The purpose of this forum is to give ADU users, owners, or builders a place to seek answers and find community. Although we see ADUs increasingly referenced these days, they are still somewhat of an enigma as some folks think of them as small versions of big houses or house versions of cheap condos; others see them as prefab boxes; others consider them high yield income options; others see them as opportunities to provide housing for many who might not get to live (or remain) in amenity rich neighborhoods. Essentially folks come to ADUs from many and varied perspectives. As an architect I defer to the notion that in providing site specific housing, there is no one-size solution. Single family house’s backyards are always specific sites and the owners’ needs and goals are going to differ across the spectrum of ADU owners. All that being noted, however, there are definitely many things all ADUs have in common. Size and backyards being two obvious ones. Having non-developer homeowners is another.

I will kick off the forum with my takes on the common ground:

ADU size: Where will all my stuff fit? is a common reaction to size.  I can definitely feel the pain of one’s attachment to their stuff. You have to be uber awake to dodge the constant temptation to consume this or that, even in the grocery store we over purchase from a make-believe reality that we will hurry home and chop and dice and simmer and produce those picture perfect morsels. Truth is, we throw away one pound of food each day!  It is supremely hard to back off from the consuming we have undertaken most of our lives. Yet read any of the stories of the ones who have escaped and are living a minimalist ideal. By hearing how those few are shedding the stuff and all the stress that comes from buying and living with it, we can feel an exquisite exhale. Now this is what I am interested in: losing the drive to buy, buy, buy and replacing it with empty. Just space, and light. This is the start of right sizing your ADU.    

Backyards: used to be this is where most of our urban nature living took place, where we kids were free to imagine. Today’s backyards have been usurped by rarely used designer outdoor kitchens, electric pump activated babbling brooks, and manicured landscaping. No self-respecting kid would play ‘fort’ in those bushes, do kids even know how to play ‘fort’? It seems backyards are up for a revelation. Without getting into all the social justice issues of zoning, my take on backyards is that they are gems of nature waiting to be of use once more, waiting to burst us open with imagination. Hold on to that feeling and it will guide these backyard houses toward a right fit.

Non-Developer homeowner: changing regulations in cities and municipalities across the nation have hurled hundreds upon hundreds of homeowners upon the doorstep of building a small house in their backyard. Talk about lost! ADUs wobble like Jell-O as builders and bankers drool over an untapped market. The good news here is that most of the folks peering into the ADU market are gearing up at about the same speed. Will it be the profit-seeking developer or the game-changer agency or the one-by-one builder who will slide ahead and define the future of ADUs? If I am to believe in a right sized ADU of space and light guided to land in service of an emerging societal shift, then my two cents are with the game-changer. And I do not take the lost homeowner as truly lost but rather momentarily disoriented. Here is where my decades of architecture practice and studio teaching will guide. We may all be gearing up at the same speed, but the path I take cuts directly into a world where we will want to live.  


What is an ADU? ADU: Accessory Dwelling Unit, backyard house, granny flat. ADUs are basically a second house on your single family property. They can be inside your existing house or stand alone as a separate house.

Where can I find out if my property can have an ADU? ADUs are subject to zoning law. In most states these are established by your local county or city. In California and New Hampshire the state has established base ADU regulations making them legal on every single-family property in the state, local government cannot deny them. You find out what your local ADU regulations are by checking with your local planning department, it might be your county or city. Some cities and private developers have set up very cool planning tools where you can check your property’s capacity for an ADU online.

What are some resources for getting ADU information? First place to check for resources will be your local planning department, this will lead you to the specific requirements for your property. There are also many non-profit agencies dedicated to ADUs as well as university programs. Additionally you can check online for local architects and builders who specialize in ADUs. When I provide ADUforMe presentations giving the general public basic how-to information, I announce them on my local Nextdoor. You could also try MeetUp. Coming soon, will provide a comprehensive resource for all things ADU, so save the link and be sure to check back as we launch. 

ADUforMe ONLINE Forum will launch with our platform. In the meantime if you have an ADU relevant subject you would like to bring up, please leave a message and I will get back to you.

ADU for will be the platform for all things ADU. Looking to build one? Rent one? Find architects or builders who specialize in them? Just wondering how and what others are doing? ADU for will be the AirBnB for ADUs plus the HomeAdvisor of ADUs plus the NEXTDOOR for ADUs. Accessory Dwelling Units – aka ADUs – are swelling across the country and placing regular folks in the position of being a developer and landlord. ADU for is the resource to help successfully make those transitions. So, interspersed with the Good Design is Like That writing, you will find information about until that site gets launched. Pardon the dust.

ADUforMe Boulder – Do you wonder if you can have an ADU on your property and where it can be located and what size it can be? I can help find answers. 

Why Does Housing Need to be Brave?

Why does housing need to be brave?, you might wonder. Do you remember the pressure in high school to fit in? Or the challenge in your profession to do as everyone else does? These days it seems that value has been found in making mistakes and stepping outside the lines, essentially in following an untried path. Yet some things, no matter the unconventional line you might be walking, some things seem to be held in place with much deeper roots. Housing is one of those things. To convince your neighbors or city council or even your spouse that providing a place for a stranger to live in your backyard in a modest small house is a good thing, can be an unexpected uphill battle. Most of us living in desirable cities realize that the oft spoken housing crisis is quite real. Land is valuable beyond what any of us imagined when we bought into our single family houses decades ago. And population growth is not a far off phenomena going on in lands far beyond our reach. This is going on right here, right now with ever expanding consequences. And as I often have pointed out to my city council, you would not know we were in the midst of a climate crisis to walk through our city and see the smashing up of old structures and tipping them into the landfill and the super sizing of new constructions with barely lip service to green building much less renewable energy or regenerative practices.

When will the immediacy of climate change disrupt our patterns?  

rain drops on porch roof

I like to think small. I like to think about the single things any one of us can do in our daily routines. Like recycle that can or bottle. Like walk or take a bike. Like turn off lights and grow native grass to reduce water use. Things we have heard a million times over the past decades, these should all be second nature by now, you think? I met a man at a political event just a day ago. As we got to talking something steered the conversation to recycling and I matter-of-factly acknowledged that we certainly would know that cardboard and wood are recyclable and reusable. His response shook my reality. He said, no, he did not recycle. Yes he lived in Boulder, yes he lived in an apartment building with massive recycle bins. But no, he did not recycle. That was for white people. SILENCE

How does this happen? How is it that the consequences of our actions do not trickle upward to the consequences for our planet? Do I recycle because it rocks my little green world or do I recycle because I know that we live on a planet of finite resources with a population explosion that is severely taxing the ability for this planet to supply our growing needs? I saw that vulnerable little blue marble of a planet in those photos from space. They made my heart swell as I thought of the millions of creatures that make this home. It is nothing short of a miracle, that this much life has arisen in ecological cooperation for billions of years.  And in a couple of hundred years humans have taken the path of dominating every other specie on the planet.

I return to thinking small. Because that is where you and I can still see the wonder of life. I practice architecture. And what I have noticed is that it is increasingly difficult to include the word beauty and even sustainability into the client conversation. I am convinced that the Internet has made us stupid. It provides a means for untrained people to gain limited information about things they truly know nothing about and cannot begin to know from a stroll on the Internet. This may be nice for looking up facts like, what year was Elvis born? But it is such a disservice to use it to educate yourself about how to make a house or a space. It provides false understanding and closes you to the true sources of a great house or a delightful space.

In today’s world we can still find many places to hide our heads in the sand. While you are there, check out that gain of sand for it holds all the connections to everything else.

I see small houses that way. Although backyard houses are just bit players in the housing options, they are a key nexus that can nudge us to use less and to participate more and with good design, small houses can provoke us to feel our interconnection. That is no longer small, that is brave.

Zumthor’s Vals thermal baths, photo Fernando Guerra