10 Important Things to Know About Adding an ADU

Published On: September 23, 20200 Comments on 10 Important Things to Know About Adding an ADUTags: Last Updated: February 9, 20247.2 min read

Are you trying to help find affordable accommodation for your family who’ve recently lost their home? Do your aging parents need somewhere affordable to stay soon? Your house is full, your wallet’s feeling the pinch and unless you do something soon, your loved ones could end up on the street. You’re not alone. American citizens have been struggling with an affordable housing crisis for years and the recent pandemic’s only made it worse. A recent survey revealed that as much as 10% of the population’s experiencing housing insecurity.

Accessory Dwelling Unit

An accessory dwelling unit could be the solution to all these problems. Find out how to get started with your new ADU.

What Is an Accessory Dwelling Unit?

ADU definitions differ according to where you live. In general, the term refers to any small dwelling that’s separate from the main house on a property. So tiny houses, granny flats, garden cottages, and in-law suites all fall into this category.

There are two main types of ADUs namely:

Attached ADUs

Attached ADUs join onto your property in some way. Basements, garage conversions, and attic rooms fall into this category. Sometimes these aren’t necessarily used for accommodation. Yet, as long as you’ve amended them beyond their original purpose, they still count as an ADU.

Detached ADUs

Detached ADUs refer to small buildings on your property that are distant from your home. These projects are generally more expensive to build but they do have the benefit of increase privacy. Backyard cottages, granny flats, and short-term rental suites fall into this realm.

What Are the Main Uses of Accessory Dwelling Units?

Apart from providing a place to house family and friends, you can build an accessory dwelling unit with several uses in mind. Now that more people are working from home, you can build an ADU as a means to separate work and family life. Some people use them as a gym or yoga studio. Many folks build an ADU for their children to give them a sense of independence when they leave high school or college. You can also use an ADU for short-term rentals via VRBO or Airbnb if your neighborhood allows it. They also make a great place to house visiting friends and family.

Things to Consider Before Building an ADU

A backyard dwelling unit can have several benefits for homeowners. However, it’s important to weigh up the benefits, risks, and accessory dwelling unit cost considerations before jumping right in.

The benefits of ADUs include the following:

  • Ensure privacy from visitors
  • Offer a solution for family housing problems
  • Can be a source of income from long or short-term rentals
  • Provide a separate area for work or hobbies
  • Double as low-cost housing for adult children

Since they increase the livable area of your home, accessory dwelling units also increase the value and saleability of your home. An early study suggests that you can expect your property value to increase by as much as 25%. Some of the risks involved include a slight loss of privacy when you rent out your extra dwelling, as well as the chance of non-payment by renters. Unless you get along well with your family members or in-laws, having them living on your property could result in conflict. It’s only natural that your utility bills will increase according to the number of people in residence too unless you set up separate utility meters for the unit.

modern ADU

Take Relevant Regulations into Account

Like any construction, municipal regulations govern how you can build your ADU. While these will differ from place to place, the most common ones are:

  • Restrictions on the number of dwellings allowed per property
  • Height limits on buildings in your area
  • Distance limitations between your ADU and your property boundary
  • Restrictions on building within a certain distance from public utilities e.g powerlines
  • Size limits on ADUs in your area
  • Parking criteria for the unit
  • Environmental construction by-laws

In some areas, these restrictions may make it impossible to legally build an ADU on your property.

The Procedure Involved in Building an ADU

The paperwork doesn’t stop once you’ve determined the legality of building an ADU in your backyard. When you build an extra dwelling on your property you need to follow a certain procedure.

These are the steps involved:

  1. Arrange finance for your ADU
  2. Work out accessory dwelling unit designs
  3. Arrange accessory dwelling unit floor plans for your dwelling
  4. Submit plans for your backyard house and get approval from your city
  5. Find an architect
  6. Hire a contractor
  7. Record the City’s Covenant Agreement

There are some ways to streamline this process. For example, some companies offer pre-approved plans to help speed up municipal approvals. You can also do some preparations before you start building to help streamline the process.

Tips for Building an Accessory Apartment

There are a few things that can delay the progress of your ADU. These include municipal red tape, poor planning, and construction delays. Try these tips to help speed things up:

Do Your Homework Before You Start

Every city has a different attitude towards ADUs. Some places, like San José, are welcoming toward any new housing development. In other areas, you could come across a reluctance to approve your ADU. The good news is that most cities in the USA are becoming pro-ADU because of the housing crisis. Talk to someone on your town council and get them on your side before you commence with all the procedures. Gauging your town’s attitude towards ADUs can help you anticipate any possible delays in your project.

Know What You Want to Build From the Start

It’s much easier to get your project approved when you’ve got all the details to hand. By deciding on the design of your ADU early, you can avoid the inevitable questions and delays from your town planner. Having your plans at the ready when you approach them allows you to avoid the inevitable back and forth if your city has issues with the size and set-back of your unit, or zoning requirements. If you arrive at their door full of grand ideas and no plan, they’re bound to send you packing with an instruction to bring them a plan. Arrive prepared.

Are you planning to use your ADU as short-term vacation rental accommodation? Do your research first. Some neighborhoods oppose short term rentals and they’re prohibited in certain areas. Don’t guess when it comes to positioning your ADU at the correct distance from utilities. Take your plan along to your utility provider and get them to approve these details in writing. Remember, you could also benefit from rebates and incentives if you’re installing energy-saving systems in your new dwelling.

Planning the Ultimate Backyard Dwelling

Since almost everything hinges on the plans for your unit. It’s important to get them right the first time. When choosing a plan, or setting one up, these are the things to consider:

  • Shared spaces or a self-contained unit
  • How much space can you spare in your backyard?
  • Will you provide parking for the ADU?
  • Are you prepared to share laundry facilities?
  • The proximity of the unit to your house
  • Does your unit meet local housing criteria for a living space?
  • How will your tenant, guest, or family member get access to the unit?
  • Are you building from scratch or refurbishing an existing structure?
  • How can you save money on the build?

You can save a lot of money by sharing some spaces with your backyard neighbor. If your family’s moving it, you might have no problem with sharing mealtimes and laundry facilities. However, if you’re renting out your space to a tenant, they’ll probably want their own space. Sharing bathrooms is never a good idea. It’s important to have some boundaries in mind before building an ADU. Some of the things to consider include quiet hours, pets, and whether you’re going to allow your tenant to have friends over when they please.

DIY Savings on Your ADU

Building an ADU can cost as much as $100,000 depending on the size, design, and decor you choose. As with most home improvement projects, you can save a few dollars by doing some of the work on your accessory dwelling unit yourself. Provided you leave the major electrical and plumbing tasks to the experts, you can easily install light fittings and faucets yourself. Painting, tiling, and shelving are also easy and enjoyable activities that fall well within the ambit of the average DIYer.  Keep reading our blog for more tips on how to refine your DIY skills and put them to best use.

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