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Backdoor Revolution – Part I – Origin

This is Part I of a series called ‘Backdoor Revolution’, written to summarize some interesing things I learned while writing a new book about ADUs.

 Post  Title
Part I Origin
Part II Informal ADUs
Part III Why Fostering ADUs is Different than Fostering other Housing Types
Part IV Top Ten Reasons Why Basement Conversion ADUs and Detached ADUs Are Like Chalk and Cheese
Part V Why Vancouver, BC has Done a Lot of ADU-Related Things Right

Origin of Backdoor Revolution- The Definitive Guide to ADU Development

In 2013, I was observing ADU trends in the US by tracking Google News Alerts and reading academic articles. 

In the 2-3 local news stories that came into my inbox each week, I observed that many towns and cities had great intentions to foster more ADUs.

However, if any regulatory changes were made, they were often ineffective changes, sometimes adding more even more onerous restrictions to ADU development. Even if the jurisdictions had intentions to induce more ADUs, few ADUs would be built in these places.

But, it was evident that these jurisdictions were grasping for solutions that would crack open the door wide enough that citizens would hopefully start to build ADUs.

Partially as a result of the severe regulatory hurdles the ADU developers faced in the vast majority of US cities, permitted ADUs remain an extremely rare housing form in all but a handful of US cities even to this day.

As an ADU aficionado and entrepreneur in a US city where ADUs had actually become a housing phenomena, I was positioned to offer some insights into what an effective ADU program looked like.  

Meanwhile, I had taught thousands of homeowners how to get started building ADUs in my ADU classes. One piece of feedback I commonly received was that attendees wanted the information from my classes in written form.

The classes were very practical, but much of the information was fluid and responsive to the questions being asked. People’s questions varied, and my responses were customized accordingly. Each site is different, each ADU is different, people’s goals varied, as did their financing situations. Everyone approached their first ADU project with varying levels of development and construction know-how. Most commonly, homeowners had no housing development experience. 

There was simply too much nuanced content for me to capture in handouts. Instead, I told people to take good notes.

But, my experience with the range of questions and concerns eventually helped me realize that putting the answers in book form would help more people in more cities and towns to gain a better handle on what is involved in developing an ADU.

Writing for Two Audiences

When writing a book, a common rule is to write for a single audience. I broke this rule quite deliberately. This book is intentionally written for two distinct audiences.

Part I is written for homeowners who are interested in building an ADU on their property. And Part II is written for City planner and ADU advocates.

However, these two parts are inextricably interwoven.

A homeowner who aspires to build an ADU will choose not do so legally if the regulations are not aligned with their personal interests. And, planning rules written without a nuanced understanding of who is developing ADUs and how, will not be written in a way that helps to induce them.

ADU advocates and entrepreneurs who aspire to build more ADUs need a predictable course of action to understand what changes are worth fighting for, and which are not. And a good ADU program consists not just of improving ADU regulations, but of initiatives and networks to help support the ADU cottage industry flourish. 

When I eventually started writing the book in 2015, there were only a couple North American cities that had any notable ADU development activity. I studied them intensively for this book.

2017 was a big year for ADUs. California enacted state legislation that boldly addressed several of the regulatory obstacles that stood in the way of ADU development. By the end of 2017, there were a handful Californian cities that were suddenly witnessing significant ADU uptake.

Backdoor Revolution- The Definitive Guide to ADU Development is the most substantial work that has been written on ADUs to date.

I can say this confidently because only one other book has been written about ADUs in the last decade. There hasn’t been significant media interest in them nationally till recently. 

These days, I’m getting ten Google News Alerts a day about ADUs! ADUs are going mainstream, and I am confident that Backdoor Revolution will play a role in that.

Backdoor Revolution draws heavily on my personal and professional experience of ADU development with thousands of homeowners, on-site consultations, running Portland’s ADU tour, editing, working on local policy changes, and tackling financing and taxation issues, and developing an awareness about ADUs in a local market.

It draws heavily on first-hand interviews with practitioner experts across the country, and data analysis of housing and demographic trends. I’ve gleaned and interpreted nuanced ADU concepts from planning and academic articles written over the last forty years.

I’ve spent the last 2.5 years on this book, and I am proud to finally release it to the world on January 23rd, 2018. It is 368 pages, and codifies and distills thousands of hours of deep thinking and work on this topic.

It will be available in digital form in color ($15) and in print form in black and white ($25). 

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting a few of my research findings on in a Backdoor Revolution blog post series. I’ll also tell you about where to find it, as soon as it is available.  

About Kol Peterson

Kol is an ADU consultant, advocate and author of Backdoor Revolution: The Definitive Guide to ADU Development. Read more here: and learn about building your own at Email at

6 comments on “Backdoor Revolution – Part I – Origin

  1. Brett Marlo
    January 8, 2018

    Congratulations Kol!!!!!!

    Thank you, Brett Marlo DeSantis

    MFA Interior Architecture + Design LEED AP Building Design + Construction Living Future Accredited

    Brett Marlo Design Build Lic#BRETTMD892QP AAAH* SPC


    *affordable adaptable alternative housing!


  2. Pingback: Backdoor Revolution- Part III- Why Fostering ADUs is Different than Fostering other Housing Types | Accessory Dwellings

  3. Pingback: Backdoor Revolution- Part II- Informal ADUs | Accessory Dwellings

  4. Pingback: Backdoor Revolution- Part IV- Top Ten Reasons Why Basement Conversion ADUs and Detached ADUs Are Like Chalk and Cheese | Accessory Dwellings

  5. Pingback: Backdoor Revolution- Part V- Why Vancouver, BC has Done a Lot of ADU-Related Things Right | Accessory Dwellings

  6. paul anderson
    March 11, 2020

    Hi, I’m working on starting a group in Utah that helps mentor homeowners through the process of developing and renting basement apartments. Would it be possible for someone from this group to mentor me if I have specific questions?

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on January 8, 2018 by in News and tagged .
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