A one-stop source about accessory dwelling units, multigenerational homes, laneway houses, ADUs, granny flats, in-law units…
Richard Wallace, owner of RS Wallace Construction Co., started building right out of high school in 1977. For the next decade, he traded his carpentry skills for housing. Along the way, he had the good fortune to work for some journeymen carpenters who stretched his skillset. They inspired him to take the next step, so he began his contracting business in 1987.
Although he’d built many practical ADUs over the nearly forty years he’s been doing remodels, his first permitted ADU was inspired by a friend. Joan asked him to help her convert an under-used bedroom and bathroom into a studio apartment. Joan Grimm & Rita Haberman’s ADU: Carving Out a Studio was completed in the spring of 2015 and featured on the Spring 2015 ADU Tour in Portland, OR.
“It was Joan who got me started with ADUs when she asked me to do one in her house. When they first approached me I said ‘That seems small…’ But they had a vision. You have to go with it and have faith it will work out. They did a great job with the design and furnishing it. When we had the ADU on the tour we got such positive feedback that we started exploring the possibility of creating one on our own property.”–Richard Wallace
As Richard and his wife explored design criteria for their own ADU they considered the many uses the ADU could have. It might be a place for them to live someday. It might be a place for their family to stay when visiting. It might be a short or long-term rental. (Check out Options for ADU Owners: Rent One, Both, or Neither.) Richard says determining the use for their ADU was a key consideration and he encourages prospective ADU owners to give it some good thought.
“It’s how you want it to interact with your lifestyle, whether it’s in your yard, on top of your house, under your house or inside your house. How do you envision interacting with the people in the ADU? I had a design drawn up by a local architect for a detached ADU, but after reviewing the plans we determined that the structure was going to take too much of the yard. We decided to go in a different direction and build an attached unit in an effort to preserve our yard and outdoor living space.” –Richard Wallace
Once they decided to create an attached ADU and determined they’d likely be using it as a guesthouse, they had two big design challenges to address: access and soundproofing.
“For the ADUs I’ve built in the last couple of years, the biggest challenges I have seen are access to the ADU and separation between the house and the ADU. The sound transfer was the biggest concern we had. We were going to have interior access to the ADU (i.e. indoor staircase), but it took up too much room inside of our home, and there would have been too much soundproofing required to separate it from our house, so we ended up with an exterior staircase to access the ADU.” –Richard Wallace
The exterior staircase was a considerable portion of their ADU budget, given the custom design and quality of the materials used, but it addressed both of the previously mentioned challenges at once by providing access and limited sound transfer. The other big investment that Richard made was in energy-efficiency.
“For me it made sense to go the extra mile on insulation to maximize energy efficiency and minimize my utility bill. The windows are of high quality and we have a ductless mini-split. We also put in durable finishes that will still look great in 50 years instead of something less durable. I don’t like putting in disposable finishes. We spent extra money upfront to make it durable because I believe it’s a better value in the long run.” –Richard Wallace
Richard explains that as a builder he appreciates being part of the conversation early on and helping guide the design.
“Building is a collaborative effort. I like to put opinions forward about how we can maintain durability without compromising aesthetics, while steering clients away from things that will cause trouble down the road. I like doing hardwood flooring and clean, crisp trim work. It’s not over the top, but it’s neat and solid. I quit using anything that doesn’t stand the test of time. Another signature of my work is creating spaces that have enough natural light. The windows are a crucial aspect in determining the character of a place.” –Richard Wallace
Richard says that the biggest challenge in creating an ADU is the one he encounters when he works on remodeling projects.
“When you’re working around an existing house, it’s the same challenge as a remodel. An attached ADU can also be more capital intensive than a detached ADU, because you often have to make structural intrusions in the existing building while trying to keep everything else intact.” –Richard Wallace
Richard explains that the way he sees it, there are two major reasons to consider building an ADU: income generation and housing flexibility.
“The plan is for the ADU to produce another source of income for us. It also adds flexibility for us forward. We could live in there. Or if we want to rent it or have guests stay over we can. It just gives us another option.” –Richard Wallace
So what advice does Richard have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“You need more money than you think you need. You don’t want to run out and make compromises at the end. There’s been so much information out there about DIY that people underestimate the costs. If you’re going to hire a contractor and put in nice finishes, it’s expensive. Remember it’s a good long-term investment. Pick the right person to do the design and do your planning upfront. Don’t rush your design even if you’re trying to get your ADU built before the SDC waiver ends. Spend time with the design. It’s a lot smarter and cheaper to build the house on paper first.” –Richard Wallace