Which is Right for You–An ADU or a Tiny House?

As the need for alternative housing options grows, homeowners are getting creative with their properties. Some of the ways in which they are increasing their property value or changing their lifestyle is with the addition of an ADU or tiny house. As the alternative housing market grows, many are finding that tiny houses and ADUs are not interchangeable. In fact, they have some very important differences. If you are exploring which building is right for you, read on.

What is a Tiny House?

tiny house on wheels

Between home improvement magazines and television networks like HGTV, tiny homes have become an exciting new way to live a minimalist

lifestyle. Both young and old are embracing tiny homes for their mobility, low energy costs, and optimization. By definition, a tiny house is a micro dwelling with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen, built in a space of 400-square-feet or less. Many of these tiny houses are built on wheels making them mobile like an RV. Other tiny homes reside on a small plot of land with a solid foundation. These tiny homes can qualify as ADUs.

What is an ADU?

2 story adu

An ADU, also known as an accessory dwelling unit or auxiliary dwelling unit, is a secondary home built on a pre-existing single-family lot. While it can be connected to the main house as a basement, garage, or even a home office, it is typically a stand-alone structure. These buildings are called “accessory” because they are not an integral part of the main dwelling. In fact, they are always smaller than the main home.

ADU designs are highly practical, functional spaces that can fill a variety of needs. In states like California, a structure must be at least 150-square-feet to qualify as an ADU and can have a square footage much higher than that of a tiny house. Some popular ADU uses include mother-in-law suites (aka granny flats), home offices, art studios, work sheds, studio apartments, and more.

Pros and Cons of Tiny Houses

While tiny houses are glamourous on TV, they do not readily tell you the legal headache that often accompanies these small structures. While owning a tiny house on wheels is a fun way to move around in comfort, they are legally considered a recreational vehicle (RV). That means they fall under recreational vehicle code (and taxes) making it illegal to live out of them in many residential zones. In many cases, owners who live solely in their mobile tiny house have trouble finding a place to park the homes. If owners choose to install these tiny houses on a permanent foundation, they may require special permits or a plot of land on which to reside. In many areas, they are too small to meet minimum-size zoning restrictions to be considered the main dwelling.

While there may be legal headaches behind building and living in a tiny house, the lifestyle they represent is still extremely popular. Owners love how quickly they can be built, and how inexpensive they are to use. The small space of the homes encourages the removal of excess clutter while keeping only the necessities. When done legally, they make excellent rental units to college students or young couples starting out. Lastly, they allow owners to travel and see more while never really leaving home.

Pros and Cons 0f ADUs

ADUS provide a variety of options to meet each homeowner’s unique needs. These ADU types include detached customizable units, ready-to-build units, and garage ADUs or carriage houses. Garage ADUs provide fully functional dwelling spaces in or above the garage.

The customizable, detached ADU is by far the most expensive unit; however, it allows owners to create exactly what they want, large or small, to meet their needs. Ready-to-build ADUs are the least expensive and come fully designed. These units have many uses and come in a range of sizes. These plans are pre-designed which typically makes them more affordable. At Insulspan, we offer a variety of ready-to-build plans with configurable interiors to give the best of each option.

In regards to permitting, ADUs are legally much easier to build and use than a tiny house. This is because the ADU resides on an existing single-family lot. Many ADU friendly cities, like Portland, have also recently changed zoning laws to allow for these buildings.

While ADUs are not mobile like tiny homes, they are a great way to add value and space to your property. They have a smaller footprint than the primary residence and cost less to operate. They provide a great place to house elderly relatives, rent for additional income, or explore a hobby.

How to Know Which One is Right for You

So, how do you know if an ADU or a tiny house is right for you? There are a few important questions you should ask yourself.

Modular ADU

  1. Do you want a lifestyle change or a lifestyle space? You might want to cut ties with your possessions and start anew, or maybe you want a space to explore new passions.
  2. What level of functionality do you want your unit to have? Maybe mobility and a minimal lifestyle is important. On the other hand, you might want an escape only a few steps into your backyard.
  3. How much time and effort do you want to spend to legally build and use your unit? This is a very important decision to make, and the choice could save you a lot of headaches down the road.
  4. What is your budget? You will pay more for more space in an ADU, or you can build a tiny home with a smaller budget.

Regardless of what you choose, ADUS and Tiny Houses are popular for one main reason. They give you the option to live the life you want.

Plus Space Carriage House


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