Building an ADU

The step-by-step guide to planning, designing & building accessory dwelling units.

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So, you’re thinking of building an ADU for rental income and to provide housing flexiblity for yourself?

Or, maybe you need a place to build for your aging parents to move to be nearby you?

But you’ve got questions and you don't know where to start. Maybe you’ve even got some anxiety about the whole thing. You've never developing a housing unit before and you're starting to realize that there's a LOT to it.

This is exactly how I felt when I built my first ADU. I wanted to have someone who had been through the process walk me through it step by step. Well, that’s why I built this course and the Building an ADU website.

Class Curriculum

Introduction to ADUs

The first part of the course introduces what ADUs are, including describing what a jurisdiction legally defines a housing unit to be. Understanding how a municipality thinks about housing development is key to figuring out to develop a property. We also cover why ADUs are emerging as a phenomena right now in many cities across the United States.

Module #1: Zoning and Development Regulations

This module deals with common regulatory issues that you’re likely to confront when you start down the pathway of ADU development: parking, owner occupancy, conditional land use reviews, as well as lot size issues, setbacks, ADU size limitations, height requirements, and more. Then, we discuss how to creatively work with these regulatory constructs.

This section will equip you with the language and terminology that City planners and zoning officials use in its development regulations so that you'll better under the rules of the game and the processes for playing it.

Module #2: Cost and Financing

Just because you have a good idea in mind for how an ADU would benefit your life, and maybe you even know where on your property it could go and what you’d want it to look like, you’re still going to need to figure out how to pay for it. This module explains how much ADUs cost to build, and provides some general guidance to help you understand how to manage those costs.

If you’re surprised to learn how much it costs, don’t worry….we also cover the common ways that homeowners pay for them. I know that everyone would like to build their ADU for as little money as possible. While I can’t promise that you’ll be able to build it cheaply, this module will equip you with the tools you need to fund its development.

Module #3: Design Build Process

ADUs are a special and rare form of urban infill housing. There’s a lot of best practices to understand about small space design in general, and ADUs in particular. We’ll cover everything from utility connections to space efficient design. We also go over the basics of building science (aka green building) so that you’re prepared to know what to ask your designer and builder about.

Lastly, we’ll go through the whole development process step by step to tie the whole curriculum together.

When you sign up for the course, you’ll gain access to:

  • 20 classes covering every facet of ADU development from ADU costs to financing, design to permitting, and construction to rental management approaches
  • 40+ quick tips from out in the field covering tips on ADU specific building information
  • 6 Interviews with ADU owners who have recently gone through (or are going through) the ADU development process themselves
  • 5 walking tours of ADUs
  • Tips and advice on where to access additional resources to help you through the ADU development process

Think of this class as an on-ramp to the process of designing and building an ADU. This class will open your eyes to the spectrum of content that you’ll execute and manage in the course of designing and building an ADU. It is intended to make the whole process and project better by helping you understand the ADU design, management, and building process.

By the end of the class, you will understand the design/permit/build process, which will save you significant time and money, and will result in a better product–an ADU that will work well for your particular situation.

This course offers 4 CCB credits to general contractors in Oregon.

Course overview


"This is the best possible starting place when beginning to explore the idea of building an ADU. The class covers almost every possible aspect of ADU's from design, construction and operations and has been a great jumping off point to build my own ADU. Highly recommended."

- Sam Lawhead, Realtor

"What I like about your material is that you don't sugarcoat anything. When I tell people that "I'm thinking of becoming a landlord," they immediately react like it's a horrible idea. You're really straight about the fact that the process is a lot of work and what people don't understand that the process of figuring out whether the cost/benefit tradeoff is worth it is actually fun research. Being a landlord might be a bad idea but how would I know that without figuring out the details first. Your workshop brakes down all of the difficulties and complexities in a really approachable way, so thanks again."

-Sarah Beaver, homeowner in Mountain View, CA

"Even coming from someone who works in the industry--I work at a design firm that specializes in building ADUs--Kol's class still provided me a wealth of new information."

- Sam Sudy, Architect

"Even if you already think you know where to start, THIS is where you should start!"

- James Nielsen, Homeowner

Your Instructor

Kol Peterson
Kol Peterson

Hi, I’m Kol Peterson. I’m obsessed with ADUs and helping to get more of them built. I'm thrilled to offer you this online course to help you understand all the steps to developing and building an ADU.

I live in Portland, Oregon, which is one of the accessory dwelling unit hubs of activty in the United States (615 ADU permits issued in 2016). Since building my own ADU, I’ve focused my energies on ADU advocacy and education. I'm the organizer of the largest ADU tour in the country, and the author of Backdoor Revolution: The Definitive Guide to ADU Development. In 2013, my wife and I also opened the Caravan-The Tiny House Hotel, the first tiny house hotel in the world.

I know from personal experience how much building an ADU can improve one's life in terms of financial freedom and lifestyle flexibility. This is likely why you are interested in building one, and this course is going to help you get there.

Course Curriculum

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