Custom plans, drafting + Design

accessory dwelling units

Does Building an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) Make Sense for You?

ADUJamie PurnellComment
A fully functional ADU, right next door! Drafted by THE small HOUSE CATALOG.

A fully functional ADU, right next door! Drafted by THE small HOUSE CATALOG.

One type of home design that we often get drafting requests for these days is the Accessory Dwelling Unit, also known as an ADU or DADU (Detatched Accessory Dwelling Unit). We've also seen these small fully autonomous homes typically built in people's side yards or back yards called Laneway housing, mother in law cottages or backyard cottages. Whatever you call them, they are becoming a more and more common solution to a host of problems and needs. 

Benefits to building an ADU

What are the benefits behind taking on a project like this?  Especially in cities, where space is at a premium both in terms of availability and typically price as well, an ADU can provide a potential for rental income literally right next door. An ADU can provide housing for other family members that might benefit from it temporarily (think adult children having their own space while attending college, mother and father in laws having their own space to live in while helping out kids when they have kids, overflow space for visitors, or just plug in your unique situation). It occurs to us that the potential for garnering rental income in areas where property taxes might be rising at alarming rates can be an excellent method to help one stay where they love being while staying afloat with rising costs. Whatever the situation might be, having a potential rental or some extra space can offer real benefits and doesn't have to break the bank to design, build or maintain. Custom design of the space can allow the homeowner to construct an aesthetically pleasing space that complements the original home design and brings all kinds of side benefits.

Special Considerations for ADU or DADU construction

Are there any drawbacks to having an ADU or DADU on your lot or acreage?  It seems that flexibility and potential benefits far outweigh the concerns, but there are always two sides to a story. Return on investment, obviously, might be the foremost question. Is it financially viable to you? As ADU and DADU style homes are typically smaller (around 500 sq. feet is fairly common) your building costs don't tend to be as difficult to comprehend and plan for as they would be with a larger structure. More things to consider and spend some time researching include the zoning, parking and other requirements or restrictions that might need careful attention paid in your area. Cities and municipalities generally write their own rules regarding these structures and those rules need to be approached thoughtfully in order to have a good experience.  Building a fully autonomous structure in your yard is a bit different than building a shed. One has to consider electrical and sewer/septic hookups and also how close this new dwelling might be to your current home. 

Some of the questions you might have as you consider this option are less technical and more personal. Do you feel comfortable with renters sharing a space literally right in your back yard?  How do you feel about managing and marketing a rental if that's what you are envisioning? Are you willing to live that close to your adult kids or your in laws?  Are they willing to live that close to you?  One would be wise to consider the potential of the building after your initiating need is met. Do you live in the kind of place (for example a growing city that has a real need for extra housing) that can support and pay you back for your costs if a few years down the line your in laws or kids or friends aren't using the space as much?  Can you rent it and augment your income?  If you are considering the ADU to expand your home space, could a more traditional addition serve you better or does a backyard cottage offer you a lot more flexibility?  If you are hoping to rent the space out for income, will you still want to do that in ten years? How will the completion of the ADU increase the value of your home in terms of resale?  

Design Your ADU With THE small HOUSE CATALOG

This ADU, in the Ballard area of Seattle, is an 800 square foot Airbnb rental. Owner designed in conjunction with THE small HOUSE CATALOG.

This ADU, in the Ballard area of Seattle, is an 800 square foot Airbnb rental. Owner designed in conjunction with THE small HOUSE CATALOG.

None of these questions are too hard to speculate about and consider. The payback for spending a bit of time pondering questions like this is multifaceted. It can be fun, for one thing! And it can make your design process more fluid as well, as a fully considered project is easier to communicate to your drafter - designer and can really enhance the process of plan development. At this time, we've done work on ADU and DADU projects in several cities including Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, as well as rural locations and smaller cities.  If you're considering a project like this, feel free to give us a call or fill out the estimate form here to get the design ball rolling. We'd love to help!

The Many Uses of Tiny & Small Houses (Port Townsend, WA)

Jamie's MusingsJamie3 Comments

To start, we had always intended to build a small home to live in full time. We weren’t sure it would even be in Point Roberts, but we always thought of the “rolling house” as a temporary solution. Who knew (at the time) that it would be so comfortable for us that only county regulations would fully entice us to leave it?  Since Shawn and I have begun construction on The Beekeeper’s Bungalow, a lot of passersby have begun to ask the same question that we considered between us when we decided to build a larger small home, What are you going to do with the cute little orange house?

Anyway, the questions we asked ourselves and the questions being posed to us by curious neighbors are what I’m going to use as the jumping off point for this blog entry:

What can you do with a tiny house if you aren’t living in it full time any longer?

One option, of course, is to sell the tiny house. If you’ve built on a trailer bed, the issue is a very simple one (well, as simple as driving a house down the road ever is…mechanically easy but psychologically a bit nervewracking). However, if you’re thinking ahead about the selling option and you’re building on a “footed” foundation, consider putting the house on skids…small buildings, like sheds, have been moved this way for ages.

What about other options? I thought that I would just share a few of the many that I’ve heard from people in town. I’ll start with our own decision. We are keeping our tiny house and it will become “office central” for THE small HOUSE CATALOG. Shawn’s drafting work will probably benefit from my not bopping around the room doing my thing while he is calculating loads and headspace.  Since it’s hooked up to septic, etc. it’s also going to become an enticement for friends and family to come up and stay awhile. And it looks pretty cute on the lot and frankly would be hard for us to let go. It’s become a nice part of our memory. It’s a great place for guests to stay as it’s fully contained, kids love it and adults do too.

Here are some other creative options: One woman stopped by and said she would make this a kitchen that she could put on her land as an accessory building. She is a chocolatier and needs a commercial space separate from her home kitchen where she can do all of her prep work for sales. A little mobile kitchen on her property would free her up from having to rent and drive to commercial space (to satisfy health department regulations, someone selling commercially cannot prepare foods for sale in their home kitchen) Very convenient!

Another couple came and surprised me when the teenaged daughter and her mother told me that this would be a perfect accessory building for their cottage in town. The cottage is small and with the kids growing up, they wanted a little more space for the teens to be able to do their own thing with the family but also be “on their own.” What surprised me was that the daughter immediately began pointing out what she wouldn’t need…no bathroom necessary, no kitchen necessary…just space to have friends hang out together and sleepover. Parents of teenagers might or might not press more for the bathroom than the kids!

A rental space is another option I have both seen in person and heard passersby mention as a desired outcome. When we’re visiting Port Townsend, WA we stay with a man who has a small cottage called Hammond House on his single lot in the backyard that he rents out as an accommodation. It’s low maintenance for him. He hires a local cleaner to come in and clean up the space after guests leave and the cottage is self sustaining. It has wifi, cable, a sauna, full bathroom, big bedroom area and an enclosed patio/seating area all in a very small space. It’s roomy and perfectly comfortable. The in-city location is perfect – you can walk everywhere. He has located the cottage in such a way that his own house doesn’t look over into it and vice versa. Privacy for everyone and a boost of income for the owner. I can think of a lot of ways that something like this might be a benefit for a variety of people, including guests.

The Hammond House Guest Cottage in Port Townsend, WA. Nestled in the single city lot sized back yard of the main house, this little cottage is tiny and a perfect size for visitors to the fun and artsy waterside town.

The Hammond House Guest Cottage in Port Townsend, WA. Nestled in the single city lot sized back yard of the main house, this little cottage is tiny and a perfect size for visitors to the fun and artsy waterside town.

Another closely tied option to this one would be to rent the space out on a regular basis. A tiny space that is well designed offers a perfect living space for single people, couples or people with young families…everything would depend on the people wanting to rent. Depending on your location, you could easily rent out your tiny house or cottage on a full time basis if that was your wish. It would pay for itself quickly in that case and might pay you back in other unexpected ways as well (e.g. as a chance to meet interesting people). Call me biased, but people interested in these small living spaces seem to be pretty interesting people… 

Meeting as many people as we do (something about the house being so tiny, along with the bright orange color must wear away at the inhibitions we sometimes have about just walking up to people and starting conversations), we’ve heard a variety of other ideas for small houses. An architect we met last weekend had entered a sustainable urban development contest and submitted a fantastic idea for compact urban living in Vancouver, BC using railroad cars as the basis for construction. These cars are compact, recycled, and can be stacked for vertical rather than horizontal living; critical in an urban area where space is at a premium. Using color and creativity, he had designed a little urban oasis of tiny living spaces made even better by the incorporation of green growing spaces outdoors that could be enjoyed by all the residents as well as passersby (who doesn’t like green spaces, especially in cities?). The storage containers were boldly colored, stacked several stories high and made a real statement visually. It was fantastic and suited the urban landscape perfectly. While not applicable for most of us, this is just another example of how only our thinking about things limits the potential use of small space.

Another advantage of a tiny house or small cottage on a lot or piece of land is that they are never so large that they take up a tremendous amount of space. In and of themselves, they provide a focal point of great visual appeal in the home/garden landscape. Cute, cozy and inviting, they make a statement about staying in place and enjoying what’s around you.

I’m only touching on a few ideas here. There are obviously many many more and in many ways, our imaginations are the only limitation to what can be done with a tiny house once it’s not being used for full time occupation. Once a home, always a home of some sort!

Please feel free to share your own comments on using tiny and small houses, I’m eager to hear what you have to say!