What is an ADU?
Known by many names including pool homes, casitas, in-law suites, guesthouses, granny flats, and secondary dwelling units; an ADU is a fully independent living unit located on the same lot as the main home. Consisting of living and sleeping areas, bathrooms and kitchen, an ADU, depending on the local laws, could be either a detached unit or one that is incorporated into an existing structure such as an attic apartment or converted garage. While a detached ADU can be considered as a tiny house; the tiny home concept is different. Often built on wheels, these were primary homes and regulated by the same laws as RVs.
ADUs can be tiny homes, manufactured units or converted existing structures as long as they follow the state’s building code and municipality rules. However, you need to remember that ADUs, in most circumstances, cannot be sold as a separate unit. The converted garage, for example, cannot be sold as a separate home. The entire property will be a primary residence with an ADU.
History of the ADU
The affordable housing crisis has resulted in an interest in ADUs (accessory dwelling units) amongst real estate investors and homeowners alike. However, this type of housing has been around for centuries. The early settlers, while constructing their primary house, often built a small dwelling to live in. large and well to do farmers and landowners built ancillary buildings and secondary houses away from the main house.
One of the fore-runners to the present ADUs was the coach or carriage house. Built for horse-drawn carriages, these were large enough to be used as labor quarters. Economic requirements and housing shortage in the later years resulted in many of these carriage houses to be put up as rental properties. Garages for automobiles were often built with living quarters above them.
Post World War II; there were legal restrictions that put an end to constructing ADUs in the United States. The rules allowed just one dwelling per lot, irrespective of the acreage. While some cities did allow ADUs, they had to be occupied consistently to be legal. Most communities, however, do not allow ADUs, even if they were allowed there in the past.
The 1980s saw the revival of the ADUs with many cities trying to explore ways to bring in smaller and affordable housing. With the growing demand for ADUs, the American Planning Association and AARP released a model state act and local code for ADUs in the year 2000.
Different Types of ADUs
Known by many names, all types of ADUs serve the same function – providing additional living space. The primary reason for the popularity of ADUs today is their ability to provide affordable housing, for both tenants and property owners. One of the main advantages of ADUs is their function as multi-generation housing. Many traditional homes are not suitable for the elderly. ADUs can be made as an elderly-friendly unit that provides a safe and secure home for your loved ones.
While there are many different types of ADUs, the three main categories are internal, attached, or detached additions.
Internal ADUs – Generally costing the least, these are existing parts of the house that are transitioned to provide accommodation. The most common internal ADU examples are converted attics, garages, and basements. However, the cost would depend on the quantum of conversion required. An additional bathroom or walk-in closet will increase the cost. However, useful additions can make an ADU more attractive to a potential tenant, if you plan to rent it out.
Attached ADUs – Also known as addition ADUs, these are newly constructed rooms that are attached to the primary residence. Generally consisting of a room and bathroom, these units are a part of the main house. Depending on the usage, there could be a separate entrance to this unit to provide ease of access and a sense of privacy.
Detached ADUs – As the name suggests, these are stand-alone structures, fully detached from the primary house, but on the same lot. Fully functional, these are the most popular type of ADUs. Not only do they provide complete privacy to the residents of both the primary and detached ADU, but they are also attractive to potential tenants. Essentially a tiny home, detached ADUs usually feature living and sleeping spaces, along with a kitchen and bathroom.
Building an ADU
While there are numerous advantages to building an ADU, there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration before starting the job. Irrespective of whether the ADU is a conversion or an addition, local zoning laws and ordinances must be taken into consideration. Zoning ordinances define the location, size, and use of buildings in their respective city, county or state. States facing problems of affordable housing, like California, for example, are more lenient concerning ADUs. As a matter of fact, California is actively promoting the construction of ADUs and allowing older ADUs to be brought into compliance without incurring legal issues. New York, on the other hand, has made the construction of ADUs illegal. Thus, you need to pay heed to the local ordinance and legal standing of ADUs in your area. However, professional ADU construction companies generally help you deal with the local ordinances and laws and ensure that you are not in contravention to them.
The other major factor to consider before building an ADU is finances. Inaccurate or missing permits, improper calculations, and additional material costs can increase your budget substantially. The best way to deal with these is to hire a professional ADU construction company. If you are planning to lease out your ADU, it would be a good idea to check around your neighborhood to understand the demand and expected rents for similar ADUs.
There are many reasons for living in or building an ADU. The biggest draw of an ADU is its flexibility of use. Couples, whose children have moved out, can build an ADU, move into it and rent out their primary house for additional income. Those with children can use the ADU as housing for a nanny or even for the grandparents to help raise the kids. An ADU can be used as a residence for a family member in need of care, or as housing for a live-in aide for them. Those who work from home can use the ADU as their office or workshop. ADUs can also be used for housing guests, friends or family members who need temporary housing.
Given its multiple uses, building an ADU is the right choice to make.