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Editor’s Note: When we wrote about Tom Hudson’s ADU in May of 2014 it was A Sneak Peek at an ADU Under Construction. Tom’s ADU was included on the June 2014 ADU Tour in Portland even though it wasn’t yet finished because it was on the path between two of the other ADUs. It was an intriguing stop for many tour participants anyhow because they enjoyed the opportunity to see the process. We decided to check back with Tom for an update now that he’s been living in his home. He notes these photos aren’t the most updated, but the house still isn’t quuuiiiittte done. Please check out Tom Hudson’s ADU: A Sneak Peek at an ADU Under Construction for the original story.
Tom Hudson worked with Willie Dean of Ground Up Design Works to design an ADU in his backyard. His has served as his own general contractor for the project, doing most of the work himself and hiring out projects to local subcontractors.
“I have learned things about myself through the ADU project. I’m more a thinker than a doer. That’s the way my mind works. I’ve become more aware that I need to embrace that. Abstractly I can come up with a pretty good plan about how to tackle something. I can figure out what needs to come first and I can enjoy making a plan. The actual construction can get monotonous real quick. So I’ve learned to bring in good contractors who know what they’re doing and get the job done.” – Tom Hudson
Tom notes that hiring contractors was a big part of his plan all along because it is a way for him to reinvest in the local economy.
“One of my big motivations for building the ADU was to try to divest savings from the financial services sector. That’s still relevant. A lot of those savings I used for the ADU were previously tied up in stocks, digging gold mines in Chile, and slave labor all over the world. When you spend that money locally it goes into the community. You know it’s going towards their livelihood and that feels really good. After years of planning and construction I can still appreciate that decision.” – Tom Hudson
Speaking of being conscientious about how to spend money, Tom made investments in energy-efficiency to reduce environmental impacts and ongoing costs. As he’s overseen the construction himself, he’s worked to ensure that it’s very well insulated and air sealed. During the build he followed the envelope design he and Willie Dean developed. He has installed Energy Star windows, 4” of insulation under the slab, and spray foam insulation then batt insulation in the walls and ceiling. The whole ADU can be heated with a portable oil radiator heater but he installed a mini-split heat pump that’s more than three times as efficient.
“The ADU warms up extremely quickly without any cold drafts like I’m used to living with in old Portland bungalows. I’m pretty happy with what we did for insulation and air sealing.” – Tom Hudson
During construction, one of his greatest surprises was addressing stormwater run-off.
“Even though there was a drywell on the drawings, Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services made us include additional features not on the drawings. It would be nice if there was better communication between plan review and BES that oversees the rainwater retention on site. Because of this lack of coordination you want to get the BES inspector on site to ensure you know what s/he wants early so you can plan accordingly. We also roughed in graywater line for kitchen sink to water the garden in case I decide to move forward with a graywater permit someday.” – Tom Hudson
Now that he’s been living in his ADU, Tom says the highlight is that he found a way to add a whole new house to his neighborhood. Tom is especially proud of the architectural features of his ADU. In particular, he likes the columns from the ReBuilding Center that are 80 years old and add historic charm to his new house on the block.
“It’s been really fun to add a new property to the community. The house is a side lot so the ADU faces the main street, so it’s like I added a new house to NE Skidmore St. A lot of new construction dwarfs houses in the existing neighborhood. Worse, they usually look like a giant box. Unlike the typical, everyone has had good things to say about my ADU. My neighbors have been supportive. That feeling I’m adding to the community is probably the most positive aspect.” – Tom Hudson
Tom’s plan for his ADU was to move into it and rent his main house to friends, while sharing the garage and washer and dryer with them. That’s exactly what he’s ended up doing. At this point there’s “a pretty tight interaction” because Tom cooks his meals in the main house as the ADU countertops aren’t finished yet. He and his tenants also share the garage, bicycle storage, the basement storage and shop space, and the washer and dryer. For Tom it feels proactive to increase the density of his neighborhood while also providing affordable housing to his friends.
“I like the fact that I can provide reasonable housing for my friends. It’s almost impossible to find affordable housing in Portland right now. My tenants are a bike mechanic, a preschool teacher, and a student. The housing expenses are low and I pass that on to the tenants. I might continue live in the ADU but I might also move into main house, or move to a different city and rent out the ADU and the house. These are all possibilities but for now I’m enjoying the ADU.” – Tom Hudson
When we last checked in with Tom he was planning on keeping the ADU really small and getting rid of anything that wouldn’t fit. It was a sort of self-imposed minimalism. Tom hadn’t quite worked out storage yet at that point. He knew that he would have some storage in a storage loft and some in the stairwell. However, he said he kept pushing off downsizing. The thought of getting rid of books was particularly vexing.
“When I think about the material objects I own, I start thinking about all the things I hold onto. I make corrections in my life, change directions, transition between projects, and perhaps leave clutter behind. I left a lot of stuff in the house when I transitioned into the ADU and I found I don’t miss having it!” – Tom Hudson
At this point Tom has discovered that he doesn’t really need much to live comfortably.
“So far I’ve moved everything I need to live into the ADU. The basics are the fridge, an electric tea kettle, a couch to relax on, a television, a radio, and a computer desk. On the weekends I’ll do electronics projects in the ADU which complements the work bench in the garage for woodworking.” – Tom Hudson
On the other hand, if he had it to over again, he might have put in more design time up-front and he may have made the ADU just a little bigger.
“I might consider doing a little more design for the stairwell and loft. I probably would have made it a little bigger, too. If you plan to sleep upstairs, you might put a split bathroom with a half bath on one floor and full bath on another.” – Tom Hudson
So what advice does Tom have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Go for it. Building an ADU is what many refer to as a triple bottom line investment. Creating density in your neighborhood is a good use of space. The increasing density reduces fossil fuels and building a small structure such as an ADU reduces fossil fuels use. Building an ADU is a good return on investment. Finally building an ADU is an investment in local skill labor and is a positive impact on your community. Get an architect and get a design done and keep moving forward.” – Tom Hudson