What Is an Accessory Dwelling Unit? A Guide for Homeowners

If you haven’t yet heard of accessory dwelling units, you soon will. Not unlike the tiny home trend, accessory dwelling units are growing in popularity with homeowners across America.

What is an accessory dwelling unit? How large are they and what are they supposed to contain? What different options do you have when planning an accessory dwelling unit for your own property?

We’re here to clear up any questions you may have about accessory dwelling units so that you can decide if this is the right project for your property!

Read on to learn everything you need to know in our guide to accessory dwelling units.

Accessory Dwelling Units: The Basics

First, let’s talk about the basics of accessory dwelling units. ADUs are often referred to as granny or mother-in-law suites, guest houses, or secondary dwelling units. The term refers to just about any self-contained residential space that exists on the same property as a single-family home.

Most ADUs are around 800 square feet, although you will find ADUs that are on the smaller and larger end of the spectrum. They should contain just about all amenities needed to live a comfortable life.

What amenities does that include? ADUs typically contains a sleeping area, a kitchen or kitchenette, and a bathroom equipped with a bathtub or shower. Some ADUs may have enough space for a living and dining area as well, although it often makes sense to use multifunctional furniture in order to maximize the limited space.

Depending on the size and shape of your ADU, it may look more like a loft or studio apartment (think open concept) or it may have designated rooms for activities like sleeping and eating. Most ADUs consists of a single level, although we have seen some that make use of a lower and upper level. 

What Kinds of Accessory Dwelling Units Are There?

ADUs are typically custom-built, which means that you have plenty of options to choose from in regard to how and where you build it. Companies like Acton ADU make it easy to design your very own ADU to your liking! Let’s take a look at some of the options you have for your ADU.

Detached ADUs

Detached ADUs are built on your residential property but are completely separate from your own home. These are the kinds of ADUs that resemble tiny houses in form and functionality. 

The primary benefit of a detached ADU is privacy. You don’t have to share any walls, much less entrances or amenities, with the residents or guests staying in a detached ADU. However, a detached ADU is generally going to be entirely new-build, which may mean that it will cost more. 


Build-On or Conversion ADUs

Build-on or bump-out ADUs are also considered new construction, although they are built directly onto the existing house. While they still contain all of the amenities one would need to live comfortably, they may provide direct access to the existing house.

Conversion ADUs are popular with homeowners who have unused or barely used square footage somewhere in their homes. Common spaces that are used to create conversion ADUs are attics, basements, spaces over a garage, or the garage, itself. Conversion ADUs may not cost as much to build, as the basic structure already exists–although they will still require major renovations. 

What Can You Use Your Accessory Dwelling Unit For?

What is the purpose of building an ADU on your property? Let’s look at the three most popular uses of ADUs.

Low- or No-Cost Living for Loved Ones

By far, the most popular reason people invest in an ADU is to create a low- or no-cost living for a loved one. For example, if your parents require a little more assistance than they used to, having their own home on your property can be a perfect solution. That way, you can ensure that you both maintain privacy and space but you can still provide assistance readily. 

Private Space for Short-Term Guests

Another popular use of an ADU is creating private space for short-term guests. Having friends and family come to visit is always a welcome treat, but sharing your home for a few days or even weeks can become draining. By providing a guest house-style ADU, you can make the most out of your time together without having to share amenities and common spaces 24/7.

Accommodations for Renters or Travelers 

If you’re looking for a way to increase your income and want a primarily passive opportunity, an ADU may just be the right choice for you. ADUs function well as small apartments, which means that you can offer them up in exchange for rent or accommodation fees. 

First, make sure that you understand any local laws and regulations regarding ADUs. There may be some restrictions on the ways in which you can rent out space on your personal property.

Then, make your ADU tenant- or guest-ready! Once you have people living or staying in your ADU, you’re the only requirement is to collect the agreed-upon rent or fee and take care of maintenance. Because ADUs are small, they are easy to maintain and cost very little to run.

Is Building an Accessory Dwelling Unit Right For You?

Now that you know more about what an accessory dwelling unit is (and how versatile it can be), there’s only one question left. Is an ADU right for you? If so, it’s time to start planning your design and talking to an ADU contractor!

Whether you’re the owner of a single-family home or a landlord with tons of tenants, we’ve got more useful content for you. Take a look around and read about the latest tips, news, and guides to making the most of your property.

Sudarsan Chakraborty
Sudarsan Chakraborty

Sudarsan Chakraborty, an adept blogger and writer, navigates the digital realm with finesse. His passion for storytelling drives him to explore diverse topics from Home Improvement to Business. With clarity and authenticity, Sudarsan captivates audiences, offering unique insights and fostering a community of engaged readers on his blog.

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