5 Tips to Save On ADU Costs In Los Angeles

There’s been a lot of talk in Los Angeles about ADUs (ADU meaning) and garage conversions now that the laws have changed.  These are becoming very popular construction projects for homeowners to consider. But let’s face it…they aren’t cheap to build. Building an ADU is really no different than building a full-fledged home, just in a smaller size.  It still needs all the same components of your current home…floors, walls, kitchen, bathrooms, lighting, HVAC, etc. So, the costs can add up. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can reduce your ADU costs, if you’re planning to build on a budget.

Here at GreatBuildz, a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura & San Diego with reliable general contractors, we get inquiries every day about garage conversion and ADU costs of construction – here are some tips to save money on your project.

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ADU Cost Saving TipsConvert Your Garage To Save On ADU Costs    |     Credit: buildinganadu.com

Many people agree that building an ADU can be a great investment for a variety of different uses.  And although the ADU costs of construction can be steep, you still have the advantage of already owning the property and being close to utilities.  In the case of a garage conversion, you even already have the existing structure, thereby, significantly reducing the costs of building from scratch.

Five Tips To Reduce Your ADU Cost In Los Angeles

Regardless of whether you’re doing a new ADU or garage conversion, there are ways to keep your budget down; let’s discuss five great cost-saving options:

1. Don’t use any tile.

Tile is expensive because it’s labor-intensive to install. So, regardless of the cost of the tile material itself, this isn’t a cheap product to use.  There are only a few places that you would normally consider tile, and you can substitute other materials in these places.

On the kitchen backsplash, you can just use a standard 6” backsplash that matches the countertop material. In the shower/bath, instead of tile, use a nice fiberglass surround (there are now some nice ones that replicate the look of tile).

Finally, instead of doing tile flooring in the bathroom, I suggest using waterproof vinyl plank flooring throughout the ADU, including the bathroom floor. The products available now look great and you’ll have one consistent flooring surface throughout the unit.

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2. Make your ADU all-electric.

Simply put, you’ll save the ADU costs of running a gas line to and through your unit.  This means that you won’t have any gas appliances, so the following items would all need to be electric: kitchen range, water heater, clothes dryer, heating unit (HVAC). All of these are available in electric versions.

I suggest researching the pros and cons of gas versus electric appliances to ensure you are okay with going all-electric. Other advantages of being all-electric are 1) no gas bill and 2) if you decide to install solar panels, these can power all your appliances. 

Keep in mind that going all-electric does have some implications for the electrical system and panel you will need for your ADU. Having so many electrical appliances could require you to upgrade the electrical panel needed for your ADU…so be sure to ask your contractor about this cost difference. An electric tankless water heater is an especially large draw on an electric system.

ADU Cost Saving TipsAll-electric ADU and solar panels = Match made in heaven          Credit: nakamotoforestry.com

3. Design your layout with only one plumbing wall.

If you create your ADU design such that the kitchen and bathroom are adjacent, you’ll only need to run plumbing in one wall, saving you significant costs.  Plumbing can be expensive to install since it includes supply lines (hot and cold), waste lines, and vent pipes.

The further apart your kitchens and baths are from one another, the more it costs to plumb the unit. In addition, if you’re building a two-story unit, make sure any second-story bathroom is located above either the kitchen or a first-floor bath, so they can ‘share’ the plumbing in the wall.

Pro-Tip: The plan/design created by your architect can significantly impact the cost of construction. If you’re looking to save costs…let your architect know up-front. That will guide their decisions about how to design your ADU. It tells them that you want a ‘simple’ plan, and not a design with ‘extra’ features like vaulted ceilings, rounded walls, skylights, etc. The most efficient and cost-effective ADU plan is a rectangle, not surprisingly. Have your potential contractor review the plans before they are submitted to the city for suggestions on reducing costs.

4. Find a good location to run the sewer line.

In Los Angeles, ADUs and garage conversions must run a new sewer line and tap into the existing pipe in the front yard; they cannot tie into the main house.  Generally, that means running your sewer line from your ADU behind your home through a side-yard or driveway to connect it in the front yard.

If you have to run the sewer under an existing concrete driveway, the costs will be substantial.  You’ll have to cut a slot in the concrete to open a trench for the pipe and then repair the concrete…this is not a small job. Alternatively, if you can find an area to run the sewer line that is just dirt, this will save you a lot of money.

5. Don’t install separate meters.

If you intend to use your ADU as a rental, you may want to split utility costs between the main home and the rear unit. However, planning an ADU with separate meters for electrical, water, gas will add up to thousands of dollars in extra ADU costs.

This being said, it would be nice to know how much of your utility cost can be attributable to each unit. Fortunately, this can be solved by installing sub-meters on the ADU utilities. Ask your contractor about the cost of incorporating sub-meters in your build.

However, if you want to keep your costs at a minimum, you can go without meters or sub-meters. You can always split out utilities by prorating the bills based on the size of each home, etc.

ADU Cost Saving TipsADU Cost Saving Tips     |      Credit: sightline.org

These are a few tips to get you started, but there are certainly many more ways to save on your garage conversion or ADU costs.  One important way to conserve is to ensure your architect and contractor collaborate to ‘value-engineer’ the design of your ADU. By looking at a preliminary set of plans, a contractor can often visualize the most expensive elements and possibly suggest ways to revise the plan to create cost savings.

One final tip to keep in mind is that saving costs by acting as your own general contractor is probably a mistake. Although you think this could save you money, it’s a terrible idea unless you are exceedingly handy or have a very wide network of trade subcontractors (plumber, framer, roofer, foundation, electrical, stucco, drywall, etc,). When you hire an ADU contractor (or general contractor), you are paying them to manage the job but also for their relationships with the crew, workers and subs who can do the job right. Its much, much harder for you to find good quality trades people. And if one of these trade contractors does a poor job, you’ll be paying twice just to correct their mistakes.

When it comes to identifying the best ADU cost saving tips, you shouldn’t have to go it alone.

GreatBuildz is a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura & San Diego with reliable, thoroughly screened general contractors and provides project support from start to finish.

Call now (818.317.3567) to chat with a real person about your next renovation project or visit our website for more information: www.greatbuildz.com

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Hi, we're Paul and Jon - Co-Founders of GreatBuildz. We believe everyone deserves to find a great contractor, have a stress-free renovation, and enjoy their beautiful new space. There are so many contractors out there and it's often hard to tell the good from the bad... until it's too late. We started our company to help simplify your contractor search and help you have a stress-free renovation experience. We're always available to help, no matter where you are in the process. Click here to learn more about our story.

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