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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!