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10 Things to Know Before Building an Accessory Dwelling Unit

If you’re thinking about building an ADU, don’t commit your time, energy, and money until you think carefully about all that the project entails. ADUs (accessory dwelling units) can be a great solution for adding more square footage to your living space and providing family members or friends with a private living space. But they come with rules, regulations, and sometimes drawbacks that you might not have considered.

So, while dreaming about and planning an ADU can be exciting, take as much time as you need to consider all the pros and cons so you don’t regret your decision later. Here are 10 things to know before building an ADU.

1. An ADU Can Offer the Same Benefits as an Addition

An ADU can offer the same benefits as an addition without disrupting the main flow of your house. For example, if you’ve been considering adding an office, gym, or mother-in-law quarter to your home, think about whether that space would be better suited to a separate structure. Not all properties can easily and aesthetically accommodate an addition.

2. ADUs Must Be Habitable

ADUs can be attached or detached, but they have to be habitable for them to count toward your living area’s square footage. This means the ADU must have a functioning bathroom and kitchen (or kitchenette). It also must have utilities, which you can run separately to the unit or through the main home.

3. An ADU Could Be a Good Investment

An accessory dwelling unit could be a good investment, providing you with a source of rental income, especially if you live in an area with an increased housing shortage. It can also boost property value, adding to the total livable square footage of the home—possibly a wise move if you plan to sell in the future.

4. ADUs Can Provide Privacy and Comfort

If you often host guests or extended family, consider adding an ADU. It can provide them more comfort and privacy than sleeping on your sofa or in a spare room. Additionally, college kids who have come home for a break or after finishing school may also appreciate an ADU as a starter space to call their own.

5. An ADU Used as a Rental Can Decrease Privacy

If you plan to rent your ADU, consider that you may have more foot traffic in your front and back yards, which is a definite drawback if you value your privacy. Even though accessory units have separate entrances, you’ll have someone sharing your property, so you might have to put up blinds or other window coverings to keep people from looking in.

6. An ADU Can Be a Solution to Housing Shortages

Building an ADU can be a great solution for your adult child struggling to find affordable housing. Older low- and moderate-income earners in your community might also be priced out of the rental and purchase market. Therefore, adding an accessory unit helps you be a solution to those in need. Additionally, if you’ve wanted to buy a bigger home but can’t afford rising real estate prices, you might want to consider staying where you are and expanding rather than moving.

7. Poor Layout and Design Can End Up Decreasing Your Property Value

If you’ve already decided to build an ADU, ensure its layout and design fit in with your main home. Otherwise, you could decrease your property value. An accessory unit’s size or architecture shouldn’t look awkward in its space. With the proper planning, design, and construction team, you can make an ADU a beautiful and seamless part of your property.

8. You’ll Need to Follow Regulations to Build

Every area has building regulations, even rural communities. So, make sure you know the laws surrounding ADUs in your city. Also, consider that HOA-restricted neighborhoods have even more building codes and rules. Remember, too, that you’ll need to apply for a permit regardless of where you build your ADU.

9. You May Have to Provide Parking for Your ADU

Different areas have varying regulations regarding residences and parking. Some municipalities consider proximity to public transportation or car shares when making parking rules. Others don’t require parking spaces on specific properties like those in architecturally significant communities. If you have to provide parking for your ADU, the rule may be one space per bedroom (as it often is in many cities). If you turn that space into an ADU, your city may not require you to replace parking spaces in a garage. Check with your city to see if you’ll need to provide parking for your accessory unit.

10. Prefabricated ADUs Might Offer a Faster Turnaround and Less On-Site Construction

Pre-fabricated dwelling units are manufactured off-site, usually in standard sections, and quickly assembled and shipped. Up to 90% of the ADU might be completed away from your property, with just the utilities, plumbing, and foundation work to deal with on-site. Pre-fact ADUs make sense on flat lots and lots where equipment like tractors and cranes can easily get in. If you go with a modular unit, consider that all on-site prep work and off-site construction are done simultaneously, completing the project much faster than a standard stick-built unit.

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