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Backyard Cottages

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Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > House & Garden > Backyard Cottages


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Have you researched or built a backyard cottage?

Jan 2014

Hi, we're considering building a backyard cottage (ADU), in Berkeley. This would be both an income-generating prospect (hopefully), and possibly a home for either the grown children, or a caretaker depending on how health goes. Have you done this recently? Which design/build (or other) company did you use? Seems like the one we hear most about is 'new avenue', but then we've also heard they were a spin-off from an original company, who we can't seem to find. Any company recommendations? I'd assume you had 3 bids, but again we're not finding multiple companies who do this.

I understand this can be a loaded question, but approx how much did you end up spending? (We're in Berkeley). Any recommendations for 'where to start' the process?

Thanks for any recommendations, advice, warnings, etc. Hopeful backyard cottage rental unit owners


I researched and built a backyard cottaage about 6 years ago. Strongly suggest first going to the planning office to learn what regulations you'll need to pay attention to. And find someone proficient in Berkeley rental law to understand that too.

After an architect took me to the cleaners (her fee almost 40% of the total project fee) I ended up getting a tuff shed garage and tricking it out on the interior. All told, $50K ish. Depends of course on your budget and what you're looking for.

The City of Berkeley was the most painful part of the entire thing - it was an endurance event of pain, waiting, obfuscation, and delays. Insane. Utterly. Loved my cottage in the end but the whole thing took years off my life. Good luck! Do your homework


First off, don't advertise that you expect to have income from the Cottage. It is easier to get approval for an 'In-Law Unit' than for a rental, or 'Secondary Unit', and sometimes neighbors can make life difficult if they think you are renting an 'In-Law'.

I have designed some ADU's and gotten them through the permitting process - others have built them. The last one cost around $135k, in 2009. It was about 400 sq. ft. Came out really nice, used by the grandma when she's in town, who is brave enough and agile enough to utilize the loft. The person who built it has moved on to bigger things, but I team up with Springwood Builders when I can.

I know this forum is not for us to talk up our businesses, but I also have some 'advice' that can be helpful to anyone who is considering this. I think the best way to start off is to go to the Planning Dept. with a sketch of the property with the approx. locations of the main house and the proposed cottage. You might be told by the planner that you can situate the cottage far back on the lot, b/c you are already getting a use permit. Careful on this, b/c it can lead to a requirement of automatic sprinklers, an expensive proposition. I could go on, but ...

I hope this helps. . Andus B


We used a company called Summerwood - highly recommend them. Great products, incredible customer service, great 'help' department. We built in Alameda and yes, planning department was the worst part of the experience. We also worked with an architect at first - he proposed us spending over $100k for about 400sf (which was $50k over budget). We purchased the 220 sf unit for about $11,000, and finished (electricity, sheetrock, lighting, painting, furnished came in around $18,000). The great thing about summerwood is you design the until - pick where the widows and door go, etc. We built what is typically a pool house but will tuck into a corner. We lived in our studio as much as the house, perhaps more. Its a great investment. good luck

Backyard Cottage/Tiny House - have you built one?

May 2012

Hi, We're considering building a 'Backyard Cottage' or 'Tiny House' in our backyard in the Berkeley flats. We're unsure how to proceed, and want to ask some locals about the pros and cons. We're thinking 400 sf or so, to use as a rental and/or when visitors come.

I understand that Berkeley is replete with such structures, and there's the one well-known one that got a lot of press last year (the UC Berkeley professor). But, have others built them recently? If you have, who did you get to do the construction, and did you buy a plan or have one firm do the design/build? What was the total cost, and what do you rent the cottage for? Would you recommend doing it? Pluses and minuses?

Thanks for any information, advice, recommendations, cautions... Hope to add small unit


Dear Hope-to-add-small-unit, I designed an In-Law Unit recently for a client in the flats of Berkeley. It is 450 square feet and cost about $130k, not including pre-construction costs. Eric Manou built it. In-Law Units are easier to permit than rentable units, which require a use permit with a public hearing, separate utilities, etc. I hope you enjoy the process.
I recently designed a small cottage in Alamo. It was 776 square feet and construction estimates came in at around $220K. You'll want to look at the zoning requirements for your lot and confirm setback distances and height limitations. You'll also want to look at parking requirements to determine if an additional parking space will be necessary. Lastly, talk to the city about permit fees for your project. The fees required for a project like this are often greater than clients expect.
I have to say that, in order to expand space potential for our tiny Albany house, we ordered up a backyard cottage from the Shed Shop in Fremont: http://www.shedshop.com/ This was probably nine years ago, but the cost came in at under $80,000, including the concrete slab foundation we put in, and the shed is still going strong. This was a one-room thing, however, with electricity and phone line. Not a mother-in-law unit. But worth looking at for extra space. spatially challenged
We went down the architect path for a small backyard cottage and it was a nightmare that cost us $7,000 in fees with nothing at the end as our $60,000 budget became an unfinished unit estimated at $110,000. Then we found Summerwood - and spent $12,000 for a 'pool cabana' that fit perfectly in the corner of our yard. It's 220 sq feet, and when you add Sheetrock, electricity, roof, lighting it was just about $20,000. We then re-did our yard and it all looked/s amazing - and was way, way better than the 400 sq foot planned structure. We could have easily added a sink, but for a toilet would have need to trench across the yard - do-able but we decided a second bathroom in the house made more sense. Happy to tell you details of our summerwood experience - amazing! No waste (all the wood is precut) - we love the windows and doors. Our house has been on a number of garden tours and people always ask about the structure. Love our cottage

Prefab backyard bungalow/cabin/in-law?

Jan 2011

Hello, We are considering the most inexpensive way to add a small 'bungalow' / cabin / in-law apartment to our Berkeley backyard. Has anyone used one of the pre- fab 'kits' for building such? Which company did you use, and how was it? How is it holding up? Other ideas for rather inexpensively adding a live-in 'apartment' to our backyard? Any recommendations/ suggestions welcome. Thank you! Need a little room


We had an estimate from an excellent contractor who specializes in prefab in law cottages. I have seen several that this contractor made and they were beautiful little homes. His price included all cabinetry and kitchen appliances. His name is Steve Vallejos and here's his email: Steve Vallejos stevevallejos@hotmail.com www.valleyhomedevelopment.com/ I can tell you more specifically if you want to call me: 529-6328. Micky
Not sure if this would meet your needs, but definitely worth checking out -- Tuff Shed. We built one several years ago to use as a workshop. Although ours is not plumbed or heated, I think you could add those things to the basic structure. Since it's on a slab, radiant heat would be ideal. We also added skylights (which are an option) and the space gets lots of natural light from them. We don't live in ours, but we know someone who does and it seems to work for him. Once you get all your permits in place, construction is super fast. Happy with Tuff Shed
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