Understanding The ADU Timeline: From Planning to Construction

adu timeline

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Understanding The ADU Timeline: From Planning to Construction

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) have taken the housing scene by storm. But behind that dreamy backyard getaway or lucrative rental space lies a roadmap every ADU enthusiast should know: the ADU timeline. Dive deep with us into this essential guide, mapping out each stage from idea inception to that final, celebratory key turn. The clock is ticking; let’s get your ADU timeline journey started!


Steps in the ADU Building Process

Because of the number of steps involved and the costs associated with each milestone, an ADU project can feel like a daunting undertaking – but it truly does not have to be. By gathering the right team of ADU experts at the start of the process, you can tackle each step with confidence and ease.

Here are the steps you can expect along the way:


1. Planning/Feasibility

Alright, ADU dreamer, the first step is akin to laying the first brick for your dream project. Before you even set foot on the construction site, it’s all about strategy.


Understanding Local Requirements 

Different places, different rules. It’s essential to understand the specific regulations in your area. While some regions might be more lenient, allowing for higher structures or specific materials, others might have stricter guidelines to maintain a particular aesthetic or ensure environmental protection.


Landing on a Scope of Work

What’s the dream? Is it a sunlit studio overlooking the garden, or perhaps a two-bedroom unit complete with a tiny patio, or even a duplex? Pinning down the specifics is crucial. Define the space, choose its location, and settle on its size. This initial clarity helps you, your designer, and your construction team get on the same page. By ironing out the nitty-gritty now, you sidestep a whirlwind of confusion later.


Financial Feasibility

Ah, the elephant in the room: budget. Do you have the finances available to commit to this project? Building an ADU is an investment, and like all good investors, you need to be sure your return justifies the initial outlay. Will the ADU be a source of steady rental income? Or is it an extension of your home, promising non-monetary returns like family time or a private workspace? Consider all scenarios—whether it’s A, B, C, or even Z.


Site Assessments

This is where the rubber meets the road. Dive deep into your property’s specifics. Maybe it boasts a slope perfect for a split-level ADU, or perhaps there’s a sunny spot begging for a greenhouse-inspired design. Here you’ll also unearth potential challenges, such as large trees or drainage issues. Knowing your canvas helps paint a clearer picture of the final masterpiece.

Having mapped out the footprint of your ADU through the planning and feasibility phase, you can now nail down the specifics of where each element of your ADU will go. Let’s tackle phase 2: design.


2. Design 

adu timeline

With a solid plan in your back pocket, it’s time to bring in the artists of the construction world—the designers. They’re the ones who’ll take your dreams, hopes, and that Pinterest board you’ve been obsessively adding to, and turn it into a tangible, buildable plan.


Crafting the Floor Plan

Imagine your ADU from a bird’s eye view. Where’s the kitchen? Is there an island, or maybe a breakfast nook? Would you prefer a larger living space at the expense of a smaller bedroom? The floor plan is the blueprint of your ADU’s interior life. It’s where functionality meets aesthetics, ensuring every square foot is optimized for living.


Detailed Design Development

Once the floorplan is laid out, it’s time to fill in the details. What will the exterior look like? How tall is it? What roofing suits best? Think of this phase as accessorizing an outfit. It’s about picking the right elements, from windows to doors, that not only look fabulous but are practical too.

Throughout this design dance, remember: it’s a two-step process involving you and the designer. Your input is invaluable. After all, this is your ADU dream being sketched out!

Once you’ve tackled the design phase, it’s time to move on to everyone’s favorite step in the process: permitting.


3. Permitting 

Next, you’ll enter the wonderful world of permits—a maze of paperwork that might seem daunting at first, but is an unavoidable requirement for turning your ADU dream into reality. And remember: each step in this ADU building timeline can be made much easier with a trusted ADU partner by your side.


Submission and Review

Once your design is ready and polished to perfection, it’s time to submit it to the powers that be. Here’s where you present your vision, and the local authorities review its every aspect, ensuring it adheres to regulations. A word of advice? Expect feedback. It’s rare that a design sails through the permitting process without a hitch. Whether it’s moving a window a couple of inches to the left or adjusting the height of a door, be ready for some back-and-forth.


Navigating Feedback

It might feel personal when you’re asked to tweak your meticulously planned design. But remember, the feedback is all about ensuring the structure is safe, functional, and fits harmoniously into its surroundings. It’s less about critique and more about collaboration.

It’s also worth noting that the permitting phase’s duration can vary widely. Depending on the backlog in your municipality, you could be looking at a swift approval or a slightly longer wait. Patience, they say, is a virtue—especially in the ADU building game. And once you’ve completed the permitting phase, you can enter the phase where your dreams truly start to become a reality: construction.


4. Construction 

ADU timeline

This is it—the moment where your ADU starts rising from the ground. All those plans, designs, and permits now materialize into tangible bricks, wood, and glass.


Laying the Foundation

Every great structure, be it the Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower, stands tall on a strong foundation. Depending on your chosen design and the nature of your land, you’ll either be looking at a slab on grade, raised foundation, or something more specialized. The key here is stability.


Structural Framework

With the foundation set, the skeleton of your ADU takes shape. This is when you’ll see the walls rise, the roof take form, and the general layout come alive. It’s the phase where your ADU’s character begins to emerge, laying the groundwork for all the finishing touches.


Utilities and Services

No modern dwelling is complete without the essentials: electricity, water, plumbing, and heating or cooling systems. Trenching might be necessary, especially if your ADU is detached from the main house. Properly laid utility lines ensure a smooth, hassle-free living experience down the line.


Finishing Up

With the structure solid and utilities in place, the finishing phase kicks in. This is where the aesthetics take center stage. The type of flooring, the paint on the walls, appliances, the fixtures in the bathroom—all the elements that make the space feel like a home.


How Long Does it Take to Complete an ADU?

The short, safe answer is that ADUs may take about a year from permitting to completion. Here’s a loose breakdown of how long each phase may take:

  • Feasibility/Planning:
    • 1-4 weeks
  • Design Phase:
    • Schematic design: 4 weeks
    • Design development: 4 weeks
    • Structural engineering: 4 weeks (depending on final design)
  • Permitting Phase
    • Permitting: 16-24 weeks (dependent on city/county review time)
  • Construction Phase:
    • Project coordination: 1-4 weeks
    • Construction: 16-24 weeks (depends on city inspections)

In San Diego County for example, a single review can take up to 6-8 months depending on the complexity of the project – though a talented professional by your side can help to condense that timeline. It is important to note, however, that no two ADU projects are the same and therefore timelines vary. 


Factors Affecting The ADU Timeline

Several key factors can influence how long your ADU takes to complete. You can access a breakdown of the key steps in the ADU construction process here. 

  • ADU Design Complexity: This may seem obvious, but the more complex designs with higher-end finishes will require more time.
  • Detached vs Attached: Detached ADUs require more extensive foundations and framing, extending timelines.
  • Site Conditions: Challenging topography or soils can complicate and extend site preparation.
  • Weather: Heavy rains or extreme heat can pause outdoor construction for days or weeks.
  • Contractor Workload: Their availability and current workload impacts construction pace.
  • Changes and Additions: Introducing significant mid-project changes will likely cause delays.

Planning Your ADU Project Schedule

So how do you ensure your ADU is built timely, efficiently, and subsequently more affordably? With many factors at play, advance planning is key.  Here are some tips to keep you and your team focused and on time:

  • Assume things will take longer than your most optimistic projection – this way, you’ll be pleasantly surprised as opposed to frustrated by delays along the way.
  • Keep your design straightforward if speed is critical. Overly complex plans take longer.
  • Submit for permits early, allowing time for multiple reviews and revisions.
  • Line up your contractor early and understand their workload and availability.
  • Make design decisions and supply approvals promptly to avoid holding things up.
  • Plan around potential bad weather if possible by starting site work in dry seasons.
  • Keep contingency funds ready for change orders or additions down the line.

With proper planning and an understanding of the typical timeline, you can ensure your ADU build stays on track. While delays are common, good communication with your contractor and proactive schedule management can overcome many challenges. Use the guidance above and your ADU project should be a much more enjoyable process. 

Almost as enjoyable as the ROI you’ll likely receive.

The ADU build process involves many steps and can often take over a year to complete, but knowing the steps in advance and how to move through them will likely streamline the process. 

If you’re considering building an ADU, or have begun the process and have questions, speak to our experts at ADU Geeks. Our years of experience navigating the permitting and construction processes in San Diego means we know how to avoid common pitfalls and delays.

Allow us to craft your vision into reality – from design and planning to getting your final permits secured. We’ll oversee the entire build, so you can focus on the exciting parts like picking out the finishes.


Get Started Today

Many homeowners and investors find the time commitment, pile of paperwork, and overall process to be discouraging. Yet, with ADU Geeks, you can confidently embark on your project knowing that you have a dedicated partner who will streamline the permit process and help you unlock the full potential of your property.

ADU Geeks is ready and willing to take your ADU project from conception to completion.

Put us on your team and we’ll walk you through the entire process, including site prep, design, permitting, and construction.

Best of all, you have a front-row seat to watch your new ADU come to life.

Book a consultation call with us today. It’s free, it takes only 15 minutes of your day, and, when we’re done, we’ll be able to figure out what ADU option works best for you, your family, and your property.

Do you have questions?

We love questions.

Make sure you bring them up during your 15-minute call so we can address all of your concerns. We’re looking forward to hearing from you and setting you up for the retirement home you deserve.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.


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