Why Everyone Should Consider Building an ADU

The Wedge ADU in Portland, OR designed by Propel Studio Architecture.

Across America, cities and towns are facing rapidly rising housing prices that outpace increases in salaries. This is causing a housing crisis where the average person can't afford to own a home and sometimes can't even find affordable rental units. This is a huge issue here in Portland, Oregon and the government and many passionate citizens are trying to develop solutions. Sometimes this comes in the form of publicly subsidized affordable housing, yet there is also a movement to address this through market rate solutions in the form of Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs.

ADUs, sometimes called laneway housing, granny flats, DADUs, backyard cottages, and many other terms, is a small secondary house built on the property of a typical single family house. Although each jurisdiction that allows these housing types has different rules and regulations, for the most part they all lead to the same end result - more housing options in our neighborhoods while preserving neighborhood character. They add density in a sensitive way while giving homeowners the potential for rental income, and renters an affordable housing type in neighborhoods throughout the city.

There are three primary uses for ADUs. Many people build them to downsize their life. Perhaps their kids have left the house and they no longer need as much space. Adding an ADU in the backyard can be a great way to downsize your living space while renting out the main house to a new family to grow in. Another common use is for aging family members. Often ADUs are built for barrier free living and Accessibility for aging-in-place or multi-generations living together on a shared property. The third primary use is as a rental unit, either long-term rental or short-term (think Airbnb). For this last use, the benefit is that the ADU can provide additional income and help cover mortgage payments. This can help people afford to stay in their homes as costs increase, or allow young families to be able to afford buying a home in the first place.

ADUs are not allowed in all jurisdictions although they are growing in popularity and most cities and towns are considering ways to allow them within their codes and regulations. In Portland, ADUs are limited to 800sf in size and 20' in height. The goal being to keep the accessory dwelling a bit smaller than the main house. This still is enough space to have a very nice 1 to 2 bedroom unit. Within this size limitation, there are endless options and creative design solutions to make these projects wonderful places to live.

One of the firms that specializes in creative ADU design is Propel Studio Architecture - www.propelstudio.com. They have designed more than 50 ADUs over the past 5 years and have become experts in designing creative small scale housing that still becomes a great place to call home. They love this project type because it addresses so many of the issues facing our cities - they increase density, they are small and efficient homes and are inherently sustainable, they provide supplemental income to homeowners often preventing displacement and allowing people to stay in their homes, and they are fast paced design projects that allow for creativity and experimentation.

Interior view of The Screen ADU, in Portland, OR designed by Propel Studio Architecture. Propel Studio also offers resources for anyone interested in adding an ADU to their property. On their website they have a whole section dedicated to Accessory Dwelling Units, answering many of the common questions like cost of construction, how long it takes to design and build an ADU, and design regulations that affect these project. We highly recommend you check out their resources if you are considering an ADU project for your property: https://www.propelstudio.com/accessory-dwelling-units-adu/

Although ADUs are small projects, they are still complicated and need a close attention to detail to make them successful. This is another reason why reaching out to an experienced design team is important to achieve a great ADU. Fitting all the parts of a full house in an 800sf size is challenging and needs some creative space planning. Propel Studio has many examples of ADU designs, floor plans, and other info on their website that can help inform your thoughts as you consider adding an ADU to your property. They also offer free consultations in the Portland area if you would like to sit down with one of their designers and talk through your thoughts and ideas.

Rendering of a modern ADU in Portland, Oregon designed by Propel Studio. ADUs can come in a variety of styles to fit your needs, taste, and the context in which they are built. Some places have restrictions on what they can look like, but for the most part ADU designs can be traditional, modern, or any look that you would like. The options are endless and they can be custom designed to address your unique lifestyle and tastes. If you are considering an ADU, we strongly urge that you reach out to a talented design team to help guide you through the design, permitting and construction process.