Sunday, October 23, 2011

Class: Building an Accessory Dwelling Unit in Portland

Kol Peterson, a Sabin neighborhood resident, is offering a one day class called 'Building an Accessory Dwelling Unit in Portland' on Sunday, November 6th. Learn more at

If you’re like me, you enjoy walking the streets around our neighborhood, marveling at what neighbors have done with their houses, landscapes and yards. If you look more closely, you may spot a second smaller house, set back from the street, sitting where a lawn might normally be. These small, standalone houses, sometimes converted from old garages, and sometimes built as new construction, are called Accessory Dwelling Units, or “ADUs”.

Two months ago, I completed an ADU in my backyard. My partner and I immediately moved into our 800 sq ft charmer and now are renting out the main house. I had many motivations for building an ADU, but the notion of a building a financially sustainable housing situation for myself was the most compelling reason.

While the upfront cost of building the ADU was expensive ($92K), I now live for “free”, as the mortgage on the primary house is offset entirely by the rental income that the primary house now generates. Building an ADU on a property is neither cheap nor simple, but if you’re a homeowner with an inclination to have an ADU on your property, NOW is a great time to think about building one. Not only does Portland’s zoning/building code allow ADUs (which is surprisingly rare), but Portland has temporarily waived System Development Charges (typically, $7-12K) through June, 2013, in an attempt to popularize ADUs. The City recognizes that ADUs are a smart way to add density in the city core, while not dramatically changing the character of its neighborhoods. The $7-12K incentive is nothing to scoff at, and with June 2013 only one and half years away, many homeowners have begun to think about building an ADU more seriously.

If you are a homeowner in the area, think about whether building an ADU may be an interesting option for you to pursue for your property: Maybe you’d like an ADU for some flexible living space for a family member, or maybe you'd like to have one as rental property for some additional income, or maybe like me, you actually want to live in a smaller space that you built for yourself from scratch so you can live at little to no cost in perpetuity.

And, for those of you who enjoy sustainability, and community housing….maybe you have been inspired by Sabin Green, or by other green buildings in the neighborhood....consider this: reducing your environmental footprint is primarily about where you build and what size you build. Building an ADU in Portland is actually one of the most green building decisions you can make for you and for future residents of Portland.

In the course of building my ADU, I became so passionate about them that I have begun to offer classes to help others who want to build one. The one day class is an on-ramp to the elaborate process of designing and building an ADU. It will open your eyes to the spectrum of information that you’ll need to know to design and build an ADU on your property. The class is intended to help you understand the ADU design, permit, management, and building process.

If you’re interested in learning more, visit Kol’s blog at

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