3 Beautiful Accessory Dwelling Unit Designs to Know

There are many types of ADU’s to consider when adding onto your home. These three accessory dwelling unit designs are the most popular.

Accessory Dwelling Units have a slightly misleading name. They might sound a bit like “appliance garages” or something that would be in a well-designed playroom. They are, however, the latest in self-contained dwellings – in this case either attached to, within, or adjacent to a single-family home.

As a dwelling unit, they usually have their own kitchen, bathroom and private entrance.

Different Accessory Dwelling Unit Designs

Adding an ADU to your property is increasingly popular as a way to gain space and add options for housing aging parents, visiting guests, or rental use.

You’ll want to consult with a licensed contractor to determine what would be best for your situation, but consider the following designs to help get the creative wheels turning.

Some common accessory dwelling unit designs are:

  1. Converting your garage
  2. Building a backyard cottage
  3. Creating an attached in-law suite

Below, we will discuss all three of these accessory dwelling unit designs to help you determine which type is right for you.

1. Garage Conversions

Back in the days when everyone had carriage houses, these detached units provided the perfect footprint for adding on a small dwelling upstairs. Even now, both detached and detached garages offer an easy and popular way to add on a dwelling unit.

As one of the most popular accessory dwelling unit designs, there are many options for conversion.

Garage conversions can use the existing ground floor of the garage, build a second story over the garage, or completely convert the garage to a multi-story structure.

Consider the possibilities: a garage apartment is one of the most cost-efficient ways to add a separate residence to your property.

Benefits of Garage Conversions

The attractive benefits of a garage conversion are:

  • —  The ability to match and complement the existing home style
  • —  Room to go up and high
  • —  Convenient sizing based on the current home
  • —  The foundation is already in place, as well as electric and water.

Adding a second story or loft to a garage conversion can give the light and airiness that would otherwise not be possible.

By simply pushing up into the existing attic space of an attached garage, this sort of expansion can add up to 10 feet of ceiling height and room for a sleeping loft.

More expansive renovation can add a dormer section and a true second story.

Either way, garages are available open space that can be accentuated with skylights, additional windows, and all the luxuries available in a larger home.

The blank space allows for room where it’s most needed; whether that be for accessibility features or an extra-large spa bathtub.

2. Backyard Cottages

If the appeal of tiny homes has gotten you stuffing your Pinterest board full of ideas, a backyard cottage is one way to pursue your dream. If your property has the room for a detached unit, you can build your own cottage and enjoy the creativity that this sort of ADU allows.

Backyard cottages are a stand-alone unit, and normally the most expensive style. They’ll require an experienced contractor to guide you through the ins and outs of utility tie-ins, additional plumbing loads, and foundations. What they do provide, though, is design freedom and the ability to try out ideas for the future.

Benefits of Backyard Cottages

If you would like to explore the most energy efficient construction tactics on a smaller scale, a backyard cottage is perfect. These smaller structures are ideal for on-demand water heaters, radiant floor heat, green roofs, and solar panels. Because of this, they are very eco-friendly.

Perhaps you’d like to provide a small home that allows elderly relatives to age in place. The size and new construction of a backyard cottage will be easy to adjust for features. These features may include

  • —  Handrails
  • —  Lower counters
  • —  Easily accessible bathrooms

No matter what the intended use of these accessory dwelling unit designs, you should be able to indulge in a bit of architectural adventure, if you so desire.

If you’ve always dreamed of a New England style beach cottage, or a tiny Santa Fe adobe cabin – well, this style will let you have more the freedom that you might not ordinarily have the time or remodeling budget for.

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3. Attached In-Law Suite

These types of accessory dwelling unit designs can be carved out from existing space within the current home, or added on to the footprint. They’ll always share common features with the main dwelling, like walls and plumbing, but normally have a private entry.

Attached suites are a lovely way to continue using the yard for all the occupants. Many designs build off the back and side of the home, with yard and garden access.

They are a lovely way to continue the look of your home. Nothing is visible from the street, and you maintain the privacy of the backyard.

Benefits of In-Law Suites

Like garage apartments, this type of ADU allows the contractor to use existing utilities and access without adding the expense of a completely detached unit.

They’re also very flexible in their use. For example, they can add a second living space to your home, while still being available for guests or rentals.

They’re also a wonderful way for the elderly to maintain their independence. This sort of renovation means that ground floor access is possible, that the caregiver is always on the premises. They are there in case of emergency.

In addition, the proper modifications for accessibility can be made while the remodeling is taking place.

If existing rooms are being used, there may not be any need for moving plumbing or doing major electrical reconfiguration.

A good contractor will be able to help you plan ahead and anticipate where you might like to make changes. If you will be treating the suite as more of a stand-alone unit, this is a great opportunity to add some more windows. You may also want to add a small screened porch, or french doors to its section of the backyard.


These accessory dwelling unit designs are trending in popularity, and will be a safe bet for a smart renovation.

With more extended families becoming normal, and parents who deserve to age in place, they’re not just a wish list item; they’re a necessity. For those with frequent guests or who enjoy the extra income, building an ADU is a way to enhance your lifestyle while enjoying your privacy.

A new garage apartment, backyard cottage, or mother-in-law unit can be an inspiring use of your creativity, a way to show your love, or just good economics. Whatever your goals, be sure to consult with an experienced and licensed contractor to make your project go off without a hitch.