5 Ways to Make a “Big” House Smaller

Forbes recently posted an article titled, “5 Ways To Make A Small House ‘Bigger’”. We think it should be the other way around. More traditional homes need to be designed to accommodate an elderly parent, an adult child, or rental option to combat rising housing costs.

Garage conversions and other ADU construction is growing around the nation.

Photo courtesy of Accessory Dwellings


According to the Pew Research Center, in 1980 only 12 percent of American homes had multigenerational or rental options available. Now it is 20 percent. About 64 million Americans now have several generations living in one house and that number is growing. This means larger, traditional homes will need to be made into smaller spaces for multi-person or multi-family living.

ADU examples can be seen on the Accessory Dwellings website.

There are various ways this can be done. These ways also depend on the available budget, the type and condition of the home, where it’s located, local laws and building codes, and parking options.

1. Splitting up a two-story home

Photo by radcliffe dacanay

We do this in my own non-traditional, rural home. I care for my elderly mother and we have made the top floor (with two separate entrances) her space. The daylight basement belongs to my husband and me. We shared the expenses, utilities, garden and chores without one person having to pay for or take care of everything.

2. Turning a master bedroom/bath into a studio

Photo by Rachel Ginis

A few years ago we featured Rachel Ginis and her Corte Madera, Calif. home. She converted her master bedroom/bath into an independent apartment. The apartment was first a rental unit to earn extra income and then Rachel moved into the apartment and rented out the main part of her house.

3. Placing tiny houses or RVs on a lot with a house

Photo by Christina Nellemann

Also a few years ago I wrote about Eric and his tiny house. He, his wife, and Eric’s mother and sister all pooled their money to purchase an unincorporated house and one-acre lot. His sister lives in the house, his mom parks her RV in the backyard, and Eric and his family live in his home-built tiny house in the front yard. The benefits of this is that the house and lot belongs within a family and the infrastructure of utilities, driveways, and laundry is available to anyone living on the lot.

4. Converting or adding onto a garage

Video by Kirsten Dirksen

Face it, most garages around the nation are glorified storage facilities that never have a vehicle parked inside. An unused garage (depending on building codes) can become a single- or multi-story living space. Kirsten Dirksen recently posted a video about a family in Santa Rosa, California that also pooled their money to purchase a house with a detached garage that they converted into a mother-in-law apartment.

5. Converting a basement or attic

Photo by CRD Design Build

Other spaces in a home that are rarely used in a home are the basement and the attic. Depending on the size, these are ripe for conversions. This is especially true of daylight basements that offer more light and the option for a separate entrance. The California company, Maxable, offers consulting on “granny flat” or ADU conversions for existing structures such as basements and attics. According to their website, any zoned single family home can build a legal, rentable ADU.

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]

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