ADU Knowledge
March 16, 2024

Can You Build an ADU on Your Property?

Argi Avetisyan
Argi Avetisyan
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Can You Build an ADU on Your Property?
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The concept of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) is gaining substantial traction among homeowners across the nation. ADUs offer an innovative way to increase property value, generate rental income, or accommodate the changing needs of families. Yet, as appealing as these structures may be, navigating the path to build one can be complex. In this guide, we'll walk you through the key considerations for homeowners looking to add an ADU to their property, offering insights that demystify the process and help you decide if an ADU might be the right next step for your home.

Can You Build an ADU on Your Property?

The first and most pivotal question to ask yourself is whether your property is eligible for an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU). ADUs can be a great way to maximize space and housing options on your property. It's crucial to delve into your local zoning regulations to determine if you can build an ADU, the permissible size limitations, and the specific types of ADUs that are allowed in your area. Understanding these aspects will guide you in making informed decisions about integrating an ADU into your property.

Zoning and Local Regulations

Each city and county has its own set of zoning laws and building codes. Some are more ADU-friendly than others, allowing a fast-track permitting process or relaxing certain restrictions to encourage ADU development. Check with your local planning department to determine what rules apply to your property. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Minimum and maximum ADU sizes
  • Setback requirements
  • Occupancy limits
  • Parking regulations
  • Owner-occupancy requirements

Understanding these regulations is crucial, as they can significantly impact the feasibility and cost of an ADU project.

Types of ADUs

There are several types of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) that homeowners can consider. Traditional ADUs are standalone structures, while Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADUs) are smaller units within or attached to the main house. Additionally, garage conversions involve transforming existing garage space into livable areas. Each type offers unique benefits and considerations that homeowners should carefully evaluate when deciding on the best fit for their needs and property.

Detached vs. Conversion

Detached ADUs are standalone structures on your property, while conversions involve repurposing an existing space within your home, like a basement or attached garage. Detached ADUs offer more privacy and typically greater rental income potential but come with higher construction costs and potentially more stringent zoning requirements.

Conversions, on the other hand, can be more cost-effective and may have more lenient parking and setback requirements since they do not increase the footprint of the property. However, they may also have limitations on their size and amenities, which could impact their marketability and income potential.


The distinction between a traditional ADU and a JADU is primarily in size and location. A JADU is smaller and often created within the walls of an existing single-family home, typically with a separate entrance and its own bathroom and limited kitchen facilities. JADUs can offer more housing flexibility for a smaller household or potentially a lower-cost start for those new to the realm of ADU construction.

Preparing to Build Your ADU

With a clear understanding of what type of ADU might work for your property, it's time to consider the practicalities of preparing for construction.

Getting Started

Start by conducting a property assessment and developing a clear plan for your ADU, taking into account your property's layout, space availability, and the needs of potential tenants. Engaging with an architect or design professional early on can help you create a plan that maximizes space and adheres to local building codes.


Determining a budget is a critical step in your ADU planning process. Research typical costs for ADU construction in your area, and gather quotes from multiple contractors. Don't forget to include potential costs such as permits, utility hookups, and landscaping in your budget. Remember that building a new structure from the ground up will be more expensive than converting existing space.

Financing Your ADU

The cost of building an ADU can be substantial, and most homeowners will need to explore financing options. Several approaches can help you fund your ADU project:

Traditional Loans

A traditional construction loan or home equity loan may be used to fund your ADU project. Speak with your lender to explore the options available to you and to understand the terms and interest rates involved.

Accessory Dwelling Unit Grants and Incentives

Some cities and organizations offer grants, low-interest loans, or other financial incentives to homeowners who build ADUs. These programs are designed to promote affordable housing and expand rental options. Research local programs to see if you qualify for financial assistance.

The Construction Process

Once you've secured financing and developed a plan, it's time to begin the construction process. This includes obtaining permits, selecting a contractor, and overseeing the construction of your ADU.


Navigating the permit process can be one of the most time-consuming aspects of building an ADU. Work with your architect or contractor to prepare the necessary permit applications and ensure all local regulations are met. Stay involved in this process to address any issues that may arise and to keep the project on track.

Construction and Design

During the construction phase, you'll work closely with your contractor to ensure your ADU is built to your specifications. Make sure to address any challenges that arise promptly, and stay in communication with your contractor throughout the project.

Real-World ADU Examples

Here are a few case studies to illustrate the diverse paths homeowners have taken to build their ADUs:

Portland, Oregon—The Garage Conversion

A Portland homeowner navigated local zoning regulations and converted their garage into an ADU. Their project offered a modest, low-cost way to add auxiliary housing and enhance their property's value, serving as a feasible example for those looking to start small.

Los Angeles, California—The Detached Unit

A family in Los Angeles constructed a detached ADU in their backyard, offering insights into the design process, obtaining local permits, and how they utilize the space for rental income and multigenerational family use.

Seattle, Washington, vs. San Francisco, California—A Tale of Two Regulations

A comparison between a homeowner in Seattle, Washington, who built a traditional ADU and one in San Francisco, California, who opted for a Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit (JADU), showcased the differences in regulations and construction processes between the two types.


Adding an ADU to your property can be an excellent way to maximize space, increase property value, and provide additional housing opportunities. However, the process requires careful planning, knowledge of local regulations, and a solid understanding of the financial and time commitments involved. By starting with the considerations outlined in this guide, you can set the stage for a successful ADU project that aligns with your property's potential and your housing goals. Whether you're considering an ADU for rental income, housing a family member, or simply to expand your home, the adventure of ADU construction is brimming with possibilities for the modern homeowner.

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