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For a more in-depth look, read Steve Snyder & Jackie Ellenz’s ADU: An Energy-Efficient Guest House and Sylvia Allen & Martha Shelley’s ADU: A Home for a Friend.
“We like the challenge of fitting a lot of stuff into a small, compact space. We think the buildings that result are creative and unique.” – Greg Holah
Libby and Greg Holah first learned about ADUs about 8 years ago when one of their clients requested to have one designed for their property. In fact, their first ADU was completed prior to the City of Portland offering the System Development Charge Waiver. Greg explains that there was a learning curve as they designed an ADU to meet the newly created ADU Guidelines, but the City of Portland makes the ADU process fairly straightforward. (Learn How Portland Became ADU-Friendly (And How Your City Can, Too).
For Greg, building small is a nice departure from the large homes requested by many clients these days. Having grown up in a NYC apartment, Greg believes that this has helped shape his approach to design for small spaces.
“Eight hundred or so square feet is a good amount of space that can accommodate one or two people. We see a lot of houses and construction going to the other extreme. Things are getting big. But I think we need people building sustainably. Building less is always the greenest thing you can do.” –Greg Holah
After designing their first ADU, Libby and Greg have continued to design ADUs at the request of their clients. It’s still amazing to Libby that some Portland residents are unaware of the current System Development Charge Waiver. It’s a big advantage for those considering an ADU to their property.
“ADUs have been getting more and more popular. We didn’t necessarily have to market ourselves. Clients were coming to us, interested in building an ADU. We have steady interest from new and existing clients about building ADUs.” –Greg Holah
Greg explains that the design consideration for an ADU are very similar to the design considerations for any home.
“ADUs still need all the basics: kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedroom. Freestanding ADUs are just small houses. Basically, a lot of the program is similar to designing a 1-bedroom apartment. They have all the same components as a house and we have to be smart about how we make everything work. We’ve developed some strategies to do that now that we’ve done several ADUs.” –Greg Holah
Whenever they design an ADU, Greg and Libby make a point to make it energy-efficient with sustainability in mind.
“Creating a well-insulated envelope is important. Since it’s not a lot of volume to heat, if we create a well-insulated shell, it doesn’t take a lot to condition the space. Good quality windows and a well-insulated exterior are two very important things.” –Greg Holah
Greg says that his favorite small space design tricks are making the spaces as flexible as possible and adding built-ins wherever they make sense. Storage is important to many of their clients, so Libby and Greg like to find opportunities for built-ins. Their two favorite places to stash storage space are under a staircase or in the low areas where the roof meets the exterior wall. Greg points out that the space in the eaves that’s shorter than 5’ doesn’t count towards habitable space, but it’s a great place to tuck built-ins. Utilizing this space allows them to maximize the entire building. (See more ADU Storage Solutions.)
“The biggest challenge is keeping the footprint compact. Adding a detached ADU on a 50’x100’ lot can have some challenges depending on where the existing house is sited. If the rules get changed so that we can go closer to the property line, that would help. In some projects, being 5 feet off the property line is a concern for clients concerned about losing backyard space.” –Greg Holah
However, for Greg and Libby, the same challenge of maximizing a small space is also the highlight of designing an ADU. The current setback requirements for detached ADUs does have some advantages however. It can create good exterior storage for gardening equipment and trash enclosures.
“The best part is taking the footprint we’re given and maximizing it so it doesn’t feel like a small space. We like challenging the perspective of what can be achieved in 800 square feet.” –Greg Holah
Greg says that if Portland didn’t have its requirement that detached ADUs match the primary dwelling, many clients would explore options for a more modern exterior and massing. (These regulations changed slightly in December 2015 when the The Accessory Structures Zoning Code Update Passed.)
“It depends on the client. Some clients wouldn’t be interested in having something radically different than their house because they want it to be contextual, but we also have clients at the other end of the spectrum who want to do something modern and different, such as a more contemporary roof. We’ve had clients on both ends of the spectrum. We look forward to designing more ADUs in the future. We enjoy them as a building type.” –Greg Holah
So what advice does Greg have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Good planning always goes a long way. Looking at all the options. We’re biased, but we think it’s wise to work with an architect who can help generate options on the different permutations that are available. We do that on just about all our projects. There isn’t just one right answer. Also, consider two bedrooms in the unit. There is more flexibility as a rental unit with a two bedroom or a flexible two bedroom. We have clients that intend to live in their ADU while renting their main house. More bedrooms can afford more options. I recommend working with someone who is going to explain the different options in graphic form.” –Greg Holah
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