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Home Away From Home: The ABCs of ADUs

Accessory Dwelling Units, also known as ADUs and sometimes called in-law apartments, casitas, or granny flats, are smaller homes located on the same lot as a primary house. They can either be attached to the home or detached as a stand-alone. “You can build a new one or convert an attached or detached garage,” Kathe Russell, chief designer at DreamBuilders Home Remodeling (, says.


Depending on where you live, however, the exact definitions of ADUs can vary. “For example, Sacramento County doesn’t consider a detached guest house without a kitchen an ADU. Also, tiny homes and most homes on wheels aren’t considered ADUs,” she says.

Russell has an attached ADU to her primary residence, where her mother-in-law lives. “[The home] has a separate entrance from the exterior (but there’s also a connecting door that can be accessed from our house) and a parking space in our three-car garage that connects to the front porch and entrance. It’s worked out well. She has her independence, and we have our peace of mind,” Russell says.


The benefits of having an ADU are increased property value and the potential for rental income. “We’ve seen clients who have also benefited from an ADU by being able to move an aging family member onto their property to care for them,” says Brenna Krouse, a certified interior designer at K Squared Interior Design & Remodeling (

Colton Paulhus, co-founder and CEO of Anchored Tiny Homes (, says they’re a cost-effective way for grown kids to move back home (without moving back into your home) and avoid buying an unaffordable house and/or paying for a rental.

According to Russell, some people use them as a separate home office or rent them out through platforms like Airbnb. With that said, some areas, such as Sacramento County, don’t allow short-term rentals.

Photos courtesy of Anchored Tiny Homes


Krouse, Russell, and Paulhus all recommend working with experts if you’re interested in adding an ADU to your property. “Each jurisdiction can be a little different and each parcel can have different challenges related to setbacks or HOAs, etc.” Krouse says. “As a general rule of thumb, ADUs can be a maximum of 1,000 square feet and must have a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.” There are also rules for separate exterior access, parking spaces, the height of the structure, the foundation, and setbacks, Russell shares. Says Paulhus: “From architecture to permitting to completion, the process generally takes 6-8 months.”

“As a design/build firm that constructs ADUs, we’ve found that the best way to approach them—whether we’re building something standard or non-standard or converting an existing structure—is to create preliminary drawings for our clients and then schedule an appointment with the building department to review the plans and redline anything that isn’t going to fly,” she says.

Photos courtesy of Anchored Tiny Homes


Though there are many variables when it comes to cost, Paulhus says the average cost for a one-bedroom ADU is $150K; however, his company can build a studio for $79K. Krouse continues: “Site conditions and utility costs can change the price significantly,” she says, but in general “prices vary from $250-$400 per square foot for building. What clients need to know is that a true ADU is a small residence or dwelling. We talk to many homeowners who think they can convert a shed into a living space and that isn’t necessarily an ADU, nor is it always permitted in certain jurisdictions. An ADU is meant to be an additional dwelling on your property—one that is separate from the existing home.”

Photos courtesy of Anchored Tiny Homes


Krouse recommends homeowners consider the value that an ADU can add to their home. “While it is a significant investment, the value can be recouped as rental income or when the property is sold,” she says. “From a design perspective, you should consider designing the ADU so it looks similar to the existing home or so it ‘coordinates’ with your existing home.”

Paulhus recommends asking yourself the following questions: What’s the intended use? Where is it going to go? Which finance route will I take (home equity line of credit, cash-out refinance, etc.)? How soon will I need it?

Photos courtesy of Anchored Tiny Homes


Russell says to be aware of the minor details as soon as you get started on the project. “Don’t overlook the planning and drawings that will be needed to get your project off the ground. Make sure you budget for this as well—about 2-5% of your build price,” she says. “This is not a project for the average do-it-yourselfer.”

One final word of advice for someone considering an ADU? Go for it if you can afford one. “It will increase your property value here in California and give you lots of flexibility for helping out family or gaining extra monthly income,” Russell says.

Photos courtesy of Anchored Tiny Homes


by Kourtney Jason
Top photo ©jimmyan8511 - Middle photo ©Iriana Shiyan - Bottom photo ©coralimages - Photos courtesy of Anchored Tiny Homes.