Brit Builds an ADU: Who Would Want an Accessory Dwelling Unit?

Two years ago my family of three adults, a polyamorous family with my wife and husband, bought a three bedroom, two bathroom house in south Minneapolis. It’s charming and has fantastic 1940s details like coved ceilings, stucco exterior, and a smallish footprint at about 1600 sq ft. I work from home full-time and we have a boarder to help pay some of the bills and because we like the company of old friends.

So, the question is, in a three bedroom house where all three bedrooms are occupied, where are we going to put the future kids? Or more like the hypothetical in two years kid. Two years is not that long, not that long at all. How the heck am I going to be able to work full time at home without parenting full time as well? It would be ideal to have an office on our property but not within our house.

Two years is just enough time to maybe create some space for an office outside of the house. (less noise means less parenting during work time and maybe a calmer brain) As well as create a possible income stream for helping pay off that office space and maybe help with the mortgage by building an ADU to replace our garage.

So, the question here is “What is an ADU and how is it useful?”

Chris Strom Adu Lifecycle

Possible lifecycle of a house with an ADU. Thanks to Christopher Strom Architects for use of the image.

An ADU is an Accessory Dwelling Unit; basically a tiny house or apartment built on existing property. It can be attached to the main building structure or detached like an old-fashioned carriage house or Fonzie pad. ADUs are typically lauded as beneficial for aging in place, building wealth, giving teenaged and 20 something children a place to live, and maybe just as adding more space for a growing family. I heard about ADUs a while ago when I was looking at housing my aging father and kinda fell in love with the idea. I want to live in the same place the rest of my life. I moved 16 times by the time I turned 16 and I never want to move again. Having an ADU on our property will allow us to downsize when we need to without really going anywhere. It also gives us the ability to help other people achieve housing stability without living in the same space with them. We could use the space to teach our kids how to live on their own before they move on. It’s a great idea! It’s a hard idea to actually implement as demonstrated by the less than 100 ADUs built over the last four years in Minneapolis since they were legalized.

In our case we’re looking at building a detached ADU to replace our garage while adding a couple of rooms on the main level for offices for me and my wife. Our current garage was put up hastily and a bit shoddily when our house was remodeled/flipped before we bought it, and has a terrible s-shaped relationship to the alley. The garage faces the back side of our neighbor’s garage with a ~13 foot concrete pad between. Mostly, we park on the street and my two spouses drive to work while I take a bus for errands or borrow a car if needed. So, it’s a great candidate for being torn down and replaced with something actually useful.


Picture of taupe garage through back window with s-shaped connection to alley.

Picture of taupe garage through back window with an s-shaped connection to alley. Soon to be replaced?!

In Minneapolis ADUs have been legalized for owner-occupied properties for about four years now. I plan to build one.  The zoning itself is a bit complicated. Building a tiny house on a property between two garages, hooked up to the main house’s sewer and electrical will be yet more complicated I’m sure. But most of all it will be an opportunity to build our life towards living our values. Building community, building space for a growing family, and building flexibility in a denser more useful space.

Through writing about this process I hope to help other people see how the current zoning plays out in practice from financing, to hiring folks to envision and build it, through the actual build process to what the space is like to use in practice. So far we’ve secured some preliminary financing, and contacted an architect. I think the more people know what to expect out of a process the more comfortable we can all be with it and then more people will be willing to take advantage of this piece of zoning to improve our land usage, fight climate change through density, and invite more neighbors to live not just next to us but with us. Please let me know what kinds of questions you have and as we go I’ll answer them if I can. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

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9 Responses to Brit Builds an ADU: Who Would Want an Accessory Dwelling Unit?

  1. Frank Phelan December 10, 2018 at 12:33 pm #

    Without knowing exactly what the current condition of the garage is, it would be a good idea to see if it can be moved and sold to someone else. If possible, it’s cheaper for you and it keeps a dumpster or two out of the landfill.

    • Brit Anbacht
      Brit Anbacht December 10, 2018 at 12:42 pm #

      That is an interesting idea! Unfortunately while new the garage has several spots where the nails aren’t actually connected to the studs. But at bare minimum selling the garage door would be helpful.

    • Serafina Scheel
      Serafina Scheel December 10, 2018 at 4:22 pm #

      I once bought a used garage from the Badger Man, who had a lot of them down off of West Seventh back in the day. It was the best.

  2. Lou Miranda December 10, 2018 at 2:17 pm #

    Nice introduction to ADUs, with a great graphic.

    It sounds like you take the bus. Are you close to a major transit line or bikeway? What kind of transportation options are there for the ADU dweller(s), and is it likely the dweller would be carless? I’m wondering how transportation options affect an ADU’s desirability. Thanks.

  3. mplsjaromir December 10, 2018 at 3:53 pm #

    Can’t wait to hear your updates. Thank you for this!

  4. Lindsey Wallace
    Lindsey Wallace December 10, 2018 at 8:23 pm #

    Have you talked to zoning yet? Single family homes have a minimum parking requirement of one space. ADUs don’t have an additional requirement as long as the minimum for the main structure is met. If you’re removing your only off-street parking spaces, you’ll probably need a variance unless you can provide a small parking pad.

    • Brit Anbacht
      Brit Anbacht December 10, 2018 at 8:32 pm #

      Hi! So, we’re probably going to still have at least one garage space in future. I’m a bit of a policy wonk so I’ve done a fair amount of zoning research on ADUs. (probably a future post or two?) Thanks for your insight!

      • Lindsey Wallace
        Lindsey Wallace December 10, 2018 at 10:18 pm #

        Got it, thought you were discussing building a cottage without garage. That’s what I want to do someday. If the ADU won’t happen for a bit it’s possible parking minimums won’t exist once you move forward. I work in planning for the city so just wanted to flag that 🙂

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