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“My ADU adds flexibility to my future plans. I could rent it or rent the main house.” – Jill
Jill has been a landlord since 1996, so she was already familiar with ADUs when it occurred to her to create one on her property. She and her former partner had been living in a four-bedroom house in the Concordia neighborhood of Portland, OR. When they split up in 2007, Jill moved into one of her rentals while she fixed it up for the next tenants. Jill found she didn’t need much space to be comfortable, so she began looking for a small space of her own.
“I wanted a small space for a number of reasons. I wanted to lighten up and live more simply. I was also injured when I was hit by a car so I wanted to have less to take care of.” -Jill
Since Jill and her ex were sharing care of an elderly dog, she was often at her old house, which she still owned. One day she realized she could convert her existing garage into an ADU where she could live. This would enable her to continue renting the primary dwelling to her ex for the time being and to someone else later. She was interested in creating flexibility as her housing needs changed and she wanted to take advantage of Portland’s waiver of System Development Charges (SDCs) for ADUs, which was set to expire at the end of 2013. (Fortunately, the SDC waiver has been extended though July 2016.)
Jill hired Anthony Stoppiello of Stoppiello Architecture for the design of her ADU because she was committed to creating an environmentally-friendly home.
“He’s a very good architect. From the little I’ve picked up as a landlord I knew basically how I wanted this place to be, but I didn’t have the confidence to decide exactly how I wanted it to be.” -Jill
As she planned an ADU that would suit her needs, Jill’s major design considerations were where to put the kitchen and bathroom. She explains that she put her kitchen, bathroom, and closet along the fire wall where she couldn’t put any windows.
“I wanted the great room to be as large as possible because it would be my living room, dining room, and bedroom. I needed a closet, a bathroom, and a kitchen, so I had to figure out how to put those in the smallest area possible and still have them functional.” -Jill
During her ADU build, Jill’s biggest challenges were related to zoning. She had a brief scare when the inspector questioned the property line because of the location of the neighbors’ fence. Fortunately, this didn’t turn out to be a problem. She was also told that her ADU would need to match the primary dwelling, even though the garage did not match the house.
“A planner was unfamiliar with ADUs and told me the eaves had to be the same length as those on the house. Also, she said the roof pitch had to be the same. By reading the code for ADUs myself I figured out this was unnecessary.” -Jill
When she read the code, Jill discovered that when an existing detached accessory structure (such as a garage) is converted to an ADU, it is not required to match the primary dwelling in exterior finish materials, roof pitch, trim, windows, and eaves. However, if she had added square footage to her garage when she converted it, she would have been required to match the design standards for new construction of detached ADUs and it would need to match. (For an example of a garage to ADU conversion that added square footage, see Susan Moray’s ADU: Updating History in Ladd’s. For more information about the conversion of existing detached accessory structures, see Portland Zoning Code’s ADU requirements, section 33.205.030.D.4).
“What’s surprised me most about having an ADU is that it’s in the back of the property, away from the street, so it doesn’t feel urban.” – Jill
As Ray Wilson of Ray Wilson Construction built out Jill’s ADU, he implemented the sustainability features Jill and her architect had designed into the ADU. Jill’s little home includes salvaged materials, low-flow fixtures, three salvaged doors, no dryer, solar panels, a ductless heat pump, a Rheem water heater, rain garden, skylights, and Marmoleum floors. She also installed grid-tied solar panels on the ADU which cover electricity for her lights, appliances, and heating. For the past two years she has produced more electricity than she had used over the course of the year, so her ADU is net zero electricity.
“My favorite features are the small size and the natural light from the skylights and windows. My great room has three large windows and a glass door. ” -Jill
For Jill the highlight of the ADU build was having the painting completed because it meant her ADU was ready for her to move in. She’s been enjoying having a little home of her own for the past couple of years. Jill’s beloved pet has recently passed away and her ex has made plans to move on, so Jill will be renting out her primary dwelling.
“At this point I plan to stay in the ADU and rent out the main house. Possibly in a couple years my goddaughter would come to live with me. If that’s the case I’d move into the primary house and we’d rent out the ADU, but that would be a couple years out.” -Jill
Jill did not track her expenses during the build, so she is not sure how much her ADU cost all together. If she had it to do over again she would keep track of her expenses. She would also have planned ahead to run the wiring and refrigerant lines for her ductless heat pump through the walls instead of on the exterior of her home.
“I’ve been pleased with my Daikin ductless heat pump. However, I didn’t really think about how it would look until the walls were up. If I had thought about installing it when the walls hadn’t been closed up yet, I could have gotten the cable that goes between the heat pump and the unit inside inside the walls so there wouldn’t be that big vinyl L-shaped thing on the outside of my house!” -Jill
So what advice does Jill have for homeowners considering building and ADU on their property?
“The best advice is to plan carefully and not get too concerned. Think it out and do what makes sense.” – Jill
Great writeup, Lina. I think this story has some great lessons for other homeowners that are thinking of building an ADU.
First, ADUs can provide helpful flexibility for the owner when life-changing events happen for better or worse: divorces, marriages, kids, etc.
Second, like Jill discovered, the inspectors AREN’T always completely familiar with the letter of the most current code, so it pays to look it up yourself.
Third, though the costs weren’t kept track of, my guess is that this was a less expensive project than others we’ve seen on this site, especially if the solar panels aren’t included. (Though it is just awesome the place is net positive, especially given her heat system is powered by electricity.) Though ADU projects are rarely going to be cheap, since they involve major systems and structural work, it’s nice to see something on our site where the budget looks manageable.
Thanks for Jill for sharing her experience.
Thanks for your comment and for pointing out that ADUs provide flexibility to navigate life changes – and sometimes surprises. I, too, am grateful to Jill for sharing her story!
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