Tiny Homes – What is an ADU???

Over the last few years there has been increased interest for minimalist forms of living, moving many towards a smaller and compact home design. Which brings us to tiny homes, if you have been on Youtube chances are you have come across a Tiny Home video, possibly something DIY or made from a shipping container.

Photo by Jeffrey Czum on Pexels.com

Although these can definitely be modes of permanent living, they can feel temporary or uncomfortable at times. In addition the build quality might not be up to par, if there are no building permits and inspections for this Tiny Home.

An alternative can be an Accessory Dwelling Unit or also know as an ADU. These are secondary structures that are either attached or detached from the main single family home. You might ask, isn’t this similar to a Duplex style property…. Yes and No!.

Here’s how, in my opinion and ADU is a great option for home owners or investors that want to add a new unit to their property. For example, if you had home and wanted to legally convert it into a Duplex apartment, your local city jurisdiction might make you jump through many restrictive hoops or not allow it at all. An ADU on the other hand can take many forms and is usually easier to permit. Read below for a few things that set ADU’s apart and how it might be the possible route for your next project.

one lot, two houses: Rentable legal second unit

  • City jurisdictions more than often have streamlined permitting processes for developing an ADU. This can prevent a home owner from having to split a lot into two in order to get houses. In most cases, zoning requirements will allow for this ADU to be built on an existing lot where a Primary home already exist.
  • A new ADU can have it’s own mailing address for complete privacy from the main house. Making it easier for two families to live with in a small to medium plot of land in a suburban setting, because it allows you to separate mailing addresses and some utilities, giving two households privacy from each other.

Shared utilities for ease of construction

  • The second main advantage is not necessarily seen at first glance, it is the utilities. Typically each single family home will need utilities connections to city mains/services, this includes electricity, sewer, gas, water etc. Maybe you get where I am going with this, each connection to the city service is expensive and will require additional approvals, permitting and inspection, which adds to the total project cost.
  • An ADU can in essentially “tap into” the services already serving the existing main house. Which will lower cost and be much quicker during city approvals and construction.
Image by http://housable.com

Types of ADU’s

  • Although this is not an all encompassing list, it will give you a good idea of your ADU options. Earlier I mentioned a duplex style property, why would someone not just buy one of those!? ADU’s have much more flexibility when it comes to design options, you can choose which style best suits your property and budget.
  • Garage Conversion – Cities such as the City of Los Angeles have already begun streamlining the permitting process allowing the conversion of existing garages to livable units. Another bonus to this options is, there path for legalization for garages that are illegally converted to livable units.
  • Attached – This would be an addition to the existing single family home, usually the at the rear of the property facing the back yard. Which would result in a shared common wall between the main house and ADU but with a separate entrance to the unit.
  • Detached – This is the type of ADU that most closely resembles a Tiny House. Although it is the more costly of the three types, this option has the most flexibility. As this is a new structure, you can locate it on the property in order to maximize the functions that happen in between the main house and new ADU. These functions can be parking, shared yard space, patios, trash areas and storage, making it a great option if you want to Master Plan you property amenities. It also provides the most privacy allowing for some buffer space between the two living units.


Going back to the beginning of this article, an ADU can be the perfect solution to having a city approved unit while keeping to design standards of tiny home. Potentially allowing a homeowner to keep cost low by only building the necessary space without many unnecessary cost. In short, there can be an ADU that can fit your needs. Here is one of my previous articles about the advantages of building an ADU. https://buildacityblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/06/3-reasons-to-build-and-adu/

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