Compounds for Everyone

Compounds for everyone!

A Life Update from Consolidated Living

June 2023

Compound, when applied to a human habitat, refers to a cluster of buildings in an enclosure, having a shared or associated purpose, such as the houses of an extended [or chosen] family.


Hello, neighbor. The summer season has been off to an exciting start and it’s (finally!) time for two big updates.

1. Our website has a whole new vibe

When we first launched 2020, it was clear to us that community-based residential design was our passion and that we wanted to work with and for our friends and neighbors. As a society we were awakening to the idea that we want to live differently.

Three years later, the shift to more connected, sustainable living feels increasingly important for many folks, including us.

So we redesigned this website to center our purpose as a company: do work we love, with people we love, for the place we love most.

2. We’re building (another) compound…and you’re coming with us!

Erin has been living compound life for a few years now. After growing her home from just one dwelling to 2.5 dwellings, she knew she wanted to help others on similar journeys. Working together, we then began to imagine the possibilities to transform my single-family property into a multi-dwelling compound.

A few years and some major life events later, the project is underway! My two-adult household is about to become a five-adult and three fur babies household.

First, we’ll be consolidating three households into one single-family home. Then we’ll begin building out the spaces to create at least three separate private, but connected, dwellings.

We expect this project to take more than a year and we’ll be sharing our unfiltered experience all along the way.

Our first video introduces the project and takes you on a tour of the property “before.”

Stay connected with us to come along on the journey!

❤️🏘 Leisa

Let’s Talk About Your Project

No matter where you’re at, we always begin with a friendly, collaborative, and totally free virtual conversation.


Designing your ADU: What are your options?

Designing your ADU: What are your options?

Should you hire a designer, consultant, or design your own ADU? Here we’ll give you an overview of your options so you can decide what’s right for your goals.

At Consolidated Living, we’re big fans of personalization. The smaller the space you inhabit, the more important it is to have a customized floor plan that enables your specific day-to-day life––especially if you work from home, have kids, pets, or plan on aging in place. But hiring a designer to customize your ADU floor plan isn’t the only design option available, and depending on how you plan on inhabiting your ADU (or not), you may find a different design route more suitable to your situation. 

The ADU design process you’ll want to take depends on the end goal for your ADU (whether you plan on living in it or renting it out), and the type of ADU you want to build (detached, attached, or conversion). 

When it comes to designing your ADU, your options boil down to the following three options:  

  1. Hire an ADU designer
  2. Hire an ADU consultant (and do most of the design by yourself)
  3. Hire no one (and do it all yourself) 

However you choose to go about designing your new ADU, we’re here to help. Let’s take a look at your options and what they mean for your process. 

Before you start

Understand that no matter how you choose to design your ADU, you’ll need to think about things like:

  • What’s legal to build on your property 
  • Financing your ADU project 
  • Hiring contractors (builders, electricians, plumbers)
  • Permitting your house plan
  • Selecting materials and appliances

Note: If you hire an ADU designer or consultant, they can help you with the items above. If you want to DIY the project, you may have to spend some more time researching and reflecting before you get to work. 

Not sure where to start? Schedule a consultation with us and we’ll help you find your feet in the process.

1. Hire an ADU designer 

Choosing to build an ADU is about more than simply reducing your square footage––it’s about making the most of the square footage you have. 

If you’re planning on inhabiting an ADU long-term, it’s important to make sure the house plan is tailored to your lifestyle. With less square footage to disperse your steps around, your movements are more concentrated along the same lines. That doesn’t just mean certain areas wear down faster than they would in larger spaces. More irritatingly, if any part of your space is just a little bit off (e.g. ceiling height, window placement, or the location of your sink), you’re going to notice it all the time. At best, it’s distracting. At worst, it can make you regret your decision to live smaller at all. 

That’s why it’s so important to get your design right the first time––plus remodeling small spaces later can be a tricky and expensive endeavor. 

What to expect when you hire an ADU designer

To create a custom space, your ADU designer will consider how and where you spend your time in your current living situation, your hobbies, your habits, your likes, dislikes, and future plans to best allocate square footage and arrange the layout to fit your needs. This personalized design strategy makes a small space feel roomier than it is, and disperses your movements more evenly across the space to minimize wear and tear.

If you’re looking to hire a designer, here are some things to consider:

  • Do you like the look and feel of the things they’ve designed in the past? Browse their portfolio to get a sense of their style 
  • Are they good listeners? Schedule a consultation to get a sense of their communication skills; as they say, “half of good design is good listening” 
  • Does your designer help with permitting? If so, this will make the notoriously drawn-out permitting process go much, much faster

At the end of the day, your designer will be instrumental in creating the space you’re going to be living in. It’s important you trust them to be receptive to your needs and wants so you can get the most out of your new space. 

2. Hire an ADU consultant 

Legally, anyone can design their own ADU, so long as you know the rules. The city of Portland will even accept hand-drawn plans! 

That said, if you don’t know the rules, or don’t have the time or desire to do the exhaustive research you need to design your whole space yourself, you may consider hiring an ADU design consultant to help you with the process. (Yes, we do that too.)

You can hire a consultant at any stage of the ADU decision-making process, whether you need: 

  • A sounding board at the beginning of your project 
  • Help getting unstuck on a design you’re working on yourself
  • Answers to questions about zoning laws and building codes
  • Advice on design considerations or the feasibility of your ideas 
  • Help with the permitting process

A consultant can help with all of the above, and support you as you bring your unique idea to life. What’s more, collaborating with a consultant sets your project up for success from the get-go, and could save you time, energy, and money down the road rather than going it alone. 

3. Hire no one (DIY) 

You may be the kind of person who wants to take the reins and DIY the project top-to-bottom––and we support you! (That’s why we became designers, after all – it’s satisfying and fun.) 

That said, if you elect to go the DIY route, you have to spend a lot more time researching zoning laws and building codes before you put pen to paper. The last thing you want to do is spend weeks or months perfecting a house plan that doesn’t stand a chance at getting permitted. 

We recommend this route for anyone who gets excited about what a massive learning process the designing of your own home can be. DIY home design works best for those looking to embark on a long-term passion project––not those looking to save some money on a designer. 

Now, there are tons of community resources that can help you learn everything you need to know to do it yourself successfully. Portland Community College offers architecture and building programs, and there are online courses and lessons aplenty that can help as well. 

Things to consider if you decide to DIY your ADU design:

  • Research, research, research: get to know the zoning laws and building codes that apply to your property 
  • You may need to spend money on education or training for certain aspects of your project
  • You have the option of going through a company like FasterPermits to permit your construction documents 
  • If you want to DIY build your house (in addition to designing), you still need to hire licensed electricians and plumbers (unless you’re licensed yourself) 
  • During the permitting process, if you have to do more than 2 rounds of revisions, you may need to pay some fees
  • Take advantage of the free 15-minute consultations with the City of Portland if you get stuck or have questions 

A note about stock ADU plans

There are countless websites that offer cookie-cutter stock plans for ADUs, often for as little as a few hundred dollars. 

While this option isn’t ideal for those who plan on living in their ADU long-term, it may be a perfect place to start for folks who plan on simply using their ADU as a short-term rental investment. 

That said, if you do plan on inhabiting your ADU, stock plans can be a great place to start gathering ideas. But even if you find a stock plan that you love, it still needs to be calibrated to fit the site and comply with building regulations in your area (orientation, window placement, entry, driveway, etc.). 

Some of our clients like to begin the design process by bringing us stock plans as a starting point, talking us through what they like, what they don’t like, and what they want to change, then we can go in and modify it to fit their unique lifestyle needs. 

Key takeaways 

No matter how you decide to design your ADU, understand that it’s a long process from start to move-in. You’ll take a step, talk to the city, take another step, talk to your designer, take another step, make revisions to your plans, talk to the city again, and so on. You might even have to make modifications after you start building, depending on the inspection process and the feedback you get from your municipality. 

As a parting thought from our consultant Leisa, “When you’re picking somebody to work with, make sure you have a good feeling about them. Just because it’s an industry you may not be familiar with and you’ve maybe never hired this type of professional before, don’t forget your designer is just another person. Make sure you get along well and feel like you can work closely together.” 

No matter what route you choose, we’re here to help empower you and help you along the way. 

Let’s Talk About Your Project

No matter where you’re at, we always begin with a friendly, collaborative, and totally free virtual conversation.


Living Apart, Together: How Croatia Does Multifamily Housing

photo of town

Living Apart, Together: How Croatia Does Multifamily Housing

Around the world, multiple families living together in close quarters is all too common. But in the United States, where 70% of the country’s residential neighborhoods are zoned exclusively for single-family homes, multifamily housing remains a foreign concept. 

As Americans, we’re used to the idea of flying the coop at 18 and fending for ourselves. But this norm is starting to lose steam as droves of young people move back in with their parents out of economic necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, as the population grows and the need for new housing increases, demand for multifamily homes in the United States will continue to grow in the coming years. 

But what does living in a “multifamily home” actually look like? And what can we learn from places where this style of living is the norm? 

To answer these questions, let’s take a look at an example from our staff writer’s home country, Croatia, where multifamily residential units prevail over the single-family home. 

What is multifamily housing?

The terms multifamily residential housing and multi-dwelling units (MDU’s) refer to much more than just apartment buildings and high rises. They denote a broad category of housing that refers to buildings that contain several individual units, or any complex that contains several different structures: think apartment houses, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, cottage clusters, ADU’s, and lofts, to name a few. Depending on the style of housing, the units can be laid out next to each other, stacked on top of each other, or laid out in close proximity in the same lot. 

What do multifamily homes in Croatia look like?  

In Croatia, it’s common to see structures that look like enormous, blocky, concrete houses that, from the outside, look like sprawling lego mansions. 

But what you might not immediately notice is that the majority of these structures contain two, three, four, or more flats that each take up an entire floor of the “house.” They’re usually connected by a stairway of some sort (whether visible on the outside or on the inside of the structure, invisible to street-level onlookers) by which you can access each level of the structure. 

Oftentimes, a different generation of the family lives in its own story (flat) of the apartment house. For those who live in sunnier climates with bustling summer tourist seasons, many families live in one flat while renting out upper floors to tourists during the warmer months. 

Let’s look at two examples from some friends of mine to show you what multifamily housing in Croatia looks like in practice. 

Arijana’s two-family home in Zagreb

Arijana (Pronounced Ahr-ee-yana) lives in a 2-flat apartment house in Croatia’s capital, Zagreb. The two flats are connected by a staircase inside the structure –– where her grandparents live downstairs on the street-level first floor, while Arijana, her husband, newborn baby, and mother live in the flat upstairs. Each family unit has its own kitchen, bathroom and tub, living room, two bedrooms, and dining room. 

The separation of the two flats by a short indoor staircase provides them with a closeness that allows them to help each other with daily tasks — especially when it comes to caring for both its elderly and newborn members.

Both units share the backyard space and garden, where its members can split time (or share time) tending to the veggies, grilling, eating, drying clothes, and socializing. 

Danijel’s four-flat family home and rental house on Hvar Island

Danijel (Pronounced Dahn-ee-yell) lives on the island of Hvar, where he lives in a four-story apartment house, half of it occupied permanently by two generations of his family, and the other half rented out to tourists in the summer season. In the basement of the apartment house is a working cellar, or konoba, where his parents and grandmother make wine. 

His parents live on the first floor with his grandmother, brother, his brother’s wife, and their two newborns. Danijel and his partner live on the second story. The third floor consists of two apartments for summer rent, fully equipped with the works (kitchen, bath, living room, bedroom). The fourth (top) floor comprises 6 smaller studios for summer rent, each with a queen-sized bed, half-bathroom, and kitchenette.

All four stories share a sizeable front patio, parking lot, and backyard space where the families, tourists, and friends aplenty get together for parties and cookouts. 

Is multifamily housing available in Oregon? 

Multifamily housing similar to what we see in Croatia will be made more available in Oregon in the coming years, made possible by revolutionary new land-use reforms like HB 2001 and the RIP

These reforms are one small part of a growing movement to do away with exclusionary single-family zoning, increase housing density, and diversify housing options. With the coming reforms, Oregonians will have the option to add structures like duplexes, triplexes, ADU’s, and cluster cottages to lots with existing detached structures. 

What Americans can learn from multifamily housing in Croatia

Lest we forget, there are deep economic, cultural, and historical factors that influence the way multiple Croatian families live together and get along – or not (read: socialism). 

But no matter where you are, whether you’re living in an urban apartment complex next to complete strangers or a coastal 4-flat building with your parents and grandparents, there are myriad benefits that can be attributed to this style of living. 

Financially, we know multifamily structures tend to be more compact, affordable alternatives to single-family homes. Socially, living in a multigenerational household (like my friends Arijana and Danijel), can make caring for newborns and aging parents alike a much easier, simpler task. Both of these spill over into the health benefits of multifamily life: like reducing expenses and chronic isolation, while increasing access to family care and shared resources. 

We’re not saying that all multifamily or multigenerational living situations are fairy tales – far from it. But we do want to drive home the point that, when done right, multifamily housing can be a means to increase social cohesion, lower costs, and improve quality of life. 

From raising a new family to aging in place, if you’re thinking about making a change to your housing situation, consider thinking outside the single-family house. 


Let’s Talk About Your Project

No matter where you’re at, we always begin with a friendly, collaborative, and totally free virtual conversation.


Multigenerational Living: What’s old is new again

loving family chatting during dinner in garden

Multi-Generational Living: What’s old is new again

Humans have lived multi-generationally since time immemorial but looking at most American homes, you’d never know. That’s starting to change.

If you’re already a part of a household with more than two generations living together, you may remember your elders’ stories of what it was like back when less square footage and more people was more common. You may have even told a few stories yourself. 

These days, more and more Americans are getting familiar with the idea of consolidating households. Living with family, chosen or unchosen, is a decision people around the world make all the time. Some main reasons include:

  • aging in place or child care
  • it makes financial sense
  • cultural reasons and personal preference

Multigenerational households offer so many advantages, but the struggle to balance proximity and privacy is real. 

With the recent wave of “boomerang kids” moving back in with parents, an aging US population, and less new households, the math says we’re all gonna have to figure out how to live together. 

Depending on the unique needs of your multigen household, living together doesn’t necessarily mean living under the same roof. 

Multigenerational living- by the numbers

Back in 1900, the most common size of a household in the US was around 7 people. Think parents, a few children, grandparents, and an extended relative or two, all together, under one roof, with less than 1,000 square feet to share. That’s less than 150 square feet per person. 

As of 2010, that number is 2.58 people per household, while the average square footage of the American house rose to 2322 square feet and 900 square feet per person. The 2020 Census preview report has interesting data that show this trend is reversing as more and more young people are moving back home during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Not only are multigenerational setups becoming more common in the US, but according to another Pew Research study, the average size of households is increasing, too. And at the same time, the percentage of U.S. residents ages 65 and older is increasing at the fastest pace in U.S. history, 

For a successful multigenerational setup, a thoughtful site plan will make it possible to live together and apart at the same time. Just like emotional boundaries are healthy for strong relationships, ADU’s can be affordable, practical structures that reflect those boundaries. 

Aging in place + accessibility

Aureliano Segundo visited her frequently and he brought her clothing which she would place beside the bed along with the things most indispensable for daily life, so that in a short time she had built up a world within reach of her hand.

– 1,000 Years of Solitude 

ADU’s are a great option for care, by and for all ages. 

With the right planning, space can be adjusted in all sorts of creative ways to suit people’s needs. Every single detail of their house plans can be customized for accessibility from cabinet height preference to full-on ADA compliance. 

Having one’s own roof over their head can help with maintaining a sense of dignity, privacy, and autonomy for folks who would benefit from living close to family or caretakers. An ADU can even empower a family to more easily take care of eachother, reducing the stress that dispersed living can cause as social or physical needs change. 


When the 2008 market crash hit, the number of young people moving home to save money skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of multigenerational households increased by more than 50%, reaching 64 million in 2016.

The 2020 Census will reflect the latest wave of young folks, now only somewhat charmingly referred to as “boomerang kids,” and the COVID-19 pandemic that is causing young people to move back home in droves. There is growing cultural acceptance of the value of moving back home, and an awareness of the need to do it right.

Rent may or may not be part of the equation, but often much more than simply space and money are shared. Living as neighbors means more shared meals, more help with everyday tasks, caretaking, more laughs with grandma and grandpa. 

If you’re curious to learn more about the economics of building an ADU, read this post. If you think you might stick around for a while, it might be worth it. 


It’s not that complicated. Some people just want to live together- whether they’re related or not. 

Census Bureau defines any household other than single-person, “stem” families, and nuclear families as “complex housing.” That includes multiple families sharing an address, friends or coworkers living together, and even multigenerational families. 

Globally, “complex” housing is seen as an ordinary living arrangement. 

In my home country, Croatia, families have no personal boundaries. None. It’s no wonder that the most common type of housing involves one house divided into multistory apartments where each generation of a family lives on a different level. Wouldn’t you know it- it works pretty darn well! 

And at the end of the day, loving your people and needing your own boundaries is a real thing. People choose to cohabitate in all sorts of ways, without sacrificing their privacy or individuality to family dynamics. 

A note about personal privacy

ADU’s are a new take on an ages-old housing tradition. Done thoughtfully, they can make taking care of ourselves and each other more comfortable than ever. 

Even if they’re close to home, they make it feel like you’ve left the nest. Nobody said you had to fly very far! In cultures around the world, multigenerational living setups are considered commonplace. They’re not just accepted, they’re celebrated. 

For those considering making the move back to your hometown, or those contemplating welcoming a new roommate (or a few), ADU’s can be a simple alternative to the frequent car trips, the stresses, and the often heart wrenching distance between loved ones. 

Sometimes we just need to have our own roof over our heads, even if we still only live a few feet away.

Let’s Talk About Your Project

No matter where you’re at, we always begin with a friendly, collaborative, and totally free virtual conversation.


Building Smaller to Live Better

Building Smaller to Live Better

“How did the American Dream become a dream about a big house?”


Remodeling the American Dream

In 2018, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060 report. The report states that the world’s consumption of raw materials is on track to almost double by 2060: “as the global economy expands and living standards rise, placing twice the pressure on the environment that we are seeing today.”

And yet, every year, houses get bigger and people – and the planet – don’t get any happier. 

As a collective we have a whole lot of house space that we’re not using, and it’s costing us a fortune financially, emotionally, and environmentally. 

Have we been going about housing wrong all along? 

Size matters: square footage and sustainability

Accessory Dwelling Units (aka ADU’s, aka “mini houses” aka “granny flats”) tend to be about 100-400 square feet on average. Now compare that to the size of an “average house” as defined by the American Institute of Architects: 2,598 sq. feet or (241 m2).

That’s a whopping 41 percent larger than the average size of a single-family home in 1973. 

ADU’s produce a fraction of the carbon emissions of average sized homes: 2,000 lbs of CO2 emissions per year as compared to an average 28,000 lbs per year for average homes. As builder Jug Tarr eloquently put it: “it doesn’t take a PhD in physics to see that energy cost is a direct correlation of cubic feet.”

So it’s easy to see how sustainability is a cornerstone of the “small house movement” (but for the record, tiny houses aren’t necessarily ADU’s, more on that here!).

Our big house dreams are effectively undoing decades of sustainable advancements in green technology. Policymakers are taking notice, and are considering placing caps on house size in some places. Cities are even beginning to incentivize ADU construction, so check out your municipality to see if there are any credits available to you if you’re interested in building one! 

The advantages of living smaller  

The benefits of a smaller home extend far, far below the stratosphere. 

Besides their small footprint, ADU’s have implications at several levels: by addressing density and suburban sprawl in our cities, by making multigenerational living more comfortable, by providing options to millennials and retirees and everyone in-between with no ability or desire to pay a mortgage for the rest of their lives.

On a micro-level, living smaller means:

Space to heat and coolMoney in your pocket each month
Maintenance, repairs, and upkeepTime to do whatever you want!
Physical spaceEmotional space
Family separation Family togetherness  
Time commuting to your parents houseTime spent WITH your parents (multigenerational living – made functional) 

Less anchor, more launchpad.

That said, all sizes are welcome 

In her pioneering book The Not so Big House, architect and author Sarah Susanka reminds us that “’Not So Big’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘small.’ It just means not as big as you thought you needed. The ideal size for your not-so-big-house depends on your financial situation, the size of your family, and your personal preferences.”

For a lot of people, dreaming smaller won’t look like building and living in a mini house. It might look like turning a bedroom into an office, converting an attic or garage, putting up a new shelf, or getting rid of clutter in the living room.

If you have a big house that you enjoy living in, whose spaces provide you material, spiritual, or emotional satisfaction––keep living your best life. You can still pay attention to the small spaces within a larger structure ––and dreaming smaller can improve the space you currently have. 

… But totally still get an ADU if you can 

If you have spare change to build 5,000 square feet, cut your size in half, and spend your savings on an architect, skilled craftspeople, and high-priced materials, and show off the gorgeous results.”

Shay Salomon

We’re not saying everyone should live in a 250 sq. ft. mini house, and we’re definitely not saying we don’t love and appreciate the spaciousness large houses bring to the lives of people who live in them. 

We believe the quality of square footage is more important than the quantity. In the words of legendary small-house author Shay Salomon, a house should “fit like a glove, not a warehouse.”

At the end of the day, how you inhabit and mold your space is your prerogative. No matter who you are or where you live, the key takeaway is this: bigger doesn’t always mean better. Smaller will always mean less stuff, and less stuff can be a great thing.

Let’s Talk About Your Project

No matter where you’re at, we always begin with a friendly, collaborative, and totally free virtual conversation.


How to Pay for an ADU in Portland, Oregon

photo of an elderly woman holding money

How to Pay for an ADU in Portland, Oregon

Most of us aren’t rolling around in cash and capital. Let’s demystify funding and financing your ADU project.

Paying for an ADU isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

Since personal finance situations come in all shapes and sizes, it’s not unusual to come up with a patchwork of dollars from various sources: all or some of your savings, borrowed funds from friends or family, a loan from a bank, a line of credit on your house, and so on. 

Let’s begin with some tried-and-true personal finance wisdom: if you plan on borrowing money, the more cold, hard cash you can scrape together for a down payment, the better. 

But how do you go about procuring the remaining funds? We’ll show you in this post. No matter the sum of your starting capital, you’ve got options for procuring more – you just need some sensible financial planning. 

Being in a low-income bracket absolutely does not disqualify you from building your dream home. In fact, the state of Oregon has spurred a long list of innovative financial programs and resources dedicated to making ADU’s accessible for all. 

The first thing you need to figure out is your budget. 

Before you can apply for any sort of financing, you need to know how roughly much money your project will cost in total, from conception to inhabitation. That includes costs of permits and licenses, land (if applicable), drawings, closing costs for loans, construction (design, labor, materials) and even things like appliances and furniture. 

Now don’t bust out your calculator and just start plugging in numbers right off the bat. Make sure you’re familiar with the design/build process and where your costs will come from, and take the time to tinker with the tools below to help you figure it all out.

That said, keep in mind that even the most prudent project planners will run into hidden costs. This post is meant to help you create an approximation, not a perfectly precise estimate (in this business, those don’t exist).

Permit Fee Calculator

Not sure what permits you need? The City of Portland has an excellent tool that will help you figure out what to apply for and the costs of permitting fees in your area. 

ADU Program Guide

If you haven’t already, visit the latest version of the City of Portland’s ADU Program Guide for more information about ADU rules, regulations and requirements. 

HOT TIP 1: Plan to spend roughly $300 per square foot on construction, but keep in mind that the cost of building an ADU varies from project to project. When you factor in labor, materials, a designer, various contractors, etc, the price can fluctuate. Based on this figure, building a 400-sq. ft. ADU with high-quality materials and appliances would cost somewhere around $100,000- $130,000.
HOT TIP 2: Not sure how it all computes with your unique financial situation? Online mortgage calculators can do the heavy lifting with all the math. These tools take stock of your current finances and future goals, and can help you get a better idea of what things like loan terms, down payment, monthly payments, and closing costs for your future ADU might look like. 

Once you have a price tag for your project, it’s time to think about your options for procuring the remainder of the funds. If you haven’t started intentionally building up your credit score, now is a good time to start.  For better or worse, this is the metric a lot of banks will use when writing a loan and its terms.

Know your options

Choosing the right loan you need to finance your ADU project will depend on a number of factors, including your current home equity, income, credit score, veteran status, and more. 

There are a lot of details here related to your individual situation. Suffice it to say that you should plan on spending a good chunk of the planning phase to sorting out your finances for the project. The most important consideration as you begin is whether or not you have equity in an existing home. 

If you don’t have home equity in an existing property 

If you don’t have sufficient equity built up in a home to get a solid line of credit through your bank, that’s fine! You’re still eligible for all kinds of loans, you just might need to spend more time shopping around for the lowest possible interest rates. 

What if you don’t own a home or have a property? Can you still build an ADU?

Yes.  Here are some options to look into:

  • Construction loans, just watch out for high APR rates (more on that below) 
  • Personal loan
  • Check out credit unions in your area, they often have plans to help get people started 
  • Loan on a 401k or IRA if you have one.

If you do have home equity in an existing property 

Do you own all or a part of your home? If so, refinancing an existing mortgage could be a smart plan, especially if you have a good working relationship with your bank. 

House prices in Portland have increased. If you’re a homeowner considering adding an ADU to your lot and have significant equity in your current home, banks may be more willing to give you a line of credit if you want to refinance. Refinancing can also be a great option for those interested in a garage conversion.

  • Home improvement loan
  • Home equity loan/line of credit
  • Refinancing an existing mortgage
  • Personal loan
HOT TIP 3: Check out the  Earth Advantage ADU Finance Guide, which serves as a snapshot into various financing options in the Portland Metro area, depending on your home equity status (more on that below). 

Let’s Talk About Your Project

No matter where you’re at, we always begin with a friendly, collaborative, and totally free virtual conversation.

Permitting Your Portland ADU: A Step by Step Guide

old bridge over river in city against colorful sunset sky

Permitting Your Portland ADU: A Step by Step Guide

Whether you’re converting an attic or garage, remodeling an existing space, or constructing a new ADU, you’re going to need a permit from the City of Portland before you can begin construction. 

In a nutshell, your ADU permit serves as proof that your new space meets the appropriate building codes and satisfies specific safety requirements laid out by Portland’s Bureau of Development Services (BDS). 

And, as with any bureaucratic procedure, obtaining a building permit can be a complex, lengthy, and often overwhelming process. But we’re here to help simplify it: part of our job as ADU designers is to help you with the ins and outs of the building codes and permitting procedures you’ll need to have in place before you can build. 

In this post, you’ll find a pared-down summary of the major steps laid out in the BDS’s official guide to residential ADU permitting (link below), so you can better prepare yourself for the work ahead. 

Note: links are current as of December 23, 2021. This post does not contain all of the required documents you’ll need to get your ADU permitted and serves only as a starting point in your research to get you better acquainted with the process. When you’re ready to get started for real, visit the official Bureau of Development Services ADU permitting guide here

Before you begin the permitting process… 

It helps if you have some ideas for ADU designs –– or at least have a design team on your side (and if you don’t, contact us). Your design team can help you come up with a site plan and strategy for your property (or give feedback and advice on the plans you came up with yourself), research what your property allows, find contractors, source materials, recommend appliances, and much more. 

Now that you’ve got that handled, you’re ready to get started with the hard part. 

Step 1: Research your property to understand what exactly you can do with it

First off, you need to check the permit history of your existing house. If you’re wanting to turn your attic into an ADU, but the attic wasn’t permitted, you’ll need to legalize it before you can do anything else. 

You’ll also have to double-check the appropriate design and zoning standards that apply to the type and size of ADU you want to build (things like height allowances for instance). If you’re planning on building a detached, covered ADU, make sure you read this worksheet. 

Other elements you’ll need to take care of in this step:

Step 2: Design your ADU (or hire us to design it for you) 

In a nutshell, there are three ways to go about ADU design: 1. you do all of it yourself; 2. you do some of it yourself, or; 3. you hire a designer and do none of it yourself.

If you decide to go the DIY route, you have the advantage of having full control over the development of your space. The downside(s) is that you’ll need to figure out the steps in this process by yourself, research and understand all the appropriate building requirements, and make all the not-so-obvious decisions about your space on your own (e.g. how close your toilet is allowed to be to your bathtub, or how high your ceilings can be to comply with building codes). 

Alternatively, you may want to have control over the design but hire out a design consultant to verify your work and make sure everything is compliant with the necessary codes and requirements. Think about it as if you were a writer hiring an editor to double-check your grammar before submission to a publication. (And yes, we do consulting, too.)

Finally, you can entrust the whole process to a design team, who will work with you to ensure the design satisfies your unique vision and stays compliant with all the little things you never knew you needed to think about. Your design team can also link you up with contractors if you haven’t found them already, help you source materials, and recommend appliances to install further down the road. 

Step 3: Talk to a Portland planning expert to get extra help with the process

The City of Portland has city planners, building code and engineering reviewers, permit technicians, water experts, and transportation experts on staff to help answer any questions you may have about any step of the process while you’re still in the beginning phases of your project. You can schedule your free 15-minute consultation with an expert here. 

If you have questions about sanitary lines, sewer lines, or stormwater lines, you can contact Environmental Services at 503-823-7761. 

Step 4: Fill out your ADU permit application and submit your documents online or in-person 

If you plan on building a new, detached ADU, you’ll want to follow the guidelines for a New Single Family Residence. 

On the other hand, if you’re planning on converting an already existing space, you’ll need to satisfy a few other requirements, like complete a building permit application and have a site plan and architectural plans in place. 

Other important links you’ll need in this step: 

Step 5: Check your review status and make corrections

Once you submit your permit application to the City, you can check the status of its review periodically to see where it’s at and find out what else you need to do to push the process along. 

For more information about the permit review process, visit this page

To learn how to appropriately format and submit corrections, read this. 

Step 6: Time to (finally) obtain your ADU permit

Once your permit application has been approved (or not), you’ll receive a notice via email or phone, as well as detailed instructions for how to pick up your permit and pay all the necessary fees. 

Note: your permit won’t actually be issued or valid until you pay all the fees required. 

Step 7: Start construction on your ADU and prepare for inspections

Once you begin building, you’ll need to pass several inspections that ensure the proper measures are being taken during construction. 

Sometimes, you’ll even need to pass certain inspections before you can start building –– think erosion control and tree protection on the property. And, depending on the results of those pre-construction inspections, you may need to make and submit a few more corrections before you can break ground. 

Scheduling an inspection with the BDS 

You can schedule an inspection Monday through Friday from 8:15 am – 3:45 pm, by phone (503-823-7388) or email BDSinspections@portlandoregon.gov

Time to get dreaming about your new ADU

We hope we’ve given you some things to think about as you begin the task of permitting your ADU plans. 

No matter where you are in the process, the designers and strategists at Consolidated Living can help you reach your goal on time, on budget, and in line with your vision. 

Let’s Talk About Your Project

No matter where you’re at, we always begin with a friendly, collaborative, and totally free virtual conversation.

This Revolutionary New Zoning Law Could Help Solve Oregon’s Housing Crisis

view of mount hood seen from the columbia river in portland oregon

This Revolutionary New Zoning Law Could Help Solve Oregon’s Housing Crisis

By 2035, the state of Oregon is set to construct 100,000 new homes. 

But as real estate and construction prices skyrocket due to Oregon’s increasing population, the aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the legacy of exclusionary zoning laws, it’s been unclear how exactly one of these new homes could become a reality for the average Oregonian household.

In a revolutionary new legislative step, Oregon is taking action. 

In this post, we’ll cover one of the many efforts the state of Oregon is taking to address the single-family zoning issue at the heart of the current housing crisis: a new law, HB2001, and its implementation plan, the Residential Infill Project (RIP). 

The bill, if taken advantage of by developers, homeowners, and property owners, could help to mitigate the housing crisis and better fit the housing needs of Oregon families. Keep reading to find out how. 

What’s The Deal With Single-Family Zoning?

Single-family zoning is a type of land use regulation that restricts the type of housing to one detached home, for one family, on one lot. It prohibits the construction of multi-family friendly housing like townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, and apartments in residential areas. Oregon passed laws in favor of single-family zoning in 1959, and until the passage of HB2001, 70% of Oregon’s residential land was zoned for single-family housing. 

In effect, this type of zoning creates a housing supply shortage that hikes real estate prices and takes up enormous chunks of land that could be used to house more people at a lower cost. This supply shortage and resultant higher costs create an exclusionary housing climate that prices out young families, seniors, communities of color, and immigrant populations. (Read more about the implications and history of single-family zoning here.)

HB 2001: Increasing Housing Options, Decreasing Housing Prices 

In 2019, the state of Oregon passed HB 2001. For medium-sized cities (10,000 residents), the bill went into effect in 2021, while large cities (25,000 residents, including the Portland metro area) will have to wait until summer of 2022 to take advantage of the new rules. 

The new law requires Oregon’s largest cities (including Portland) to allow the construction of various forms of “middle housing” (this includes ADU’s, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, cottage clusters, and townhouses) in residential areas. 

The bill directly addresses several housing issues at once: the housing shortage (by increasing the supply of homes); housing affordability (with higher supply, prices drop); housing density (by allowing the construction of new units on lots with existing structures); and housing options (by allowing different types of structures besides detached houses to be built in residential areas). 

The Department of Land Conservation and Development is responsible for helping cities adjust their infrastructure to accommodate the changes and increased density as a result of the legislative changes. 

The Residential Infill Project (RIP): Oregon’s Path Forward

Image courtesy of the Sightline Institute

The Residential Infill Project (also known by its somewhat unfortunate acronym, the RIP) is Oregon’s localized strategy for implementing HB2001. RIP went into effect August 1, 2021. It does several things, namely:

  • Reduces maximum building size 
  • Expands housing options 
  • Sets new standards for building design

Over the years, there have been several different manifestations of the RIP strategy. If you want to read more about the 5-year history and development of the Residential Infill Project, read this article by Sightline to get a better understanding of the hurdles it faced in coming to fruition. 

Is Higher-Density Housing Better? 

High-density housing isn’t a one-size-fits-all, and density for the sake of density is not a solution in and of itself. 

According to ADU expert and housing advocate Kol Peterson, the real problem is when low-density zoning pushes out the working class, and renders the availability of adequate housing impossible for the average family.

In Oregon as well as in jurisdictions across the US, what we’re seeing is a crisis of low-density housing that’s been in the works for decades: “Over time, as pressures and demands grow, populations increase, and demand for houses increases, we are inherently limited by the potential for new housing because of our zoning. Now, it’s a matter of changing that structure,” says Peterson, “and either upzoning single-family residential to multi-family residential, or, more creatively, taking single-family residential zoning and changing the rules within that zone.” 

Essentially, the latter is what the state of Oregon is aiming for with the creation of HB2001 and RIP. 

While increased density isn’t the goal of HB 2001 and the RIP, it is an important side effect –– one that hasn’t been without its share of opponents. While the bill was met with overwhelming support in the Oregon legislature, those who oppose it believe increased density will be a strain on infrastructure, and promote overcrowding. 

It’s important to note that HB2001 and RIP don’t require new construction of middle housing –– they simply allow more flexibility in housing choices for those who want to build. As such, no drastic changes will happen overnight. 

What HB2001 and RIP Mean For Oregon Residents

Whatever transformation these reforms may catalyze will be extremely gradual, taking place over many, many years; “Portland will never look like New York City, with skyscrapers and hundreds of residents per city block,” says Peterson. “What Portland will look like in a hundred years doesn’t exist anywhere in the US.” 

For a city like Portland that has long been stifled by arcane zoning rules, the gradual implementation of HB2001 and RIP will eventually produce more housing flexibility, greater housing supply, and lower housing prices –– which in turn means working-class Oregonians will be able to live closer to their jobs, their schools, their families, and parks, at price points they can actually live with. That’s something we can all look forward to. 


Learn More About Zoning Reform and Housing Density:

House Bill 2001: More Housing Choices for Oregonians 

Portland City Council Passes Residential Infill Project 

Residential Infill Project Summary 

Portland’s housing shortage: Low inventory spurs higher prices, pushing ownership further out of reach

The Eight Deaths of Portland’s Residential Infill Project

Let’s Talk About Your Project

No matter where you’re at, we always begin with a friendly, collaborative, and totally free virtual conversation.

Choosing Materials for Your ADU

person holding wooden tiles

Read This Before Choosing Materials for Your ADU

Recognize interdependence. The elements of human design are entwined with and depend upon the natural world, with broad and diverse implications at every scale. Expand design considerations and recognize distant effects.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, William McDonough, Michael Braungart

Why ADU materials matter

So, you’ve made the decision to go smaller. It may not be this very moment, but soon there will come a time for you to decide what kinds of building materials to use in your ADU. 

Forgive us for stating the obvious, but here it goes: ADU’s require a lot less material volume than your average house. The downside is that whatever materials go into your ADU, you’re going to be up close and personal with them over a long period of time. And with less airflow, you’ll be breathing in the fumes of whatever materials are in your space (think insulation, paints, varnishes, and the like)– which is why it’s all the more important to select non-toxic products for your ADU.

The upshot of needing less volume is that, depending on where you live, you may find it’s easier to source components from local retailers that are sustainable, less toxic, age well, and have better functionality for your needs. (That said, it’s important to get your materials right the first time, because there’s not much room to maneuver should you need to remodel after the fact.)

Many conventional building components have a high carbon cost of production and transportation, and many are even toxic. “Green” alternatives exist for virtually every building material, from the concrete in the foundation to the panels on the exterior, the insulation between the walls, the varnish on the floors, down to interior accents like trim or tile in the bathroom. 

Small spaces, special considerations

In general, materials can be expensive. Using less of them, by default, will save you money. 

Variety – There’s a lot to choose from out there. Keep in mind that each material has its own advantages and disadvantages, and you’ll have to do more research on your own once you finish this post (we’ll start you off with more resources down below). 

Durability – Think about the floors in a high-traffic area. There’s a good chance that you’ll notice some natural wear and tear; faded paint, scuffs, chips, and worn-out polish. In small spaces, your movements are less spread out and more concentrated in a smaller surface area over time, which makes it all the more important to invest in durable materials that will last. 

Sustainability – This goes beyond just the carbon footprint of any given material, and down to the air that you breathe. In smaller spaces, your body is physically much, much closer to the materials you choose to put in your home. Since the volume of air is smaller, the impact of potentially toxic materials is greater (especially when it comes to insulation). 

Talk to your building team – Generally, your building/contractor team will have their own preferences when it comes to building materials and their preferred sources for their wares. If you’re curious to learn more about the components going into your home, reach out to a Sustainable Homes Professional in your area.

Shopping for materials

The idea of local sustainability is not limited to materials, but it begins with them. Using local materials opens the doors to profitable local enterprise. It also avoids the problem of bioinvasion, when transfer of materials from one region to another inadvertently introduces invasive nonnative species to fragile ecosystems.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, William McDonough, Michael Braungart

Your local sustainable construction supply store might look as daunting as the one above (and it might just have a showroom to make it easy). If you have a list of materials you’re interested in and questions you have about them, finding what you need in that industrial aisle will be a whole lot less overwhelming. 

Since you’re dealing in small spaces, keep an eye out for materials in unlikely places – like your local reuse building supply store, or even the side of the road! Our designer Erin found a slab of granite for a shower ledge literally on the side of the road by her local granite store. 

The most sustainable thing you can do is find materials and reuse them- you don’t need to shop online, get things shipped cross-country, or get specially fabricated components (unless that’s what you’re going for). 

For PDX- based eco building supplies visit: 


By paying attention to your material options early in the game you’ll save money, create a more comfortable, energy-efficient home, and showcase your taste for the textures and aesthetics you’ve always dreamed about.

The happy side effect of building small is that no matter what materials you use, less square footage means less overall cost and less carbon footprint. And that’s something to feel good about. 


Let’s Talk About Your Project

No matter where you’re at, we always begin with a friendly, collaborative, and totally free virtual conversation.

Designing Your Space: Our Process

Designing Your Space: Our Process

Our goal is to help our clients envision spaces that enable their best lives – and enjoy the process it takes to get there.

Collaboration is at the heart of our process: first with you, then with our team of creative design pros. In this post, we’ll give you a sneak peek at what it’s like to work with us, from our first meeting to the delivery of the official drawing sets your building team will use to help your project come to life.  

No matter the scale of your project, a methodical design is a thoughtful process (and a few unique tweaks) away.

Five phases of design

1. Programming Phase 

First, the team (you and us), gets together for a candid conversation where we identify your needs, wants, and goals. We’ll look at the site (socially distanced or digitally). We’ll take lots of notes and make sure we have an accurate understanding of your vision. 

We’ll probe and ask the deep-cut questions to figure out what elements of home matter most to you. Where and how do you spend the most time? Are there any special considerations (from accessibility to sustainability)?

Together, we’ll define your project’s scope, size, function, and aesthetics (look and feel), and draw an initial outline (AKA concept sketch) of the design. 

Note: Before the ADU can fit you, it has to fit the site. Contractors can give game-changing insights into site-specific constraints (like plumbing or electricity hook-ups). The earlier this input is integrated into the design, the better.

2. Schematic Design (SD) Phase 

The schematic designs are like the outermost pieces of a puzzle (or an essay outline for the writers out there). 

In Phase II things get fun (and a bit more technical). We’ll take measurements of the existing space during a site visit. With these, we’ll be able to level-up the brainstorming to illustrate a more accurate view of the space. These will form an initial site plan, which will form the basis of the designs to come. 

Based on this initial site plan, we’ll create a floor plan option(s) to provide a more true-to-life glimpse at what the future space could look and feel like. By true-to-life we mean 3-D. Like I said, fun.

3. Design Development (DD) Phase

Next, the team collaborates to make design tweaks and add detail to our rough draft. 

We go back to the drawing board if we need to, and then come back to you with a set of more polished drawings. These include more floor plans, elevation and section views, and lists of products, fixtures, and materials that will go inside the final product. These essential elements come together to express the ~vibe~ in a model of the future home, to provide clarity and context for the final design. 

By this point, the puzzle is painting a clear picture. The only things missing are those final few elusive connecting pieces, which we fill in in Phase IV.

4. Construction Documents (CD) Phase 

This is the final draft, where we take the designs we developed in Phase III and make them construction-ready. 

The final set of drawings are the official permit and construction sets, which you’ll need to get approved by your local building authorities. Once the plans are approved, the team can start construction! 

5. Construction Phase

Our work isn’t done once the project moves beyond paper.

We’ll be here to answer any questions you or your builder may have, interpret construction documents, and help the process along until it’s time for you to move in! 

Further reading 

Keep in mind that each project is different. If you’re curious what the steps might look like for your unique vision, reach out to us and let’s schedule a consultation to get going.

If you’re like us and want to arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can before putting words to your idea, here’s some further reading to get you oriented.

Let’s Talk About Your Project

No matter where you’re at, we always begin with a friendly, collaborative, and totally free virtual conversation.

ADU Design: It’s a Game of Inches

ADU Design: It’s a Game of Inches

For a small home that feels functional and open, consider the size of everything

When you embark on the journey of building an ADU from scratch, you’re going to have to make a lot of big decisions involving very small amounts of space. 

But here’s the kicker: the goal isn’t just to go high-tech and tiny for the sake of living in less square feet. It’s about minimizing the things you can make do with less of, and making more room for the things that matter.

Just think of your minihouse as a puzzle you can actually plan for.

Sweat the small stuff 

The smallest pieces of the puzzle are the most challenging to find, but they’re the most important to get right. 

Your lifestyle will be the most important influence on decisions about key elements of your home planning: structure, fixtures, appliances, furniture, and technology/recreation. 

Start thinking about these pieces early in your planning and work with your designer to bring it all to life in your new space. 

Our designer’s advice? Whenever you have a choice to make, make the smallest one. It’ll be fine. 

Start with structure and fixtures

Walls and Stairs

A great example of structure planning has to do with your walls, in the very beginning of the design phase. How thick do they need to be? How thick are they in your drawings? Is it possible to make them thinner, or create built ins to use the extra space for storage or display?

The Roof 

Another great example is your attic space. There are some height regulations to be conscious of, but if possible, is there room to build in a loft? Or would your small space be better with high vaulted ceilings for a more open feeling?


Items that get touched every day need to balance form and function but are commonly overlooked when it comes to the space they take up.

  • knobs
  • lighting
  • sinks
  • bathroom faucets
Appliances – not just the cherry on top 

You can save a lot of space with a few versatile appliance upgrades, like a microwave that can double as an oven, a toaster, a roaster, and a frying pan. 

If you want to get the most out of your floor plan, you should start doing your research on appliances in the beginning of your project (we did some of that for you below). Then work with your designer to make sure they work for you.

Consider this- do you spend a lot of time baking? If so, you might need to dedicate more cubic feet to an oven and less to a freezer. How many mouths do you have to feed? If you’re living solo, you may need a much smaller fridge than you think. 

Here are a few appliance options to think about:
  • Dishwasher drawer – they save space, time, and help conserve water over hand washing.
  • Cook Top – when not in use, the smooth surface can double as counter space. Products like this 24” Induction can save space without sacrificing function.
  • Refrigerator – Tall, skinny, and fits in a tight corner. Our favorite model also features special hinges and a compressor, so the whole unit takes up no more than 24” x 24.”
  • Convection Oven Microwave – it can roast a chicken, pop popcorn, and make the best grilled cheese you’ve ever had. Available in 120V.
  • Ventless washer / dryer combo – these can be run on 120V electricity, and require no special venting. Never have to switch your clothes from the washer to the dryer again. It’s all in the same box!?

Note: we don’t get dollars from links above, we just like to shout out good finds. We also know the above appliances won’t work for all budgets. That’s okay. Remember, there are always options.. the point is to start looking for them!

Technology – use it or consolidate it!

Think about a cluttered TV/entertainment area. There’s a lot more going on in that part of the house than just a television. 

Having a TV can also mean having five remote controls, various consoles or other gaming devices, boxes, some kind of stand or hookup, speakers, a mess of chords, and all the DVD’s, controllers, games, etc. [fill in your own mess here]. On top of that, you might also have stuff like a computer or printer nearby (and their cords). 

Unless you’re Neo from the Matrix, you may want to plan on consolidating some of the bulkier pieces of technology you need for a smoother and smarter ADU design.  

Pieces to think about…
  • One smart remote vs. 5 remotes that don’t make sense 
  • Projector screen on a wall or window instead of a monitor with a stand
  • Surround sound (doesn’t take up floor space)

Furniture – the ultimate two-fer!

Spoiler alert: You can’t fit much furniture in a mini house.

Imagine if the surface area of a queen-size bed, used at night, could serve as a work zone during the day? In one of our CL case studies, this bed space-to-office space conversion opened up an extra 60 sq. ft. in a 250 sq. ft. house (that’s 24%!).

Tatami mat bed platform serves as a work area during the day. At night the technology packs away and the futon is easily rolled out.

A table is a necessity, but not at all hours of the day. Look for items that can fold away when not in use.

If you want to have a space for guests, look for a couch or loveseat with thin lines and a pull out bed that’s actually comfortable. And voila! A guest room. 

An ottoman with storage can also serve as a step stool or an extra chair when you need it. 

Asking yourself questions about how you use the different parts of your living space will go a long way in maximizing the results of your design plan. Your answers will inform design choices large and small.

Photos for this blog courtesy of Little Bee Photography

Let’s Talk About Your Project

No matter where you’re at, we always begin with a friendly, collaborative, and totally free virtual conversation.