The Anatomy of an ADU, One of COVID-19’s Most Popular Home Additions

published Dec 14, 2020
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Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, have become a bit of a buzzword in the housing world. In recent years, these backyard tiny homes have offered affordable housing solutions in pricey cities, provided studio space for creative types, and served as in-law suites for aging relatives. Now, ADUs, sometimes called “granny flats,” are popping up at record pace during the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve taken on a new purpose: to create flexible space for people cooped up at home. 

An ADU in 2020 could be a classroom for distance learners, a home office for remote workers, a suite for college students boomeranging back home amid campus closures, or even a home gym. Once a novel backyard addition, the freestanding dwellings are one of COVID-19’s most popular home additions because they’re relatively affordable, can be quickly built, and are ever so nimble.

Tiny in square footage, ADUs are big on design. While they may serve a wide variety of purposes unique to individual homeowners, these multifunctional structures, on the whole, have some things in common. Here’s a list of the cool amenities that you might find in an ADU:

Its Very Own USPS Address 

ADUs can be a way to bring families together (under separate roofs) for modern-day multi-generational living. Or, they can be rented out as a way to earn an extra income stream. Either way, you can register for a separate USPS address for your ADU, says Freddie Zamani, CEO of EcoSmart Builders, a Southern California ADU company that plans, permits, designs, finances and builds ADUs. Independent sewage and electric meters can help separate the utility bills from the primary residence, too, he says.

Compact Appliances

Since ADUs are smaller than primary residences, thoughtful space planning is important, says Jeremy Nova, the cofounder and creative director at Studio Shed, a Boulder, Co.-based maker of turnkey ADUs. “There are many new compact appliances—refrigerators, dishwashers, ranges and more—that allow for more design flexibility and choice in outfitting a small space,” he says. 

A mini-split heat/AC unit, Nova says, is usually enough to keep the space comfortable all year round.

An Open Floor Plan 

ADUs can be attached to a home, like a converted garage, or a detached freestanding structure, typically in the backyard, Nova explains. Whether detached or attached, an ADU typically has its own separate entrance. Once inside, open floor plans are common because they allow for flexibility. Most units have a small kitchen and bath and usually have a single bedroom or studio layout, Nova says.

Outdoor Space

There’s no need to skimp on outdoor living space with ADUs. They’re highly customizable and can come with special features, Zamani says, like patios for dining al fresco and rooftop decks for an after-work happy hour or summertime sunbathing. 

Convertible Furniture 

ADUs are often furnished with multipurpose products, says Emily McCulloch, social media marketing manager with California-based Cheeky Monkey Tiny Homes. Think: Storage stairs and convertible tables. They also often have space-saving furniture like Murphy beds and collapsible tables.

Lots of Light

ADUs are scalable in size, but tend to take up only a few hundred square feet. “Skylights, vaulted ceilings, and bi-folding doors are extremely popular options to help ADUs feel more spacious,” says Zamani, whose smallest builds start at 360 square feet.

Energy Efficiency

ADU fixtures can be upgraded with energy efficient windows, water-saving toilets, tankless water heaters, and more features that make them energy-saving superstars.

Soundproofed Space

“My most interesting development was to soundproof a client’s ADU living space so his wife could play the piano away from the primary home,” Zamani says. “We installed bi-folding doors so the ADU became a fully operational living and entertainment space for parties on their pool deck with a fully operational kitchen, bathroom, living area with chairs, TV and—of course—the piano.”