When you live in the city, space comes at a premium. Moving somewhere bigger isn’t always an option, so making the most of what you have is important.
If you’re looking for ways to increase or improve the amount of livable space available in your Bay Area home, then maybe it’s time to consider an accessory dwelling unit (ADU).
In the past, ADUs were often referred to as granny flats or mother-in-law apartments because homeowners often included them in their renovation plans to accommodate aging parents. But the problem with these affectionate nicknames is they don’t accurately describe the use and value an ADU can add to your home.
In January 2020, California enacted several bills and legislative revisions that are expected to have a long-term, positive impact on the opportunity to build an ADU within an existing residence.
The idea of reconfiguring your space or adding to what you already have can be exciting. If you don’t have a lot of knowledge or experience with ADUs, then it’s a good idea to do a bit of research before you move forward.
What Is an ADU?
An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is technical term builders and architects use to describe a secondary living space located adjacent to a primary residence. In some cases, an ADU might be attached to a home, such as a garage, basement apartment, or yoga studio. In other cases, an ADU might take the form of a small apartment or suite situated on the same lot but detached from the main, larger dwelling.
If you want to understand what an ADU is, it can first be easier to understand what it isn’t.
An ADU isn’t a temporary structure. It’s not a she-shed or a man cave. It’s also not a prefabricated building or house on wheels, nor is it a mobile home or trailer.
An ADU is a permanent addition to an existing residential structure. It requires permits and, in some cases, additional utility lines and parking space.
In the past, many cities and localities have placed restrictions on these types of dwellings. However, in recent years, their benefits have become increasingly obvious, and more municipalities are amending their zoning laws to allow for ADUs.
Why Build an ADU?
In 2017, the Bay Area council estimated that improving the zoning laws surrounding ADUs could create an additional 400,000 new residential housing units in the Bay Area. But an ADU’s appeal extends far beyond the opportunity to incorporate an extra bed or bath into an existing home.
Among the benefits of ADUs, you’ll find:
1. Flexible Living Space
Incorporating an ADU on a property you already own gives you the flexibility to use the space you need. For empty nesters who no longer require the large home where they raised their children, building an ADU provides more manageable living space but allows them to stay in their neighborhood. On the other hand, incorporating an ADU into an existing structure or property allows multigenerational families to gather under one roof but still maintain their privacy — more about that later.
2. Environmental Impact
Because of their small size, ADUs typically don’t consume the amount of utilities larger houses do. They’re also commonly constructed in areas that are easy to walk or bike in, further reducing the environmental impact of locations where driving is a must to get around.
If you build an ADU to serve as a home yoga studio or office space, your reduced commute can further decrease your environmental footprint. You can travel to and from your living space, where you spend the most time, without using up significant energy or resources.
3. Improved Infrastructure
ADUs can also benefit residents in areas where there isn’t a lot of available housing. In cities where space isn’t plentiful, such as San Francisco, you can increase your land’s occupancy or reconfigure the residential structure already on your property. Doing this can be a more viable solution than finding a different place to live or waiting for more housing to be built.
ADUs are great for many purposes, but one of the reasons they’re becoming increasingly popular is that they’re a convenient solution for finding more space in areas where it isn’t abundant. Empty nesters can stay close to friends and neighbors without the stress of maintaining a large home they don’t need. Working adults can incorporate a gym or yoga studio into their houses to reduce the amount of time they spend driving to and from these locations after work.
5. Communal Living
These days, multigenerational living is pretty common. In 2016 alone, 20% of Americans lived in a multigenerational household. Even if you have an amazing relationship with your children, grandchildren or parents, you don’t always want to live right on top of each other. However, it’s nice to have those you love nearby. With an ADU, you can get the best of both worlds.
Grandparents can watch their grandchildren grow up — and be nearby for babysitting when needed — and young adult children can have a secure place to live while they establish themselves. In a state where roughly 37% of residents between the ages of 18 and 34 live with their parents, this benefit alone may be enough to convince you!
ADU living isn’t just about families, though. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the option to choose your neighbors? Many people enjoy living in proximity to friends or even acquaintances who can provide companionship and community during evenings and weekends.
6. Additional Income
ADUs are also a great way to earn additional income without having to fit an extra job or side hustle into your already busy schedule. When you build an ADU, you’re investing in your own property, but you’re also creating the potential for an investment property in your own backyard. Renting an ADU to a young couple or a single adult can bring in a little extra money each month. Or, if you’re one of those empty nesters we mentioned earlier, you can rent out your primary residence and keep the ADU for a more manageable living space of your own, potentially increasing the amount of money that’s coming in each month.
7. Increased Property Value
An ADU is an addition to an existing property, so building one will likely increase your property value. The exact amount may vary, depending on the size of the ADU, the features it includes and, of course, your property’s location. Our research suggests you could see an increase of 25% on average. This amount could be even more if you hold on to the property for some time.
What Type of ADU Is Right for You?
If you’re considering an ADU, the first step is to determine what you plan to use it for. You’ll also need to research the zoning rules and regulations established for ADUs in your locality. The answers to these questions will help you decide which type of ADU is right for you.
You can choose from four kinds of construction from your ADU builder:
1. Basement Conversion
A basement conversion ADU is exactly what it sounds like. A basement conversion takes an existing basement and renovates it to serve as an apartment, studio or office of some kind. Converting existing space can be beneficial because you can often tie into already existing utilities, such as electricity and plumbing.
Often called “junior ADUs,” these conversions also tend to require less in the way of permits and structural changes. However, just like any option, there are trade-offs. Basement conversion ADUs typically don’t offer as much privacy as other options because these spaces are completely attached to the main residence. In some cases, they may even share an entrance.
2. Garage Conversion
Depending on your home’s existing design, a garage conversion may be a good option for you. Building on top of an existing garage means you avoid taking up any additional square footage on the lot because you’re building up instead of out. And, because you’re building on top of an existing structure, the cost may be less than an ADU made from scratch.
A garage conversion also affords more privacy than a basement conversion because it won’t typically share an entrance with the main house. Additionally, the space under it isn’t regularly occupied.
However, unless you already have unused space sitting above your garage, you will end up paying more for a garage conversion than a basement one. This factor comes from the cost of framing and running any utilities into the space that aren’t already available.
3. Attached ADU
An attached ADU is an expansion of the main house, typically done along a portion of the back or side of the existing residence. The process will depend on your lot’s size and the ADU’s expected dimensions. Among its benefits, you’ll find building an attached ADU makes it easier to tie into existing electrical and plumbing systems.
It also provides more privacy than a basement conversion because it’s technically outside of the existing home structure. Among many reasons, attached ADUs are especially good options for homeowners who are caring for elderly relatives who may need help close by.
Depending on your needs, an attached ADU can be more expensive than a basement or garage option. Also, it’s only possible if you have enough open land on your lot to accommodate a new structure of any size. If there’s not enough space to spread out, then it’s not a feasible option.
4. Detached ADU
A detached ADU provides the ultimate option for privacy, especially if your goal is to build a place for a family member to live or downsize your own living space. This option is probably the first thing you pictured when you heard the term “accessory dwelling unit” because it draws to mind a small guest house tucked among a garden or trees.
While the landscaping is up to you, the charm of living in a small house with a lot of privacy can’t be ignored. And, if privacy is at the top of your ADU wish list, then the detached option is going to be your best bet.
However, keep in mind that building a detached ADU requires adequate space on your current lot. Accommodating the additional utility lines and parking space — if your locality requires them — will also cost more than other options. And, if you’re building an ADU to care for elderly parents or young grandchildren, going back and forth between two residences may not be as convenient.
Build the Home of Your Dreams With an ADU
Moving isn’t always the best — or easiest — way to get what you want in a home. Many times, building onto or improving existing space is the best way to stay in the house you love while maximizing its potential. Improving on what you already have is the best way to add years of life and enjoyment to your property, especially when living in the Bay Area where space is limited.
While people often build ADUs to increase living space, you don’t have to stop there. Adding a yoga studio is a great way to turn your city home into a relaxing urban retreat. Incorporating a home office or recording studio offers you the option to ditch your daily commute and do what you love in the place you love to be. Whatever your needs, an ADU can be a great alternative to moving, especially when there aren’t a lot of other options in your area.
So how do you know if an ADU is right for you? Check out these options for starting the process below:
1. Determine Your Needs
Being a homeowner means there’s always a project you want to tackle or an improvement you want to make. But an ADU is about more than just improving your home. It’s also about creating a bigger, more functional space for you and your family. It’s about upgrading your living situation, and, in some cases, enhancing the living condition of a family member or beloved friend.
2. Set Your Budget
ADU costs depend on the style you choose — attached or detached, basement or garage — as well as the unit’s size. Your housing needs will play a big part in determining what you plan to build. You’ll also want to take a realistic look at your budget to determine the renovation’s scope.
3. Dream Big
One of the biggest benefits of constructing an ADU is that it allows you to make your current residence into the dream home you’ve always wanted. It might be that you’re expanding your space for a personal gym. It also might mean you’re downsizing and letting your adult kids and grandchildren experience growing up in the family home with grandparents next door.
Or, it could entail providing a place where a friend can live during a life transition. Whatever the need, ADUs provide opportunities to open up your home and your heart in ways you might not have expected.
Build the Home of Your Dreams With an ADU From Valley Home Builders
The San Fransisco Bay Area is a vibrant place to live, and Valley Home Builders’ team of experts is committed to helping you enjoy the area we’ve known and loved since 2005. As an award-winning home design and building company located in Silicon Valley, we know firsthand the challenges of today’s housing market.
However, we are also skilled at finding the best ways to overcome our local obstacles. That’s why we are proud to serve clients in the following locations by offering unique and personalized ADU designs:
- Los Altos
- Los Altos Hills
- Los Gatos
- Menlo Park
- Mountain View
- Palo Alto
- San Jose
- San Mateo
- Santa Clara
No matter where you’re located in these areas, we abide by all individual city regulations, housing requirements and legislation. When you work with our in-house team of design and ADU professionals, you have access to business partners who are determined to create the home you want — in the location you want to be. Contact us today to learn more about our ADU building services.
Learn how to live comfortably and make the most of your new ADU with our guide to ADU living!