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.

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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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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Let’s get involved

By backyardhomepro · Comments (0)

Back in 2003 the State approved Assembly Bill AB1866, which reintroduced the secondary living unit into local zoning codes.  We followed this bill through its approval and have since worked with many homeowners across the state to build second units for their families.  Second units are a great way to roll out affordable living units without any negative impact on the community.  No new roads or utility infrastructure, no new subdivisions, no large apartment developments competing with Single Family Residences.  This is a great solution for our state, without promoting urban sprawl.

It was written well and is very clear on the overall intentions of the law and how cities/counties should comply.  Unfortunately some cities have made it next to impossible for homeowners to utilize this law by imposing high impact fees and associated regulations that make it impossible to actually build.  For instance, in Contra Costa County (EBMUD) charges upwards of $46,000 for a “required” 1″ water meter and an additional $11,000 for sewer connection rights.  This is not a new service, but the right to use your existing service for the second unit.  By the time you ad all these fees up, the homeowner is looking at more than $60,000 in permit and impact fees.  If they are only building a small 350sqft 2nd unit for under $100,000, this is greater than 60% taxation and that’s not right!

The city of Burlingame does not even allow second units, period!  Menlo Park limits 2nd units to 5% of the total lot size which would be 350sqft on a 7000sqft lot.  This size will not allow a family to place a senior parent in the unit with assisted care or any ADA functionality. That same lot would allow you to build a 4000sqft primary residence.  Where’s the logic in that? I could go on and on with a laundry list of municipalities finding ways to limit the use of this law.

If we are ever going to see some positive results from this legislation and allow the homeowners to participate in creating affordable housing we need assistance from the state with enforcing the rules set forth in Section 65852.2 of the Government Code.  We need solutions for families who are struggling to make ends meet in today’s economy.  One person at the state level assisting with the effort to enforce the state rules would have an enormously positive effect on many lives.

I encourage you to pass this comment on to your district representatives so we can stop this blatant abuse of the system.  You may not be affected by this today, but sooner or later you may want to consider building a second unit on your property for a family member, yourself or even as a rental unit to supplement your retirement income.  THIS IS YOUR RIGHT!

Categories : Rants
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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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Santa Cruz Project

By backyardhomepro · Comments (0)

Garage Framing (prior to roof install)

Santa Cruz Home
House shown after delivery in Mid-December 2010

Well the year is just about done, but I thought I would post some info on the project we stared the first week in December.  We are building an 800sqft home and detached garage on a small in-fill lot in Santa Cruz.  The City has one of the most advanced Green Building requirment program that I have seen in the past 5 years and not suprising, our little factory built home has Exceeded the point requirements for the highest level of the program.  While anyone can throw money at this feat, we did it while maintaining the affordability of the total construction cost.  The house itself is coming in at $164/sqft which is far below the average cost to build in the area.

As of me writing this we have been on the project for one month.  The home is in and set on the foundation and the garage is framed/sheathed/roofed.  Not bad considering we have had heavy rain more than half the month and the guys took a few days for Christmas.  If this project continues on this path, we should be complete sometime in Early February and hosting the Green Build Award Ceremony in early March.  I hope to see you there!

Categories : Projects
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Floor Plan

While wrapping up one of our projects in Danville last month I met Beverly and her daughter.  She was interested in a small home and wondered if I had anything she could see.  I told her to come by and look at what we were doing for Isaac so they stopped by.

Draft concept

It’s always nice to have a fresh set of eyes see what we do and the excitement that goes with that.  Needless to say they were both anxious to get me over to their property to draft up some ideas for them.  When I arrived and measured out the usable area of the location they selected we were left with a space that’s only 15 x 25 or 375sqft.  As you may know from our  Facebook  postings that we are building a 390sqft home in Menlo Park, so we’re rapidly becoming specialist at smaller design.

After a couple weeks of shooting concepts back and forth we came up with this. 

Look for more postings as we get the design through the approval process and start the build.


Categories : Projects
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My Backyard Home

So before we get to far down the road with posts about projects and ideas, I thought I would take a minute to talk about what a Backyard Home is to me.  There are a lot of reasons to build a structure on your property and I think I have heard most of them.  Without boring you with a giant list, it typically comes down to these three (in this order):

  • Family
  • Business
  • Rental

Depending on which need initiates the first call or email, there are many names people come up with.  I’ve heard all of the following and more:

Granny unit, granny flat, in-law unit, au pair, cottage, casita, small house, second unit, guest house, pool house, rental unit, daycare, home office, game room, studio, manufactured home, modular home, garage-conversion, backyard home, backyard cottage, caretaker unit…

Of course all of these names are in direct contrast to the naming conventions used by the various City/County planning departments which include:

Secondary Living Unit (SDU), Auxiliary Dwelling Unit or Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), Accessory Structure, Second Family Residential Unit, Duplex and quite a few more variations of this list.

It’s no wonder people don’t know what to look for online when they want to do something!

Our goal was to try and make it easy on people and that’s how we came up with Backyard Home.  To us a Backyard Home encompasses all of the above, and here’s my reasoning.  Every structure we build will most likely outlive its original occupants and reason for being built in the first place.  My Backyard Home started as an office, was converted to storage, then back to an office and now it’s a guest house (with a semi-permanent guest).  The point being all of these structures will be used as needed and each use will redefine its name, so why not give it a more universal name.  The Backyard Home!

Steve Vallejos

Categories : Backyard Home 101
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As we rapidly come to the close of 2010 we finally have a REAL blog setup that I can post information on.  I would like to thank Eli Poblitz for getting me pointed in the right direction.  You would never know I used to own a software company given my poor attempt at a blog  that I set up earlier this year.  I will try and get the older posts moved over in the next few weeks as well as content and images of current projects and ideas.

A lot has happened in the Backyard Home world for us and in other parts of the Nation over the last 12 months and I there’s lots more on the horizon.  As I write this we are working on some great little projects that push the envelope of small structure design, tricks with spacial definitions (to get more living space), green building and of course our specialty, Factory Building solutions.

I hope you check in with us over the next couple months as I post project profiles and ideas that may inspire you too!

Steve Vallejos

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