Accessory Dwellings

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Heidi Rose’s ADU: A Home for My Sister

Heidi Rose's ADU

Heidi Rose’s ADU

Quick Facts

  • Setting: urban
  • Neighborhood: Alameda, Portland, OR
  • Type: detached stand-alone unit
  • Use: long-term rental
  • Square Footage: 800
  • Year Built: 2004
  • Owner: Heidi Rose
  • Designer: Heidi Rose
  • Shell Construction: Armando Garcia
  • Finish Work: Heidi Rose & Sister
  • Total Cost: $95,000

“My sister was the inspiration. I told her ‘I’m going to build you a place to live.’ She’s my twin sister, so maybe our relationship is a little extra close. I wanted to make it the best possible space for her in only 800 square feet.” -Heidi Rose

Heidi Rose's ADU Farm Sink

Heidi Rose’s ADU Farm Sink

Heidi Rose first learned about ADUs because she was determined to figure out how she could build a home for her sister. Her twin sister was living in Seattle with her two kids and going through a divorce, so Heidi went to the City of Portland’s permitting office to explore alternative housing options. Heidi discovered that in the city of Portland an accessory dwelling unit up to 800 square feet is allowed by right on a single-family lot in most neighborhoods.

She figured out that if she demolished her existing 2-car garage she would have enough room in the backyard to create an 800 square foot ADU. Heidi and her husband took out a home equity line of credit (HELOC) on their primary dwelling in order to fund construction of the ADU and Heidi’s sister chipped in, too.

Heidi had no design background so her learning curve was steep as she began exploring the possible permutations of placing a small house in the backyard.

“I had hand-drawn plans. I probably went through 60 drafts. When I started, I didn’t know you couldn’t put a window on the corner. I learned a lot. It was frustrating, but every moment I spent was worth it. The engineering was beyond me, so I hired an engineer.” -Heidi Rose

The framers kept asking “Why are you only putting in one bedroom?” Heidi explained that they didn’t have the space for more than one bedroom. So she made the bedroom as large as possible. She also made a Harry Potter room under the stairs so the kids could have a little place their own size.

Heidi Rose's ADU Loft Bedroom

Heidi Rose’s ADU Loft Bedroom

“People have told me I did the design so well because I knew how my sister wanted to live. Practicality is just as important as design. Having a laundry room and a second bathroom were more important than two small bedrooms. I think a lot of the framers weren’t doing the laundry at home! Also, a lot of architects are men who aren’t doing the daily chores of taking care of the house. Whoever is doing the daily chores of the house should be designing the house. ” -Heidi Rose

Heidi and her sister were committed to keeping their costs low, so they decided to do as much of the construction on their own as possible.  

Heidi Rose's ADU Laundry Room/Second Bath

Heidi Rose’s ADU Laundry Room/Second Bath

“A lot of contractors want to do all the work, but a friend knew contractor, Armando Garcia, who was willing to help homeowners who want to do some of work themselves to save money. I really liked working with him and my sister and I did the finish work together.” -Heidi Rose

Heidi’s biggest challenge was the unforeseen expenses. Heidi and her husband constructed their ADU in 2006, before the System Development Charge waiver went into effect, so their expenses were higher than they would be if they built the ADU today. (Fortunately, the SDC waiver has been extended though July 2016.)

“We were charged just to demo the garage. I added up the costs because I contested the property taxes. You have to do things the right way and pull permits but you are then penalized. My taxes are outrageous. That’s the one downside.” -Heidi Rose

Heidi also went through a period of frustration with regard to Portland’s design guideline that a new-construction ADU match the existing house.

Heidi Rose's ADU has cedar shingles to match the main house

Heidi Rose’s ADU has cedar shingles to match the main house

“I wanted to put a different kind of siding on the ADU but I was told it had to be the same. I have cedar shake siding so the ADU had to have cedar shake siding. It cost $11,000 just to purchase the shingles and have them installed! But in hindsight I’m glad I had people overseeing what I was doing. It’s probably a good rule because it’s cohesive and it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.” -Heidi Rose

For Heidi the highlight of the build was finishing the kitchen in the ADU. Her sister loves to cook so they installed a big gourmet kitchen with a Viking range.

“I liked it so much I remodeled my own kitchen. My husband jokes that Ikea kitchens are like adult Legos. Make sure you get them during the twice a year kitchen sale!” -Heidi Rose

Heidi Rose's ADU Bathroom

Heidi Rose’s ADU Bathroom

While Heidi and her husband lived in the primary dwelling with their two kids and her sister lived in the ADU with her two kids, the cousins were back and forth between the two houses. Eventually the ADU got too small for Heidi’s sister and her kids so she purchased a house in Heidi’s neighborhood. Heidi drives her niece to school everyday so the sisters still interact on a daily basis.

Heidi’s ADU is now rented to a tenant and the dynamic is quite different than it used to be:

“We don’t really run into each other very much. It’s definitely a separate home. It’s great though because if we’re gone we have someone to get the mail. My husband and I look at it as a good investment. Now that my oldest is in a private art college, which is very expensive, it’s nice to have that rental income.” -Heidi Rose

So far Heidi and her husband haven’t had to advertise their ADU because the last three renters have all worked together. When one moved out he referred his colleagues.

Heidi Rose's ADU Harry Potter Room

Heidi Rose’s ADU Harry Potter Room

“I’ve been surprised how many people have stopped to ask about it, or knocked on my door even. I’ve had three people in the last couple years asking ‘Is that available for rent? Can you take my name and let me know if it becomes available?’ People really like the design and I’ve even had a couple people ask me for my plans. If people want to purchase plans they can contact me, as long as they don’t mind hand-drawn plans!” -Heidi Rose

Heidi and her husband figure eventually their parents might move into the ADU or they might move in themselves. Heidi says her husband deserves lots of credit for their ADU and says there is no way she and her sister could have created the ADU without his help and support.

“It’s a big undertaking and if a couple is doing it both have to be totally on board. We love our ADU and don’t have any plans to sell. But I do worry about resale. I don’t know if people look at having an extra space to take care of as positive. We’ll have to see when that time comes up.” -Heidi Rose

So what’s Heidi’s advice for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?

“Don’t feel rushed. Really take your time. Talk to people. Look at books. Research it. I wouldn’t just jump in and have someone design it for you. Think about what you really want – and get what you want – because it’s not going to be cheap.” -Heidi Rose

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.

7 comments on “Heidi Rose’s ADU: A Home for My Sister

  1. Martin John Brown
    May 16, 2014

    Very interesting story with a lot to learn from! The comment about the people doing the maintenance being the designers is great — it reminds me of this fun book called MAKE YOUR HOUSE DO THE HOUSEWORK. Also, the history of changing uses is a good reminder to people creating ADUs — consider privacy issues carefully, because it might not always be a relative (or a stranger) living nearby. The one big bedroom and two bathrooms is intriguing… any chance of a floor plan?

  2. linamenard
    May 22, 2014

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for your comments, the book recommendation, and your reminder about considering privacy issues carefully. As noted in the case study, Heidi has had many requests for her design and you can contact her if you’d like to purchase the floor plan.


    • Martin John Brown
      May 24, 2014

      oops, sorry I missed the detail about the plans being for sale. I should read more carefully. 🙂

  3. martha vail
    June 9, 2015

    What a splendid living space! As long as compatible people live close by, all would be good. Cudos to your good taste and sense of design and style. Martha

    • linamenard
      June 9, 2015

      Dear Martha,

      Thanks for sharing your compliments with Heidi! It seems like a great set up for family (and especially twins!), doesn’t it?


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