A new web site about ADU’s: AccessoryDwellings.org
This blog gets a lot of visitors curious about the tiny house I made by converting my garage.
That place (just a wee bit bigger than the one in the picture above) has three main virtues:
1. it’s smallness makes it very green, given that size is the primary determinant of a dwelling’s environmental footprint;
2. it’s nice, making it possible to live small without feeling like you are living in poverty; and
3. it’s very close to, but still quite separate from, the main house, meaning I can live a few feet from my mother-in-law and still think it’s a good thing. :)
In short, those are the virtues of the modern accessory dwelling unit, also known as a granny flat, backyard cottage, ADU, etc. Given that the nation will need to build millions of dwellings for aging 1- and 2-person households over the next 30 years, I think they are a really interesting option both socially and environmentally.
Now I’m one of the editors of a new site that’s all about accessory dwelling units — what they look like, how to build them, what regulations are, etc. It’s called AccessoryDwellings.org.
Please come check it and consider becoming a contributor. Thanks!!
Building ADUs by the book: a review of In-laws, Outlaws and Granny Flats by Michael Litchfield
When people see the granny cottage I built, a lot of them ask, “I’ve been thinking of doing something like that on my property – how do I get started?”
There haven’t been many good sources I can refer to, and though I try to be friendly I haven’t been that encouraging. Developing that cottage was actually quite a struggle, even in the supposed progressive city of Portland. When you create a second dwelling in or around your house, like this one photographed by radworld…
… you are essentially becoming a mini real estate developer, where you take on a lot of risks and responsibilities before you get—you hope—to the rewards.
A solid one-stop source of good information was sorely needed about how to develop a second dwelling on your property, whether you call it an in-law unit, a basement apartment, a backyard cottage, a garden suite, a secondary unit, or (to use the term favored by planners) an “accessory dwelling unit” or ADU.
Of course architects and contractors will offer …more
Installing and using Arke Karina alternating tread stairs: a review
As a fan of alternating tread stairs, and the owner of a rare city-permitted custom made set of them in the granny cottage I built, I’ve always been curious about one staircase option I did not use: the Arke Karina stair kit.
My own alternating tread device, like most I see around on the internet, was custom made out of wood by a carpenter, and is straight. However the Arke kit uses a modular metal unit as its spine, giving it a lighter appearance, and giving it the ability to curve. The Arke kit isn’t cheap ($1600 minimum, plus >$200 extra if you want a second handrail), though custom carpentry isn’t either. Neither a custom made wood alternating tread stair, nor the Arke kit, meets most residential codes in the US so it’s a wash in that respect. What’s the better choice for someone building or modding a small house?
I finally got a chance to see an Arke Karina kit in action, …more
Alternating tread stairs — the dream and the reality
Here come the objections: Unpermittable. Uninsurable. Illegal. Or my favorite: impossible!
[Ladder image borrowed from Monolithic.com via materialicious.]
People striving to make environmentally sensitive housing often struggle against building codes and planning officials that tell them their environmentally positive design feature simply “can’t be done.” In the case of small houses or accessory dwelling units– which can be greener than a solar mcmansion just by being reasonably sized — one of the biggest challenges can come with stairways, since code stairways take up so much floor area and volume.
There are alternatives, of course, and here I’ll tell you about the one we used in my tiny house project: …more
My tiny house project: autumn outside
Tiny houses need to rely on the outside for a sense of spaciousness, and for an extra place to be in good weather. In previous posts I’ve talked about the ways our building directs the attention outside. Now here’s the outside itself, complete with kid table:
In this pic you are looking from the street up the driveway (made of pavers set in sand to let rainwater drain through). On the left you see stairs that curve up to the “big house” (750 sq. ft). Behind that curve we dug out a little sitting area (where you can see a concrete table with bouquet and iron lawn chairs) and made a retaining wall. This is a really comfortable little spot in the heat, because it’s in the shade of the building and dug in low. …more
My tiny house project: tour the inside!
The interior to my 400-square foot house is finally complete, and I think the results show that a tiny, environmentally sensitive house can be both complete and pretty darn nice. Please take a look around in this extensive series of pictures. For example, my cozy skylit loft (120 of the 400 square feet). Don’t you just want to read a book here?
It’s my belief that real green housing for Americans (as opposed to preposterous faux-green McMansions) will inevitably involve downsizing, because downsizing saves energy and resources across the board. But to work, it truly has to be a better place to live than an oversized dwelling — not some unsustainably pious way of “doing without.”
I think my project makes the point pretty well. It was done on the budget (about $75,000 including $7000 for permit and $4000 for architect) and plans I gave in an earlier post. I am very open to comments and questions, but please read that post and in fact all the posts in this series before you quiz me…
My tiny house project: finally some light
It’s been a while since I reported on this project, since construction has been too active to let me easily get in and take photos. Though a few key windows are still obstructed (notably a circular detail window which you should see in the big triangular wall, below), these shots show that all the ideas I’ve talked about in previous posts are starting to work. This place is going to feel and live bigger than its roughly 280-square foot footprint.
That’s important, because if smaller dwellings are going to fulfill their environmental promise, it has to be more than just possible to live in them. Those fickle Homo sapiens have to want to live in them too.
Note: float mouse over photos to see descriptive info.
My tiny house project: the necessary loft
One of the most common (and appealing) tricks in tiny house construction is removing ceiling joists to expose the attic volume, creating a “cathedral ceiling.” In McMansions such extra space can be cold and regal, but within a small frame it gives the eye some room to travel and permits the addition of a sleeping or storage loft.
Consider this before and after pair from my garage-to-granny-house conversion:
Nothing in the dimensions of the building has been changed, but there is clearly much more usable space in the “after” version.
However, in a conversion, you can’t just knock out joists willy-nilly; the place might fall down.
My tiny house project: an extra foot makes a difference
I’ve often noticed that very small differences in dimensions can make a big difference in personal comfort. For example, any sink will feel uncomfortable to use without that little 10 or 15 centimeter kickspace at the bottom of the sink cabinet. Any obstruction to the eye or body can translate into a claustrophobic feeling, no matter how big the room.
The flip side of this is that if such obstructions can be reduced, even a small space can feel generous. If I may modestly offer my own office setup (not part of my tiny house project, though there is more about that later in this post) as an example:
This photo (taken from the building’s hall through the door) shows nearly the entire place, which is maybe 7 by 11 feet, except for the cot that occasionally occupies the unseen wall to the right.
Sure, to function as an office it could be smaller but my point is this is a relatively small space that feels roomy. I think it is partly because I’ve designed the desk (it’s a piece of birch plywood with a routered edge) in a shape that allows both the eye and the body to move unobstructed into the middle of the room. Once there, the shape encourages the eye to travel out the window.
I was feeling proud of this little design when I saw how a real pro architect had done a similar thing in our garage-to-granny-house conversion. …more
My tiny house project: construction begins
One of the most basic ways of reducing your ecological footprint is to make your housing reasonably sized. So when I decided to convert my 280-sf detached garage to a “granny flat,” I thought my progressive and environmentally-minded city wouldn’t mind a bit. Well, I was wrong.
Nonetheless, I’m happy to announce that construction has begun, and I’ve got trash-filled pictures to prove it. First, ponder the dream: a vision of the way it’s supposed to look. Now, check out today’s reality:
There’s clearly a lot of work to do. And in case you don’t believe the house is small, check out the relative scale of the dumpster to the right… we could almost put the whole house in it! (and perhaps we should?) …more
Little house on a small planet (book review)
A lot of people are dreaming about downsizing their dwellings these days. Smaller houses go with a simpler, more rural life… and hopefully freedom from debt and “the Man.”
Naturally they’re turning to books for ideas about how to build or set up their new place. Print is still superior to the internet for providing thematic collections of photographs and drawings, and a book about dwellings can and should be something of a “wish book” for the reader… something they stay up to look at, under the covers with a flashlight if necessary.
Accordingly I was excited to receive a review copy of Little House on a Small Planet (Lyons Press, 2006), by Shay Salomon, with photographs by Nigel Valdez.
This wasn’t just because I love receiving free swag (note to all: please send more). I’ve also been frustrated by the scattershot bibliography of the small-house movement. …more
Tiny house barely escapes strangulation by codes
[note May 2007: people keep linking to this very old post.. if you want to see the finished house, follow this link. For the bureaucratic struggle, read on...]
Though I’ve ranted in this space about McMansions and monster houses, I haven’t spoken about my own little venture into the obvious alternative: tiny homes. Now I’m going to, with drawings and dollar numbers, and man it ain’t a pretty story.
Tiny houses are just the rage among a certain set. The dream begins with artisans who give the structures a tremendous romance, where “small” doesn’t mean “poor,” it means “beautifully simple.” The dollish scale brings natural economy with energy and materials — saving cash and nature. Lots of greens with back-to-the-land dreams (like Sandra the Serene) are thinking about building them.
However, these buildings are usually pictured in a rural setting, where building codes and zoning regulations are lax or nonexistent. I wanted to do mine in the city, where money is big and bureaucrats rule.
Here’s what happened to me. There’s a lot of detail here, but if you are getting into this kind of thing, detail may be just what you need…