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What Is the Difference Between Tiny Homes and ADUs?

Tiny homes can often be moved around while ADUs sit on a permanent foundation. Find out how some tiny homes can still qualify as an ADU here.

January 1, 2020

While it may seem like tiny homes and ADUs are the same thing, there can be some key differences between the two. Suppose you are interested in transforming the way you live by downsizing into a tiny home or ADU. In that case, it’s important to understand these possible differences to make the best possible decision for your specific circumstances.

So here’s a quick guide on tiny homes, ADUs, and the potential differences between the two:

What Is a Tiny Home?

Now that more work is remote and people are living more nomadic lifestyles, tiny homes have become increasingly popular. Tiny homes provide people with a way to live a more minimalistic and flexible lifestyle. This is because tiny homes are often portable and tend to be highly efficient in terms of space and energy.

Tiny homes tend to consist of less than 400 square feet of space that includes a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Sometimes, tiny homes are built on wheels or trailers so that they can be towed around and placed in different locations around the country. Other times, tiny homes are built on permanent foundations on a small plot of land.

What Is an ADU?

An ADU, or accessory dwelling unit, is a secondary dwelling unit that is built on a permanent foundation on the same lot of an existing home. ADUs tend to be smaller than the main home and are designed to be completely separate by having its own bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen space. ADUs come in a wide range of formats, designs, and layouts to choose from.

However, the exact definition of an ADU often varies by state and municipality. For instance, in San Francisco, where ADUs are particularly popular, the structure must be less than 16 feet in height, have a minimum setback of four feet from the side and rear lot lines, and have a minimum setback of six feet from any existing structures. Most California cities and counties have similar regulations for ADUs, but they can have slight variations.

What Are the Similarities and Differences Between the Two?

Based on what we have written above so far, it may still be pretty difficult to determine the exact differences between tiny homes and ADUs. For this reason, we are going to compare and contrast these two concepts.

Starting with the similarities, both tiny homes and ADUs are relatively small living spaces that consist of a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen area. They are meant to be a more affordable alternative to high costs of living—especially in states like California. Both tiny homes and ADUs can have all the features of a regular house, just with a smaller and more efficient footprint.

Moving onto the differences, some tiny homes may not qualify as ADUs if they are portable and do not have a permanent foundation. On the other hand, some tiny homes may qualify as ADUs if they are built as an additional permanent structure on a lot. Additionally, ADUs may qualify as a tiny home if they are less than 400 square feet in size. As a result, there is some overlap between the definition of an ADU and definition of a tiny home, but not every ADU is a tiny home and vice-versa.

What Are the Different Types of ADUs?

While you may think of ADUs as a monolithic concept, there are a few different types that you should know about. For starters, there is an attached ADU that is built on as an attachment to the main house. There is also a detached ADU that is built as a separate unit from the main house. Finally, there is a conversion ADU that is converted into a dwelling space with a qualifying bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen space. Some spaces that can be converted into an ADU include garages, basements, or larger existing bedrooms.

The easiest ADU to construct is a conversion since it utilizes existing space and doesn’t usually require a new foundation, walls, floors, etc. to be built. An attached ADU is able to utilize part of the existing structure to make the process easier. Finally, a detached ADU often requires the most effort to construct a totally separate structure from scratch—foundation, utilities, and all.

What Are the Different Floor Plans for ADUs?

Although there are different types of ADUs, you are going to get the most freedom with a detached ADU since you’re essentially starting from scratch. At the same time, you may still deal with size constraints based on the size of your lot and municipal regulations for ADUs in your area.

For instance, in San Francisco, you are able to have an ADU conversion of up to 500 square feet; an attached ADU of up to 800 square feet or 50% of the floor area of the existing home—whichever is greater—with a limit of 1,000 square feet; or a detached ADU of up to 1,000 square feet. Other municipalities such as Hillsborough allow for detached ADUs of up to 1,400 square feet.

Depending on the amount of space you’re working with, you could choose to go with a 300 square foot studio tiny home for a true minimalist lifestyle. On the other hand, you could choose to go with a larger 500 square foot ADU with one bedroom and one bathroom. If you’re looking for even more space or need to accommodate more people, it’s possible to go even larger with a two-bedroom, two-bathroom square foot ADU that reaches over 1,000 square feet.

What Features Can Be Included Within an ADU?

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of going with an ADU relates to the different feature options available. In fact, a strategically designed and well-built ADU can feel exactly like an actual home. For instance, ADUs can include cool features like full-size kitchens, luxury bathrooms, in-unit laundry, outdoor spaces, walk-in closets for storage, and more.

There are also beautiful ADU features that are more aesthetic in nature rather than functional, including things like skylights, French doors, vaulted ceilings, wooden beams, engineered wood floors, and glass tiles.

How To Build an ADU on Your Property

The best way to get the size and features you want for your ADU is to work with the ADU experts at Cottage. Cottage specializes in designing and building custom ADUs to meet your every need. We handle the entire process from start to finish—covering the important steps like feasibility, design, permitting, and construction along the way.

We are able to do this thanks to our established network of trusted contractors who have decades of building experience. Each one of our contractors is fully licensed, insured, vetted, and prepared to deliver your perfect ADU.

Personal Preference and Needs

Whether a tiny home or ADU is best for you will depend on your needs. If you’re looking for a more mobile and minimalist lifestyle, you may want to consider a portable tiny home. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a bit more room and want to stay in the same place while cutting down on housing costs, an ADU could be the perfect choice.

In terms of cost, going with a custom ADU may seem expensive, but at the end of the day, our prices are all-inclusive and often make more financial sense than other options. This is because our quotes include design, engineering, site prep, utility connections, foundation, and construction. So reach out to our experts today using the link below for a free consultation and quote to start making your ADU dreams a reality!