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 Ideas

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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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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Attached Backyard Home

Last week I spoke to a homeowner that wanted to build a detached Backyard Home and couldn’t because of the rear yard setbacks, so I suggested they consider an attached unit.  So many people contact us looking to build a detached Backyard Home.  While this is my preference when the lot size and placement allow it, I also like the idea of an attached unit as well.  There are some benefits to attaching that should be considered.

First and most obvious is the ability to create a covered (and enclosed) access between homes.  If there is an elderly or disabled person living in the Backyard home it’s much easier to go back and forth between homes using a common door with no grade changes.  Attaching the utilities is less work ($$) and sometimes the lot will simply not allow for the proper setbacks and building separation when the homes are detached.  Sometimes we find that attaching the units allows for the best use of the remaining open space.

Now for the stuff most people don’t think about!  Attached does not necessarily mean connected living spaces.  We have built several Backyard Homes where they look like they are one home, but they are in fact two homes with no interior connections at all.  The second unit is accessed from an exterior door and there are no doors that lead to the main home.  This is still legally an attached dwelling.  Sometimes we build the homes separated by 3’ to 7’ of space, but install a “Breezeway” that connects the roof lines.  This Breezeway is just a covered walkway from a door on the Backyard Home to the main home.  No exterior walls touch, but it’s still technically considered attached.

Below are some images of the house without the second unit and a concept of a Backyard Home attached to the rear.  These are early concepts, but you can how this design allows for a second unit and keeps a great deal of the rear yard for the occupants.

For more images of attached Backyard Homes, look at our projects page.

Categories : Backyard Home 101, Ideas
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New factory partner

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New Backyard Home

 As this market continues to change, we are always looking for better, faster and more affordable green building solutions to offer our clients.  I’m happy to announce that we are now working with Skyline Homes, based in Woodland CA as a new factory partner for both Modular and Manufactured homes.  The folks at Skyline share a common interest in helping the people in California build Backyard Homes.  I thought I would share some photos of a great new design we have available now from Skyline.  Of Course, we can dress the home up to look just like your home, but I love the look of this exterior finish!   Here is the pdf if this plan VHD Backyard Home 451 plan 

Look for more great ideas to come from this relationship soon!  If any of you are interested in learning more about Modular or Manufactured homes, give me a call or send me an email and we can set up a factory tour.  We can build homes as small as 400sqft to well over 4000sqft out of this plant.  This includes Backyard Homes, Custom Homes and Multi-family homes.

Categories : Backyard Home 101, Ideas
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Every month I talk to hundreds of people about their reasons for considering a Backyard Home.  Most of them initially have some family related issue that’s the catalyst to look at this as a viable housing option.  Every now and then I get a call from someone looking for ways to turn their property into an income generator.  While this may not be the first thing on most peoples mind, it should be something you consider.  We all know the house we live in will most likely out live us, so it’s important to think of the long term use of the property.   

A couple years back I met  Scott Poncetta, A realtor in the South Bay who has a similar interest in this type of housing, but for reasons more tied to economics.  I thought I would share his video with you so you can see a different perspective on this very needed housing solution.  Just one more reason to consider building a Backyard Home on your property.

Categories : Backyard Home 101, Ideas
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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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