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Lissa & Matt’s ADU: Planning for Our Sons’ Future

Lissa & Matt's ADU

Lissa & Matt’s ADU

Quick Facts

  • Setting: urban
  • Neighborhood: Sellwood
  • Type: above a new detached garage
  • Use: rental
  • Square Footage: 375
  • Year Built: 2011
  • Owners: Lissa & Matt
  • Designer: John Cava of JM Cava Architect
  • Builder: Ethan Beck Homes
  • Total Cost: $30,000

“By the time our special needs son may want to live in the ADU, it will be paid for several times! He may never need this, but it gives peace of mind.” -Lissa

Lissa ADU Behind House

Lissa & Matt’s ADU matches the main house

Lissa and Matt first learned about ADUs through their architect, John Cava of JM Cava Architect. Matt and Lissa were building a new home and realized that creating an apartment over the garage was a good opportunity to add extra living space. The ADU could generate rental income and create flexibility as their housing needs changed. For now the ADU serves as a rental, but it could eventually be a home for their special needs son if needed. Lissa liked the idea of having family close by, while providing an independent living arrangement.

“When we thought of our son, we just thought of an apartment that would meet his needs as an adult. Now that our kiddo is a couple years older, I am far more confident that he will not need to stick so close to home. It will be there if he needs it – or if our other son needs it!” -Lissa
the deck of Lissa & Matt's ADU provides a bird's eye view

the deck of Lissa & Matt’s ADU provides a bird’s eye view

Lissa and Matt funded construction of their home, garage, and ADU through a construction loan, which was then converted to a mortgage on the property. As they worked with John to develop the design for an apartment over the new garage, they had two primary considerations. First, they wanted to develop a smart design which would attract – and keep – good tenants. Second, they wanted to give both the ADU and the primary dwelling privacy. Matt and Lissa’s biggest challenge was whether to spend additional funds.

“We included all appliances and a washer and dryer to attract good, stable, long-term tenants who that sort of thing would be a bonus for. I know that I would never want to rent where I could not do laundry and where there was not a functional and clean kitchen. We also include all utilities so that there are no extraneous bills.  This makes it simpler.” -Lissa

Lissa and Matt’s ADU features a ductless mini-split heat pump, operable windows with U-values below 0.3, and a high-efficiency electric water heater. The insulation levels are also higher than required by code, with R-23 blown-in fiberglass insulation in the walls and R-38 in the floors and vaulted ceiling.

“Ethan is amazing! I know a lot of people have frustrations with their contractors, but I have nothing but good things to say about Ethan. We’ll be lifelong friends.” -Lissa

Lissa ADU Kitchen

kitchen of Lissa & Matt’s ADU with white flooring and light cabinets

For Lissa, the highlight of her ADU build was choosing good materials to make the space open and inviting. She chose light materials like light alder cabinets and white Pergo to enhance the space in the ADU. Lissa selected nice finishes because she determined that the ADU was a smart investment in her family’s financial and housing security.

“I think everyone should have an ADU! We considered how long it would take renting at a certain price point to make back the extra money spent building the ADU and decided it was worth it. I am very happy we made the initial investment and are earning it back with a good tenant.”

Lissa ADU Laundry

Lissa included amenities in her ADU to attract great tenants

Lissa’s favorite aspect of her ADU is that she and her designer John were successful in creating a second home while providing privacy for the residents of both dwellings. The ADU also affords privacy to the neighbors since it is set back on the property. Lissa appreciates that she has additional flexible space on her property and additional income coming in each month.

So what’s Lissa’s advice for homeowners considering developing an ADU on their property?

“Create a nice quality space to ensure a good long-term tenant and be an extra good landlord. Include the utilities to simplify everything.” -Lissa Kaufman

About linamenard

Hi. My name is Lina Menard and I'm a small house dweller, designer, blogger, and builder. I'm currently collecting ADU Case Studies for Through my company Niche Consulting LLC, I help people design and build the home (and life) of their dreams! I also tell my stories about simple living in small spaces - like a travel trailer, a yurt, a backyard cottage, and tiny houses on wheels - at Niche News.

12 comments on “Lissa & Matt’s ADU: Planning for Our Sons’ Future

  1. Martin John Brown
    February 1, 2014

    Looks like a well-though out project. One question: the cost listed here ($30K) is considerably cheaper many other ADUs I’ve heard about, especially detached ones. Can you shed any light on how it was done at this price ? Or how the price was calculated? Thanks!

    • linamenard
      February 1, 2014

      Martin, thanks for your comment! Lissa & Matt’s ADU was constructed above a new detached garage at the same time as the house was being constructed. The house and garage were being built anyway, so it was very cost-effective to add additional living space by building an apartment over the garage. As you’ve seen, it is often considerably more expensive to build a brand new detached ADU or to convert an existing space, but this was basically an addition to the garage. The apartment is also quite small at only 375 square feet, so that helped keep costs low as well.

      • Martin John Brown
        February 3, 2014

        So in other words, the $30K is the additional cost above what just the garage would have cost?

  2. linamenard
    February 3, 2014

    Yes, Martin, the $30,000 was the cost of adding the ADU to the plan instead of just building the garage.

  3. MJ
    February 5, 2014

    How does a tall ADU like this get around Portland’s maximum ADU height rules? Asking because I have an existing garage, and would like to keep the garage and put an ADU on top of it.

    • linamenard
      February 5, 2014

      Here’s the response from the builder, Ethan Beck of Ethan Beck Homes:

      It is not over 18′ to the mid-point of the roof but is built close to 18′. We dropped the top plate of the upper floor to 7′ and then vaulted the ceiling for greater volume. The end result was a nice open space. The ceiling of the garage is 8′. It is also important to note that the height is measured from the highest grade. The highest grade of this structure is in the rear and might not be visible from the photos. The garage door uses a low clearance track. The garage door is just under 7′ tall.

      I hope this helps.



  4. Susan
    March 2, 2014

    Hi Lisa, were you directly involved in this project or just commenting on it? Thanks!

    • linamenard
      March 2, 2014

      Dear Susan,

      Lissa is the homeowner so she was, of course, directly involved in this project. If you meant to type Lina, no, I was not directly involved in this project. I interviewed the owner and builder to write up the ADU Case Study and I asked them for clarification in order to answer the questions above.


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