Wednesday, January 3, 2018

"Pitching A Tent (Sort Of) In the Back Yard - The Case For ADUs"

Think back to our childhood and the times we either wanted to or actually built a makeshift treehouse or fort (sometimes a snow fort) or pitched a tent and slept out in the backyard. Notice the significance of our memory of these events that has us living in some form, for various lengths of time, in the backyard of our parents' homes. Fast forward a few decades and trade places and now we have our parents living in our backyard in a not-so-makeshift, intentional small swelling that serves everyone well.

Without this approach to innovative housing - the accessory dwelling unit or "ADU" - traditional thinking, which most local building and zoning codes recognize, takes the existing home and allows it to be modified in some fashion to accommodate additional bedrooms, bathrooms, entrances, of living space for elderly parents to reside in the home of their adult children - often without changing the footprint of the original structure. This is a fine approach, but it may not be the most reasonable solution or the most cost-effective.

All other things being equal - assuming that they could be - rather than investing in remodeling or modifying the main dwelling unit on a property and sometimes performing a substantial reconfiguration of the space at a corresponding large investment, adding an accessory or auxiliary dwelling unit (both called an "ADU"), transitional home, tiny home, shipping container home, granny-pod, or in-law quarters (all variations of the same theme with different names) to the backyard is a great alternative.

There are so many advantages to this approach.

First, no disruption of the main dwelling is necessary. A year, two years, five years, or whatever period of time from now, that home can be sold looking exactly like it does now in terms of room sizes and configurations, door sizes, window placements, and other features - regardless of how functional they are in terms of market appeal. The home can just go on being what it is.

Second, rather than modify the main dwelling - if it is for the principal occupants of that home - they can simply relocate to the little, more efficient, compact home "out back" and use the main home for storage, cooking, bathrooms, or even as a rental property (subject to local codes).

Third, if the new, smaller residence is for relatives, nothing needs to change in the main home to accommodate them, and they will be getting a brand new setting for themselves. Both the occupants of the main dwelling and those coming to live in the auxiliary unit will be happy with their space.

Fourth, the relatives coming to live in the ADU, if that is the case, would have total independence to come and go as they desire and are able to do so without being under constant visual scrutiny of others in the household. Still, they are close enough that a lookout can be maintained for their safety and well-being.

Finally (at least for this list), when that home has served its purpose, it can have several other uses. It can house teenagers or the twenty-somethings after college, it can be a workshop or studio, it can be a man or lady cave, it can be a media center, or it can be a revenue-producing rental apartment (if that is allowed). It also can be totally removed - sold to someone else or recycled as appropriate.

This is to think creatively about aging in place solutions that do not involve remodeling of the main structure by coming up with a completely separate secondary dwelling.

In some areas, the ADU is only allowed if it is attached to and part of the main structure. That is OK but it alters rather than supplements the main dwelling. Either approach accomplishes the purpose of creating additional living space. However, the attached space does not offer the flexibility of the detached one in terms of additional uses or removal at a later date.


Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging In Place Specialist - Master Instructor and best-selling author of aging in place books. To learn about this and other programs for aging in place or universal design, visit or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.