lighted.

TIP 20: Install light switches by the entrance of every room and hallway— no higher than 48” from the floor. Lighting fixtures with multiple bulb receptacles provide greater light. Rocker or touch-type light switches work best for older hands.

TIP 21: Power cords can tangle and trip someone who is a fall risk. Incorporate numerous electrical outlets to avoid the use of too many electrical cords. Placing outlets every 10’-12’ helps eliminate the need for power strips or extensions cords. Secure excess cord length to the walls.

Steel-Framed Secondary Dwellings

Get a quote on a pre-engineered steel building for your in-law apartment or backyard bungalow.

RHINO structures offer the benefits of a commercial-strength structure for your backyard dwelling project.

Prefabricated steel buildings go up quickly and easily— like a gigantic erector set for grownups. RHINO steel buildings will meet or exceed all current local building codes for the lifetime of the structure.

Please phone RHINO Steel Building Systems today at 940.383.9566. Our metal building specialists will answer all your questions, provide a free no-obligation quote, and lead you through the metal building ordering process.

Do not miss PART 2 of this series for the final 16 mother-in-law cottage tips!