A one-stop source about accessory dwelling units, multigenerational homes, laneway houses, ADUs, granny flats, in-law units…
“The old garage was pretty worthless and I wanted to have a viable wood shop, but it didn’t seem right to rebuild it strictly as a garage space. We wanted something that would improve the neighborhood, too. So we tore down the old garage and built a wood shop with an ADU above it.” -Don Golden
In 2009, Don Golden and his wife Edith Casterline decided to build an ADU in their front yard. Their home is located about 100 feet from the street on their long, skinny lot in the Sunnyside neighborhood. So they used their savings and a home equity line of credit (HELOC) to tear down their old garage and fund construction of a new building. For Don and Edith, the new structure would serve three main functions. First, it would generate rental income which would offset their mortgage. Second, Don would build the wood shop he’d been wanting on the ground floor. Third, Don and Edith would improve their block by bringing activity back to the street.
“We wanted to figure out a way to make it part of the neighborhood, so we put a balcony on it to give it more of an open feel. It seems when you walk by, a lot of houses have their blinds closed. We wanted to create something upfront that interacts with the neighborhood.” -Don Golden
Since the ADU would be in their front yard, they wanted it to be charming. As Edith and Don designed the little house, they were inspired by the carriage houses in Portland’s older neighborhoods. Don says the biggest challenge in creating their ADU was that they were committed to preserving the existing landscaping. Don works in the construction industry, so he’d often seen a wide swath of plant destruction around a new build. He was determined to create a different situation on his own property.
“It was frustrating having the rhododendrons steal the hammer from my tool belt while I was coming down the ladder, but it was worth it. While we were working on the ADU, the camellias, rhododendrons, and dogwoods came into flower. It was magical seeing that happen and knowing that’s what we wanted to preserve.” -Don Golden
Don and Edith worked hard to help the ADU integrate with the other houses on the block. The mature landscaping helped the ADU look like it had been there all along. Don’s proud that the ADU has gone over well with the neighbors.
“I’ve been out in front gardening and I’ve heard people say ‘Wow! Look at that!’ It’s been 98% positive reinforcement. The fact that a lot of people see it and really appreciate the look has been rewarding.” -Don Golden
On the other hand, Don and Edith didn’t want their ADU to perfectly match their existing home.
“Our house would look different if we had a choice. The house doesn’t have any eaves so we had to get variances to build the ADU with a roof overhang and a metal roof. If the city had an “equivalent or better agreement” that would be nice. We couldn’t upgrade the whole house but we could build the ADU right the first time. I understand why the city has the rules; it’s so people don’t build a cheap structure to get renters in. But we wanted the ability to go above and beyond and we had to pay more to do that.” -Don Golden
Don’s other frustration was that Portland implemented the waiver of System Development Charges (SDCs) for ADUs right after Don and Edith built their ADU.
“We were basically the last people through the gate who got stuck paying the SDCs. That was frustrating. Also, we’re not in a conforming situation and the city rules were meant for a standard size lot and a standard configuration of house. Since we had a different situation we got stuck with variance fees, too.” -Don Golden
Understanding the reasons behind the rules helped Don put these frustrations into perspective. He appreciates that Portland is a city that has a process for creating ADUs.
“Having city planners who are on the ball is really important. The City of Portland gets it. Hopefully other cities will see what’s happening with ADUs here and they’ll get it, too.” -Don Golden
When Don built the ADU with the help of subcontractors, he integrated many sustainability features, including a ductless mini-split heat pump, triple-glazed windows, and blown-in fiberglass insulation. He was also able to reuse materials from the old garage for some of the finish work. He’s most proud of the gateway and bike shelter he built, which creates a courtyard, and provides privacy between the homes. Don says if he had it to do over again he would have hired a framing crew that was familiar with advanced framing for better energy efficiency. He’s glad he integrated solar into the project, too.
“I designed it with a south facing metal roof for solar panels. The solar feeds both the ADU and primary residence. It doesn’t take care of us year round, but six months out of the year we don’t pay electric.” -Don Golden
These days Don and Edith live in the primary dwelling and rent their front yard ADU to tenants. Don notes that because of the set up of their lot, their home is actually closer to five other houses than it is to their ADU. Don says he’s been pleasantly surprised that his ADU helped him get to know his neighbors better. He’s also grateful that he and his wife get along so well with their tenants.
“We hang out socially. They’re coming to dinner tomorrow night.” -Don Golden
The tenants have a little patch they can garden and this spring they plan to raise chicks in the unoccupied chicken coop. Don likes that the ADU is a good use of the space they had. He also appreciates the additional income and the fact that the building serves multiple purposes. In fact, there’s not much Don dislikes about having an ADU.
“Maybe it shades out part of our yard, but if that’s the worst thing I can say about it, there’s really not much negative. We don’t want to move in the next 60 years! Would we really want to move to another house that didn’t pay half our mortgage? It would be really hard to leave.” -Don Golden
So what advice does Don have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Try to look holistically at how it will affect your house. You can usually cram in another building, but to make it make sense can be difficult. The key is figuring out how it can be beneficial to your neighborhood, yourself, and the flow of the property.” -Don Golden