Backyard Home Pro Blog

10 years ago I stumbled across a type of housing that would change my life forever. As a partner in a small development company we built our first Granny Unit and it opened my eyes to a product so desperately needed by families throughout the state. Today, Backyard Homes are the main product I design and build and this blog is about bringing that information to you, both good and bad.

Archive for Projects

Today we broke ground on a new Secondary Living unit project in Walnut Creek.  This client wanted a space for their mother to occupy, but were also thinking about their long term goals for the property as they consider their retirement plans.  We designed a 700sqft home that will be placed directly to the right of their Ranch style home that is large enough for their mother and addresses future hadicap issues, but also could be used for the owners should they decide to move into the unit.  

The secondary or future use came about during the design.  While were going through the approval process, one of their neighbors converted a 400sqft portion of their home into a studio and is now renting that space for about $1300/mo.  You could imagine what this meant to our client and their project as they pondered this possible income generator during their retirement years.  When they are ready to retire they can rent out the second unit for more than $1800/mo. while they stay in the main home or they can rent out the main home for almost three times that amount while they live in the second unit.   How many of you have a plan that doubles or triples your retirement benefits?    

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Every day I get calls and emails from people who are looking to add a second unit on their property.  While the idea of a completely independent smaller home is appealing it does come with some issues here in California.  The two areas affected most by this choice are placement (setback restrictions) and cost (Impact fees).

Typically, second units have similar setback requirements to the main home.  Since most primary homes occupy the space allocated by these setback rules, it leaves very little area to work with for the new unit.  Sure there may be plenty of room on the side or rear yard, but these areas often have restrictions limiting their use beyond landscaping.  Even when we do manage to squeeze a structure into these areas our reward for creativity is often met with a hefty set of fees that are tacked on because we are building a full living unit.

When we met Pat in Los Altos to discuss these issues a decision was made to consider building an Accessory Structure rather than a full Second unit.  So “What’s the difference”, you ask?  Simple – we remove the kitchen from the plan.  That’s it.  Once the kitchen is gone the structure is no longer a home.  This small technicality change’s the way a city typically looks at what’s being submitted.  You’ll think this is crazy but now the structure is not unlike a shed in the city’s mind, even though we could be building a 490sqft unit with a Living Room, Bedroom & Bathroom. 

In Pat’s case, this thinking dramatically changed the setbacks and wiped out any impact fees.  Now we’re looking at as little as 5ft setbacks from fence lines and sometimes 10% of the total fee structure for a Second Unit.  In Pat’s case it allowed her to have the 496.5sqft structure you see here approved in less than 30 days!  We are almost completed with this project so look for a a full photo spread and virtual tour soon.  In the meantime, you can stop by our facebook page and see more of the photos.

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Original rendering

It’s always fun to complete a project and turn the home over to the new owner.  I also love to look back and see how close the actual home came to the intital rendereing.  I think this home looks better that the rendering!  We’re working on getting the complete home shoot up on the website along with the virtual tour, but for now I thought I would show you some photos and a link to the video tour I shot last week.

Youtube video shoot of new Backyard Home

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Every now and then we get a call from someone looking to buy a property that will allow them to install a backyard home.  Typically they’re looking for information on what size unit they can build and what local regulations are so they can make an educated decision before they purchase it.  While we were putting the finishing touches on the Santa Cruz home, Barbara came down to discuss the property her son & daughter were in the process of purchasing in Morgan Hill.  Since it was such a huge property there were no real concerns about space so we got right into designing a home that would meet her needs.

We spent the last few months working out all the details for the home design and approval process and I thought I would share the resulting home plan with you as we get ready to deliver it tomorrow (Friday the 13th).  I visited the home this Tuesday and can’t be happier with the Skyline product.  As you can see by the images below it’s ready to be shipped to the site and we’ll apply the stucco once we set it on the foundation.  Look for some set and install photos soon, along with a time lapse video of the delivery.    

Categories : Projects
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While we were putting the finishing touches on the Walnut Creek home I got a call from a couple in Fremont that wanted to build something for their mother to stay in.   The property slopes down from the street, the home is a split level and they wanted the space to be accessible from the lower level so their mother would not have to use stairs regularly.  There was  a small area just outside the Living Room before the property terraced down again. 

After looking at a few ideas we came up with a 490sqft. addition plan that would connect to the lower level and not need a kitchen since the main homes kitchen is also on that level.  The resulting plan was put together and approved by the city, but not without some city induced changes.  For those of you unfamiliar with California fire codes, this home requires the entire exterior to be finished with non-combustible materials.  The home is in an area designated as a WUI zone (Wildland Urban Interface) which is pretty much most of the rural areas of the state and hilly open space areas within some cities.  Over the past couple years we have built several homes to this requirement, but this is the first within city limits. 

The owners also did not want the project to exceed a certain budget and if we did this as a full second unit (with kitchen) the permit fees (and impact fees) would have pushed us over the top.   We completed this project  in two months and below are some photos of the completed addition.  We should also have some virtual tours posted soon.

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Walnut Creek photo shoot

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We finished the little 375sqft Backyard Home in Walnut Creek about a month ago and I finally got some time to schedule the photo shoot and virtual tour.  I have to say that this project turned out great and the home owner could not be happier.  For anyone thinking about building a smaller unit, this home exemplifies the use of a very small space.  The home is just 15 x 25, but feels a lot larger. As the home owner put it “My life is much easier now that I live here.  I get up in the morning and my entire routine is more fluid and faster than it’s ever been.” 

Thanks Denise, I could not have said it better myself!  For those of you new to the site here are some links for a look back at the panel kit install and other photos.

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Greenest home in Santa Cruz?

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Don & Teresa with their new home

A few weeks back we completed this little Manufactured Home in Santa Cruz.  Today the final numbers came in on our Green Build.  We needed 108 points from the City’s Green Build program to achieve the highest rating possible which includes a plaque and ceremony from the City Council.  Our home scored 161 points!  To get an idea of the difficulty achieving this award, the Green Building Specialist told us only 5% of the structures built in Santa Cruz meet the requirements for this award.  We exceeded the requirement by 33%.  And yes, that was with a manufactured home, built to blend in with the neighboring homes and done affordably (under $175/sqft).

In an area where homes are built for $200-$300/sqft. this represents a huge savings to coastal homeowners, while demonstrating the superior building materials and methods used on today’s manufactured/modular homes.   As the building inspector said on the final inspection “This is not your grandma’s mobile home!”   So much has changed with the codes over just the last few years and we intend to show the world that this is a viable method of building quality homes quickly, affordably and consistently for our customers.

Look for a full photo shoot and some virtual tours on our website soon.  For a complete list of green building features contact Steve Vallejos via email at

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Yesterday we took delivery of the panelized framing kit from Selaro and I thought it would be great to film the install using a time-lapse camera.  We posted the video on YouTube and here a few photos from the days activity.

Categories : Projects
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This project marks a new trend for us in small building design.  It seems there is a trending towards designs that occupy less than 400sqft of living space and we are up to the task.  Charles would have liked to have 650sqft of living space but Menlo Park’s very limiting zoning code would only allow a second unit that’s up to 5% of the property size so we were limited to 390sqft.  This meant we had to get creative with were we put the washer/dryer, furnace & water heater.  We decided to push the zoning code a bit and placed these items outside the living area but still part of the structure.  The result is what you see before you.

After we baffled the city with our use of their definitions for living space the project was approved and built.  When you’re dealing with a very limited amount of space things you have to be creative with certain features.  We found a great two-burner cook top that limited works great in this small galley kitchen.   The fridge is also a smaller unit so it fit nicely into the alcove.  Charles found a great medicine cabinet with lots of storage space behind the mirrors that we flushed into the side wall.  The bay window really gives the small living room a feel of space.  He’s adding a cushion to the large sill area to provide additional seating.  For those of you who know me, I’m a big fan of solar tubes, so we added two to this project.  There’s one in the kitchen and the other one is in the bathroom.  Both bring in enough light during the day to fool anyone into beleiving they’re actually lights.

Don’t forget to check out the virtual tour of this project and we have the construction photos posted on our facebook page.  We learned a lot from this project and I can’t wait to use this knowledge on our next little home.  Next stop, Walnut Creek where we’re tackling a 375sqft, panelized backyard cottage.

Categories : Projects
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Noritz tankless w/h enclosure

I’ll assume that most of you have heard about the value of replacing your standard tank style water heater with a tankless.  Most of the pitches have to deal with neverending hot water supply, energy savings. . . In my world where we fight for every square inch of space, the removal of a tank style water heater and the 9sqft it typically occupies is HUGE.

Unfortunately most of the products have been designed for interior use so that means allocating wall space and having leagal clearance in front of the unit.  The other option is an exterior mount unit that costs a bit more and is not that attractive if all angles of the home are visible.  While these solutions are  better than the tank style, they still leave a lot to be desired.

Noritz must of heard me complaining on the last project we did because they came up with a great solution.  A tankless unit that fits in between the exterior wall studs in a nice, neat enclosure.  We just had one installed on the project we’re doing down in Santa Cruz and I gotta tell you “It’s Awesome”.  Not only did we remove it from the interior living space, but it looks great from the exterior as well.  Since it’s a Noritz product, we know it will provide great, trouble-free  service for years to come.

Look for more space saving and energy wise products in the near future.  We test them all!

Noritz tankless water heater

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