A one-stop source about accessory dwelling units, multigenerational homes, laneway houses, ADUs, granny flats, in-law units…
Paz Pozarycki started building ADUs in Portland seventeen years ago with his brothers. Since then he’s built dozens of ADUs, including a handful of detached ADUs and many basements and attics conversions. (You can learn more about his background with ADUs in Paz Pozarycki’s ADU: Taking it Down a Notch.)
Meanwhile, Katharina Grad Steinmeyer was looking for a way to combine all her professional interests. With a background in design and gerontology she had a keen interest in universal design and housing options that allow people to age-in-place. (See how ADUs Work for Multigenerational Families.) Her therapeutic horticulture design background also compelled her to explore supportive and beautiful outdoor and indoor living spaces. Originally from Germany, where apartment living is more common, Katharina was hoping to find a better way for people to create communities for themselves at lower cost.
“Then I learned about ADUs, which are perfect for all of the above. And the very first one was built for me in my own basement. As we were building mine, I realized I could actually apply all these things and earn money and help people achieve those goals. Paz came in with experience on the construction side. We have a perfect combination of skills and experiences.” –Katharina Grad Steinmeyer
Katharina and Paz teamed up to create UDU Design, a design-build company devoted to creating accessory dwelling units (ADUs) – or Urban Dwelling Units (UDUs) as Katharina and Paz call their own brand of ADUs.
“I learned from building one for myself that it’s a great way to create extra income off your own property. Here many people have houses rather than apartments, so ADUs are kind of a logical step.” –Katharina Grad Steinmeyer
As they work with clients to design an ADU, the clients’ needs and goals are the first priority.
“We try to spend a lot of time on goals because many people don’t know what their goals are. If they’re not sure we try to get them focused so we can design to specific goals. Design is very difficult without the practicality of knowing what clients really want to do.” –Paz Pozarycki
“Often we have to slow our clients down a little bit. We’ll say ‘You gave me seven reasons you want to do this, and they’re all good reasons, but they require different considerations. What are the chances your dad is going to want to leave sunny Hawaii to move into your basement in Portland? Maybe converting your above-ground garage into a lovely cottage is a more appropriate solution for him.’ That’s a different angle for us from other companies. I go at it from a psychological standpoint and with a background in aging-in-place. If it’s for your parents, how do you want it to feel and how can we design this living space to their specific needs and likes? Meanwhile, Paz comes at it from ‘What is the best design and function within budget, and how do we achieve the quickest return on investment?’” –Katharina Grad Steinmeyer
Lately one of UDU Design’s greatest challenges is not knowing what to tell their clients about the possible tax implications of building a detached ADU. (For more information about the recent tax changes in Multnomah County, read Kol Peterson’s post: The Death of Detached ADUs in Portland and What to Do About It.)
“It would be nice to continue the incentives on the local level. Multnomah County needs to step up and not double your taxes for following through with the incentives put in place by The City of Portland to encourage density. That’s one of the things we struggle with. People want to know how is this going to impact their property taxes. We have recently discovered – like many others who have built detached ADUs recently – that Multnomah County has increased taxes in exorbitant amounts for the existing house, land, and the ADU. It’s hard to project exactly what the taxes are going to be.” –Paz Pozarycki
Speaking of sticker shock, like several other design-build companies, UDU Design finds that clients usually backpedal from their initial request for sustainable design and construction once they see the price tag.
“In our experience, most people assume sustainability, but they are mainly concerned about budget vs building green. We haven’t had a single client who wants a full green build out. They want to know ‘How inexpensively can I do it?’” –Katharina Grad Steinmeyer
Katharina and Paz have found the easiest sustainability sell is energy-efficiency. Many clients recognize the long-term savings of upfront energy-efficiency upgrades such as better insulation. UDU Design often installs on-demand water heaters and heat pumps for the same reason. Katharina is especially fond of Roxul, a mineral wool insulation, because it’s fire rated, it can get wet, and it has great acoustical properties. They often use mineral wool insulation for basement conversions because it helps stop sound transfer between the floors. However, Paz points out that it is more challenging to make a basement or garage conversion energy-efficient because they’re working with an existing structure. The other sustainable building strategy they employ is the incorporation of salvaged materials when possible.
“We try to use salvage and reused building materials. I’ve done a lot of ADU projects in 17 years and in some of them up to 30% of the materials are recycled. The ReBuilding Center often inspires our designs. We’ve done well there with doors and tiles. It’s more difficult doing this for all of our clients because it’s so time consuming. It’s too expensive for them to pay us to look for materials for them. Sometimes we just buy something and store it and if we can use it in a project later we do.” –Paz Pozarycki
When it comes to small space design tricks, both Katharina and Paz put pocket doors at the top of the list because they save space by eliminating door swings. Katharina also likes to integrate the kitchen into the main living area, playing it up rather than hiding it. She treats it like a piece of built-in furniture. However, her favorite design trick for basement ADUs is borrowing light.
“Because most of our projects are in the basement, it’s all about light and cross ventilation. As I work through the design and flow of the space, I try as much as possible to allow light in from every angle. We put in little transom lights high on the wall with windows or glass block. We use lots of glass. Glass doors. Big windows. In one ADU a transom allowed us to borrow light from the bedroom for the living room.” –Katharina Grad Steinmeyer
Paz, who has a background in lighting design, notes that two other design tricks he loves are using shelving rather than upper cabinets to keep the space more open and using sconces rather than can lights because they illuminate the ceiling and reduce sound transfer between floors. Katharina notes that if light is well-understood, it can create dramatic environments.
“We put in an almost-black kitchen with white quartz countertops and ceramic floor tile that looks like wood. There’s darkish carpet, too, but all the walls are white. It’s so small, but it’s elegant. In our climate you need to be careful with muted colors because it can bring you down. Crisp color contrast can energize a small living space.” –Katharina Grad Steinmeyer
When it comes to storage solutions, Katharina and Paz point to basements, garages, and sheds. But they also have several go-to tricks for sneaking storage into an ADU, such as adding nooks in the shower and built-in shelving, cubbies, and bookcases in any available space. (See more ADU Storage Solutions.) They also encourage people to consider what they really need. Paz says, only half-jokingly:
“We tell people to sell everything and simplify their lives. Get rid of your stuff so you don’t need to store it. Consider every piece of furniture. If it doesn’t have a function it really doesn’t belong.” –Paz Pozarycki
On the other hand, simple doesn’t mean Spartan:
“We believe in luxurious bathrooms in a small space. If you’re renting it out and you have a nice big walk-in shower with the little built-in cubbies and this cool integrated kitchen they don’t really realize how small the rest of the space is.” –Paz Pozarycki
For Paz and Katharina, the biggest challenge they face in creating an ADU is the changing regulatory landscape. This is compounded by the discrepancies in the way the permit counter staff and inspectors interpret various regulations.
“The City of Portland is not at all consistent with what they require. We go in knowing how to do something because we just built three of them that way and all of a sudden it’s not acceptable. They’ve had to hire new people and they often are not up to speed with the ADU codes yet. I tell them ‘If you see you’ve approved this material, why are you denying it now? I’m the same company, the same person. I’ve done this before and you’ve approved it.’ Then they want a spec sheet printed off. They insist on more engineering and before you know it, it’s thousands of dollars more in the permitting phase alone! It depends on who you get for the permit and who you get to do the inspection. It’s totally unpredictable. The city is making it more expensive and more difficult for us. Getting some consistency downtown would be so helpful!” –Paz Pozarycki
For Katharina, the highlight of designing an ADU is the challenge of converting an existing space into a higher and better use that will provide value to the client.
“We know it will have an immediate positive impact. An ADU is more than additional living space. It may cost $80-100,000 or more but it doesn’t take long to recoup the cost and it improves the value of the property.” –Katharina Grad Steinmeyer
For Paz, the highlight of building ADUs is that ADUs are practical and bring much-needed housing to the city:
“ADUs are practical in so many ways. This is really helpful for our clients and the community. Whether it’s creating income so they can remain in Portland or because they have family moving in, it helps the city of Portland. We need units. We need more places to live.” –Paz Pozarycki
So what advice does Paz have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Be clear on your goals. Why are you building it? Remember, if it’s detached, you’re building a house. So be realistic about your costs and time. Think about the dirt, noise, and distraction. If you have a home business, don’t expect you won’t be disturbed.” –Paz Pozarycki
And what’s Katharina’s advice?
“Planning and design. If you spend 2-3 months just on planning and design that’s a smart thing and will save you money during construction. If you change your mind while building it tends to get more expensive. You need to figure out what can be done on your property and how to maximize your space, while staying within your budget. We lead our clients through every step to bring their dreams and goals to reality. Hence, our favorite tag line: ‘What would U DU in your UDU?’” –Katharina Grad Steinmeyer