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  • Writer's pictureEagle Peak Builders

5 Tips a Residential Architect Should Consider When Designing an ADU


An ADU built to blend in with the original architecture of the home.

The accessible ADU, above, was built into the back corner of a sloped property.


Here are five tips that a residential architect should keep in mind when designing an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU):

1. Be Familiar with the Local Codes and Regulations

  • Check to see how hard it is to permit a garage conversion to an ADU with proper off-site parking.

  • Research and understand the specific zoning requirements, setbacks, height limits, and other regulations that apply to ADUs in the area. This includes attached and detached ADUs. They might be different.

    • Compliance with these regulations is crucial to gaining necessary permits and approvals.

2. Site Analysis and Integration

  • Space Utilization: Carefully assess the existing property layout and available space to determine the best location for the ADU, considering factors like accessibility, privacy, and orientation.

  • Complementary Design: Design the ADU to complement the main residence in terms of architectural style, materials, and landscaping, ensuring a cohesive and harmonious appearance.​

3. Functionality and Flexibility

  • Multi-Purpose Spaces: Design the ADU's interior layout to maximize space utilization and accommodate various functions, such as living, sleeping, and working areas.

  • Flexible Design: Consider adaptable features like fold-down furniture or sliding partitions that allow the ADU's spaces to serve different needs over time.

4. Accessibility and Universal Design

  • Barrier-Free Entry: Incorporate universal design principles to ensure the ADU is accessible to people of all abilities, including features like a step-free entry and wider doorways.

  • Aging in Place: Design with the long-term in mind, making the ADU suitable for aging residents by considering features like grab bars, lever handles, and non-slip flooring. This could include a curbless shower or a shower with a bench and wand.​​

5. Utilities and Infrastructure

  • Utility Connections: Plan for utility connections, including water, sewage, electricity, and gas, and ensure that the existing systems can support the additional load.

  • Efficiency Considerations: Integrate energy-efficient features like insulation, energy-efficient windows, and energy-conscious appliances to reduce the ADU's environmental impact and operational costs.

  • Check to see if the client prefers a shared or separate meter. Separate meter and service upgrade can be an 8 - 10 month process and should be started as soon as the client has made their decision.


Maximizing the Potential Design of Your ADU

Designing an ADU requires a thoughtful blend of compliance, creativity, and consideration for future needs. As a residential architect, it's essential to navigate local codes, intelligently utilize space, ensure functionality, prioritize accessibility, and plan for efficient utilities. By keeping these five tips in mind, you can create ADUs that are not only compliant and functional but also aesthetically pleasing and adaptable to changing needs.


Ready to take your ADU designs to the next level? Contact us for expert guidance and bring your visionary designs to life!

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