Accessory Dwellings

A one-stop source about accessory dwelling units, multigenerational homes, laneway houses, ADUs, granny flats, in-law units…

Can ADUs solve our McMansion problem? Or maybe the other way around?

Accessory dwellings don’t often get a thorough discussion in the media these days, because most writers (and most Americans) are still getting used to the basic idea of them.   We’re all still recovering from four or five decades of life where housing was utterly dominated by the ideal of a nuclear family, where it seemed strange or wrong if your grandma or your best friend lived with you.

image of spooky mcmansion

"McMansion Gothic" by Nathan Rein (creative commons)

Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, challenge that ideal as way too limiting, and stories like mine show how ADUs can change lives on a local, personal basis.   But what about the bigger scale? Can ADUs do anything to fix the plague of wasteful, oversized housing that we’ve already got?  Especially given that in the next three decades the nation will need to create millions more housing units that are more liveable and green?

One of the more interesting writeups about ADUs I’ve seen is Mike Litchfield’s thoughts on McMansions as possible conversion candidates.  A preposterously sized McMansion might easily be converted to a normal large house plus a decent “internal” ADU.   In concept it could house twice the number of households, with little change in environmental footprint.

It sounds like a no-brainer at first, but then there are the second thoughts.   Most McMansions are in areas poorly served by transit, etc, so the improvement in environmental footprint per household might not be as great as you’d think.  And the construction quality of some of those places was awful–might they survive a major renovation?

Still, there’s clearly some potential there.  Especially with places like the one below, which yes, actually has a moat.   Might make a great community lap pool…

picture of faux-medieval mcmansion, with moat

photo by Doug Downen (Creative Commons)

About Martin John Brown

Martin John Brown is a researcher and consultant on environment and housing. Find out more at


This entry was posted on November 10, 2011 by in Policy & Trends and tagged , , , .
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