CREST BACKYARD HOMES San Diego Union Tribune Home Section

CREST BACKYARD HOMES San Diego Union Tribune Home Section

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               A growing demand for granny flats

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Factory-built ADUs — accessory dwelling units — can lower costs without sacrificing charm. In San Diego, they’re in demand for both cultural and financial reasons. (Crest Backyard Homes manufactured by Silvercrest)

Interest in accessory dwelling units (ADUs) prompts sleek new designs, furnishings

There was a time when many American families had at least one grandparent living in their homes. That is less common today, but multigenerational living is making a comeback. Some of it is cultural, especially in San Diego, where many couples have parents visit for months at a time or move in permanently to help care for grandchildren. Some of it is economic, thanks to hangovers from the 2008 recession and the area’s high housing costs.

One way that some single family residence homeowners are coping with the space and cost crunch is by building “granny flats” on their properties. California made these buildings — legally known as accessory dwelling units or ADUs — easier to build and permit. Citing their many benefits, the state’s Housing and Community Development site points to their affordability, income potential, cost effective construction, living space expansion, plus the ability to share living space and house extended families while maintaining privacy.

If one of those benefits speaks to your wants or needs, an ADU might be a plus for your household.

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The compact space is expanded with outdoor living furniture. (Tyson Wirtzfeld / Basis Studio)

 Considering an ADU

“It’s not an inexpensive weekend DIY project,” points out Jared Basler of Basis Studio in La Mesa. “There are real life safety issues that need to be addressed in the design and construction of a granny flat.“Homeowners need to understand the responsibilities and liabilities involved,” adds the architectural designer and self-described “godfather of granny flats.” He suggests budgeting $250 to $300 per square foot for new construction units, or $80,000 to $120,000 for garage conversions. You’re going to incur city fees in many local jurisdictions, design fees and construction costs, he notes. Timing will vary by project scope and location.

“Most ADUs are 300 plus or minus square feet and include a main living room with small kitchen, bathroom and bedroom or studio set up,” says Jon Fontane, event director for Tiny Living @ NHS expo, scheduled for next May in Las Vegas. For units smaller than 500 square feet, Basler suggests a high-ceilinged studio with sleeping loft to make the space feel larger.

One way to reduce costs (and possibly time, theft and vandalism) is with a factory-built structure, says John Arendsen, CEO of Encinitas-based Crest Backyard Homes. He sees site-built ADUs costing $150,000 to $200,000 for an average 600-square-foot ADU, versus $75,000 to $120,000 for factory built. “More structures are designed and built offsite every year,” he says.

Another factor in determining whether a granny flat makes sense for your property is the land your home sits on. The most conducive, easiest and cost efficient is a level lot with easy access, on a sewer (not septic), and no restrictive homeowner association regulations, Andersen says.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, he says, are “steep banks, narrow lots, flood plains, solid rock or granite and no rear access to the property,” any of which can make the project cost-prohibitive.

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A stylish and functional kitchen enhances a factory-built ADU. Offered by Crest Backyard Homes manufactured by Silvercrest)

 Outfitting your ADU

So you’ve decided to forge ahead. You’ve got your professionals and financing lined up. What do you put in your unit? Ask yourself first who you’re building this space for and what their needs are, Basler advises. He urges practicality to be cost effective — like water-efficient fixtures to avoid having to upgrade your water meter at a cost of $10,000 or more. That might mean a walk-in shower with bench for grandma, rather than a deep soaking tub for a millennial mom tenant.

It also means maximizing very compact living space. If you’ve visited Ikea’s San Diego store, you might have seen this done very well, with a compact apartment/ADU designed right onto the selling floor. “Our home is 550 square feet and includes two bedrooms, one bath, full kitchen and living room area,” says Alicia Sayadi, an interior designer for the local branch. It was planned with a couple and one child in mind but could easily accommodate two children with a bunk bed, she adds.

“We created our home to inspire our customers with small-space living solutions to maximize square footage without sacrificing comfort and style.” The kitchen features an open layout with extendable dining table, stackable stools and cabinet accessories. “In small spaces, you want to keep loose items organized and clean; having the right interior storage is key.”

One recent kitchen trend that can make your granny flat more efficient is compact appliances designed for small space living. These are not the dorm room hot plates or mini fridges you may remember from your college years. For the upscale ADU, European companies like Bertazzoni and Bosch are offering the level of performance you’d want in your main home, in products including induction cooktops, coffee machines, pullout vent hoods and wall ovens.

Ikea’s compact bathroom has a rolling cart that can store grooming items but can be rolled out into the hall, where there’s an extra mirror to let two people get ready at the same time. “When planning a functional small space, you want to invest in pieces that are flexible and can serve a dual purpose, such as an ottoman that can be used as a side table, tables that can extend in size and furniture that can be stacked when stored,” Sayadi says. She also advises to think vertically when building storage into a space. Tall wardrobes can quadruple usable space, she says, but it’s important to have the proper containers for your items so that it’s easy to find what you need quickly.

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Consider water efficiency when planning your ADU.
(Tyson Wirtzfeld / Basis Studio)

Last words

“Most people are pleasantly surprised about how much furniture can actually fit in this small space and immediately start thinking about how they could transform their garage into a granny flat,” says the Ikea designer. Is there a small space solution waiting in your backyard?

Tiny Living event director Fontane sees it as a definite possibility: “ADUs are revolutionary in their ability to solve issues critical to housing. The trend will continue to grow as more municipalities — and now the Department of Housing and Urban Development — put an increased focus on legalizing this type of home structure. ”


Basis Studio:
Bertazzoni Appliances:
Bosch Home Appliances:
Crest Backyard Homes:
Tiny Living @ NHS:

Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC

Design, Wellness & Real Estate Journalist | Wellness Design Consultant |

Certified Kitchen Designer | Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach |

Certified Aging in Place Specialist
Author, New Bathroom Idea Book, (Taunton Press)

Author, New Kitchen Ideas That Work, (Taunton Press)

Top 50 Innovators, Inaugural List, Kitchen & Bath Design News

(619) 796-2217 Tel
(no “i” on Twitter)

Gold is a San Diego-based Certified Kitchen Designer, wellness design consultant and the author of the “New Bathroom Idea Book” (Taunton Press). Her website is 




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Comment balloon 9 commentsJohn DL Arendsen • July 29 2019 07:59PM
CREST BACKYARD HOMES San Diego Union Tribune Home Section
CREST BACKYARD HOMES San Diego Union Tribune Home Section A growing demand for granny flats Factory-built ADUs — accessory dwelling units — can lower costs without sacrificing charm. In San Diego, they’re in demand for both… more