It's a house out of a dream!

It's a house out of a dream!
Unknown Carpenter Gothic home

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Creating an ADU on a budget in Portland Oregon

I told myself that once the final final FINAL city approval was in I'd write a little something about my year long project converting an existing detached garage into an apartment. Given the popularity of ADU construction here in Portland I figure someone might like to know my story. Keep in mind all projects are different and your experiences may differ. I choose to take on this project because I had access to an underutilized garage and I wanted to see if I could change that. I believe ADU conversions are one way to add density to our city without much impact on neighborhood livability. I'd like to encourage that. Not just because I love the architectural heritage of this city but because it's the "greenest" thing you can do in a city that claims to be "green". I'm trying to be as open and honest about the costs along the way because those are numbers that are pretty hard to nail down when you ask around. The story technically starts in 2001 when I bought my first home. I'm heading back this far, and bear with me, because there were some earlier updates that play into the later costs of the conversion that I feel need to be addressed. That said someone else might start in on their existing structure with some of the elements already in place.

The home was a modest late "Victorian" in Hosford Abernethy. Kinda near the train tracks and right behind a huge blue concrete warehouse.

As you can see the house and garage were clad in fake brick and fake raked siding. It was dirty and boring but it had everything I wanted. I could afford it, it had very little updating, lots of original details, and it was close in.

Unlike the house there was no original siding underneath the fake stuff on the garage. I bought the house from a man that was born there in 1922 and he told me the garage was built in 1958 using the original beams from the Victorian era carriage house that was on the site. Seems fairly plausible given the fact that the beams, later THE feature in the ADU, were heavier and darker than the studs and ship lap.

A few years into owning the house the fake siding had to go. There was quite a bit of work on the house replacing missing boards but the garage needed all new siding. It's was just super gap riddled ship lap

At the time I worked for Rejuvenation and they carried a wide range of millwork. I ordered pre-primed "Dutch Lap" Fir siding to match. The cost with my discount was still in the thousands. I seem to recall somewhere in the $4000 range. Rejuvenation no longer sells any millwork but the company that milled it for them is still in business. However Blasen & Blasen does not sell direct so you have to get it through a retailer like Brown's or Milwaukie Lumber.

A few years after this initial restoration, shown above, I replaced the roof and added 2 skylights. All told the garage with it's siding and roof cost more than the house to restore. Closer to $7000. In 2008 I moved away and rented the house. Here's where the ADU process begins.

In Spring 2016 I decided that I needed to go down to the 1900 SW 4th Ave Building and ask a few questions. I wanted to know if the old garage *could be used as an ADU. I was directed to 2 people. I don't remember their names or specific departments but I remember what they said. The first guy looked at the property's location and building size and footprint and proximity to the whatever and said yes. I asked the second woman I met with "is the garage good enough to be an ADU". She seemed perplexed by my question. Again I said "is it built well enough". And her answer, still confused by my questions, was quote "so long as it passes inspection when it's done it's fine". To be honest that wasn't really the answer I was looking for. I wanted some person to come out and give it a stamp or a certificate or something. That is apparently not a thing. So I was off.

The space needed to be designed so I could get it approved and get construction started. The city at the time was still waiving those huge $10,000 permit fees for ADUs so the time to start was NOW. The good friend of mine that lives in the house actually hand drew all the plans. She is a kitchen and bath designer and the ADU is basically half a kitchen and bath so off we went. The plans went back and forth to the city. She had designed the South wall with 2 sets of windows to define the "bedroom" and "living space" (keep in mind all told this garage is just shy of 400 sq ft). Not using the original header and adding 2 new ones meant hiring a structural engineer. So I took some strips of paper and a glue stick and covered over those windows. Back to the original! We also needed an insulation plan which she had never done before but someone at the city basically said just copy the on-line drawing in the shape of your building and it'll be fine. It was. The building is 6" from the blue behemoth's property line so it needed a 1 hour fire wall. I kid you not the approved firewall plan was a circled page from the city website. I didn't circle it. The city did. And then they stamped it.

I think I spent 4 days going back and forth with other edits. Basically you pass 6 different departments to get your final approval. All aspects are covered including whether you need to pour a parking pad if you're more than 500 feet from major transportation. All of this was new to me so each time I hit a roadblock I wasn't really upset because I had no idea what I was doing. To save money of course I was acting as the general contractor. Finally I got to the last guy and was given the go ahead. The permits to start were just a hair over $2000. I had to upgrade the water service at the street to accommodate the 2 structures (house and ADU). This was part of the $2000 and someone from the city replaced the old water meter maybe 3 days after the permit so it was ready to go in August.

Construction began in November of 2016. It took quite some time to get people lined up. Oops. Again, I don't really know what I'm doing!

The first step was to get water service run to the house and ADU and add a sewer hookup. The house had original EVERYTHING (plumbing from 1910) so it was logical that a new drain and water service for the house would be done at the same time. The city signed off on the sewer which was 2 separate drains until about 15 feet from the sidewalk and then they were combined together. This is NOT a "party line" since this is the same property. It was something I had to get approved but there was no fee as I recall. The new drain and water lines ran about $3600. That's almost 100 feet of trenching and concrete removal in the garage.

Once the rough in plumbing was approved I started in on cutting in the entry door and framing the bathroom. As the final no road back the garage door and people door were removed and framed in. All of this with the help of my friend Greg (seen below). The bathroom was the only new framing in the space. All of the revised doors and windows used original headers. One thing to mention to get y'all up to speed is there are 4 basic channels of construction: structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing. Though there were technically structural inspections these were pretty cursory as the structure was there. No inspector ever questioned the unusual stud off set or original concrete pad. I didn't actually create or edit a thing to pass structural when it came to the original structure. They looked at the bathroom framing only.

Once the 2 person work was done I needed to patch the old openings. The reproduction siding on the back had to be removed anyway to create a fire wall so I sadly ripped off all that work to re-purpose the wood on the front.

Now it was time for the interior. That meant plumbing and electrical. Both trades were in stages. Some before insulation and drywall and some after. Electrical total for the whole project which included new service from the street for both units (meter split), a trench, and all wiring IN the ADU was about $7000.

Plumbing inside the ADU was another $2000ish but eventually I had to fire the plumber and did all the finish work myself. That's a whole other load of crap that's not really blog worthy. Part of the plumbing issues were my fault in not ordering inspections with the right IVR numbers and not keeping better records, and the plumbers fault for being very unreliable. One thing I did right is I took meticulous photos and measurements of the locations of wiring and plumbing because this garage had between 20" and 22" on center studs. This space was never meant to be finished which is why I was so curious in the first place about it's integrity.

I did the necessary mechanicals like venting for the stove and bathroom. Did you know there was such a thing as UL rated tape? It's thick and weird and expensive. I became very familiar with a local sheet metal place. A few hundred in metal and a 4" bit to cut 2 holes in the ship lap. After one failed attempt I got all the mechanicals approved. Other than structural you can fail as many times as you want without paying additional costs.

Next was insulation. The ceiling got spray foam and the walls got batt. Since this was an existing structure the roofs 2x4's were able to be grandfathered in. I didn't need to feather in 2x6 framing to accommodate more insulation which is current code. This is one of MANY benefits to using an existing structure. Total cost for all insulation was about $1700 and it was professionally installed. I think that was a really good price. They even wrapped the beams in plastic since the spray foam is super sticky and it would never come off had they not.

I hired a professional drywall company for a number of reasons. First DID YOU SEE ALL OF THOSE BEAMS? And second I needed a firewall and I wanted a professional in case the city didn't like it. The firewall also required a different thickness of drywall and X rating so we're talking lots of different materials. That and I'd have to rent all sorts of equipment and beg friends for help. Total cost just over $5000.

Passing inspection almost didn't happen. The inspector wanted to see the drywall without tape but the installers had already finished the entire inside smooth finish and all. I had taken photos to prove the material but it was touch and go. I'm really not good at playing dumb (or at least I hope so) but I gave it my best shot. He also thought the exterior firewall needed to be nailed into place and not screwed but after calling his boss he lamented that screws were ok.

Now lots of trim, a closet, and PAINTING. Oh my so much painting. All of which I did myself.

Once the paint was pretty much done it was time for the "fun" part. Or at least the pretty part. I restore and sell antique house parts for a living so this is my jam so to speak. Most of the maerials used in the project were antique or at least used. That's all doors and windows, most all hardware, all light fixtures, casing, and even the tile was mostly Pratt & Larson seconds room. There were some rare items from my personal hardware collection like the doorknob from the 1896 Morning Oregonian building and a fairly rare Linde antique copper sash lift used as the pocket door pull. I figured better to have them out and being used than in a drawer. The Murphy bed was free. I actually acquired it almost a year in advance and stored it in the garage up until the drywall wend in. I just hired Portland Closets for $150 to install it. I originally wanted to find a used or antique kitchen but finding something that fit the space was impossible so I went with IKEA. The kitchen and counter tops were about $2700 and then add about $1300 for the Denby fridge, Midea dishwasher, Kohler sink, and vintage stove. I did all of the assembly and installation myself less a friend that came to sit on the counter tops so I could screw them down. There's a washer/dryer (used for $350) and a new water heater ($380) and the heating system was a DIY Mr Cool mini split for $1300 with bracket. The shower door was $2200. It's the fanciest thing I've ever bought but I love it. Lots of incidentals costs that I know really add up. I can't remember all of them but this gives you a good rough idea. Finished product below.

The ADU was on the Build Small, Live Large: Portland's Accessory Dwelling Unit Tour on September 10th 2017. I had about 400 people tour the space and I have to say I got a lot of positive feedback. I was also the cheapest of the 24 ADUs on the whole tour. And you want to know why? I'd like to say it's because I'd been squirreling away cool old stuff like tile and that Eastlake pocket door and I got casing out of dumpsters but it's mostly not. That all helps and I LOVE a good deal but it's because I was able to keep the existing structure. I had one woman specifically that was on the tour that was just exhausted by all the experts that she'd had come assess her very similar garage. She said she got 4 different answers from 4 different professionals and all but one wanted her to tear it down. The cost in permits (site plan, etc) for a new pad, framing, roofing, is tens of thousands and you're at a shell. I had another pair of guys that said their contractor wanted $25,000 just to hook their garage up to a meter. That's not for anything but the meter split. As I mentioned earlier I didn't alter the concrete pad. I had numerous people asked me "who told you you could use this?" My answer was "no one". I thought it was going to be a problem but it was not. I had probably a dozen people ask how I "got away" with using old windows. I said "not one inspector ever asked about them". I did use a somewhat new but used front door with safety glass which was noted on the final inspection. That much glass on an entry door would have to be safety! I think we are dealing with a lot of myths. I'm not saying use this project to "prove" what you can do. All I'm saying is this whole project created one Bagster of garbage. I sold the people door. I gave away the garage door and salvaged the glass out of it for other projects. I sold the garage door opener button on eBay. I sold off the windows I had added to the garage more than a decade before. I even sold my left over tile on Craigslist. Acting as my own general saved quite a bit too and I must say that, with very few exceptions, the City didn't judge me or hassle me because I was not a professional.

Did I accomplish my goal? I think pretty much yes. It look longer than I expected and even though I was on a budget I spent more than I really wanted to. Even though I moved out of the house I love it. I still love it's funky Italian history, and now from the street you see the exact same structures. No trees were cut down. A formerly wasted garage now comfortably houses a person. Projects like this as well as lifting old homes and building apartments underneath are so important to save what it is we love about this city. I'm not a huge developer with a huge budget that can create a multi-million dollar adaptive reuse project but I did this to see if I could and to eventually make a little bit of money once I pay off my bills. Would I do it again? Maybe.

Edit October 2018: In regards to increased property taxes which was a question I got A LOT on the tour. It's hard to calculate down the the cent but this project added about $1000 per year to my taxes.