A one-stop source about accessory dwelling units, multigenerational homes, laneway houses, ADUs, granny flats, in-law units…
“After that wave of 6000 square foot houses, I got tired of people saying ‘I want a 7000 square foot net zero house.’ It was excessive. ADUs are refreshing in comparison! With ADU PDX I feel like I really hit it. It’s not very often I come up with a business idea right before the idea is going to take off.” –Dave Spitzer
Like so many of us, Dave Spitzer was familiar with mother-in-law units and the many and confusing synonyms for ADUs for years. He is a landlord with several rental properties across Portland.
In 2005, one of Dave’s rental properties didn’t quite cash flow, so he explored the option of adding a second unit to the property. The existing house was located just of bustling Alberta Street, so he determined that if he added a second unit in this desirable neighborhood he could almost double his rental income, which would make the overall investment worthwhile. He met with staff at the Bureau of Development Services to learn about the process and moved forward on the project. After completing his first ADU, Dave was convinced that it was a viable option to create additional housing in Portland neighborhoods, so he built the next one a few years later.
“I live in Northeast Portland and I like the close-in neighborhoods. I like those cool little homes and how they work with the urban environment. I enjoy helping people figure out their real-life situations. For a lot of people, building an ADU is a big step for them in terms of investing and bringing in rental income. Building ADUs appeals to me a lot more than doing something big and sprawling in the suburbs.” –Dave Spitzer
As he designs an ADU, Dave focuses on a few key design considerations. First, he pays careful attention to how the yard is to be shared or separated. Dave has now built more than fifty ADUs in Portland, but he finds that each of them is specific to the lot and the site, so each one needs to properly fit into its context.
“Each ADU is individual because they have to look like the house and be oriented a specific way to work with the yard and the existing house.” –Dave Spitzer
Keeping interior spaces open is important to Dave, too.
“We create open spaces with a minimum amount of walls. It’s different than a house where you compartmentalize. In an ADU if you keep it open, one space can overlap and do 203 things. Proper placement of windows, brings the outside in, provides light, and offers views of yard.” –Dave Spitzer
Ceiling height plays a part, too, and Dave’s favorite design trick is to use cathedral ceilings in part of the ADU.
“I usually do cathedral ceilings in most of the ADUs to get a voluminous space. We’ve done several with a 2-story space and a cathedral ceiling in the section without a second floor. This helps the ADU live larger than it is.” –Dave Spitzer
Dave notes that providing adequate storage in an ADU is “tough.” (See more ADU Storage Solutions.)
“You always have to provide a couple closets. Sometimes there are storage lofts. It’s also a matter of setting people’s expectations that they shouldn’t build an ADU if they want huge spaces. Most people who want ADUs have reasonable expectations that they won’t get walk-in closets.” –Dave Spitzer
With regard to sustainability, Dave notes that Oregon’s building code “already pushes towards it.” However, he often goes beyond code by using advanced framing and spray foam insulation.
“I like to do a good building envelope to make the building use less energy so you don’t have to have a fancy mechanical system.” –Dave Spitzer
Dave’s biggest design challenge is addressing planning and zoning regulations.
“I was on the advisory committee to help change some of the codes. On small lots, the location of the existing house can be problematic. Working within a small rear yard and making the yard work for both the ADU and the house is challenging.” –Dave Spitzer
So what advice does Dave have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“It’s a matter of how the yard works and how the property works. You’re bringing someone else onto your property. Sometimes it’s someone you want to be part of your family. Sometimes it’s a renter you don’t want to have be part of your family. Consider how it works with the property, your family, and your lifestyles.” –Dave Spitzer