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“We brought together my capital and his skills and put that to use in the best way by taking a single-family home and dividing it into the two units. The city was pretty cool about doing the ADU and we also permitted it during the time when some of the fees were suspended.” – Amanda Punton
Amanda Punton has known about Accessory Dwelling Units for as long as she can remember:
“My mom had [an ADU] when I was a kid. She always rented out parts of the house but one was a separate unit. I also work for the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, so the whole concept of multi-level living was something I’d been familiar with for a long time.” –Amanda Punton
Efficient use of space and resources is important to Amanda’s partner Das Chapin, too. Before moving to Portland, Das Chapin spent five years living on a sailboat and working as the lone carpenter on Nantucket Island. It gave him an appreciation for quality craftspersonship and thoughtful use of materials.
“I am committed to using our resources intelligently, especially housing, so it was important for us to be able to undertake this type of project.” –Das Chapin
So when Amanda and Das decided to invest their savings in a piece of property, it made sense to purchase an old home and transform it into two units. They worked with real estate agent Brian Eustis as they looked for property with ADU or duplex potential. They soon found an 1899 home in the Buckman Neighborhood of Portland, OR. The basement already had a separate entrance, but no kitchen. Amanda figures it was used as living space – 2 bedrooms and a bathroom – and accessed from outside.
“We had a first floor walkout basement with good light and egress in the two bedrooms that existed, but a broken up dark unfinished basement for the rest. We never considered gutting, though there was plenty to demo, so I carefully stood in a corner for a while and tried to visualize sitting on the sofa or standing at the sink and how those common places would relate to other people and additional items. My years on the sailboat had a large influence on how I approached designing and building our ADU. I shared the sailboat for three of the five years with a former spouse and was familiar with what worked and didn’t work.” –Das Chapin
At some point a staircase had been built to join the upstairs and downstairs in a more formal way. Das suggested that they remove the staircase, which would provide full separation for the two units as well as free up additional space on both levels.
“Ripping out the staircase meant taking out something someone else had very intentionally put in, but it made the floor plan better.” –Amanda Punton
Amanda and Das decided to renovate the home in phases. They shared a house with a friend while they converted the basement of their new home into an ADU.
“We worked on the ground floor first and as soon as that was habitable we lived there while Das was working on the first phase of the upstairs. Then we rented out the ADU and moved upstairs. He’s now working on the second phase of the upstairs. It might not have penciled out for anyone else, but because of how we went about it, it worked for us.” –Amanda Punton
Amanda and Das considered renting the space as a short-term rental, but they decided they wanted the stability of a long-term rental. Nevertheless, Amanda is supportive of the initiative in RICAP 7 to allow ADUs to be rented out on a short-term basis.
“I think that will be a benefit for ADUs since it legitimizes that use of someone’s investment in building an ADU. To recoup the cost of the ADU investment through long-term rental we’re looking at a couple of years, but it’s hard to say because meanwhile we’re increasing the value of the house. We won’t know how much value we’ve added to the house until we do sell it. Right now the ADU covers the mortgage, not the taxes and insurance, but it’s pretty nice for the cash flow. Whether or not it works out to be the best business decision in the world, it is our home, and we like it.” – Amanda Punton
Since they renovated the whole house, some of the costs for converting the basement are tied up in the total cost. Amanda estimates that the cost of creating the ADU was approximately $25,000 above the expenses that would have been incurred anyway in the renovation. She estimates that Das probably contributed $25,000 worth of time to the project as well.
“Originally the idea was to get it fixed up and rent it out quickly, but I didn’t want to rent a place I wouldn’t want to live in myself, so we made sure that the feel of it is really comfortable, like a home. We like providing housing close-in. We love the way it all came together. It’s a really sweet unit. We rented out the basement by word-of-mouth. We see our tenants come and go. It’s just like any neighbor.” –Amanda Punton
Sustainability was a guiding principle in Das and Amanda’s basement to ADU conversion. All the lighting is LED and they included lots of insulation. They decided to not use any carpet and instead installed cork floors, bamboo floors, and seconds tile from the Pratt & Larson back room.
“The hot water heater is a standard electric unit, but because it’s smaller than typical and well-insulated, it’s efficient and the cost of heating water is lower. Our tenants’ electricity bill, including space heat, hot water, and range is between $30 and $50 per month.” –Amanda Punton
“We used local neighborhood shops for materials like lumber, flooring, and lighting. I had a wonderful time finding the tile for the kitchen full backsplash walls in an overstock room for ten percent of the retail cost. Beautiful hand made tile for four dollars a pound!” –Das Chapin
Providing a highly-functional living space was a high priority, too:
“The ADU has reasonable closets and the kitchen is workable. For the day-to-day stuff everything is fine, but there could be storage issues for people who had a lot of stuff.” –Amanda Punton
Amanda and Das have found that creating an ADU in their basement has encouraged them to be more intentional about their possessions as well.
“For us, giving up the basement for the ADU means we don’t have that space for storage. However, we split off the back corner of the ground floor because the ADU couldn’t be that big anyhow. It could only be 75% the size of the main house. So that back corner is where we have our bike room and storage.” –Amanda Punton
Amanda’s favorite feature of the ADU is the breakfast nook that Das built. Das explains that the nook creates a special place for dining without breaking up the larger space.
“Instead of full walls the suggestion of division has been popular since the sixties, but in a small space this needs to be well thought out. Lines of sight, sound, and light all create connection and comfort, but private space has to be considered, and not just close-the-door separate private space. Sometimes I really enjoy hearing my sweetheart tapping on the keyboard, but also appreciate the hint of distance that is made by being a tucked in breakfast nook around the corner just a few feet away, instead of the full view of an open layout.” –Das Chapin
Das explains that maximizing high-quality lighting was a big consideration because the ability to add windows was limited.
“I used new daylight LED recessed lighting to make it feel bright and spacious even though there are only two windows and a one-third lite door for natural daylight in the main shared space. It feels warm and cozy with everything just a few steps away, but also connects semi-private spaces so it can be a shared space without feeling compact and crowded.” –Das Chapin
Speaking of shared spaces, Amanda also appreciates how they were able to “borrow” their neighbors’ garden.
“Our lot is little, but our neighbors in the back have a nice big yard and are gardeners. The window looks out into their beautiful yard even though we have no yard.” –Amanda Punton
Amanda explains that during the construction process, they had two big challenges. The first was that, although they had two structural inspections, neither of the inspectors caught that an exterior wall had been removed when a back porch had been brought inside. Once they began the renovation they realized they’d need to add back support for the back part of the house. Their other challenge was not anticipating some of the requirements for ADUs.
“Doing the resilient channel sheetrock for the ceiling was a good idea, but we didn’t expect it. You have to hire an electrician for an ADU. You can’t do it yourself. So that added additional cost. It’s also a requirement to separate the heat system. It’s a good idea to have two zones, but it’s an additional cost.” –Amanda Punton
Das and Amanda were concerned noise would be an issue, but they haven’t had noise issues with their tenants.
“It’s something to be really considerate about when building an ADU. We might put carpet in which would wouldn’t otherwise do – to dampen the sound from the upper unit to the lower one.” –Amanda Punton
Since they started out in their ADU and moved upstairs into the primary dwelling, Das and Amanda know both spaces well and know they can feel at home in either of them.
“Philosophically, we liked the idea of us living in a smaller space. Living in the ADU we learned about how much it costs to heat it and pay for the electricity bills. It was actually quite affordable. Utilities didn’t exceed $100/month and during the summer it was between $35 and $50. Our utility bills in the ADU were for three people and did not benefit from the insulation and heat we now have in the upper unit. Also practically, looking into the future, it’s neat to have an ADU where you could live in either living space. For example, if we decide to travel we could rent out the big unit and have the smaller one as home base. We like the flexibility given things could change over time.” –Amanda Punton
So what advice does Amanda have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Figure out all the costs before starting into the project, but recognize the rewards can include benefits that can’t be accounted for monetarily.” –Amanda Punton
Any parting thoughts?
“I could go on and on, but basically we had fun, worked hard, and now we have wonderful people living in our ADU, increasing – in a really good way – the density of our neighborhood and helping us afford this great city.” –Das Chapin