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“It’s a privilege to have an ADU, to be able to build a small home in your yard, so we wanted to maximize that privilege. We were building a home, so we wanted to make sure it would be right for us. It has that home away from home kind of feeling.” –Satish
Satish learned about ADUs from a friend of his when he was living in Seattle. It seems to Satish that backyard cottages and basement apartments are practical ways to live in the city, where it makes sense to have efficient dwellings. When he bought his house in Portland a couple years ago, he began hearing more about ADUs.
“Portland is doing great in terms of awareness. There was plenty of information on AccessoryDwellings.org and opportunities to see ADUs on the ADU Tour. When I purchased the house we wanted a property with yard space. We wanted the option of adding an ADU.” –Satish
These days Satish and his partner Jeff have homes in Portland and San Francisco and split their time between the two cities. As Satish did online research and learned more about the housing flexibility created by ADUs, it occurred to them that they could create a landlord suite in the backyard of their Portland home. The plan was that they would rent out their primary home in Portland and he and Jeff could live in their ADU during the time they’re here. It would also be a guest house for their friends and family to enjoy when visiting Portland. (Check out their website about the ADU to learn more and book a stay! Portland is one of the few cities that doesn’t have owner occupancy requirements for ADUs, so owners can Own Two, Rent One, Own Two, Rent Both, or Double Rental Opportunities. For another example of a landlord suite, check out the Hammer & Hand ADU Profiles.)
“We love Portland and eventually plan to move into the main house and use the ADU as rental income, but for now the ADU is our second place when we are not in San Francisco. We saw that our 1912 home has a lot of character and style, but it’s not built for efficiency. It has lots of square footage, but only two bedrooms and one bath. We have a lovely kitchen in the main home but no dishwasher. We knew the home would need upgrades later on, so it made sense to have the ADU first.” –Satish
Their primary dwelling also has an unfinished basement, which they considered converting into an ADU.
“We hadn’t decided whether we would do a basement, garage, or backyard ADU. Everyone was advising against a basement ADU because of the challenges with basements: the foundation and the height restrictions. Also, in a basement, unless you can bring in some light, it’s dark. We were conscious of not using the yard space. We considered doing an attached addition, too, but for various reasons we chose the detached ADU. There were fewer surprises. It looks like a mini home and it provides two completely separate living spaces. That had some attraction for us.” –Satish
Satish’s online research continued as their design considerations developed:
“Even before I approached a contractor I did research. We discussed the ‘Must Haves’ and the ‘Nice to Haves.’ We went to AccessoryDwellings.org and we looked to see what the designs were. We recognized we were sure about some things. We wanted to create a comfortable little cottage, good for as many as 3-4 people. We wanted to have at least 1 ½ bathrooms and we wanted to maximize the sunlight. We also wanted to bring outdoors into the ADU. That’s why we have sliding doors, both downstairs and upstairs. We were looking for all these things in terms of how to incorporate the design we wanted: a decent kitchen with counter space, a storage space you could put stuff away, and a washer and dryer. We wanted to have all the conveniences, but in a more efficient space. Slowly we started realizing ‘We are packing a lot into a small place!’” –Satish
Satish did his homework when it came to selecting a builder, too. After much deliberation, he and Jeff decided to contract with Joe Robertson of Shelter Solutions.
Jeff and Satish also knew they wanted to make their ADU more energy-efficient than their primary dwelling. As they laid out the sustainability criteria for their ADU, they realized they were designing a certification-level home.
“We had low-flow toilets, heat recovery ventilation, and efficient windows. We had all these things and all the points add up. We realized we were one step away from Earth Advantage Certification, so we said ‘Let’s do that!’” –Satish
As they developed their energy-efficient and space-efficient design, they were very conscious of storage space. They tried to accommodate as much as possible. In the lower level they created a small coat closet. Upstairs they added a small utility space that accommodates a stacked washer and dryer.
“We were constantly thinking about how we can use every inch of the space. Jeff is fond of built-ins. We would have loved to do more built-ins, but we didn’t want to over do it. They add a nice touch, but we were looking at the flexibility and flow and so we agreed on only one small built-in at the top of the stairs.” –Satish
Their construction process started with demolishing their existing garage. This is when Satish and Jeff realized that even detached new construction can come with its share of surprises. When Shelter Solutions took down the garage they discovered that it had been built over a cesspool. The cesspool had to be remediated and covered, which added unexpected time and expense. Luckily, the rest of the construction process went fairly smoothly.
Instead, their biggest challenges were the same as they are for so many ADU owners, designers, and builders: time, money, and meeting the ADU requirements.
“Cost is one of the challenges. Time is one of the challenges. Joe was very efficient and organized. At times we were catching up with him. It was interesting because it was building a home from scratch. We hadn’t built a home from scratch before. We were also trying to do a lot of this work and make decisions remotely which added a bit of complexity to the project. In terms of finishes Joe had the whole process nailed down, no pun intended. He knew where to source materials. He educated us about what adds cost and what doesn’t. Sometimes we compared the process to birthing a child. Some things we could anticipate and some we could not. If we didn’t have Joe we surely would have had more surprises and delays. There were also some design elements that were difficult because of building an ADU within the rules. We wanted to maximize the function and flow, given height and setback restrictions.” –Satish
The main home is currently rented by a long-term tenant. Satish and Jeff have a comfortable relationship with him, but they all have their privacy and autonomy.
“He has access to the driveway and we park on the street when we’re there. While the ADU is in the backyard and within close proximity of the main house, we rarely hear or see him – and hopefully he would say the same thing about us.” –Satish
Satish’s least favorite thing about having an ADU is that it takes away backyard space, but they’ve decided it’s worth it for the efficiency of their compact backyard landlord suite. They’re especially pleased that they decided to add a couple special elements, namely their refrigerator drawers, their compact appliances, and their bathroom skylight.
“We put in refrigerator drawers, so we gained a lot of counter space. We’d recommend them for any homeowners looking to build in small spaces. We believe the function far outweighed the extra cost for the drawers. We have a 24” oven and 18” dishwasher, which gives some extra space to the pantry and drawers. We also hid the appliances with wooden fronts which gives a uniform feel. We were finding things on Pinterest and thinking ‘Hey, we could do this!’ If you do a lot of research you can find nice surprises on the web. We also love the skylight in the upstairs bathroom . Natural light is important to us and we are very happy with this added element – especially when getting going in the morning! We’re very happy with the final project. All that research paid off.” –Satish
If they had it to over again, there are just a few tweaks they’d make to their design. They might have made their downstairs powder room smaller. They might have come up with another way to use the dead space under the stairs. And they might have added transom windows over the sliding doors to add more light.
So what advice does Satish have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Every person’s situation is different. What we have done may not work for others. That’s why I wanted to contribute, so people can look. Go on the ADU Tour. Do your own research. Find a good contractor. Or better yet, a design-build company. It’s more soup to nuts. They know the restrictions so they can course correct easily. There are lots of resources available: ADU Tour, Pinterest, AccessoryDwellings.org, Houzz, etc. Identify the ‘Nice to Haves’ and ‘Must Haves’ early in the process. You can have everything, but it comes at a cost, so watch your budget. Also, know your tax implications. People told us to keep that in mind. Know what rules and changes are coming up.” –Satish