12 Things to Consider Before You Set Your ADU Plans In Motion

If you’re looking to expand your home and invite more people to live in it, you may have considered building an accessory dwelling unit. This addition will contribute additional living space for anyone you’d like, all without requiring you to make a big move. Before you finalize your ADU plans, you should make these 12 considerations to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.

1. Your Home’s Current Layout & Design

One of the first things you should consider when drafting your ADU plans is your home’s current layout and design. What is the architectural style? How does it complement the other homes around it?

If your current residence is a brick home, you should design your ADU to match it. Consider using materials like concrete, wood, or cut stone. Avoid using brightly colored hues or unconventional materials that’ll cause your property to stick out like a sore thumb. A mismatched unit can decrease your property value and make it hard to sell your home if you ever choose to do so. 

While it’s important to stick to your vision, you should also use sound judgment. Otherwise, your investment may end up decreasing your property’s value instead of growing it.

2. Your Desired Level of Privacy

ADUs aren’t tiny homes in the traditional sense, they are permanent residences, as they’re tied to a primary residence in some way with a real foundation, plumbing, and utility connections. With this reality in mind, you’ll need to consider privacy matters for your ADU. AD

The privacy accommodations you make will largely depend on who you plan to invite into your unit. If your sibling or parents are moving in, a close-knit living situation may not bother you. In fact, you may prefer it. If everyone is going back and forth for family meals anyways, privacy won’t be at the forefront of your mind.

However, you may need to prioritize privacy in other situations. For example, you won’t want to share walls with a tenant. In cases like this, you’ll need to make certain adjustments.

One thing you can do is put in multiple types of privacy screens. Window blinds, landscaping, and fencing are solid investments.. Trees, bushes, and plants will not only offer a much-needed sense of privacy but can also contribute aesthetic appeal to your property.

Another tip to secure privacy is to plan out a formal agreement. Even if a family member or friend is moving in, an on-paper statement isn’t a bad idea. In this agreement, you can outline expectations from the tenant and landlord in terms of who can use which portions of the property. You can also use this document to highlight restrictions and repercussions if either party violates the terms.

Taking these steps before anyone moves into your ADU will make living on your property more enjoyable for everyone. No one will be uncomfortable or feel as if they can’t relax in their own residence.

3. Your Area’s Development Standards & Regulations

Even if you live in a pretty rural area, there will still be regulations you’ll have to follow. 

Living in an HOA-restricted community will also present some restrictions. For example, you may have to limit the size of your ADU and choose a specific style.

Here in California, homeowners have a lot of flexibility. They have a right to obtain a permit for an ADU unless the residence fails to meet certain conditions.

The state of California encourages the construction of accessory dwelling units and deems them as valuable housing options. ADUs don’t require paying for new land, major infrastructure, elevators, and other costly expenses. They’re well-suited for individual tenants, couples, and small families and offer a way to ease the burden of California’s housing crisis.

All the benefits of ADUs have pushed the state to make them easier to build. A recent change in California law has expedited the ADU approval process. Homeowners now only have to wait 60 days (instead of the former 120) to receive approval or denial for their construction project. However, in practice there are always exceptions.

If you’re in the San Jose area, you’ll have to abide by city-specific standards. For example, your ADU’s bathroom must have a sink, toilet, and shower , and no more than two bathrooms are allowed. Plus, the area can only have two bedrooms that are a maximum size of 400 square feet each. 

4. The Size of Your New Space

How large do you want your new space to be? It’s essential for you to plan out this detail beforehand as things can go wrong if you go too big or too small.

If you build a space that’s too small, your new living area may not fulfill its purpose. Your family members may not have enough space to live comfortably, or you may not have enough room to use the dwelling how you intended.

However, a space that’s too large can also present problems. Having too much room may result in wasted space and money as the heating and cooling costs will rise. As well as unnecessary additional costs.

Building a dwelling that’s too large can also cause you to break your area’s laws. The exact rules will vary based on your lot size and whether you want to build an attached or detached ADU. For example, the city of San Jose allows the size of an attached ADU to be up to 800 square feet or up to 50% of the primary residence’s space (as long as the square footage doesn’t exceed 1,000 square feet). If you have a 1,900 square foot home, your attached ADU can have an area of 950 square feet total. However, these rules are always subject to change and change frequently. A professional ADU builder would be an ideal partner early on to help shed light on what you can actually build legally. After all, every property has to be assessed individually. 

5. Access

When you build an ADU, you’ll most often have two different groups of people on your property. How will these groups access their living areas?

You’ll have to consider access points for everyone who calls your property home. An ADU should have a separate entrance, even if it’s not detached. For example, you can install a distinct backdoor that only ADU residents use to enter and exit their dwelling.

When it comes to accessibility, you should also consider making accommodations for older people. If you have an elderly family member moving into your granny flat, you should think about installing a wheelchair ramp, handrails, and other features to increase their mobility.

6. Your Site’s Conditions

What does your current yard look like? If it’s flat, installing an ADU will be much easier than if it’s sloped. Your contractor will also have to account for inconveniences like sections of your yard that are prone to pooling water. 

Note: Building an ADU on disturbed soil can damage your building’s foundation later on. It’s essential that your contractor builds your ADU on a stable area that won’t result in the onset of premature structural issues.

7. Utility Connections

The residents of your ADU will require electricity and water, just like the ones of your primary residence. In most cases, you won’t need to install any new utilities. You can have a contractor tap into the water source and gas line pipes that your main home uses. 

One exception is the unit’s septic system. Your home’s current septic system likely won’t be able to manage additional sewage. You can opt to upgrade it or install a new one.

If you’re going to have tenants stay on your property, you should figure out how to charge them. Will you include the cost of utilities in their rent, or will they have to pay you monthly? It’s essential to figure out the specifics beforehand to ensure you can cover these expenses without chasing anyone down.

8. The Main Purpose of Your ADU

Why do you want to build an ADU? If you don’t have a clear purpose in mind, you’ll dedicate a lot of money and resources to an unused space. Here are some potential purposes an ADU can fulfill.

A Gym

If you have trouble completing fulfilling workouts at home, you may benefit from creating a new gym space. You can fill your gym with bulky workout equipment like an elliptical, a treadmill, and dumbbells to restore your normal living space. Plus, you can work out without distractions from other family members.

A Home Office

Working from home has become increasingly common in the U.S., but not everyone has the space to be productive. Completing work in your bedroom or kitchen can seem impossible, especially with distractions from droning TVs and children running around.

If you want to construct a designated space to work, consider building an ADU office. You can complete this space with all the items you need to do your work, including pens, paper, a standing desk, and your work computer.

Many workers love the idea of a home office ADU, as it creates the perfect separation of their work and familial lives. And, if you’re in a particularly productive bout, you’ll be in luck. Your kitchen and bathroom will be close by so that you don’t have to leave the area to eat or use the restroom. 

A Creative Studio

Perhaps you have a creative passion that you pursue at home. Whether it be painting masterpieces or performing musical compositions, you may want a dedicated space to unleash your creativity. An ADU can be the perfect spot as it’s set away from your primary residence. You can perfect your art without annoying your other family members.

A Guest Room

You and your family may love hosting guests, but they can quickly invade your space without the proper accommodations. To minimize clashings, you can build an ADU and designate it as a space for any of your guests that come into town.

A Family Member’s Home

Does your bachelor brother-in-law need a place to stay while he’s finishing college? Or does your elderly mother need to move in with you?

An ADU, often called an in-law suite or granny flat, is an ideal solution. It provides a distinct living area for one person or a small family. The residents will have their own kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom(s). There’s no need for them to visit the main house, but they’ll always be close by when you want to spend quality time with them or help them around the house.

A Renting Space

Have you ever wanted to generate passive income? Becoming a landlord is one step you can take.

Many people have explored making money passively in the real estate industry as there are around 11 million landlords in the U.S. Renting out your ADU to tenants is a great income-producing option. You won’t even have to hire a property manager as you’ll always be close by to address any issues your tenants have.

You can find tenants for year-long agreements or use a service like Airbnb to rent out your extra space for shorter periods. No matter which route you choose, your new space will pay for itself within a couple of years. From there, you’ll have a nice stream of extra cash flowing into your wallet.

9. Type of ADU

An accessory dwelling unit is a versatile addition to any home. This unit isn’t one-size-fits-all—in fact, it comes in multiple types. Check out the different styles of ADUs to learn which one is right for your home.

Detached ADU

A detached ADU stands separately from the main house. Most often, homeowners build backyard homes, but they can also construct ADUs next to the house.

A detached ADU is ideal if the homeowner wishes to rent the space to a tenant they don’t know personally. It offers the most privacy and sets clear boundaries.

Attached ADU

An attached ADU is a new addition to a home. A homeowner will recruit a contractor to expand the current building by adding on new rooms. This new addition will attach to another room in the primary residence, like a back bedroom.

An attached ADU will often have a separate entrance. Sometimes, the residents of the ADU may have to enter through a part of the main house or a neutral area for both homes.

Attached (Above Garage) AADU

Some homeowners choose to build a new space on top of their existing garage. This is a great space-saving route as you don’t have to expand outwards at all.

However, a project like this can become quite intricate. The builder will have to install a new roof and vapor barrier to block car exhaust, so it’s essential you choose a qualified ADU company to complete the job correctly.

Interior (Converted Garage) ADU

Is your primary home’s garage covered in dust and cobwebs? If you don’t get a lot of use from your garage in its current state, you can turn it into an ADU. Your contractor can erect walls to make smaller rooms and create a small garage apartment.

Interior (Basement) ADU

Your basement is another area of your home that may experience severe neglect. If you don’t use it much, consider it as an investment opportunity. You can have a contractor transform your current basement from a hollow concrete block into a beautiful living area.

Interior (Upper Floor) ADU

Let’s say you and your spouse have recently become empty nesters. You cleared out your child’s former bedroom and playroom upstairs, and now the area is sitting untouched. Instead of letting the area go to waste, you can turn it into an ADU.

You and your spouse can use this new accessory dwelling unit to house an aging parent. The parent will have their individual space, but you’ll be around to help whenever they need it.

10. Fire Regulations

You can’t install an ADU without thinking about fire regulations. Going through these requirements beforehand will help you protect yourself, your loved ones, and any tenants that come to stay at your dwelling.

San Jose has specific fire regulations for ADU owners to meet. For example, they must install fire sprinklers if the primary residence has them. 

Another requirement is that if the attached ADU is greater than 500 square feet and the floor area of both units exceeds 3,600 square feet, the whole house and ADU need to have a fire sprinkler system. 

Some final fire regulations to keep in mind deal with fire hydrants. Your ADU’s exterior walls must be within 600 feet of a fire hydrant, and the hydrant must have a water flow of 1,000 GPM at 20 psi. If the hydrant doesn’t meet these requirements, the San Jose fire staff will review flow data and make an appropriate call.

11. Storage Options

Consumerism has always been a rampant issue in the U.S., and things have only gotten worse. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many Americans to collect excess junk that they don’t have anywhere to store.

When you get an ADU, you’ll have to fill it up efficiently. Getting rid of unnecessary items is a great first step. An ADU will be smaller than your primary residence, so it’s important to move in with only what you need.

While getting rid of non-essential belongings is a great start, you’ll still have the barebones necessities to bring with you. That’s when you can consider space-saving options.

You can get creative when it comes to expanding storage in your ADU. Here are just a few ways you can free up more space for yourself and your residents:

Ditch the Shower Curtains

Shower curtains may seem like an insignificant component of your bathroom, but they can be quite bulky and take up valuable space. Instead of relying on shower curtains, you can install a glass door for your shower to make the most of the space available.

Mount Your TV on the Wall

A bulky media console takes up precious space and can be a real eyesore. Instead, invest in a quality mounting kit to display your TV but keep it out of the main walking-around space.

Keep Your Floor Clear

You’ll need a spot to store your books, picture frames, and other knick-knacks. Take advantage of vertical storage options to keep your floor as spacious as possible. Get cabinets that go all the way up to the ceiling, and use the very high shelves for items you’ll only need seasonally (like Christmas bakeware or Halloween decorations).

Don’t Get a Double Vanity

Some couples love the idea of a double vanity, but it’s not practical in such a small space. Instead, you can opt for a single space and countertop. Consider installing a wide, shallow sink or a trough for a sensible getting-ready area.

Choose Appliances Sparingly

Instead of buying a standard dishwasher that’s 24 inches wide, consider getting something more compact. An 18-inch dishwasher will perform just as well. It may hold fewer items, but there will be fewer people living in the space.

Also, consider holding off on specialized appliances like a panini maker or popcorn machine. As convenient as these appliances may seem, think about how often your residents will actually use them. Your thoughtful appliance selection will reward you with much more counter space.

Finalizing Your ADU Plans

Building an ADU may not be the same as constructing a full-size house, but the work involved can still make it seem like a daunting task. Hopefully, this guide can help you begin the process with a clearer idea of what you want.

After evaluating these 12 factors, the next step on your to-do list is to contact a team of builders that can realize your ADU plans. Luckily, our team at Acton ADU can help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation or call 408.652.8561 to speak with a design specialist.

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