COVID Has Prompted a Surge in Demand for One Specific Type of Home Addition. Should You Try It?

published Aug 16, 2020
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Credit: Courtesy of Studio Shed

Pre-coronavirus, Erin Miller worked from her at-home office in Centennial, Colorado. Her copy editing and document layout job requires a big desk that can fit two monitors, plus project files. So, this spring, when her husband began working from home, too, the space suddenly felt cramped. 

Miller hired Studio Shed, a Boulder-based maker of turnkey accessory dwelling units, to create a custom 10’ by 16’ backyard office. No walls were knocked down for a hefty home remodel, and, in Miller’s case, no city permitting was required for the backyard addition because her new freestanding home office is under 200 square feet. (Permitting requirements vary by municipality).

Accessory dwelling units—which have gone by the monikers of granny flats or in-law suites—have gained popularity over the past several years. They’ve fulfilled several purposes: Affordable housing solutions, private suites for house guests, artist studios for creative types. Now, amid the pandemic, remodeling experts are seeing heightened interest in ADUs. This time around, people really, really need dedicated office spaces so they can maintain some semblance of work-life balance in a world where homes are offices, garages are gyms, and kitchens are homerooms. Home experts predict ADUs could be a solution to other challenges posed by COVID-19 as we rethink the functionality of our living spaces.

As coronavirus disrupted work and school schedules in the spring and summer, Studio Shed has been running at about double the company’s original forecasts, says Jeremy Nova, Studio Shed’s cofounder and creative director. Prices for ADUs vary, but his single-room studio models start at about $10,000, and some can be installed within a week.

“The demand has been really high and it looks like it will continue as people figure out the best ways to cope with a lot more time at home,” Nova says.

Credit: Courtesy of Studio Shed

The need for more flexible space

GreatBuildz, a matchmaking service that connects homeowners with vetted general contractors, is also seeing a surge in demand for ADUs and garage conversions, says company cofounder Paul Dashevsky. In Los Angeles alone, 15,000 of these types of projects are in progress, a result of California loosening restrictions on ADUs, which was accelerated by COVID-19. 

It’s not just home offices that are driving the demand for ADUs. As schools extend closures into the fall or experiment with hybrid schedules, Nova says he’s seeing an interest in dedicated learning spaces for kids to have a place to study and focus. Dashevsky also says that some customers are concerned about the long-term safety of aging parents. Building an ADU allows people to house their parents instead of relying on senior living facilities where visitation may be restricted. 

The addition of ADUs could signal a forthcoming change to family dynamics and living arrangements in the United States.

“ADUs provide an opportunity to bring together generations of family in one place, while still allowing each to maintain some sense of privacy—in the age of COVID, this supports the trend of younger people leaving expensive cities to move back in with their parents or grandparents,” says Melanie Turner, director of residential design for Pfau Long Architecture, the residential studio of Perkins & Will. “[They’re] moving in to help with childcare as sheltering-in-place and working remotely has become the new normal.”

Credit: Courtesy of Studio Shed

What to consider if you’re interested in an ADU

The first step in building an ADU is learning what you may or may not be allowed to do on your specific lot. 

“A quick call to your local building department can usually answer these questions, and a little bit of planning can save a lot of time down the road,” Nova says.

Other things to consider: Does your HOA have restrictions? What kind of permitting is required in your city, if any? What type of financing can you qualify for?  

For Miller, her backyard office was constructed in two months, and she opted for Studio Shed-certified installers to build the structure. The company also helped arrange for a contractor to lay the foundation, run electrical lines and internet cable, work out the heating and cooling options, and add on a front porch. She’s finishing the interior decor, but has about 80 extra square feet that she’s planning to outfit with a sofa, chair, and rug to use as a flexible space to read, relax, and visit with friends during non-work hours.

“My biggest problem is keeping my two teenagers from trying to take over the space—they think it’s really cool and regularly offer suggestions as to how they and their friends might like to hang out there,” Miller says.