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Adding an Apartment to Your Home: Best Practices

At Berriz Design, we get many requests from clients who want to build an apartment, either inside their existing home, or as an addition or detached unit. Often they have an older relative moving in who needs living space. There are many important factors to consider when adding an apartment to your home. Here are some things you should think about before you start planning:  
  • Financing. Before you starting pinning and swatching, make sure you can afford to build your apartment addition. An apartment on your property is considered an auxiliary dwelling, and it requires special financing that is different from your typical home loan. Check with your lender to see what the requirements are for what you want to build.
  • Zoning. Don’t break ground until you know what the zoning laws are in your area. Even if you are able to build an apartment, there may be restrictions on kitchen facilities and other features. Your builder or remodeler should be aware of any restrictions or requirements and keep you fully informed of them. If they don’t…you might consider hiring a better-informed contractor!
  • Apartment types. There are a few ways to build an apartment on your property:
    • Remodel your basement – A finished basement with a bathroom and a kitchen or kitchenette can meet your needs and is typically (though not always) less complicated to build than an addition or separate unit.
    • Add a first- or second-floor addition – Building additional space on your existing home works well for apartments—depending on the addition’s size, you can share or extend your home’s HVAC system to fit.
    • Build over the garage – A popular add-on apartment style, the above-the-garage unit also works as guest quarters or space for returning offspring.
    • Design and build a detached structure – A cottage or guest house will require building from scratch, but allows you freedom (within zoning restrictions) as far as style, features, and size.

Mobility and Universal Design

If you are building an apartment for an older relative, it is critical that you keep any current or future mobility and health issues in mind. If your relative is currently in good health and able to move around independently, this might require a difficult conversation, as many people don’t want to admit that they may become less self-sufficient as they age. However, it’s much easier to build aging-in-place or universal design features into the apartment now, rather than adding them later. Some common universal design features include:
  • Maximized task lighting in kitchens and bathrooms
  • Non-slip flooring
  • Grab bars in tubs and showers
  • Lever handles in place of traditional round doorknobs
  • Wider doorways to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers
  • Stepless or level entryways
  • Walk-in showers
Features like these, and many others, are easy to build in and will help make the apartment comfortable and functional for everyone. You’ll also want to consider your tenant’s health and mobility issues when deciding what kind of apartment to build: will he or she be able to easily navigate stairs down to the basement? Will you need to build an elevator or chairlift to a second-story addition? Will your resident require a stepless entry to the detached cottage?

Balancing Privacy and Inclusion

Depending on your tenant/relative’s needs, you will want to consider how accessible the main home needs to be to the apartment. If he or she will often need assistance, or wants to be included in day-to-day family life, an addition with quick access to the main living areas is probably best. A relative who wants to maintain her independence and have guests without disturbing the family may prefer a detached apartment or finished basement with a separate entrance from the outdoors.

Building an In-Law Apartment in Northern Virginia

There is a lot to consider when designing and building an apartment on your property—but careful planning and research helps guarantee a successful remodel and a happy tenant. If you want to learn more about building in-law apartments in Northern Virginia, please give us a call at Berriz Design.

If you are looking for a Metro D.C. & South Florida Remodeling Contractor then please call 703-552-7565 or complete our online request form.

“Seriously, I looked over many contractors, and chose you for two reasons - the designs I saw online and referenced, and more important, the individual you are.  The character, the integrity, and the personality. We love the kitchen, and I truly believe it is a great example of what creative minds can do together. I look forward to doing more. All the best to you and  your team.”  

Mike Chilton – McLean, VA

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