Trend Report: ADUs Move From Back of House to Center Stage

Photo by Propel Studio ArchitectureSearch exterior home design ideas
An in-law ADU in Portland, Oregon, for aging in place; design by Propel Studio Architecture; photo by Carlos Rafael Photography

Excerpt via Houzz

ADUs, or accessory dwelling units, are compact, fully contained living spaces sited on the same lot as a primary home. Also known as garage apartments, carriage homes, granny flats and in-law units, ADUs can be attached or detached structures. As housing prices soar and zoning regulations change in response, owners around the country are eagerly welcoming these tiny spaces home.

A rental ADU in Los Angeles for a student; contracting by Pearl Remodeling

Money matters. Budget concerns and housing costs are the primary factors behind this ADU boom, especially in cities, says Lucas Gray, principal at Propel Studio Architecture in Portland, Oregon. “These places are being forced to address housing issues, and ADUs are one of the tools they’re using to do that,” he says. How? Empty nesters downsize into ADUs and rent their main house; owners rent out ADUs for short- or long-term use; family members (older parents and adult children) move in for comfort and savings. Other homeowners want a studio, gym or office. “For clients who are considering a rear addition or going up, ADUs provide a third option for extra living space,” says Jim Walker, owner of Copper Sky Renovations in Atlanta.

Walker’s Product Picks: Conserv Stackable Compact Waasher & Dryer, Quiet Glide Maple Rolling Ladder Kit, MOD LED Mirrored Medicine Cabinet

Copper Sky Renovations

A backyard ADU for entertainment in Atlanta; contracting by Copper Sky Renovations

Location can affect square footage. Regional building codes make a difference. For example, in Portland, city codes limit an ADU to 800 square feet. In Los Angeles, “most are 400 to 500 square feet, but some people with big budgets and big lots aim for the largest possible space, which can be up to 1,200 square feet,” says Ron Cohen, CEO of Pearl Remodeling in Los Angeles. Atlanta restricts ADUs to 750 square feet.

Smart ideas for small spaces:

Lucas Gray: Full-panel glass doors that look onto a garden, European-style 24-inch appliances, 22-inch kitchen sinks.

Jim Walker: Vaulted ceilings, curbless showers, sleeping lofts, skylights, lots of windows, lighter colors, side balconies, and outside stairs if you’re building over a garage, to save indoor floor space.

Ron Cohen: Walls with custom bookshelves and cabinets, Murphy beds that double as desks, mini split AC units, pocket doors, flush-mount ceiling lights, and kitchen bars or counters for dining.

Holly & Associates, Inc

A getaway ADU in the California wine country; contracting by Holly & Associates

Keep costs in mind. “The biggest misconception is what they cost,” Walker says. “Clients think they’ll save money by doing these. But it’s like building a mini house in your backyard; you need the same plumbing, electrical, HVAC.” Gray agrees: “Understand that these projects are an investment, and it takes time and money to build them.” Simple choices often start at $150,000 and average around $250,000; other choices can top out far above that.

Ways to save. “ADUs are unique in that often they’re tying into the utilities of the main house for sewer, water and electric,” Gray says. “So if we put in LED lighting, extra insulation, low-flow water, solar panels and efficient appliances, that all saves money if the owners are renting it out.” Walker uses the EarthCraft program to make his ADUs energy-efficient.

WSM Craft

A carriage house-style ADU for guests in Asheville, North Carolina; design and contracting by WSM Craft

It’s only the start. “The future looks good for ADUs!” Cohen says. “They are a great value for the usual homeowner who wants to increase the value of their property.” “As long as codes and regulations don’t get in the way, they’ll continue to grow in popularity,” Gray says. “They increase density; they create a more sustainable way to live; they’re cool ways to blend urban apartment living with a little outdoor space and privacy. I think they’re fantastic.”

Cohen’s Product Picks: Pilaster Designs Convertible Writing Desk, VONN Tureis LED Ceiling Light, Rinnai Natural Gas Tankless Water Heater

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