What to call that beautiful new addition/backyard cottage/in-law unit/renters’ apartment/guest house/granny flat that will change your property forever.
Most people have long-term plans for their homes. These plans include a laundry list of upgrades, each of which can help make the home a love-filled, wonderful place for family and friends. People regularly ask us to design and build four major project types:
- A new master bedroom and bathroom
- An open kitchen and living area
- Upgrades for health and energy efficiency
- An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) as an addition to their existing home
But often, people don’t have the time, money, or desire to do a whole-house renovation or to tackle all four of those projects at once. Especially if working parents with kids are involved!
So when a homeowner asks us where to start, we often recommend building the accessory dwelling first. That’s because an accessory dwelling provides the most value given the top three aspects of a home:
- Family/social use
- Physical health
- Financial investment
An accessory dwelling can be almost anything, from a source of rental income to more space for you to a place for your family members to live. It can be an addition to your home or a separate home on the property.
The accessory dwelling’s versatility makes it a natural place to start. It also presents some problems when it comes to what to call it.
While accessory dwelling unit is the legal term, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Accessory dwelling is a bit softer, and some people like that. But our clients sometimes look for a different term—one that, like their new ADU, suits them and their family.
Here are some of the nicknames in common use:
In-law apartment, in-law suite
Mother-in-law apartment, mother-in-law suite
Parents in my backyard (PIMBY)
Mother in my backyard (MIMBY)
Father in my backyard (FIMBY)
Kids in my backyard (KIMBY)
Apartment over the garage
The thing is, these projects are so personalized, it’s hard to find an all-encompassing name for them.
To give you an idea of what an accessory dwelling can do, here are some examples:
- A mother purchased a home for her adult daughter and hired us to build a smaller home on the property for herself.
- One couple is using their backyard ADU as an office, laundry room, and guest room.
- A young family is using their ADU as a home for an aging parent.
- As a way of helping underpaid public servants, one homeowner is renting his cottage out to teachers. He may use it for family in the future.
Does it really matter what you call it? Yes…and no.
It matters because words carry weight. Our parents taught us to be kind with our words, and our teachers taught us to be precise with them. And these days, we’re not only conscious of being kind and precise, we’re also thinking about inclusivity and equality.
We need to choose the right term so that when we describe a project, we’re telling people what it is and who it’s for.
At the same time, it doesn’t matter too much what you call it. That’s because no matter what term you use, it’s a huge step toward making your home a place where you and your family members can live for decades.
There’s no single answer.
Every word on the list has its problems. If it’s inclusive, it’s imprecise. If it’s precise, it’s uninclusive. If it’s too broad, it’s boring and non-descriptive.
That’s why it’s so hard to come up with the right term. There’s no single title that can describe what we build.
So when we’re writing about a project, we’ll try to choose a term that’s accurate, descriptive, and inclusive. Sometimes that’s something boring like “ADU.” Sometimes it’s just what the homeowner is calling it.
And when it comes time for you to decide on a name for the project you’re building, maybe you’ll land on something you like and maybe you won’t. But it won’t matter too much, because whatever you call it, it will make your property better for generations.
A rose by any other name, after all, would smell as sweet.