Sunday, October 11, 2015

Re-Staining the Cedar Shingles and Waxing ADU Poetic

I had heard that cedar shingles needed be restained every couple years. A couple months ago, I looked back and realized it's been four years since we finished building the ADU. Whoops.

The stain had started to look tired; the siding needed a makeover. The shingles had lost some of their waterproofing capability and the portions of the structure that experience direct sunlight had started to visually deteriorate. Cedar shingle siding can last as little as 10 years if not maintained, and 40 years or more if it is.

It took a friend and I about 20 person-hours of work to scrub down the house with hard bristled brushes, then apply another layer of stain to it. It was all pretty easy work to do, except for standing 15ft above ground on a ladder while doing it.

This project likely would have cost $2-4K if I hired a company. Doing it myself, it cost about $400 for materials and labor.

These before and after pictures don't really show the color change well, but in real life, it makes the ADU look brand new again.

BEFORE                                                     AFTER


BEFORE                                                       AFTER


ADUs and self-employment 

In the past, I've been short on time and would have hired someone. But, as of this week, I'm fully self-employed. I'll now be working through my own companies, Accessory Dwelling Strategies and Caravan- The Tiny House Hotel

Being self-employed hadn't necessarily been a life goal for me, but it's very exciting to have the breathing room to experiment professionally on my own. My time is now my own to use, so I'm now able to save money on home maintenance projects by doing some of my own labor-intensive home projects, like I did with the re-staining. Next, I'm going to work on landscaping. 

My initial impression of being self-employed is one of freedom- to pursue professional endeavors on my own time and to enjoy more recreational activities such as backpacking, boondocking in our tear drop trailer, or taking my dog to play in a park, whenever the spirit moves me. It's only been a week, so I'm definitely in the honeymoon period. :) 

Being self-employed seems a bit tangential to ADUs, but it's not. The passive income that my property generates is what enables me to be self-employed. My 15-year mortgage is covered by the income from the main house. Furthermore, the ADU has now entirely paid for itself via the additional income received above and beyond the costs of the monthly property mortgage. 

The costs of housing, which are typically an American's largest expense and burden...are for me, a not an expense at all, but a actually a reliable source of income, solely because of the ADU. 

Being free of a housing expenses might not lead to "riches", but importantly, financial freedom from a ongoing financial burden can lead to a degree of intellectual freedom. This mental and emotional freedom from the burden of housing debt, has historic and celebrated roots in Thoreau's writings, and is an intrinsic ethos that helps drive recent fervor for tiny houses on wheels- a growing, grassroots, counter-cultural American movement in the making. 

As a result of building and living in the ADU, I'm afforded the chance to add societal value by pursuing my own professional passions instead of working to complete someone else's duties or business obligations. 

ADUs can be a form of financial permaculture. If housing costs can be financially regenerative such as they are with ADUs, it affords homeowners the time and energy to do things that are most important to them-- to engage more in the community, make art, volunteer, create new jobs, etc. 

It strikes me that of hundreds of ADU owners I've met, no one expresses any regret about having built an ADU, and most strongly encourage others to do it for some of the same financial reasons that I have described.

Upcoming ADU Events

October 13th
I'll be speaking about ADU development at one of my favorite local non-profits, Northeast Portland Tool Library. It's a free one-hour talk at their tool library, so come check it out. 

October 15th
A half-day ADU class for realtors: All About ADUs - A Primer Course for Brokers, held at Earth Advantage.

November 6th
The Build Small Live Large Summit on Friday, November 6th will be a great chance to meet many practitioners and connoisseurs of small housing. Early bird sales on October 13th. Here's a note about the summit from the event organizers:I'll be speaking about ADUs in two sessions:  

This first session is intended to help individuals figure out what kind of small housing (tiny houses on wheels, cluster communities, and ADUs) works best for individuals by looking at the pros and cons of the legal, financial, and design/build processes involved in each small housing form.

Dee Williams of PAD Tiny Houses and Eli Spevak of Orange Splot and I will helping to tease out the the respective differences between tiny houses on wheels, cluster communities, and ADUs, respectively. Respectively, we're dwellers in, and experts of, the types of housing that we'll be covering.

My 2nd session will be a dive into the zoning regulations, costs, and financing that govern ADU development for homeowners. I'll be presenting with Vince Kingston of Eagle Home Mortgage, who will discuss ADU financing methods using cash-out refinancing, rehab mortgages, and home equity lines of credit. 

November 7th
City-wide ADU Tour. This fall ADU tour will include 11 beautiful ADUs across Portland that have never featured been a tour. Early bird sales end on October 24th.

November 8th and November 15th
Special 6-hour ADU class for homeowners. This class will be held at the Kennedy School and is only intended for ADU Tour attendees.

An ADU featured in the upcoming ADU Tour
December 2nd
JLC Live- residential construction show- 3 hour ADU session offering CCBs. If you're a contractor and you're planning to register for the show, you can use this code to save 10%: SK27

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Spring 2015 ADU Announcements

Here's a few ADU-related activities that I'm helping to head up this spring.

Build Small, Live Large: Portland’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Tour – Spring, 2015

Announcing the 2nd Build Small, Live Large, Build Small, Live Large: Portland’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Tour – Spring, 2015. The tour will be two days long this year, and will have twice as many ADUs as last year. The tour dates on Saturday, May 30th (NE Portland) and Sunday, May 31st, in SE Portland. I'll be teaching a Friday evening class on May 29th. Attendees can register to attend whichever portions interest them.


It's very likely to sell out early, so if you're interested in attending, don't wait too long to purchase tickets. In case you can't make this one, note that we'll be running another ADU Tour in the fall of 2015, on November 7th, 2015.

ADU Specialist Accreditation for Realtors

Earth Advantage is going to start an ADU designation this spring as an add-on to their Earth Advantage Broker designation. If you're a realtor who has taken one of my ADU classes, you'll be eligible to take an exam to receive the specialist accreditation. Earth Advantage will reach out to those who have taken one of the classes to notify them of this new add-on designation.

On the class admin front, we're also going to start offering CCB credits for contractors who attend either of these classes.

Accessory Dwelling Strategies, LLC

I've started an LLC dedicated to ADU related work called Accessory Dwelling Strategies, LLC. This company is designed to help others build ADUs.

Along with the homeowner and realtor ADU classes, I also do on-site consultations with people who are interested in building an ADU on their property. The classes cover a huge amount of information which is intended to synthesize everything I wish I'd known before I started to plan for my ADU. The on-site consultations are useful for providing more customized feedback on-site. Many ADUs have a unique set of design criteria, site constraints, and financing models. The purpose of the individualized consultations is to distill an extensive amount of information about what has worked and why, and what doesn't work and why.

Contact me through my Google profile page or email me at kolpeterson at yahoo dot com if you'd benefit from a one-on-one consultation. I also offer ongoing consultations throughout the ADU planning and design phase of the project for a fixed rate. See ADU Class page for more information.

Monday, September 15, 2014

All About ADUs - A Primer Course for Brokers

Starting this fall, I'm going to be teaching a new 4 hour ADU course designed for real estate professionals through the Earth Advantage Institute. If you know of realtors who may be interested in this class, please let them know about it. More information about the ADU course is available here.

In case you missed the ADU tour announcement on, my company Caravan-The Tiny House Hotel will be running another city wide tour of ADUs at the end of May. So, we’re starting to look for candidates for the tour and here’s what we’re looking for:
  • Recently permitted and completed ADUs in inner Portland.
  • Homeowners who are willing to open their ADU to hundreds and hundreds of visitors. The hosts from the last tour said that hosting was one of the best experiences of their life. Many hosts compared the experience to their wedding day—no joke.
  • The homeowner must be willing to have their ADU profiled on This profile involves sharing the design/build costs–so there’s a degree of transparency that is required by owners, in order to make the tour useful for attendees. 
Lastly, an article was published in Portland Business Journal that correctly differentiates ADUs from tiny houses on wheels. Oftentimes, media conflates these two building types when in fact, they are completely different from each other. Since I have my feet submerged in both ADUs and tiny houses on wheels, it was good to see an article that actually differentiated the two. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Build Small, Live Large- Portland’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Tour- Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Update 5/28/14: There's been a huge amount of interest in attending this tour, which is fantastic. Over 800 people have registered to attend. 

To allow for ample access to the ADUs for attendees, we have decided to cap the ticket sales.  Tickets sales have now ended. We really wanted to sell more, but feel that this cap is in the best interest of the tour registrants and the ADU hosts. 

This blog focuses on the design/build process for my ADU. Occasionally, however, I make other ADU related announcements that will be of interest to readers. In this case, I'm very excited to announce Build Small, Live Large- Portland’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Tour. This will be the first tour of its kind, and promises to be a fantastic event.

This ADU, ten other finished ADUs, and one under construction, will be featured on the tour. Homeowner, architects, and builders for the ADUs will be available to answer questions. There will also be a series of expert presentations held throughout the day. Additionally, attendees will be able to see eight tiny houses on wheels.

The day will jam packed with small and tiny houses, networking opportunities, and access to ADU professionals and experts. If you're planning to build an ADU, this tour (and the ongoing ADU classes I offer) are the best ways to learn from others about the ADU designing, permitting, and building process.

Here's the press release from Caravan- The Tiny House Hotel, about the tour.

Caravan- The Tiny House Hotel, in partnership with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the City of Portland, and Metro, is hosting Portland’s first citywide tour of Accessory Dwelling Units on Sunday, June 1st, 2014 from 10am-6pm. ADUs are secondary living units on single-family lots.  Modeled after the City of Portland’s Build It Green Tour, Build Small, Live Large: Portland’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Tour offers attendees the rare opportunity to see the interiors of eleven ADUs in a variety of locations across the eastside of Portland. The self-guided tour gives attendees access to the homeowners, builders and designers of the ADUs, and to comprehensive, educational case studies about the building process of each ADU. There will also be workshops throughout the day presented by local and national experts about a range of topics related to ADUs, from permitting and financing, to designing and building.

Portland has seen a six-fold rise in the number of ADUs built since 2010.  This dramatic increase is the result of a 2010 City of Portland waiver of System Development Charges, which reduced the cost of building permits for an ADU by up to $11,000.  Before the 2010 waiver, approximately 30 ADUs were built in Portland annually, but in 2013 alone, there were almost 200 ADU permits applications.  The waiver’s popularity caused the Portland City Council to extend the waiver until July, 2016, spurring local ADU leaders to develop Portland’s first ADU tour.

Throughout the day, attendees will also have the opportunity to tour four custom-built tiny houses on wheels at Caravan- The Tiny House Hotel. Caravan has received national media attention for being the first tiny house hotel in the United States. Caravan will host a late afternoon networking event from 4-6pm where attendees can meet local advocates, designers, builders and leaders of both the ADU and the tiny house movement. Real estate professionals can earn up to 6 CE credits. Attendees will have the opportunity to earn a special $25 discount to stay at Caravan, as well as enter a raffle for a free stay at Caravan.

Early bird registration is only $25. Learn more and register at

...or Eventbrite - Build Small, Live Large: Portland’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Tour

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Refinishing the Concrete Floors

Finishing up the ADU construction in the summer of 2011, my partner and I were attempting to make tens of good, long-term design decisions about the final look and feel of the ADU. From the placement of outlets, to the colors and style of granite countertops in the kitchen, to how to build attractive built-in cabinetry in the bedroom cheaply, there was so much to figure out quickly.

Having never worked with concrete, I was at a loss about how to correctly finish the concrete. I went to Home Depot and found a concrete stain and was able to easily apply a beautiful, rich red stain to the floor with a roller brush. Then, I applied a sealant, and voila, within a matter of hours, the drab grey concrete was a glossy red. It looked awesome.

Fast forward 2 years, 6 months, and I was no longer so psyched about the wonderful looking concrete floor. Over time, the stain gradually wore off to the point where it diminished the aesthetic of the ADU. It was a cool process to observe where it wore off . Any guesses where the it came off quickest? Answer: The kitchen- where we apparently spend the most the time walking around.

At first, there were just little white nicks, but eventually, the concrete looked ragged. I was frustrated because I'd stained and sealed the floor, but I came to learn that the product that I'd used wasn't really an absorbent stain; it acted more like a paint. And, like paint, it eventually peeled off. 

In January, I decided to bite the bullet and re-do the floor altogether. I researched options on how to refinish concrete floors, and eventually learned that the only viable approach to getting a good finish on the concrete floors would be grind down the existing surface. Then, we would have to re-stain the concrete with an acetone mixture that would actually penetrate the surface and stain the top 1/8" of concrete. 

The process included grinding down the existing concrete with a 4 grit, 8 grit, 16 grit, 32 grit, 64 grit, all the way to an 800 grit, to give it a polished finish. The stain/acetone mixture was sprayed onto the floor into the final passes. This concrete staining process is referred to as acid-etching. Lastly, a very thin protective was layer was applied. 

To prep for this job, we had to move everything off the ground floor of the ADU. Then, we took off on a road trip for the long weekend, and let professional concrete contractors work their magic. A big part of their job was taping off the entire first floor so that the concrete dust wouldn't cover everything. They were extremely thorough, nonetheless, concrete dust still managed to seep through and coat some of the walls. 

Here are pictures of the process. They spent two long days re-doing the 500 sq ft concrete floor. When they were finished, the floors looked awesome, as shown below. Unlike the paint-like stain process I did initially 2.5 years ago, this new stain should remain looking glossy and rich for years and years to come. 

This job cost $2,500. It wasn't cheap. I asked the contractor how much this job would have cost if I had hired him outright at the beginning. He said it would have cost the same amount, which surprised me. So, in the end, my initial stain job wasn't a mistake that ended up costing me more money. Rather, it simply required some additional work to move everything out of the house for the weekend. 

In hindsight, I would have sought and asked for a concrete foundation company that would have been willing and able to do all of the concrete work, down to the polished finish, and sought input on how best to get to the final glossy look that I was seeking initially. This would have allowed me to avoid the annoyance of refinishing the concrete floors. Like many building trades, concrete work has a lot of specialized processes, and I have found that having specialists scope out, advise, and in this case, execute the project, was critical to getting a final product that met my expectations. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Energy Use Over the Last Year In the ADU

In earlier posts, I shared how living in smaller spaces reduces per capita energy consumption, which was part of my motivation for living more compactly. Furthermore, after constructing an energy efficient ADU, Energy Trust of Oregon even gave me a $1,750 rebate for meeting Northwest ENERGY STAR standards and achieving a modeled Energy Performance Score of 35. 

Now that I've lived in the ADU for over a year, I wanted to share the actual energy bills, and compare them to the energy bills of the main house. Comparing the utility bills of the two dwellings will allow me to draw a few conclusions regarding the nuanced personal energy consumption virtues of living more compactly.

Both homes are heated by natural gas. The ADU is heated via a tankless water heater and in floor radiant hydronic heat. The main house, built in 1906 and recently weatherized, is heated through a conventional forced air heating system.

Below are the natural gas bills for the ADU and the main house, respectively. The ADU consumed 277.5 therms, and the main house consumed 930.4 therms. A "therm" is a unit of heat equal to 100,000 British thermal units.
The total therms used in the last year in the ADU
The total therms used in the last year in the main house
At only 277 therms, the ADU used only 29% as much energy as was used by the main house for heating!

That's very cool, but that's not the real story. 

The real story must include the total energy use divided by the number of occupants. The designed occupancy level is calculated by taking the number of bedrooms in the house, and adding one additional occupant. This designed occupancy level assumes that two adults are living in a 'master bedroom' together.

The ADU is a one bedroom dwelling designed for two people. And, in fact, that is exactly what happened in the ADU;  two people lived in the ADU for the full year. 

The main house is a four bedroom house, with a designed occupancy level of five people. However, in reality, the actual occupancy rates of the main house were lower than the designed occupancy level; the main house maintained an average of three occupants throughout the year. 

Interestingly, census data shows that the average national occupancy rate for homes larger than mine at 1,700 sq ft, is surprisingly low. The average occupancy rate for homes of 2,500 sq ft is actually only 2.59 occupants.

So, let's look at the therms used per capita for both the designed occupancy and the actual occupancy.

If the main house were occupied at the design occupancy rate, each ADU occupant would have used 75% as much energy as the average resident in the main house. Living in the Northwest ENERGY STAR certified ADU would have been 25% more energy efficient than living in the main house.

But, in reality, with only three occupants in the main house, the actual therms used per capita for heating and cooling in the ADU was still 138.75, but the actual therms used in the main house was 310.13. This means that by residing in the ADU, I used only 44% the amount of energy that the average occupant used in the main house. Living in the ADU has been, in reality, 56% more energy efficient than living in the main house.

These are significant data points. Here are the stories that these data points tell us:

#1) Building the new structure to Northwest ENERGY STAR standards resulted in building a very efficient building envelope and in choosing to use efficient heating systems.

#2) By living at the designed occupancy in the ADU, my partner and I each lived more energy efficiently. Building a smallish dwelling alone did not make the dwelling energy efficient. It was dwelling in a smaller footprint per capita that had the most substantial energy efficiency impact.

Said another way, if I lived alone in the ADU, and the main house was fully occupied at the design occupancy of five people, I would have actually used 50% more energy than the average resident in the main house.

#3) In smaller dwelling spaces like my 800 sq ft ADU, I was prone to live at the designed occupancy level of two. Conversely and representatively, the main house was prone not to be fully occupied (according to US Census data).

These last two points are a thinking person's fodder for a housing revolution.


I'm also including my electrical bills from the last year for reference. Since neither the ADU nor the main house used electricity as the primary heat source (where the bulk of a home's energy is used), these data points are less relevant.

That said, indeed, the ADU was more efficient than the main house in terms of electric power consumption due to the types of appliances and light fixtures that were installed. But, one will still draw a similar conclusions that I have drawn above regarding designed and actual occupancy

Under actual occupancy rates, living in the ADU used 30% less electricity per capita than living in the main house.        Under designed occupancy rates, living in the ADU would've used 18% more electricity per capita than in the main house.
In terms of electricity, the ADU was more efficient under actual occupancy rates. But, if the main house was occupied by five people, the electricity use per capita in the main house would have actually been lower than in the ADU.

Electricity used in the last year in the ADU

Electricity used in the last year in the main house

Note the July spike in electricity use in the main house and the lack of a spike in July for the ADU.

The main house is set in direct sun, has R12 wall insulation, and has an AC unit.

The ADU is kept cool through deciduous tree shading, R33 wall insulation, and a ceiling fan. :)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

One Data Point for the Property Tax Impact of an ADU

My property tax appeal was successful. My property taxes were officially lowered from $4,021.75 to $3,154.21 for 2013.

Adjusted tax statement from Multnomah County

This is still a big increase from my 2012 tax burden of $1,599.43, but it's a fair increase based on Multnomah's tax code. 

Property taxes before and after the ADU was added to the lot

For others who are considering the fiscal impacts of an ADU to their current property tax, the important numbers to note in terms of possible tax increases are that my ADU cost  ~$100K to build, it was valued at ~$90K by the county, and that this additional 'real market value improvement' increased my taxes by ~$1,500.

A property tax increase post-ADU, should be proportional to the contributory value of the improvements. Using my increased tax figures as a baseline, and assuming that I understand Multnomah tax code correctly, if an ADU adds between $50K-$150K of contributory 'real market value' to a property, the property taxes would go up proportionally from ~$850-$2,550/year.
To figure out how an ADU may impact your property tax if you're in Multnomah County, simply multiply the assumed increase in assessed property value by 0.017. That will tell you approximately how much your taxes will increase after you've added an ADU to the property. 

And take my formula with a grain a salt be cause I am just a guy with extra time on his hands and MS Excel.
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