How an effort to develop free, energy-efficient accessory dwelling unit designs may fit into plans county residents have to retire in place or provide housing for their children was the central focus for those attending an open house hosted by the Housing Endowment and Regional Trust of San Mateo County Wednesday.

Expected to produce four to eight free designs for accessory dwelling units, also known as ADUs or in-law units, the effort to create pre-vetted plans with residents, architects and city officials is aimed at easing what can be an arduous planning process for secondary units, explained HEART Executive Director Armando Sanchez.

Though the region’s housing crisis and recently-eased state standards for the units have piqued the interest of residents and officials, Sanchez knows well ADU designs can cost up to $30,000 and take months to develop. After the nonprofit was awarded nearly $300,000 in funds from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District toward the effort to ensure the plans are energy efficient, HEART kicked off the effort this week, holding two open houses to gauge the needs of residents planning for ADUs.

“Part of the process is to design units that are going to meet the needs of the community,” said Sanchez. “We want to hear from the public.”

Whether a family is looking to include one or two bedrooms in an ADU and how incorporating energy-efficient elements like solar panels will affect their plans are among the types of feedback Sanchez was hoping to gather from those who attended the Wednesday event at the Community Activities Building in Redwood City. Based on the input HEART receives, an architect hired by the nonprofit will draw several designs to be reviewed by officials at various Peninsula cities before being presented to the public again in 2019.

For those like Belmont resident Jean Claude Brunache, whether the designs HEART develops could expedite the permitting process and whether including green features could limit his plans to build an ADU were top of mind. As a general contractor, he said he’s already spent time on drafting preliminary concepts of an ADU on his property. Having estimated building costs could reach $400 per square foot for an 800-square-foot ADU, Brunache said he was interested in learning what the free designs HEART is hoping to develop would look like, noting design costs can easily reach $20,000 to $30,000.

Brunache said he is planning ahead for a time when his son may live with his family in the main house while he and his wife live in a senior-friendly secondary unit, which he felt could allow them to retire in the Bay Area and be able to spend time with his son.

Though he acknowledged the cost and lengthy timeline associated with the planning and permitting for ADU projects, Brunache said the option may make sense for his family as they think about affordable ways to retire in the Bay Area and keep future generations nearby.

“Trying to manufacture ways to keep close to grandkids means that we have to … be creative, we have to find ways to stay in the Bay Area,” he said.

Doug Kolozsvari, a consultant to the project and principal at Solutions 2050, acknowledged green features such as solar panels or energy-efficient appliances could increase the upfront costs for homeowners considering an ADU on their properties. But with free designs and expected future cost savings on utilities, Kolozsvari was hopeful homeowners who use the designs will ultimately reduce their costs and, if they are landlords, allow them to pass those savings onto renters.

Acknowledging one of the criticisms of ADUs is that they don’t always aesthetically match the neighborhoods where they are proposed, Kolozsvari noted that included with the floor plans will be options to customize the exterior or the roof style.

As an Oakland resident, Lisa Trinell wasn’t aware of a such a program in Alameda County but felt it would be beneficial for residents in the East Bay, who are also facing the effects of a regional housing shortage. Trinell said she owns a duplex with a 450-square-foot garage she’d like to convert into a studio, but said stories of the red tape required to build an addition on one’s property are discouraging.

Trinell was interested in learning more about the effort to get plans pre-reviewed by city planners, which she hoped could cut down on the time spent planning and allow homeowners to start building their projects faster.

“Something like this is much-needed,” she said. “The planning of trying do an addition to your property is tedious … As an outsider looking in, I think it’s a great idea, a great option.”

Visit for more information on the effort to develop green ADU designs and to submit feedback.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106

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(2) comments


This idea would completely ruin neighborhoods, I live on a court with limited parking. We have one house that the owners rent out rooms and have built an inlaw, this one house has more cars spread all over the court than any others, I can only imagine if we had two or three doing this.

Cindy Cornell

I hope we all realize that creating ADUs does not mean they will be affordable. They likely will be built to create an income stream for the owners. If any public funds are used to help people build ADUs, affordability must be a requirement.

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