Retirement Downsizing in Place with an Accessible ADU

This entry is part of 13 in the series Accessory Dwelling Unit




Many seniors are seriously conflicted about the choice to downsize into a smaller, more manageable and affordable house or stay with the family home to pass it on to the children who grew up there. There is an inherent conflict between practicality and sentimentality, especially as you start to slow down and getting around the big old abode is becoming more of a hassle than it’s worth. The good news is that it’s not a clear-cut choice between selling the house to downsize or staying and trying to take care of it on your own. There are many shades of alternatives like living in the master suite and renting out spare bedrooms, running the place like a bed and breakfast through Airbnb, or you can even effectively downsize into a senior-friendly little home, rent out the house, and still be close enough to keep an eye on the old family home. How do you ask? By building an ADU.

What is an ADU?

An ADU is a small additional home built on your property either separately from or connected to the main house. These are homes generally between 400 square feet and 800 square feet. What’s so special about ADUs is that you can build one almost anywhere because they are so small but include enough room for one or two people to live comfortably, if not expansively.

Most ADUs feature one or two bedrooms, a full if small kitchen and dining area, a bathroom, and sometimes a laundry area. They often feature wide porches to help create more living space and are very comfortable in a spacious backyard. In other words, they are the perfect retirement downsizing apartments and you can build one right next to the home you don’t want to leave behind.

An Accessible ADU is Perfect for Retirement

ADUs are great for a lot of different population groups but for seniors, they are the perfect put-it-anywhere retirement flat. Small and incredibly compact, the ADU will be easy to keep clean even with a limited daily energy and you’ll never have to go up and down stairs to reach a room in the house. Even better, they can be easily designed for perfect accessibility with all the privacy and comfort of an apartment in a retirement community but still on your own land and completely under your control. A ramp can be installed out front, bars can be elegantly and discreetly installed throughout the home, and you can even have it custom-built with counter lifts, light-touch appliances, and other helpful accessibility features to make it a luxury retirement suite right in your own backyard.

The Smart-Home Upgrade

You can also make your small retirement flat even more convenient with the installation of a modern voice-activated smart home. You can have wifi-enabled lights and thermostat, and maybe even other appliances like a smart oven, coffee maker, self-watering plants, pet treat dispensers, and amazingly much more. Even non-smart things can be added to the smart home roster with the use of wifi-plugs for simple on/off functions. This means that from the comfort of your chair, you can manage many aspects of your home without having to waste your energy wandering around turning lights on and off, resetting the thermostat when it gets cold, or starting the oven pre-heating. And with an ADU, you’ll only need one hub because it can hear you from one end of the house to the other.


Downsizing is often the most practical choice for aging seniors, but it can also be a hard one because you don’t want to leave your family home. Fortunately, you don’t have to actually go anywhere to downsize or even give up some of your privacy to rent out part of the house. You can gain the full profits from renting the entire main home and still live comfortably on your own property by building yourself a cozy little accessible ADU. With the combination of a small clean space, ramps, and handrails, and helpful smart-home integration, you should be able to enjoy your retirement quite blissfully with all the joy of watching your family home come to life again with activity from a nearby comfy porch chair. For more information about building your cozy custom retirement ADU, contact us today!


5 Tips for Building an Energy Efficient ADU

This entry is part 1 of 13 in the series Accessory Dwelling Unit


If you’re thinking about or already planning to build an ADU on your property, it’s important to remember that the cost of construction is only the beginning. The ADU will connect to your property’s water, power, and possibly gas hookups. Whoever lives there will add to your utility bills as if they were living in the main house, meaning your monthly costs will inevitably go up. This means that the more energy-efficient your ADU is, the lower it’s monthly utility cost will be. While there’s little you can do about water other than to have a well or collect rainwater (a whole new project all on its own), you can [amazon_link asins=’0979882001′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ab5886f5-e67f-11e7-9b62-6fcd0550a544′]lower and even eliminate the power required to keep your ADU residents happy. Here are five tips to remember when designing and building your ADU that can help.

1) Insulation and Weatherproofing

The weather in Hawaii is notoriously nice but most modern families still prefer to turn on the AC when relaxing at home or preparing for work and school each day. This means that the more efficiently a home maintains it’s internal temperature, the more energy efficient it will be. To ensure that your ADU doesn’t leak AC, make sure that the home is fully sealed and well-insulated. Windows and doors that open wide are wonderfully breezy, but they should also have efficient weatherstripping so that when closed, they seal completely.

2) Central Air

A lot of homes have stop-gap cooling measures like window AC units or free-standing room heaters. Not only are these bulky, they’re also less efficient than a centralized air system with sealed ducts, clean vents, and a single well-built appliance managing all your cooling and occasional heating needs. The more streamlined your ADU design is, the less power it will use.

3) Low-Watt Appliances

Appliances come in a wide selection of quality and efficiency. No matter what kind of appliance you’re looking for, from [amazon_textlink asin=’B074BXLK17′ text=’washing machines’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’d6319d19-e67f-11e7-b5dc-2fc330d35f0b’] to water heaters, there will be options that consume less power for the same high-quality performance. With just a little bit of research, you should be able to fully equip your ADU with appliances that will combine into a significant reduction in power consumption for you and your ADU residents.

4) Solar Panels and Micro-Grid

Now that you’ve ensured that the ADU will consume the minimal amount of energy, you have the opportunity to have it compensate for its own power consumption, possibly reaching net-zero and removing the ADU from your power bill entirely. All you need is a modest solar panel array and a battery bank that can support the home’s power consumption overnight and maybe a day or two of clouds.

5) Smart Home

The final power-saving and incidentally delightful solution is integrating IoT smart home features. Wifi-controlled and programmable LED lights are not only more efficient, they can also be turned off from anywhere and turn themselves off when no one is home. A smart thermostat can ensure that the AC is never running when the house is empty. You can even install smart outlets to control normal appliances from your phone or on an efficient timer.

The more efficiently your ADU has been designed and built, the more inexpensive it will be to keep running comfortably and maintain in the years to come. From good insulation to lights that turn themselves off, with a little bit of forward thinking, you can reduce the amount of power your ADU consumes and possibly even generate all the power it needs to run every appliance in the home. For more helpful tips on building a new ADU for your family or rental use, contact us today!


How to Optimize Space In Your New ADU

This entry is part 2 of 13 in the series Accessory Dwelling Unit



Anyone who’s been looking into ADU designs recently has probably had to face a very stark truth: ADU’s are small. Unlike normal single-family homes, they are each limited to a certain maximum floor space size based on the total size of your lot. Unfortunately, floor space means that even if you decided to build up (to safe ground space), you would still only be able to build so much area worth of rooms. The vast majority of ADUs will be limited to a maximum of 400 sq feet of floor space. This is about enough room for one fairly tight bedroom, a full or 3/4 bath, and an open kitchen and living area. With traditional furniture and storage methods, this can get cramped pretty fast but with a few creative storage and design techniques, you can maximize the living space while remaining within regulation size.

Turning The Walls into Storage

The limitations on ADU size is based on floor space, meaning the area between the walls. But what about the walls themselves? rather than using up a hundred of your square feet for dressers, shelves, and cabinets, why not install them directly into the walls so the floor can be used for comfortable human activity? All you need is a little innovative carpentry to embed stacks of drawers, fold-out shelves, and hidden cupboards to store everything from tools to clothes to [amazon_textlink asin=’B003IKMSFE’ text=’kitchenware’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’4c0a9c72-e677-11e7-8743-7b58c1ee8f1f’].

Murphy Beds

The Murphey bed is a simple but effective engineering marvel already well-loved by apartment-dwellers. This design involves a bedframe with what appears to be a tall, recessed headboard. The bed can be folded vertically, with the footboard folding toward the ceiling, to embed itself into the wall, creating floor space for daily activities. With this method, you might be able to comfortably turn the master bedroom into a convertible study and/or fit one or two children’s beds into the living area to better accommodate a young family.

Roll-Away and Platform Beds

Roll-away beds are another innovation that can help you double bed space for floor space. A simple platform, perhaps made into a play area, can hide a full-sized children’s bed that is only rolled out for sleeping time. Platform beds, on the other hand, are out all the time but have either another roll-away bed or large drawers worth of storage underneath.

Ceiling Storage

While lofts will count against your floor space, simply choosing to store things hanging from the ceiling will not. By designing a vaulted ceiling, ladders, and hooks or brackets for hanging storage, you can give your ADU residents a lot more room for their things so the floor space is only occupied by daily activities. These can hold bicycles, potted plants, hanging cleaning supplies, even cabinets that lower themselves on electric rails if you want to go all-out.

Embed the Tech

How much floor space do you want to be taken up by standing lamps, entertainment centers, or [amazon_textlink asin=’B00FU3ZKN4′ text=’computer desks’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’c2ef2b3d-e677-11e7-a6db-f52111b67e20′]? You can plan for these features as well by embedding them into the walls. An entertainment center can fold out or you can leave a handy recess in the wall with convenient outlets and cable hookups for your resident’s media needs, maybe even with matching recesses for surround-sound speakers. Mount the lights on the walls and ceilings, and take the time to design a corner desk that doesn’t take up much room, once again near convenient outlets.

Most ADUs will be using their limited floor space for traditional furniture, storage, and beds but you can set the trend of optimized comfort and efficiency. Give yourself, your relatives, or your rental tenants the gift of elbow room with a creatively designed ADU, embedded storage, and beds that can be put away. For more advice on building perfect custom ADU, contact us today!


Just How Big is a 400 sq ft ADU?

This entry is part 3 of 13 in the series Accessory Dwelling Unit



Building an ADU on your property is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your neighborhood. It can provide cozy independent housing for retirees, extra housing space for family living with you, or provide a rental home for another family in need of affordable housing. However, building an ADU also comes with some specific limitations, one of which is how big your ADU can be in comparison to the size of your lot. Specifically, if your land is 3,500 square feet to 4,999 sq ft, the largest ADU you can build is 400 sq ft of internal floor space, including lofts. For larger lots, the upper limit caps at 800 square feet. But just how big is this in practical terms? How much walking space, how comfortable is the kitchen, and how many people can share the space without stepping on toes? 400 sq ft is small and 800 isn’t actually that much bigger.

Designing the Floor Plan

The key to building an enjoyable ADU is to understand exactly how much room you have to work with, then choose a floor plan that optimizes a comfortable lifestyle. In fact, the decision of floor plan is incredibly important to this process as you’ll need a design that fits well in your open yard space, is pleasant to live in inside, and suits the intended purposes. For a family, you’ll want to plan for private sleeping and clothing storage areas. For one or two retired elderly, a simple layout with plenty of wide spaces to move around in would be more convenient.

What 400 sq ft Looks Like on a Floor Plan

400 sq feet can be done in a lot of different ways depending on how you design it. The best way to think about a 400 sq ft is that it’s about the size of a two-car garage if square, and is usually about enough space for an open kitchen-living area, a full bathroom, and a one bedroom. The most important decision is how many walls to have. The fewer walls, the more open space you have, and most designs include an open kitchen and [amazon_textlink asin=’B00Q8EOLDY’ text=’living room’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’0b27d3ad-e679-11e7-91a2-bb3a906db448′].

Designed long, you can put the bedroom and bathroom on the ‘private’ end and the kitchen and living room together on the other. This is better for narrow yard space and separating privacy space from visitor space. Square designs can provide more open space, especially if you’re willing to put the bed in the living area. Then, of course, there are all your non-regular options. L-shaped houses and other odd variations may provide for the exact distribution of space and yard use you’re looking for as well.

What About 800 st ft?

Okay, now let’s say you have quite a large plot of land and double that amount of ADU floor space. Now you have room for a separate kitchen and dining area if you want it, but in most cases, you’re better off investing in an extra bedroom or two to accommodate families with children. With creative storage, [amazon_textlink asin=’B008BWESBQ’ text=’fold-away beds’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9f02521b-e679-11e7-9647-5508a1e57c5e’], and maybe another 3/4 bath, you could now comfortably fit a family of four or five in your ADU as long as they don’t mind small closets. For fewer tenants, you might add a study, guest bathroom, and a larger master suite instead.

Building a welcoming, family-friendly ADU is more complicated than it seems. You want to think carefully about who will be using the ADU and how you can make optimal use of the space available. If you’d like more ideas on how to design and build the perfect ADU plan for your property, please contact us today!


5 Decisions to Make Before Starting Your ADU Construction

This entry is part 4 of 13 in the series Accessory Dwelling Unit



If you want a source of passive income and to do a community service at the same time, a rare opportunity to be sure, there’s no better option than constructing an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) on your property. This is Honolulu’s best answer to the increasingly pressing crunch for affordable housing and while there are some very specific rules, it’s a great chance for current homeowners to significantly increase the value of their property, provide a new home to family or renters in need, and enjoy the excitement of a new project literally in your [amazon_textlink asin=’B01FLO0TWI’ text=’backyard’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’6957f4aa-e67a-11e7-ba81-156c15ca43e3′]. However, before you start putting up timbers, there are a few important decisions you need to make.

1) Is the ADU for You, Family, or Renters?

The reason you’re building an ADU will shape every other decision you make, so you might as well start at square one. ADUs can serve a number of interesting, helpful, and profitable purposes depending on how they are used. If you (the homeowner) plan to move into the ADU and leave the main house for the family or high-dollar renters, the design should be fit to your personal needs. If the ADU is to house an overflow of family, consider their preferences and look into ohana housing instead, which has fewer regulations but isn’t as versatile if the family moves out. Finally, if you’re planning for renters, you’ll want the ADU to be as welcoming as possible for anyone who might move in.

2) Would it be better Attached or Detached from the Main House?

You may not have realized it, but ADUs can absolutely be built as an attachment to your main house. In some cases, this may be the only way to achieve the required number of parking spots or fit the second dwelling onto an oddly shaped lot. That said, attached ADUs are more ideal for the family as you’ll be living in close proximity, along with sharing a wall and possibly a door to the main house. For ADUs you plan to rent or plan to eventually be able to rent, later on, it would be better to build a detached dwelling for added privacy and personal space.

3) Are You Prepared for a Very Small Dwelling?

ADUs come with a maximum size restriction depending on the square footage of your lot, and these can be pretty darn small. If your lot is between 3,500 and 5,000 sq ft, your ADU could have a maximum size of 400 to 800 sq ft. That may be smaller than you’re imagining. With 400 sq ft, there’s usually enough room for one bedroom with a full to [amazon_textlink asin=’B01KGRAHJ0′ text=’queen sized bed’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’93f69a54-e67a-11e7-934c-89a72daf9e9d’], a compact kitchen/living/dining area, and a small bathroom. Once you know how big an ADU you can build, take a walk through a few models and existing homes around the same size to really get a feel for the functional size of the home. That said, people have reported living comfortably in less than 200 sq ft.

4) Can You Convert an Existing Accessory Structure?

If you have a large shed or well-built workshop already on your property, there’s a chance that you might be able to convert this into all or part of your new ADU. For this to be a viable option, the accessory structure needs to be sturdy and capable of being upgraded to good quality living conditions. You’ll need insulation, real walls and floors, a kitchen, and a bathroom along with the necessary power, water, and possibly gas connections. It may just be easier to build a new structure, perhaps even making room by knocking down the old shed rather than repurposing it.

5) Do You Want to Go “Off-Grid”?

One of the really nifty options for a brand new ADU is the ability to go ‘off-grid’. What this means for most is solar panels. Big ones, with enough battery power to ensure that the lights and water heater work at night as well. You can even install a rainwater collection and filtering system but we suggest keeping the water pipes even if your ADU is power independent. An off-grid ADU will cost a little more to make but for the rest of its life will add nothing to the power bill. If you’ve got the money to invest and love the idea of renewable energy, this could be a great ADU choice that will, incidentally, also raise its value as a rental property. While you’re at it, throw some solar on the main house, too.

Here at Owner Built Designs, we specialize in making your Honolulu ADU dream a reality. For more helpful tips on designing the perfect ADU for you, your family, and your property contact us today!


What is an Accessory Dwelling Unit?

This entry is part 5 of 13 in the series Accessory Dwelling Unit


What Is An Accessory  Dwelling Unit?

An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is a second dwelling unit, including its own kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom facilities. It may be attached or detached from the primary dwelling unit on the zoning lot. ADUs are intended to be “accessory” to the primary dwelling and are typically much smaller.

This new law allows homeowners to build and rent a second home on their property.

It could be attached or detached. It could be the garage. But small kine, not large, where it becomes unaffordable. ~ Kirk Caldwell, Mayor of Honolulu

Benefits of Accessory Dwelling Units

  1. An increasing number of communities across the nation are allowing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), also known as granny flats and second units, within residential areas to increase their affordable housing supply.
  2. ADUs offer a variety of benefits to communities. They create housing options that support workforce housing, provide flexible living arrangements for multigenerational families, and provide supplemental income for homeowners.
  3. ADUs also support sustainability because they are often conversions of underutilized space and consume less land than new single-family development on vacant land.
  4. Elderly and/or disabled persons who may want to live close to family members or caregivers, empty nesters, and young adults, find ADUs convenient and affordable.
  5. As identified in the Affordable Housing Strategy, there is a major shortage of affordable housing on Oahu, especially for rental housing. ADUs can help address this problem by allowing existing homeowners to build or convert a legal second unit on their property.
  6. The ADU Ordinance was signed into law on September 14, 2015, by Mayor Kirk Caldwell. The purpose of this Ordinance is to allow ADUs as a permitted use in Residential and Country zoning districts to encourage and accommodate the construction of ADUs, which will increase the number of affordable rental units and help ease the housing shortage in the City.

I would like to keep my dad home with me. That’s why I’m doing it. You forget about the hidden homeless. There’s many hidden homeless members in our community. ~ Kahaunani Mahoe-Theone, ADU applicant

Oahu Housing Crunch Eased by ADU's
Image from


1.  Decide what type of ADU fits your needs.

2.  Check if you meet the basic requirements.

3.  Complete the Ohana/ADU Public Facilities Pre-check Form.

4.  Prepare construction drawings.

5.  Apply for a building permit.


An ADU can be attached or detached from the main dwelling. There are several ways by which an ADU can be added to a lot:

  1. Addition to or alteration of an existing structure.
  2. Construction of a new structure.
  3. Recognition of an existing structure that was built without a building permit.
  4. Conversion of an existing structure that exceeds the maximum floor area and/or cannot offer the least off-street parking (Zoning Adjustment required).


Prior to applying for a building permit, check if the basic requirements to adapt, build, or convert an ADU on a lot are met.

This ordinance is the most significant affordable housing ordinance the city’s adopted in years. ~ Ron Menor, Honolulu City Councilman


  1. The lot is zoned: R-3.5, R-5, R-7.5, R-10, R-20 or Country District.
  2. Minimum lot area of 3,500 SF
  3. The lot is not landlocked.
  4. The lot does not have more than one dwelling unit, i.e., more than one single-family dwelling, two-family dwelling, accessory ohana dwelling, guest house, multi-family dwelling, planned development housing, cluster, or group living facility.
  5. Either the main dwelling or the ADU will be occupied by the property owner(s), the owner’s family, or a designated authorized representative.
  6. The owner(s) of the lot will record covenants running with the land with the Bureau of Conveyances or the Land Court of the State of Hawaii, or both, as is appropriate.
  7. Private covenants do not prohibit ADUs.
  8. The lot can fit one parking space in addition to the parking required for the primary dwelling unit. No parking is required if the lot is located within one-half mile of a rail transit station.
  9. Floor area maximum: 400 SF (for lots with an area of 3,500 to 4,999 SF) and 800 SF (for lots with an area of 5,000 SF or more).

* For more detailed information, see Ordinance 15-41. 

There are three possible outcomes:

Outcome 1: If you meet all the requirements, proceed to C.

Outcome 2: If you do not meet any of requirements 1 to 7, you cannot build an ADU on your lot.

Outcome 3: If you are converting an existing structure into an ADU, AND you meet requirements 1 to 7, but do not meet either 8 or 9 or both, apply for a Zoning Adjustment (refer to E). Once the Zoning Adjustment is approved, proceed to Section C.


After completing the Ohana/ADU Public Facilities Pre-Check Form (refer to E); there are two ways to apply for a building permit. New buildings must be filed electronically through ePlans. Alterations or additions may submit a hard copy application.


Listed below are pertinent forms and other important information that is needed to adapt, build, or convert an ADU.

  1. Ohana/ADU Public Facilities Pre-Check Form
  2. Internet Building Permit Application
  3. Basic Requirements Information about lot size and zoning district.
  4. Access to ePlans
  5. Zoning Adjustment Information for preparing and applying for a Zoning Adjustment: ADU Application Instructions
  6. Restrictive Covenant Sample draft of a restrictive covenant. Restrictive Covenant Sample

After a building permit is issued and construction of an ADU is underway, inspectors will inspect the building, electrical work, and plumbing. Once your inspection is completed, the Certificate of Occupancy will be issued.

This web page is a general guide, please consult each county agency for other details and/or the latest amendments and changes.

For more detailed information, visit the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting website,

All information is subject to change. Revised September 2015

Sep 14, 2015 – Accessory Dwelling Units: The ADU Ordinance was signed into law on September 14, 2015, by Mayor Kirk Caldwell.  The purpose of this Ordinance is to allow ADUs as a permitted use in Residential and Country
zoning districts and to encourage and accommodate construction of ADUs, which will increase the number of affordable rental units and help ease the housing shortage in the City. Following are Bill 20 (2015) CD1, ADU informational documents, Ohana/ADU Pre-Check Form and Director’s report.




What’s the 411 with Hawaii ADUs?

This entry is part 6 of 13 in the series Accessory Dwelling Unit

[amazon_textlink asin=’0983888787′ text=’Honolulu’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’8531a375-a222-11e7-a928-195794382acb’]’s mayor signed a provision for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in September 2015. Now, qualifying owners of freestanding, single-family homes have a new way to generate revenue – by renting a secondary residence situated on their property. [amazon_textlink asin=’1288916396′ text=’ADU’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’24a27b6c-a224-11e7-aa93-bf0d1cd8204e’]s are a response to the Mayor’s Affordable Housing Strategy, developed in response to the shortage of inexpensive rental housing on the island.

It is important to understand that ADU approvals, design and permitting requires adherence to very specific standards. Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) discusses frequently asked questions about permitting related to ADUs at this link.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here we discuss some of the most common questions about ADUs:

Q: What is an ADU?

The DPP specifically defines an ADU as “an accessory or second dwelling unit, including its own kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom facilities, attached or detached from the primary dwelling unit on the zoning lot.”

Importantly, an ADU is subordinate to the primary residence. However, it does not have to be detached from the existing home. While many ADUs feature new construction, it is possible to remodel some existing single-family homes to create them. However, every ADUdesign must include a kitchen, a bathroom, and at least one bedroom. Current building codes apply to such renovations/additions.

ADUs are usually found to the rear or side of the existing dwelling, and they are subject to strict size limitations. For example, an ADU on a lot from 3,500 to 4,999 square feet (SF) in size must be 400 SF or smaller. On a 5,000+ SF lot, ADUs can be up to 800 SF in size.

Q: In what ways are ADUs important?

ADUs help address Honolulu’s chronic housing shortage, and they provide aging residents a convenient way to downsize.

Relieve Housing Shortage – It is no surprise to those living in Honolulu that the cost of living is substantial. In fact, one site ranks Hawaii’s capital 4th out of 66 U.S. cities, although it is still 14 percent less expensive to live in Honolulu than New York City. However, with rent for a 900 sqr-ft furnished apartment averaging more than $2,000 per month, and utilities averaging more than $250/mo, many workers struggle to find affordable housing. ADUs address this need.

Aging in Place – ADUs also offer aging homeowners a unique opportunity to downsize while remaining on the very same property that likely hosted endless parties and other memorable family events over the years. A senior can “age in place” by eventually moving out of the larger primary residence and into the smaller ADU. The homeowner can then rent out the larger home to generate potentially substantial rental income.

Q: Where can an ADU be built?

Zoning is crucial to ADU development. Although there is an important caveat, an ADU may be built on lots zoned R-3.5, R-5, R-7.5, R-10 or R-20. Construction of an ADU is also possible in a Country District with a lot measuring 3,500 SF. The caveat? Even when a lot is appropriately zoned, there must be adequate utility infrastructure in place, and the ADU cannot conflict with existing restrictive covenants. This effectively eliminates ADUs from consideration in master planned communities or those with homeowners associations. The ADUmust also comply with any land use provisions that come with the specific zoning.

When eligible, only a single ADU is possible on a lot with one single-family home on it. This excludes lots with duplex homes as well as those with an existing ohana unit or guest house.

Q: How do ohana units and ADUs compare?

These two kinds of living spaces differ as to maximum size, occupancy, and parking. ADUs are subject to size restrictions, while ohana units are not. Only family members may live in an ohana unit, while there is no such restriction with an ADU. Finally, ohana units must have two off-street parking spaces, while ADUs only need one (those less than a half-mile from a rail station have no parking requirement).

It is also important to note that the property owner (or appropriate relative) must live in the primary residence or the ADU. Exceptions exist for serious illness or active military deployment. Leases for ADUS must be at least six months long. When a property is sold, the primary residence and the ADU must be sold together.

Owner Built Design, LLC is a key resource when you are looking into an ADU. Let me put my decades of experience to work for you. Please contact me today.


What’s the 411 with Hawaii ADU’s: The FAQs Continued

This entry is part 7 of 13 in the series Accessory Dwelling Unit

If you live or even occasionally visit [amazon_textlink asin=’1628873140′ text=’Hawaii’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’b9643ab7-a226-11e7-ae93-0f338484ecd1′], you’re probably already aware of the intense housing crunch going on, especially when it comes to affordable rental properties for working families. While [amazon_textlink asin=’B015PA9VI6′ text=’homelessness’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’fb46d656-a226-11e7-9b2b-b347f01db0bd’] is usually something that happens to people who can’t or won’t work, it’s an unfortunate fact that many families are finding themselves without proper lodgings because there simply aren’t enough homes to go around. For this reason, Honolulu has recently authorized home-owner residents to build small secondary residential homes on their property in order to rent to families in need. These residences are known as Hawaii ADU’s or Accessory Dwelling Units and are a great way for home owners to both alleviate the housing crunch and make a little extra money for their own mortgages.

In a previous post, we covered a few of the FAQs about ADUs from defining our terms to how they compare to ohana units. Today, we’re picking up where we left off to answer more important questions about how you can contribute to the local effort against homelessness.

Frequently Asked Questions Pt 2:

Q: Are owners required to live on the property?

The short answer here is yes, but in truth, it’s a little more complicated. You cannot rent both the main house and the ADU at the same time, but the named owner doesn’t necessarily have to live on the property. In order to rent your ADU, the main house needs to be occupied by a relative by blood, marriage, or adoption to the property owner. However, a designated authorized representative is also allowed.

Alternately, you or a relative can choose to live in the ADU and rent out the main house, which also counts as using your ADU to alleviate the housing shortage. This is a great option for retirees who want to downsize for ease of lifestyle without leaving their family home behind.

Q: Is there a minimum occupancy period for each ADU tenant?

In order to ensure that Hawaii ADU’s are actually being used to help with the housing problem, tenants need to stay at least six months (180 days to be specific) with each lease. This prevents both landlords and tenants from misusing it’s intended purpose, but that also means that it’s inadvisable to Airbnb your ADU between tenants.

Q: Is there enough local sewer and water capacity?

It’s true, not every neighborhood has the infrastructure available to support doubling up on sewer and water needs. For this reason, you’ll need to get approval from all the usual sources including the Department of Planning and Permitting, Wastewater Branch, Traffic Review Branch, State Department of Health, Board of Water Supply, and the Honolulu Fire Department. If they all agree that a new residential structure is OK, you can proceed with building plans.

Q: How much parking is required for an ADU?

Hawaii ADU’s only require one off-street parking spot. This sets them aside from ohana units which require two and therefore permits home owners with smaller yards to contribute to the housing effort.

Q: How big can Hawaii ADU’s be?

It may be tempting to build yourself a near-duplex residential buddy, especially if you have the yard space to spare, but ADUs are, in fact, limited in size based on the size of your lot.

  • Lots 3500 – 4999 square feet can have an ADU of up to 400 square feet
  • Lots 5000 square feet and up are limited to an ADU of 800 square feet.

Q: How many ADUs can I build?

The answer here is only one, but it’s slightly more complex in practice. ADUs fill a secondary residential slot, but can only do so if you don’t already have a secondary residence on your lot. Therefore ohana dwellings, guest houses, and multifamily dwellings like duplexes disqualify a lot from having even a single ADU.

If you’re considering building an ADU on your lot, you’ll need an expert designer who can get your plans through approval the first time around. I have decades of experience and specialize in permit-ready drawings and would be delighted to ensure your ADU project hits the ground running. Please contact me today for more information or plans to build!


The Benefits of Building an ADU on Your Property

This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series Accessory Dwelling Unit

Owning a home in Hawaii is a wonderful experience. It allows you to build memories and make alterations however you choose to on your land. Many people will buy a single family home and make a number of small to extensive renovations like [amazon_textlink asin=’1561584827′ text=’remodeling the kitchen’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’a5e3e5ee-9efd-11e7-bb23-c5ef1967877b’], taking out interior walls between public living spaces, and adding new rooms to the existing structure. Of course, not every renovation has to make use of the current home at all. You could construct outbuildings, design the perfect play ground, or landscape the garden into something fantastic. One of the most useful and potentially lucrative changes you can make to your property is the addition of an ADU or Accessory Dwelling Unit.

What is an ADU?

Knowing what the acronym stands for (Accessory Dwelling Unit) doesn’t actually explain what an ADU really is. These are extra buildings or extensions to a single-family home that can support an entirely separate resident and are particularly popular in crowded Hawaii neighborhoods. They are commonly referred to as ‘granny flats’ or ‘in-law apartments’, but you certainly aren’t required to keep your aging parents and parents-in-law in one if you build it. In fact, many ADU owners and builders are putting them on the renter’s market, becoming landlords without having to buy new investment property.

Unlike normal home extensions, each ADU includes its own kitchen and at least one private bathroom. They are often built as outbuildings in a separate section of a large home lot but can also be built as a comprehensive addition to the current structure. They can even be a conversion of an older section of the house or accessory structure in the yard.

Providing a Source of Income

There are many potential uses for an ADU. If you didn’t build it for a specific relative in mind, you can put the property to use making money to pay for its construction costs, provide [amazon_textlink asin=’0812929896′ text=’extra income for your family’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’cfe1b6e7-9efd-11e7-bcbf-81db1592f226′], retirement, or perhaps to pay off your mortgage on the overall property. Most people who build an ADU do so with the intent to rent, which can make a big difference during the current housing crunch.

Alleviating Overcrowding

Because there are so many more people living in Hawaii than there are available single-family homes, it’s quite common for extended families to live together. Building ADUs can give everyone a little extra breathing space by providing separate accommodations. Simply by adding an extra kitchen and bathroom to the property, you can reduce the amount of waiting and jostling in a busy home. ADUs also create flexibility, as the added privacy allows you to rent out space to a non-relative if it’s not currently needed.

Encouraging Aging in Place

Most people, as they age, need less space to take care of and often end up downsizing in order to save the money and energy it takes to maintain a full-sized house. However, an ADU can help seniors who love their homes ‘age in place’ by moving into the smaller residential space and renting out the main house to an eager new family.

Opportunity to Help the Families in Need

There is a serious problem in Hawaii with perfectly capable and hardworking families facing homelessness because there simply aren’t enough affordable houses available. Building and renting out an ADU creates an opportunity for private homeowners to contribute to a solution. Families with nowhere to stay will be more than happy to have a freshly built private apartment and access to single-family neighborhoods. By renting your ADU out at an affordable rate, you can help keep a family out of homelessness while making a good long-term investment.

There are half a dozen reasons to build and ways to use an ADU, it’s simply a matter of preparing for the construction costs and choosing a design. Build it the way you like it, with an efficient floor plan and an exterior that compliments your landscaping. Once it’s done, you can share it with relatives or rent it to a grateful family looking for a new home. For more information about building a new ADU on your Hawaii property, please contact us today!


Why Are ADUs So Important in Hawaii?

This entry is part 9 of 13 in the series Accessory Dwelling Unit

Housing affordability has long been an issue on Oahu. The challenge remains, according to the 2017 Housing Affordability Table compiled by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. According to the table, urban Honolulu is the 54th largest metro area in the country but has the most expensive single-family homes.

Honolulu Leads Top 100 Cities

In fact, only 19.6 percent of all households can afford the housing costs associated with the median selling price of $707,100. And, just 9.0 percent of renter households could afford to purchase a home at the median selling price. That is the lowest percentage of any of America’s top 100 metropolitan markets. Only greater Los Angeles and California’s Bay Area come close. Just 12.4 percent of Los Angeles renters would be able to afford the median selling price in that market. In the Bay Area, including San Francisco and Oakland, 13.6 percent of renters have the income to purchase a home at the median selling price.

Recession’s Impact

Following the recession of 2008, new construction dropped precipitously in Hawaii. One year later, only 6,000 housing units (including condos and single-family units) were sold in Honolulu County. Since then, sales have rebounded, but they are still nowhere near the boom years of 2003-2005.

Certainly, more work remains to be done. Today’s $700,000+ median selling price of a single-family residence is more than double the median selling price recorded for 2000.

Many people who cannot afford such prices will still need housing. In a report entitled “Measuring Housing Demand in Hawaii 2015-2025,” it is estimated that Hawaii will need another 64,700 to 66,000 housing units between 2015 and 2025. At the same time, the report states, “Wages and incomes have not been growing as fast as housing prices, making it harder to afford[amazon_textlink asin=’1544278330′ text=’ real estate’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’30a5316c-9f03-11e7-9f80-0db11417ca82′] in Hawaii, especially for younger and lower-income households.”

Ohana Units Help Somewhat

In the late 1980s, the ohana unit first addressed some of the state’s affordable housing needs. However, the impact was somewhat muted because only relatives of those residing in the primary residence can occupy these units. Nonetheless, they are great for multi-generational households. Ohana units are often occupied by adult children of homeowners or seniors in the family, and they must be physically attached to the primary residence. The location is fairly flexible because they are possible in agricultural, country and residential districts, although they are prohibited in areas zoned R-3.5.

ADUs to the Rescue

In 2015, Honolulu introduced accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to further address the shortage of [amazon_textlink asin=’0874209773′ text=’affordable housing’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’c503fae5-9f03-11e7-9946-a918f4e1af36′]. Given the statistics noted above, the future of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) appears bright. ADUs offer local governments some of the advantages of duplexes, but at a lower cost. Both types of dwellings increase housing density without putting an undue strain on infrastructures like sewer, water, and roads. In particular, these units tend to spread out across metro areas like Honolulu. And, governments can refuse an ADUpermit if the construction will unduly strain existing infrastructure.

ADUs are not just a Hawaiian phenomenon. According to Hawaii Appleseed, they have been used to address shortages of affordable housing in across the continental U.S. as well, from Lexington, Massachusetts on the East Coast to Portland, Oregon, and Santa Cruz, California, on the West Coast.

Qualifying homeowners renting out ADUs find they can generate a new and valuable revenue stream. ADUs can increase the overall value of the property, aiding asset accumulation in the process. If there is eventually a decision to sell the property, the seller may find that some prospective buyers value the ADU for the same reasons.

Owner Built Design LLC is your source for residential design, engineering and permit processing on the island of Oahu. I bring three decades of local experience to my work on behalf of homeowners and owner-builders. To better determine if the construction of an ADUis right for you, please contact me today.