Tag Archives: benefits of an ADU

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!


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!


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.