How to Transform Your Basement Into an In-Law Suite

How to Transform Your Basement Into an In-Law Suite


If you’re concerned about having in-laws or parents move into your home, you know how important it is for them to have their own private space within your home. You’re probably thinking of ways to make them feel comfortable and welcome, such as home wall painting in your entire house. You may be wondering if you have enough room in your house to let them live with you comfortably. You may even be discussing the possibility of buying a new home just to have the extra space.

But you may not have to buy a new home: a basement remodel is the perfect way to transform unused space in your into a beautiful in-law suite.


There are many reasons why you should consider adding an in-law suite, even if you don’t have anyone planning to move in with you in the near future. Finishing the basement and adding a second living space can dramatically increase the value of your home. You could even rent out the apartment to tenants while you wait for grandma to need it. And should your parents or in-laws ever need to come live with you, you will definitely wish to have your own separate spaces. You certainly don’t want to have to hire family lawyers to settle daily disputes!

From initial planing to the last home wall painting project, the following is everything you should think about as you set up an in-law apartment in your basement.

How Much Will It Cost?

The final cost of building a basement apartment or in-law suite will depend on multiple factors, including its preexisting condition. If your basement has moisture issues, you will need to have these addressed with proven dehumidification and waterproofing techniques.

Apartments need some kind of kitchen and bathroom, you will need a commercial electric company to install new electrical wiring, and your local plumber and bathroom contractor to construct a new bathroom. The cost of insulation, finishing materials, and home wall painting should also be considered.

As you think about all these different expenses, it may start to seem daunting or out of reach. But it’s important to keep in mind that these repairs aren’t empty investments — you should come back to repay you in the future, especially if you ever need to sell your home. According to Home Advisor, the average basement remodeling project will have a return on investment of up to 70%. And that’s without taking into consideration how a finished basement apartment will improve the quality of life for your entire family. And you can always rent that space out for extra income as well.

Adding Headroom

According to most city building codes, a ceiling height of seven feet and six inches is the minimum requirement. That means that in order to build a living space in your basement, you’ve got to make sure there’s a space of at least seven and a half feet between the floor and ceiling. And of course, it would be wise to check your city’s building codes to find out for sure what’s required for you.

Unfortunately, if there isn’t that much headroom in your basement, you’ll be faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to add more. The only options for increasing basement ceiling height are to lower the floor or raise the house, and both are a big undertaking.

Raising the house is typically the better option because besides adding room below the ceiling, it makes extra space for installing higher basement windows, which means extra natural light. Lowering the floor involves supporting the house, removing existing slabs, excavating the basement, and either augmenting or replacing the foundation and drainage system. However, if you discover that your foundation is failing, you will need to raise up the house to fix it anyway. It’s a good idea to have the integrity of your foundation inspected no matter what you decide to do.

Correcting Foundation Issues

As mentioned above, this remodel project is a good opportunity to have your foundation inspected to find out if there are any structural problems that need to be addressed. If the foundation is failing and needs replacing altogether, it’s better to know now than to put it off. It also presents an excellent opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by building an in-law suite while you’re at it.

Some common basement issues to look out for include large (half-inch or wider) vertical cracks in the concrete, walls bowing in, and sinking corners.

If your house is built on a sloping lot and you need to make major modifications to your basement, it would be a good idea to set it up so the basement wall is completely exposed on one side of the house. This can be accomplished by digging out the hill on the backside of the house, and it’s helpful because you can install a whole row of windows in the exposed wall. This means you’ll enjoy lots of natural light inside the basement suite.

Installing or Enlarging Windows

You may need to install new windows and doors in the basement as you remodel it. If your basement has very small windows, or no windows at all, and is deep underground, you may choose to install window wells to let light in. Besides adding natural light, window wells can offer valuable (and sometimes necessary) safety improvements, since they can allow people to escape in the event of a fire if they’re big enough.

Optimizing the Stairway

Any time you build a basement apartment, soundproofing and privacy management are among the most important considerations. Because of this, you will probably want to enclose the bottom of your basement’s interior stairway. Besides giving you more room to practice your creativity in home wall painting, it will create an entry vestibule at the base of the stairs, which means there will be an extra layer of separation between the apartment and the rest of the house.

Installing a Barrier-Free Bathroom

If there isn’t a bathroom adjacent to the in-law suite you’re setting up, you’ll need to hire a local plumber and bathroom contractor to set one up. And whether a new bathroom needs to be installed or not, it’s important that the one you set up is a barrier-free bathroom. Older people, as well as those with disabilities, often need special features in a bathroom. These may include grab bars and curbless shower stalls.

Fortunately, these special fixtures are available at most hardware and home improvement stores. Even if your parents or in-laws don’t need these items now, you should seriously consider installing them anyway. It’s much easier and less expensive to incorporate these special features in new construction than it is to retrofit them in later.

Controlling Basement Temperature and Humidity

No matter who’s living in your basement suite, you know they’ll need to be comfortable. If your basement was originally built without adequate ventilation, heating, or cooling, you may need to have your local HVAC company reroute the air duct system so you can get air and heat to the remodeled rooms.

Another economical way to get heat into the new space is by installing electric baseboard heating units that are controlled with a thermostat.

It’s not enough just to pump warm or cool air in, however. To hold inside temperatures steady and reduce heating and air costs, you’ll want to insulate the foundation walls in your basement using rigid foam insulation.

For keeping basement humidity levels in check, you should invest in a dehumidifier and humidistat. This kind of system will automatically maintain the same moisture level across time, while also taking dust and other airborne contaminants out of the air.

There may be more involved in controlling your basement’s humidity, however. If you have serious foundational issues where water gets in uncontrollably, it could cause serious damage to your home wall painting and furniture. Simply using a humidistat is merely a bandaid solution that won’t last. If you routinely find a lot of condensation on your inside basement walls, you may have some problems that need to be addressed.

The cheapest solution is to keep downspouts and gutters clear of the house. This prevents excess water from pouring down alongside the basement walls during the rain. If this alone doesn’t solve the problem, it may help to trim vegetation away from the house so there’s plenty of ventilation room between them. You could also try sloping the earth away from your home so water is more likely to flow away than to seep into the ground.

After this, solutions become somewhat costly. The best step you could try is to install perimeter or French drains around your house.

Unfortunately, if you live in a flood-prone district or have running streams nearby, setting up an in-law suite in your basement may not be a viable idea. Be sure to take this into consideration before you set any plans in stone.

Provide Options for Escape

Should an emergency arise, such as a fire in the house, anyone living in the basement should never try to escape through the interior stairway. Instead, building codes require ways for those in the basement to get out through window wells or direct stairwells.

Enhancing the Lighting

Plenty of natural light is more important than the colors you choose to use for your home wall painting. We mentioned earlier that installing large windows with window wells in your basement can dramatically help increase the natural light levels in the suite, thus improving comfort levels as well. In addition to installing or enlarging the windows, you could also sacrifice an upstairs closet and run a light tube through it, up to the roof of your house.

Besides your choices for maximizing natural light, your choice of artificial light is important, too. Warm fluorescent bulbs and dimmable halogen lights create hues that feel more natural than most indoor lighting systems. You can have your commercial electrical company install any new wiring you might need for extra lights, outlets, or appliances.

Decorating and Furnishing

The final steps of the process will involve home wall painting, decorating, and furnishing. You want your parents, in-laws, or tenants to feel at home there, and this is one of the most important ways to do it.

As for home wall painting, in-law suites are at their best when painted with rich, inviting colors. Buttery yellow and beige are a couple of good ones to consider. Wallpapering can also be a good idea. You might also try special wall painting techniques, such as sponging, which creates a premium feel with minimal effort.

Wall hangings are a very important part of a room’s decor. For your in-law suite, they should convey the feeling of relaxation: beach scenes, depictions of open fields, and floral paintings all work quite well for this. You should take your parent’s or in-law’s tastes into consideration as you choose artwork for their suite.

Wall sconces can be another nice addition to an in-law suite since they provide adjustable levels of lighting within the area.

For furniture in an in-law suite, you should emphasize comfort and practicality. A queen-sized bed is more than adequate for most guests, including your parents or in-laws.

Adding matching nightstands and a chest of drawers will provide the bedroom with a finished, polished look. You might consider setting up a reading area in one room, with a recliner or loveseat next to an end table, facing a television. If you’re building a kitchenette into the suite, you’ll need to include a small dining table with at least two chairs or stools.

Textiles are the last aspect of furnishing to consider. For this category, try to keep focused on bringing in high-quality products. Sheets should have a high thread count. Extra blankets and pillows could go into a closet for easy access with needed. The duvet should complement the wall color, and window treatments should be coordinated with the bedclothes. Textured materials like silk and velvet are especially calming, beautiful, and luxurious-looking. Don’t overlook the importance of shades and blinds throughout the suite — these are important for allowing your guests to control their privacy and natural lighting levels in their home.

Finally, if you’ve built a kitchenette into the suite, you should set it up with pots and pans, plates, glasses, and cooking utensils. Don’t forget to include dish soap, as well as detergent and bleach if you built in a laundry closet. And remember to set up the bedroom and bathroom with any last-minute touches before your wrap up the project.

As a side note, keep the safety of your parents or in-laws in mind as you browse the furniture store. High stools in the kitchenette might be inappropriate given their fitness or health levels. Opportunities to slip, trip, or fall should be minimized as much as possible.

While you’re getting your home wall painting done in the basement apartment, you might consider redecorating or getting home wall painting in the rest of the house as a way to welcome them into your home.

Final Steps

After remodeling, you’ll want to get in touch with your homeowners insurance provider and make sure they know about your new remodel.

From laying the groundwork to home wall painting to the finishing touches, this is everything you need to consider for building a basement in-law suite.