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ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Units) for California! Guest Homes, Granny Flats, In Law homes or a Tiny Home. Designing and permitting for your new ADU Kit Home. California has opened up and made it easier to get your ADU approved.
Steve Tuma: And making it easier for people to put in ADU in their yard is something that should really, really be important to people and make them realize this is an opportunity for them.
Interviewer: Hello, everyone. And welcome to Episode 43 of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. With me again in studio is the President and Founder of Landmark Home and Land Company, a company which has been helping people build their new homes where they want exactly as they want across the nation and worldwide since 1993, Mr. Steve Tuma. Steve, how are you doing, bud?
Steve Tuma: Excellent. Always a good day.
Steve Tuma: We had another busy day helping people design their homes and a variety of different projects around the country. So …
Interviewer: Is there ever a bad day to build a house?
Steve Tuma: Not really.
Steve Tuma: Waiting for tomorrow is you should just start now.
Interviewer: There you go.
Steve Tuma: You get the project going.
Interviewer: So for today, I thought we would get into something specific to California home building, and this I think will – it will lead us in the future to our doing episodes here and there that are specific to different states as Landmark owner or builder customers are diverse and nationwide group. And so far, our first foray into that, California seems a good place to start and maybe we will go from west to east as we go along. And to that end, let’s talk about something, accessory dwelling units or ADUs as they are called in California. So let’s start off with you explain to us just what is an ADU? That would be a good place to start.
Steve Tuma: Well, this is what’s interesting. It’s called an accessory dwelling unit. That’s the common word in California although in other parts of the country, it could be a granny unit, a guesthouse, an in-law suite, a separate home, a secondary home on the land. So they can be done anywhere. But I think you brought up the California thing because lately, California has made it easier for people to add these living units. So there is difference in – if you have like an outbuilding, like a storage building or something like that, an accessory dwelling unit is one that’s meant to be lived in.
Interviewer: As a – not a storage unit kind of thing but something …
Steve Tuma: Right.
Steve Tuma: An actual residence. It has got a bathroom, a sleeping area, a living area, and things like that. So what’s kind of happening is what the cost of housing in certain parts of the country specifically California by the larger cities, they are trying to figure out how do we make this affordable for people to live there? So previously, there were a lot of restrictions on building these accessory dwelling units or the ADUs. But now, they figured, “Hey, this is a way to offer affordable housing in these communities.”
Steve Tuma: So yeah, that’s basically what it is. It’s an accessory dwelling unit. Basically, it’s a separate little guesthouse. They do have a thing called a junior dwelling unit which is like if you converted a garage, an existing garage, to a living space. But we are looking more at the new construction of complete separate – basically, a smaller home that would be put on a parcel of land.
Interviewer: Right. Now, what about this restriction on size? I mean is there such a thing as an ADU that’s too small or obviously, they are maybe restrictions on how large you can build one?
Steve Tuma: Yeah. Generally, the restriction is more how large. Some areas say it’s 1200 square feet. Other places have limitations on the size. So you would have to check with or we can help check with zoning to see what’s their – other places go a certain percentage of the main home, up to a certain size. So there are different methods of calculating the size but generally, every place we have run into, you’ve been able to create a livable space.
Steve Tuma: So something that’s there. Now sometimes, there are restrictions where they say, “Hey, you can only go up to 1200 square feet.” Other times, even if you can only go up to 1200 square feet, there may only be so much space on the land to – so that this will fit there. So it’s kind of a little bit of work to jockey through to see exactly how it would fit. But we can help with that. That’s part of what we do is determine – make sure that the house fits and the guidelines work with you to make sure that the ADU is set up to be one that you like that matches the neighborhood, matches the main home and also has the floor plan and features to make sure that it’s usable for what you intend to do with it.
Interviewer: Right. Now, that seems to me we would get into a question of zoning. I mean is zoning the same for an ADU as it is the main house? If I just want to move my grandmother in, that would be one thing. But if I want to rent it out, would that be different? What is the zoning issue with ADU?
Steve Tuma: What’s interesting about it is some communities have actually loosened up the zoning, where previously, they might say, “Hey, if you were building the main home to be a certain distance from the lot lines,” well, because some of these homes – these ADUs are going into higher density communities, they are realizing that they wouldn’t be able to fit any there. So some communities are actually easing up on building setbacks and different setbacks between buildings, lot lines, neighbor’s lots, neighbor’s existing homes. So what’s interesting is now these areas have one, they made it easier for people to put these ADUs in their yard and making it easier for people to put an ADU in their yard is something that should really, really be important to people and make them realize this is an opportunity for them.
Interviewer: Now, what about Landmark is famous for the customization of its designs. People are pretty much able to build the house they want but if you build a mini little ADU, is that still customizable?
Steve Tuma: That’s exactly the same situation. It’s just a smaller structure than a typical home. So we can go through and customize it for the footprint so it fits within the allowable area on a lot. We can also customize it by the heights, ceiling heights, type of roof, and architectural feature. So some customers like the ADUs that are just simple boxy units. Other people want to dress them up. And what’s interesting about it, a lot of people are putting garages underneath them.
Steve Tuma: So the living space – so they are kind of sneaking in a little bit extra garage space or “workspace” and then the ADU, the actual living space above. So yes, we are able to go through and customize the ADU so that the unit is exactly the way you want it. It complements the neighborhood. You are proud of it. And it suits the purpose that you need.
Interviewer: Yes. So you are actually creating more space than you would think if you would do that and you kind of double up a garage an ADU.
Steve Tuma: Right. You can do it. Now, some places restrict that. Others allow it. So it’s kind of one of these situations you’ve got to work with the zoning and building department to see exactly how it can be put together.
Interviewer: But what about permits? Now, you get building permits or is it going to be the same or different from your standard home build?
Steve Tuma: We have actually seen a lot of communities where it’s easier to get the building permit for the ADU than it is the conventional home. We have seen municipalities where they don’t require a geotechnical report. The zoning setbacks are different. Or in some cases where there are burned areas or whatever situations, they kind of fast track it. So they don’t always pull out the big magnifying glass for building permits. It has still got to be done right but we are actually seeing a lot of situations where it’s considerably easier to go obtain this permit than it is if you were to go build a brand home. So it’s kind of interesting. I think this is just the local municipalities who are trying to entice customers to do this so that they could meet guidelines to have affordable housing in the communities. There are also advantages in communities if your ADU is closer to a public transportation. They give you certain advantages on off-street parking and lot parking and different situations. So it’s pretty cool.
Now, they still have to meet energy guidelines and work with the green codes but as far – we are seeing that the attitude of the building department is much easier and enjoyable to go through for an ADU than if it were brand new home. But either way, we are there to support the customer and make it as easy as possible for them.
Interviewer: I want to go back to something a little but that we were talking about, how adaptable it is or how you can kind of customize your ADU. Accessory dwelling unit to me just sounds like something so specific to four walls and a basic utilitarian kind of building. But it sounds to me like you are saying you can really tweak these things out a little bit.
Steve Tuma: Oh yeah. It’s something where we are able to spend some time on the design and the preliminary plan stage to go through and dress it up. So in the case of someone that does want a simpler design, there are still certain things we could do with cables or windows or how you do corners or different trim work or decks or whatever where it can be dressed up. So it’s not just a box in your backyard.
Steve Tuma: Now, if you want something simple to control cost or it fits in the community, we are fine. But what’s also cool is a lot of these places, we talked about the size restrictions, they don’t count decks and porches and garages. So in a lot of these situations, we are able to design some pretty cool houses. Sometimes a well-designed smaller home is better than a larger home that isn’t designed well. So it has been pretty interesting to see what people do with these – the space that’s allowed. They are really neat design areas. They are neatly designed areas, I meat to say. And we are able to work with our designers to go through some revisions to make sure things are right.
Sometimes people say, “I’m putting an ADU in my background, I don’t want my neighbor looking in the window.” Well, we can adjust locations of windows and doors so that it’s comfortable, so that it’s an attractive unit in your backyard.
Interviewer: Right. Well, I’ve known people that have built on their property these sort of complementary units, smaller units, but most of them have been like modular. Do you know what I mean?
Steve Tuma: Right.
Interviewer: Like I know a young woman who was an artist and she – her dad throw up this modular thing for her which was her workspace below in the actual apartment on the top. But what are the advantages to Landmark’s ADUs designs versus like that, like modular unit?
Steve Tuma: Well, what our Landmark unit which is a panelized home, we can completely customize it. So if you are in an area that has – you’ve got a restricted footprint, it has got to be 16 feet by 32 or 30 by 30, we can make that design to take advantage of the space that you have.
Also, a lot of these areas where these homes are being built you can’t get a modular unit in it. The reason being is you might be able to get it down the road but craning it over the neighbor’s house, power lines, different situations, it can be very restrictive on getting a modular unit it, where in ours, you bring in pieces in and then assembling it. So basically, the difference is you can get a design that you want. We can work in pretty much any community. We are not restricted by the size of a module that you might not be able to get into your area. But I think bottom line, people also look at the cost. We’ve had people contact us after they looked at those modular units and they say, “Steve, those are expensive.” Some of them are super modernistic and they have this stuff. But they are saying, “Steve, the cost of the modular ADUs are just out of reach.” So some of them are $200,000, $300,000, $400,000 for 400 square feet.
Interviewer: Oh, wow!
Steve Tuma: That’s a lot of money. Now, if someone wants that design and whatever, maybe it makes sense. But even so, when we could customize it to exactly what you want, give you a look, maximize the space, fit it within the restrictions of your building site, and customize it the way you want, that’s the advantage. You get more of what you want instead of saying, “Hey, here are two options. Which one do you want?” In our case, it’s, “Hey, what do you want? Let’s make it work in the space and the budget that you choose to work with in.”
Interviewer: Let’s kind of touch upon on something we talked about just a little earlier, and that’s the zoning aspect. What can an ADU actually be used for? Like let’s say, you want to do a short-term rental building or just rent it out as an apartment or like an Airbnb, what are the restrictions on that? What can you and can’t you do? I’m sure it changes from district to district. But give us kind of a low down on what your experience has been?
Steve Tuma: Well generally, these communities are doing this to give longer term rentals. Now yes, someone could do an ADU or a tiny – a smaller home on their yard and do the short-term rentals. But a lot of these were the communities allowing and what they want to do is keep affordable housing so that people at different pay scales can still live in and around the community and not have to commute two hours to their job. So that kind of goes community by community but a lot of the gist of what the building departments are trying to promote is a long-term tenant, so not someone for the weekend. Now, how do they know exactly what you are going to do today versus tomorrow? I think would be something that they would have to sort out. But to answer your question, it can be used for a short-term rental. It can be used for a longer term rental as far as how we design it and how we put it together. So that’s the cool thing about it is by us being able to work directly with our customer, we can find out what their priorities are, any restrictions from the building department and then come up with a design that makes sense for them.
Interviewer: Now, imagine it would be a lot – you probably run into homeowner’s association difficulty sometimes as well with building – all of a sudden you are building another sort of small apartment on your property. I’m sure people might have to deal with that in certain instances.
Steve Tuma: So far, we haven’t really run into that issue. The theory is there than if a homeowner’s association is there, they are going to have architectural guidelines to make sure it has got a certain look, a certain quality, that type of thing and blends in. So as far as that, it really shouldn’t be an issue. I think most communities are pretty inviting of these homes.
Interviewer: Oh, that’s interesting.
Steve Tuma: But there is always the situation where you have to go case by case to see what’s going on. I think people will find that the opportunity is there because it’s something that’s kind of mandated by the state in some cases.
Steve Tuma: In most cases.
Interviewer: It’s so – sometimes you think I’m going to build something and in the old days, you could kind of just put it up. But now, it just seems like there are so many restrictions in so many places that to add on this extra thing up to your house is already built and you’re going to add on it. I can imagine the, I don’t want to say headaches, but there are probably a lot of problem-solving you have to do when you are building these things on preexisting properties.
Steve Tuma: That’s the case pretty much any project. There is always something here or there that you’ve got to kind of work through. With these, the biggest issue is just the actual usable space.
Steve Tuma: Because let’s just say, you have a pie shape lot and with different setbacks, what can you build in there? What can you fit in there? But so far, we really haven’t run into anything that I would say is abnormal or really, really strange. It’s just – what’s interesting about these is this is kind of like cool projects for our customer. They enjoy it. It’s kind of like building this cool little house. They always enjoy it with their main home. But when it’s the accessory unit or in-law suite, whatever you would call it, it’s kind of a different type of a pet project. They kind of get into it. And I think what it is, is they are still trying to build a really cool home but within restricted square footage. So you get a little more creative, “Hey, let’s put this type of window here. Let’s put an arch. Let’s do this in the bathroom.” So they are kind of quaint places, get a little more character, sometimes they end up with lofts, sometimes they end up with different types of windows or different types of porches where they could bring the outside in. So it’s kind of interesting to see the additional kind of excitement and putting an ADU together to just a large main home. It’s kind of interesting. I don’t know why. I think it just kind of …
Interviewer: I think it’s the same thrill. It’s like dads who build or moms who build tree houses for their kids. They really get into it. [Laughs]
Steve Tuma: Right. It’s kind of like that. It’s interesting to see they are like, “Oh man, I got to make a smaller kitchen but I’m going to make it cool.”
Steve Tuma: Let’s put this in here or let’s put this in here. Put a wine rack here. Can we stick a little hot tub in the bathroom? And so suddenly, these little units are pretty cool.
Interviewer: Extensive builds. That’s funny.
Steve Tuma: Well, it also gets into something of you still want to put like saying – say you’ve got a unit. We are working on one by San Francisco, about 520 square feet and there’s a bedroom. The way they want to have it set up is in that bedroom, there needs to be desk so that someone could work on their computer. But they don’t want that desk to look out a window into their main home or into the neighbors. So we’ve had to work on different types of windows, things that have worked to let light into it, into the room but also not allow the neighbors to look in. And then we also, like in bedrooms, have to look at the egress codes for emergencies so it’s kind of a neat little challenge but it’s pretty cool and then the customer goes, “Wow! This is me!” It’s kind of an interesting situation to see how in a smaller space, there’s just a lot more you’ve got to deal with. The design can be a little bit more tricky trying to get a lot more in a smaller space. But so far, every single one that we’ve done, the customers who have spent time said, “Hey, I want this here. I want this here. I want this here and they are very specific and it’s – doubt come over. Every single one has been a pretty charming house.
Interviewer: You know what? As I listen to you talk, there is something that always strikes me and I never mentioned it in these podcasts but it’s your enthusiasm. You are talking about not just on the small houses like these ADUs but when you talk about building bigger houses, your enthusiasm, it seems like Landmark just love doing what you guys do.
Steve Tuma: Well, it’s a lot of fun. And we’ve been doing this since 1993 which is quite some time but it’s kind of interesting to see the excitement that comes out. First of all, building a home is exciting. But then when you are adding and ADU or doing these different things, these different challenges, the people kind of get into it. They are like, “Hey Steve, how can we design this kitchen to do this and do this? Or how do we add a desk into a bedroom? How do we put a lot of light into this little house but not allow the neighbor’s dog to look over the fence and look in my living room, whatever the situation is?” So yeah, it’s kind of fun. And the customers that are doing this, they are energized. I mean it’s interesting to see excitement on putting one of these together. It’s kind of like, “Hey, we are getting this little rental unit. It’s going to kind of pay for the property. It’s going to increase the value. We are doing something good for the community.” It’s kind of fun. It’s actually really fun.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about the actual labeling of this stuff because you hear about ADUs but you also hear about granny flats, guesthouses, mini or tiny homes or what’s the difference between ADUs and all of these others?
Steve Tuma: I think it’s really just the word because in some cases, ADU is …
Interviewer: Come on. We can do better than that. No. [Laughs]
Steve Tuma: Yeah, but that’s about it. It’s like keeping it simple. It’s accessory dwelling unit. It’s some technical term for a guesthouse.
Steve Tuma: So in parts of Arizona, it’s a guesthouse. In California, it’s an ADU. Well, if you have a 600-square-foot home with one bedroom, just going from one state to other the name changes. It’s just a kind of – like in some places, it’s a soda. At other places, it’s a pop.
Interviewer: Yeah. Yeah.
Steve Tuma: It’s kind of a regional type of situation. So in some place, it’s called like granny flats, guesthouses, secondary house. Some parts of the country call it residential additional unit. Additional residential units are – so they are backwards. But it really comes down to the same thing, a separate living space.
Interviewer: A place to put the in-laws. [Laughs]
Steve Tuma: Right. Exactly. But there are also a lot of situations that sometimes where the in-laws are allowing the kids to move back in for whatever reason.
Interviewer: That’s the more norm nowadays I think.
Steve Tuma: But then there are other cultures that they move the parents in. So there’s a whole different varieties of reasons or methodology. But to answer your question, ADU, accessory dwelling units, granny flats, guest home, mini home, tiny home, it kind of falls in the same unit. Now, sometimes tiny home might be a little different because people are thinking 200 square feet.
Interviewer: Right. Right. Yeah.
Steve Tuma: So that’s – I think that phase is kind of over because people are realizing that putting your dog, husband, or wife and two kids in 200 square feet is not exactly the fun thing to do, much less not many places will allow it. So the concept of tiny homes I think they are growing. And I’ve heard discussion that anything under 1000 square feet could be considered “tiny home.” So it really comes into whether it’s California or Arizona, anywhere in the west where the guest homes are more popular. It’s just a matter of the lingo and the area but the idea of designing the same home, making sure that the plans are right for the building department and the customer and everything gets taken care of properly. It’s the same process for us. Some places just make it a little easier for others but that’s as far as I know what the difference is. What’s interesting about this industry is there are a lot of words that are kind of used generically that could have a whole variety of different meanings to different people. But we take an ADU, a granny flat, a guest home as just being a smaller individual living space in the back of a property or some are on the front but generally, generally in the back for zoning.
We’ve also had people go beyond ADUs and just have outbuildings, big craft rooms, woodwork shops, car restoration buildings, whatever it is. So there is a difference in zoning and building departments if someone is living in it compared to if someone is just using it as space say, for workshop.
And one other little thing that I want to bring up is sometimes places would not allow an ADU but there might be a separate section of a home that is a separate living space. And depending upon how it’s attached, they may not call it an ADU. They might just say it’s an additional home and as long as that additional space doesn’t have a full kitchen, generally meaning it doesn’t have a stove, they can do it. So sometimes we’ve got to see what someone’s particular use is because in some areas there are restrictions on ADUs, just old zoning, lot size, whatever but you could add space to it connected by a door, put a kind of a kitchenette in and move forward. So there are different ways of approaching the zoning if someone needed a separate space, say for in-laws to live there compared to an actual complete unit. So sometimes it’s just dancing around the wording. What we look at it is there’s kind of a separate apartment or if it’s attached, whether it’s directly attached or kind of indirectly attached through a breezeway or a complete separate building.
Steve Tuma: But either way, we are able to work through the zoning. We’ve been able to help a lot of customers around the country.
Interviewer: Back in the old days when they used to turn their garages – people have turned them into apartments and there was the old hot plate thing.
Steve Tuma: Right. Well, now what has happened is they made that legal.
Interviewer: Right. Yeah.
Steve Tuma: Yet before, there were very, very few ADU permits issued in California. Well, I think that last year it skyrocketed because the communities are realizing that people can’t afford to live. The teachers, the policemen, the first responders, people in different jobs and some of these jobs don’t allow people to commute two hours to get to the job. So what they are trying to do is balance it out in the community so that there is different people that work there are able to somehow be able to afford to live there and not have any big problems in commuting to their jobs.
Interviewer: ADU, is this kind of a newer concept? I mean you’ve been doing so long. Is this sort of a newer thing or has it been around a while?
Steve Tuma: Well, guesthouses and ADUs have been around forever, long, long time. But the law was just changed very recently in California that promoted ADUs.
Steve Tuma: So that idea is there. And like I say, I think it’s that the building departments are just trying to do something to put affordable housing in there. But I think you could go to a lot of older homes built in the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and they would have a little kind of casita. That would be another word. Some people call it, it’s a casita.
Interviewer: There you go.
Steve Tuma: Just a little living space that may be connected by a wall or not connected to the main home.
Interviewer: Right. Have you been thrown – I mean I’m still fascinated by what we were speaking a little earlier in this podcast is people customizing these units. Have you got – I mean I know you’re never thrown for a loop. There is never anything you can’t work out but do you ever just somebody come up with an idea and you go, “Dang! I wish I had thought of that. That’s pretty cool.” There has got to be something like that once in a while.
Steve Tuma: Well, what we’ve run into is situations where people want variations of something. So the concept of let’s just take something a simple concept like the ADU where they are saying, “Hey Steve, I can build 1200 square feet.” I mentioned this in another podcast. It doesn’t mean that the municipality allows 1201 and that doesn’t mean the customer wants 1199.
Steve Tuma: So it’s 1200 square feet. So how do you work with this? So sometimes we’ve really got to work to eliminate hallways. In some cases, there are lofts that can be put in roof systems.
Interviewer: That’s cool.
Steve Tuma: Those aren’t considered part of the square footage.
Steve Tuma: Other times, we can work with different designs of porches and the footprint that kind of make the 1200 square feet bigger. Garages aren’t always considered. And what’s interesting about this is different building departments have different methods of counting square feet. So sometimes you can actually take a 1300-square-foot home and call it a 1200-square-foot home. So you’re kind of sneaking on it. So there are little tricks of the trade that we can work through.
Interviewer: That’s something for a future podcast for sure.
Steve Tuma: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s kind of interesting. And yeah, we have had situations where people come up with something and you go, “That’s pretty interesting.”
Interviewer: Which you shake your head over that one.
Steve Tuma: Well, this is – I talk about these lofts and basically if someone has got a steeper pitch roof, we can put some space kind of up in the roof system with different roof structures and cathedral ceilings. People are putting yoga, little yoga spots in the roof system or little mini offices or meditation areas. Sometimes they put windows in these areas and they have ability to put their plants there.
Interviewer: Right. Yeah.
Steve Tuma: Storage spaces. Recently, people have been putting little kids playgrounds in the roof system.
Interviewer: Oh yeah, yeah.
Steve Tuma: So they go up there and they will have like a little ladder and a little kind of hidden little kid’s only area with like a slide coming down from outside of the ceiling. So in most cases, that falls within the 1200 square feet. So if someone were say, building one of these units for their kids, say, they have some youngsters around, suddenly these little houses are pretty amazing. Grow up in a 1200-square-foot home with a kid’s area, yoga studio, a slide down from the – in the roof into the living room for the kids, climbing wall, it’s pretty interesting to see what happens.
So as I mentioned before, the creativity that comes into working in this, it gets amped up a little and people are kind of excited. They are like, “Well, if my kids are going to be in 1200 square feet, let’s make it a cool 1200 square feet.” And sometimes they work on how they intend to use porches in the future by adjusting different things, putting certain patio doors where suddenly that porch becomes an extension of the living room even though it’s not in the restricted space. You can do things like taller walls. Give it a volume. Cathedral ceilings add volume so it feels better. But overall, I think people are pretty proud of these places. They are proud because I think they put a little more into it and the thought. It’s kind of their idea.
Interviewer: Well, we are about out of time but this has been a pretty fun episode. I wasn’t expecting it to be this sort of fun. I learned a lot. That’s awesome.
Steve Tuma: Yeah. These projects are all cool.
Interviewer: Right. Yeah. Well, that’s – if you’re going to build something it might as well be cool.
Steve Tuma: That’s right.
Interviewer: So we are about out of time here on the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. And I want to thank you all for listening in once again. But before we go as we usually do, I want to give Steve a chance to let you all know how get in touch with Landmark Home and Land Company and just where to find out more information. So Steve, give us some idea of how to find out more and get a hold of you.
Steve Landmark: The best way to do it is look at our website at LHLC.com. It’s kind of the initials of Landmark Home Land Company. It’s actually Landmark Home and Land Company but LHLC.com. That’s our website. There are plan ideas. There are videos. These podcasts are there. There are discussions and different processes. And I think we can help people a lot by them taking a look at the website. They can email me directly at Landmark@LHLC.com or they can call, Mike will answer the phone at 800-830-9788. We do answer our phone. If for some reason you do get a voicemail, we will call you right away. We are very proactive, very customer service oriented. We enjoy what we do. We want to work with you and help you along.
You can also look at Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter and YouTube.
Interviewer: And YouTube. Well, there you go. Great. Well, for Steve Tuma and myself, thanks again everybody for listening in to the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. Be well everyone and we will see you next time.
Steve Landmark: Have a great day.