Why ADUs are the ‘perfect’ housing solution

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Book features ‘cleverly designed’ Toronto laneway house

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In her latest book about accessory dwelling units (ADUs), award-winning author Sherri Koones makes a bold statement, declaring they’re the “perfect” housing solution.

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“I think they are perfect because they provide extra income for some homeowners or private space for elderly parents or adult children. With the shortage of housing, many people cannot afford to live in a house, so this can provide a more affordable alternative,” Koones says.

She has been writing about residential construction since the early 2000s amid growing interest in energy efficiency, sustainability and small-sized construction. She profiled her first ADU, located in Vancouver, B.C., in Prefabulous Small Houses (Taunton Press; Sept. 16, 2016).

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Her most recent book, ADUs, The Perfect Housing Solution (Gibbs Smith; March 19, 2024), features 25 ADUs from across North America, including one in Toronto and another in Vancouver.

Think granny flats, in-law units, laneway houses and apartments for grown children, each featuring a place to sleep and cook, as well as a washroom.

Koones believes an ADU is a “great alternative” to living in an apartment, which is often more affordable than a house. “It provides privacy and outdoor space. This is particularly advantageous for people who work at home and need quiet, and people who work at night and sleep during the day and also need quiet.”

While large multifamily buildings can change the character of some residential neighbourhoods, ADUs are mostly hidden from the street in the rear of a house and provide housing without impacting the nature of the area.

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If you’re considering building an ADU, your first step is to research your municipality’s zoning bylaws. Koones lists other considerations:

  • How do you plan to use it? Some owners, for example, plan to use their ADU as part of their retirement plan, either using the rent it generates as income or living in the ADU themselves and renting out the primary house for income.
  • What architectural style would best complement your house and community?
  • How will you ensure privacy? This requires paying attention to how you site the ADU and the location of windows in relation to the main house. Since ADUs are typically small, you’ll also want to ensure yours enjoys good natural light and adequate ventilation.

The book features a wide variety of ADUs that are as functional as they are attractive, many with innovative design features. “Although some of them are very small, they provide all that people will need to live comfortably,” Koones says. “I really appreciated how some of the kitchens and bathrooms in the ADUs were designed to feel bigger than their small space.”

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Case in point: a 227-square-foot ADU in California – among the tiniest ADUs in the book – boasts a beautiful full kitchen with small appliances, including a small induction stove.

Some of the bathrooms in the ADUs featured in the book have hanging toilets, which use up less space than traditional toilets, and many have barrier-free showers, which make the bathroom feel bigger and are safer in general, Koones notes.

She’s also impressed with the multigenerational ADUs featured in the book. One has a raised walkway between the ADU and the main house. Another has a common porch connecting the two structures and serves as a meeting place for the homeowners, their children and grandchildren.

The Laneway House in Toronto was “cleverly designed” to work as a rental and a workplace. “It has two entranceways so neither the renters nor homeowners working there will disturb each other,” Koones says.

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Owners Debra Friedman and Robert Burley built the 1,184-square-foot laneway house on their former parking pad and a small part of their garden after their three sons moved out of the family home.

Designed by LGA Architectural Partners, the ADU serves as an at-home studio for Burley, an architectural photographer and a recently retired university professor, and Friedman, a portrait photographer, and has a residential suite.

The couple might one day transform their property into a multigenerational compound by turning the primary residence into a duplex and living in the ADU, which includes energy features like hydronic radiant in-floor heating and an on-demand water heater.

About laneway houses

 A laneway house, often referred to as a laneway suite, is a residential unit that’s separate from a primary residence and is typically located in the rear yard of a property, connected to a public laneway. While most commonly found in urban areas, laneway houses can also exist in rural settings.

A provincial guide (www.ontario.ca/page/building-laneway-house) covers key provincial and municipal rules and requirements regarding laneway houses, including how to renovate an existing building (such as a garage or coach house) to create a laneway house. Rules and regulations – including provincial ones – are enforced and implemented by municipalities. It’s important to talk to your municipality early and often as you design and build your laneway house.

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