7 Questions to Ask About Accessory Dwelling Units (a.k.a in-law apartments; au pair suites etc.)

In case our last post has sparked your interest in an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), here are seven important questions to ask yourself before moving forward.


  1. Can we even consider building an ADU?

Some communities have certain districts that are zoned for single-family dwellings. In these areas, ADUs may be prohibited or may require a special permit or variance.


  1. Would we eventually want to rent out the ADU?

Your 24-year-old son might be living there for a few years, but what happens when he has the financial means to move out? If you’d like to rent out the ADU a few years down the line, make sure now that your municipality doesn’t prohibit the practice.


  1. Should we make the ADU part of our existing house or build an addition?

Your answer will depend on a number of factors. Do you actually have space in your house for a unit that would include a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, laundry room, etc.? Does your budget allow for an addition, which is likely to be more expensive than an in-house renovation? Given your goals and family dynamics, which is more appealing — an addition that’s attached to the house or freestanding?


  1. If it’s going to be part of our existing house, where should it be?

The most likely locations — the attic or basement — can work out fine if the occupant’s mobility isn’t an issue. At Custom, we’ve converted a number of basements into accessory apartments. With basements, of course, there are code-related issues to account for. However, we can usually address those and create a space that has the same look as the main living space.


  1. How should we handle utilities?

If you’re eventually going to rent out the ADU, you might want to separate the utilities (e.g. electrical, water, gas) for both dwellings. This can be pretty pricey, but it’s something you’ll want to determine before proceeding with construction.


  1. If it’s going to be an addition, what factors do I have to account for?

Be sure to get a handle on your municipality’s bylaws. You need to comply with requirements around setbacks, lot coverage, water mitigation, drainage, etc. The process might also necessitate a site survey and/or applying for a special permit or variance. As mentioned in our cover story, some communities also have rules governing gross floor area, number of bedrooms, appearance and more.


  1. Would this be a good investment?

Maybe you’re not concerned about this issue because ROI is less important than your other reasons for wanting an ADU. However, if boosting resale value is a priority, you need to figure out if an ADU is the best use of your money. For example, would you be better off updating and expanding your kitchen or converting your unfinished basement into a living room?


Need to talk through questions like these with an experienced remodeling professional? Call Custom today at 781-648-2835.