How to Plan an ADU: Exploring the Differences between Guest Houses and Rental ADUs

Northern California is seeing a boom in accessory dwelling unit (ADU) construction. Local and state laws have made them a more feasible option for families and individuals seeking solutions to the long-standing housing crunch here. Before you jump into an ADU project at your home, however, it’s critical to understand the local housing codes, what you need, and what makes the most sense long-term for your ADU. For example, one of the most pressing design questions you might face boils down to whether you intend to use your ADU for extra rental income, or as a guest house—or whether you want a space flexible enough to morph between both situations. If you’re grappling with these questions in Campbell, Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, San Jose, Sunnyvale and the surrounding areas, consider these ADU design essentials—as a Guest House compared to a source for Rental Income.

ADU Design Considerations for Guests and Families

Many homeowners have extended family and friends in mind when they start an ADU project. Perhaps you want a separate, but nearby living space for your recent college graduate, or newlywed kids. Maybe you want your aging parents to live close, yet still, enjoy a sense of independence in their own space. Perhaps you enjoy hosting visiting friends on a regular basis. You want them to have a cozy, functional space they can use that allows them to enjoy their visit without too much disruption to the different routines of either family.

In most of these situations, you can work with your design-build team on a flexible guest space that meets all of the basic living requirements beautifully, even if the space you have available is relatively small. Murphy beds, stow-away furniture, vertical storage, multi-use shelving, and smart design can make a small area seem generously-sized and comfortable. We have designed several beautifully functional ADU guest suites that have all the necessities from the kitchen and bathroom to the living and bedroom space. In most cases, the space is flexible enough to accommodate you too, even if you just need quiet time away from the hubbub of the main house, or extra office and studio space from time to time.

One particular consideration for multigenerational-use ADU guest houses is accessibility and ADA compliance. If you plan to create living quarters for aging relatives, consider things like ground floor space, adaptive bathroom and kitchen designs that take mobility issues in mind, etc. In this case, a detached ADU is often preferable to space in the attic (attached ADU). During the design phase, you always want to keep flexibility top of mind so that you can use your guest ADU comfortably, in whatever way your family may need it in years to come.

Building an ADU for Rental Income

If you build a flexible-space ADU on your property, you can also use it as a space to rent out. If you are building a rental ADU, it can be easier to generate income that would make your ADU a wise long-term investment in many ways, enabling you to pay down debt and build up your savings.

For example, some homeowners design rental ADUs to generate a stable, consistent form of income with long-term renters. In this way, many Northern California homeowners are subsequently pitching in to solve the housing shortages in our communities by creating these smaller, yet luxurious living spaces.

Some families with rental ADUs are using them to generate faster, higher incomes with short-term renters, like those who use Airbnb. In these cases, luxurious design and convenient access to local attractions help the local economy by boosting travel options for people coming in from out of town.

The good news is that many of the design considerations you would use in building a family or guest house ADU are similar to those of the rental ADU. For example:

Great kitchens on a smaller scale—A kitchen with loads of wall storage and an ergonomically designed “triangle” of movement between the sink, fridge and oven makes even a small kitchen work efficiently. Include plenty of outlets for small appliances and charging stations. A long breakfast bar can incorporate both eating and work space, as well as storage underneath.

The Multi-use Spa Bathroom—Natural light and smart vertical storage and seating (even in the shower) can make the small bathroom seem more spacious. A rain-head shower and light-colored design give an open, spa feeling. For rentals especially (but also guest ADUs), you may have enough space here for a stacked washer and dryer as well.

Cozy bedroom(s)—Depending on your space and design requirements, you can have a couple of smaller bedrooms or a larger master suite. In either case, wall shelving, extra outlets, stow-away Murphy beds, bunks and fold-away desks can provide sweet slumber or additional office space.

Flexible Space is Key to Rental ADUs and Guest House ADUs

Those were just a sampling of the possible design considerations and purposes for which you may be considering an ADU project for your home. Because each space is unique, it’s essential to get expert design-build assistance on your project from the beginning. Acton ADU has a clear understanding of the local ADU housing codes in Northern California that regulate the type and configuration of ADUs you can build in each community. We also hold regular design seminars that frequently address all the different design/space issues surrounding ADUs.

If you’d like us to come out and talk with you onsite about your ADU plans, schedule a complimentary design consultation today: 408.663.6530. We’re eager to help you get the most beautiful and flexible ADU on the block, whether it’s for guests or rental purposes.

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