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When I biked up to Bob and Julie Granger’s place I was greeted by their ten-year-old grandson, standing sentinel across the street. The young man asked a few questions about my intent before confiding that it’s great having his grandparents’ house so close by. Once he had approved of my bike and my mission, he headed off on his own bike to meet up with a friend so the two boys could cruise the lazy, graveled roads of his NE Portland neighborhood. It wasn’t hard to see why Bob & Julie had decided to build their new home on this particular site. Bob confirmed my speculations, telling me that he and his wife decided to move to the Aisworth Collective when his daughter and son-in-law purchased property there. They liked the community feel of the neighborhood, and when the lot across the street became available, it seemed the perfect place to build a thoughtful and efficient home.
Inspired by the Sabin Green project by Orange Splot, the Grangers considered building a four-plex since they were interested in creating greater density on the large lot than a single-family house would provide. When the four-plex plan proved more complicated than they were anticipating Bob and Julie opted for a modified version of Green Hammer‘s Leapfrog design. They worked with Stephen Aiguier of Green Hammer, Eli Spevak of Orange Splot, and Mark Lakeman and Patrick Donaldson of Communitecture to design a 1900 square foot two-bedroom home with an attached 550 square foot Accessory Dwelling Unit over the garage. They decided to rent the ADU to generate revenue to help pay for the cost of constructing their home.
Green Hammer broke ground in July of 2008 and the Grangers moved in June of 2009.
The LEED Platinum house was built with sustainable materials (most of them locally-sourced) and energy efficient systems and appliances (including photovoltaic panels, a hydronic radiant floor system, and an air-to-air heat pump). The two mature walnut trees that came down to make room for the 6,000 gallon cistern were reclaimed for woodwork inside the house. “We kept the walnut on site,” Bob says, “just in a little different configuration.” The plan was forward-thinking, including consideration of aging-in-place. The Grangers even decided to frame in a doorway in the wall between the main house and the Accessory Dwelling Unit. The doorway is currently sheetrocked over and finished, but if there’s ever a desire to combine the ADU with the rest of the house the remodel will be simple. Since the wall is a firewall the Grangers report that they have acoustical privacy from their renters.
Although they’d never owned rental property before the Grangers have enjoyed a friendly rapport with all three sets of tenants and they feel the ADU was a great investment. “It’s a very cost effective and environmentally-friendly way to add housing capacity,” Bob explained, “but you have to be prepared to manage it appropriately.” Bob noted that when building a multi-unit project it’s important to keep a few things in mind. First, designing for multiple units requires additional planning for both construction and legal paperwork. Second, it’s necessary to pay careful attention to risk management and safety issues. Third, management of the rental requires ongoing attention as well as documentation of the revenue stream, not just for tax purposes but also for any future refinancing of the property. Although the initial appraisal didn’t take the ADU into account, the unit has added value to the house. Bob says, “If you’re building an ADU for rental purposes consider all the elements of renting so you can minimize costs and take advantage of benefits. Think of the whole value of the project. We bought a house and a rental property. The actual incremental cost of adding the ADU was not much more.”
The Grangers enjoy owning two properties and renting one out. They appreciate the tremendous amount of flexibility of deciding which unit to call home at any given time. They have considered the possibility of living abroad in Europe part time and renting out the main house, keeping the ADU as their homebase when they’re stateside.
For now it seems the Grangers are enjoying their new home and putting down roots in the neighborhood. On my way out, Bob showed me the veggies and chickens on the plot of land next door that the Grangers rent to an urban farmer. “Any last words of wisdom for people thinking about ADUs?”, I asked Bob in the sideways afternoon light. “The thing is to use the space you have appropriately,” Bob says. “In Portland urban farming and infill housing are good strategies.”