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“ADU’s are an excellent way to add living space, to care for a loved one, or rent the space out to help offset the cost of construction. One current trend is for homeowners wanting to downsize is to build an ADU for themselves and then rent out the main house. I listen to my client’s needs and desires and then provide “conceptual” drawings for them to review. I work closely with them to ensure that what we ultimately end up with meets their specific needs. And, I absolutely love what I do.” – Ed Spencer
Ed Spencer, owner of Endpoint Design Inc, has been designing custom homes, whole house renovations, and additions for the past 24 years. Along the way he’s designed a couple of permitted ADUs and many more practical ADUs. One of his first was a home office that could easily function as a separate living space.
“I did one on Siskiyou Street in Portland. It was permitted as stand-alone garage office because they didn’t want to do an ADU. Basically it’s a living space with a garage below. I did another one recently on same plan. We altered that original plan to suit the site and this one has been permitted as an ADU. I have a new home on the drawing board in the John’s Landing area that will have an ADU in the basement and I have another one just completed near SW Vermont Street that is a garage conversion and addition.” – Ed Spencer
Since designing his first ADU, Ed has continued to design them, usually at his client’s request. However, Ed explains that he often suggests an ADU as an option to his clients as well, especially if they describe wanting a space that is similar to an ADU.
“When a client comes to me, I may suggest an ADU but I’ll be a little more careful in the future with the uncertainty regarding taxes in Multnomah County. I say ‘Have you ever considered this?’ They say ‘That sounds like a really good idea! How does that work?’ Then I get lots of questions about how we can do it following the rules.” – Ed Spencer
As he works with a client, Ed first gets a sense of the scope of the project. He’s learned that many of his clients appreciate the flexibility that ADUs create, but they haven’t considered the practicalities. They may, for instance, think it’s a nice idea to build an ADU to rent to a student, but they may not have considered that many students are on limited budgets and might not be able to afford market rents. So Ed gets them thinking by asking a series of questions.
“If it’s conversion of a garage, you have a set thing you have to deal with. Maybe you can add on to it. I am very diligent about initial research. Usually a garage is too close to the property line and you have to go through a land-use process. I inform the client that the city currently charges about a two thousand dollar fee for the review which typically takes two months. I’m down at the Development Services Center a lot so usually I can tell if a land use submittal is likely to be approved. There are, however no guarantees with the City. – Ed Spencer
Ed says that sustainability is often an economical choice. He’ll ask his clients if they’d like to use any salvaged materials, how far they want to go with insulation, and whether they want a rain screen. He also helps them understand the implications of each decision on their budget.
“It’s all driven by economics and what the client can afford. Unless they have unlimited funds those usually are the first things that will go. That being said, I will insulate to code or better and use advanced framing techniques. All of the contractors I work with use low-VOC, good quality materials. Often times it is a matter of expediency and budget. If a contractor has to remove existing siding from one area to move it to another he’ll have 15% drop or breakage, and along with his time it usually ends up costing quite a bit more. However, on a higher end carriage house we used reclaimed bleacher seats for floors. The client was okay paying more to have it re-planed.” – Ed Spencer
To maximize small spaces, Ed uses several construction strategies – such as vaulted ceilings, flush beams, and lowering plate height to keep roof heights down enough to meet code – as well as space-planning tricks. The latter include: dual-use spaces, logical and efficient travel paths, and preplanning furniture. Sometimes Ed will design cabinets under stairs, add storage under beds, or use Murphy beds. (Also see, ADU Storage Solutions.)
“I’ve hidden wine rooms and gun rooms behind a cabinet in larger homes, but there’s so little space to work with in an ADU. With an ADU it’s more about putting the pieces together like a puzzle so that they are logical.” – Ed Spencer
He also takes advantage of his knowledge of code to work within the rules.
“You have to understand the code well. You can have sloped ceilings in showers. You can have showers and toilets under stairs. The toilet minimum ceiling height is measured in front of the toilet. You’re not standing on the seat. You’re sitting so you don’t need so much height. You can get by with a lot of things that satisfy the clients and are code-compliant if you know the code well. However, I’ve seen some design tricks for ADUs that were not code compliant and would not have passed the building official. I see things like storage lofts being used for sleeping, ships ladders, and non-compliant railings that are not attached properly for lateral loads. I wonder ‘How’d they get away with that?!’ I used to build a little in Alaska, where there’s no building official. We’d do that stuff all the time, but we’d do it for ourselves. Personally, I won’t do that for a client. I want to make sure everything is safe and legal because it’s my responsibility.” – Ed Spencer
For Ed the biggest challenges to designing an ADU are meeting city requirements.
“Building code is science, but the planning code is….nebulous. I often shepherd the projects through the submittal and permit process. The City of Portland is the easiest and the toughest. A lot of my projects are counter permits which I can get in about 4 hours. However, a stand-alone ADU is an automatic submittal.” -Ed Spencer
So what advice does Ed have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Consider carefully why you are doing an ADU and how you will use it in the future. Be realistic with your budget and don’t fall in love with an idea and pair it to your available funds as they seldom are in agreement. Research first to ensure it can be done and understand the limitations. Expect that in the future some taxing authority – such as Multnomah County – will be coming after you for a share in your efforts and profit.” -Ed Spencer