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Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) - Overview

Updated: Apr 21


Do you own a single family home? Maybe you have a free standing garage in the back corner, a leftover from the last century, or even an old club house. What if you could turn that into a new, smaller house, an ADU? Even if you don't have that garage or club house, you may want to add an ADU to your property. And soon, maybe you can. That's one emerging approach to a chronic, national lack of affordable housing. Then, too, communities across the country are beginning to recognize how the single family house contributes to unsustainable sprawl. When you figure that over 60% of all our housing is single family, you can appreciate how serious these problems are. We have to rethink what we're doing, make better and more respectful use of the land.


Now, I believe to be good, a thing has to be good for more than one reason, and ADUs are good for so many reasons! They offer a lot of flexibility. Suppose you have aging parents who want or need to downsize, need live on one level. Similarly, your young adult children may be having trouble finding decent, affordable housing. Here in Madison, many can't afford to live where they grew up. Or, do you have to drive for hours, even board a jet to see your parents or grandchildren? What if you are nearing retirement, facing rising taxes and reduced income, and you want to stay where you are? An ADU rental unit could make that possible. And, after years of taking care of a single family house, maybe you want to live in an ADU yourself. All of these increase density in ways that help stabilize a neighborhood.


And the increased density benefits the community in other ways, too. It makes better use of existing streets, particularly in town centers and transit hubs. Walkable neighborhoods bring us out of our houses. I know that for me, during this pandemic, I certainly learned to appreciate something as simple as neighbors waving to each other. And it makes more efficient use of municipal resources like building and maintaining roads, installing sewerage, storm sewers, and street lighting. It puts us closer to food markets and drug stores, daycare, schools, clinics and hospitals. It cut down on traffic, noise, and pollution.


All in all, I think ADUs offer one creative, and exciting response to the personal and community challenges that confront us. And in the next blog, I'll share some more reflections on them, including one Steele Kellogg AIA worked on in Princeton, NJ.

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