Sustainable ADUs: The Sustainability of Alternative Housing

Sustainable ADUs: The Sustainability of Alternative Housing

We talk a lot about the social impact of accessory dwelling units which brings us to sustainable ADUs. Over the past decade, the California government did everything it could to make building ADUs accessible to all single-family house property owners. It did so for several reasons:

Because of the significant benefits building ADUs offers, the California government passed several bills in order to allow as many people to build granny flats in their backyards. ADUs have the power to transform the housing market in California. With many people looking to downsize in terms of housing, ADUs present themselves as the perfect solution.

The Sustainability of Alternative Housing

So far, we’ve mentioned many times how ADUs have major advantages. They allow homeowners to get more livable space (which is, more importantly, usable) for themselves, their friends, or family members. They are also an excellent source of additional income. And, of course, building ADUs in dense areas allows renters to actually live in such areas without giving out their whole paychecks to their landlords.

The Social Impact of Sustainable ADUs

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) aren’t exactly the new kid on the block. They’ve been around for several centuries. What once were carriage or coach houses are now cute little granny flats or pool houses. 

So the idea of getting a secondary dwelling within the property isn’t exactly a novelty. But not that long ago, ADUs weren’t as popular as they are today. The government wasn’t as keen to allow people to build them out of fear that they’ll bring down the value of property in the neighborhood or simply “stand out.”

ADUs have a much bigger (and maybe even more important) impact on the environment.

Not to mention, they weren’t very keen on letting low-income families into high-income areas. It took several decades of fighting (and an economic collapse) to get to where we are today. Today, ADUs are a viable solution to the housing crisis. They offer an invaluable opportunity for minorities and low-income individuals to access the opportunities that come with residing in job-rich areas.

Of course, it’s still white, high-income homeowners who benefit the most from ADUs. But that doesn’t negate the fact that ADUs are a tool of social change.

But is that where the impact of ADUs stops?

No, of course not. But not many people talk about how ADUs have a much bigger (and maybe even more important) impact on the environment.

And the Forgotten Environmental Impact

Compared to the standard housing model and the much-talked-about American dream that includes a massive house with a big yard and a family of four living in it, ADUs are exceptionally environmentally friendly. They reduce the carbon footprint per household and help people conserve resources.

So, it’s quite possible that ADUs and shipping container homes have a much more significant impact on the environment than we originally thought. Many climate activists are using their platforms to advocate for ADUs in the hopes of a more comprehensive implementation of accessory dwelling units.

Did you know that an ADU can cut up to 40% of CO2 emissions compared to a traditional single-family house?

Of course, that’s not the only thing that makes ADUs sustainable. As we mentioned, the social impact of ADUs is that they allow low-income families to use the “small door” to gain access to affluent neighborhoods. But that also has an environmentally-friendly layer to it, given that ADUs create much-needed housing without additional development and construction (on a massive level). That also cuts down CO2 emissions!

What Makes ADUs Sustainable

Cedar Dwelling is proud to say that we build eco-friendly, sustainable ADUs. We can say that because we use sustainable materials during the building process and we’re devoted to our zero-waste policy. 

what makes adus sustainable

However, ADUs are also inherently sustainable. Here’s why:

  • Smaller houses have a naturally smaller environmental impact
  • By making an area denser in population, ADUs are cutting on vehicle use (and thus fuel emissions)
  • The construction process uses fewer materials and fewer human resources
  • ADUs also use up less energy and resources
  • They allow for the use of the latest technologies that you might not be able to implement in traditional houses.

Smaller House, Smaller Impact

The main feature of an ADU is that it’s smaller than a typical single-family house. Of course, the space is fully utilized, but you still have fewer square feet than you do in a typical house.

While that might seem like an issue to some, it is a blessing to others. Smaller square footage also means the house will use less energy. 

Size and energy consumption are closely related. The bigger the house, the more energy it uses (and wastes). That isn’t necessarily linked to the size of the household. That’s a huge environmental problem because it means that huge houses are also huge energy wasters.

Tiny houses, such as ADUs, are thus more eco-friendly. If a household wants to reduce both its material consumption as well as energy use, it should reduce the size of the house. Small houses, especially extra small houses (which is the category that ADUs fall into), reduce the climate change impact by 36%. Of course, that’s on top of the already mentioned reduction of the environmental effects of 20-40%.

Overall, ADUs offer a chance for a reduction in:

  • Waste generation
  • Land use
  • Renewable energy use
  • Resource depletion
  • Acidification

They also help lower ozone depletion and help us improve the ecosystem quality.

Density and Decreased Vehicle and Fuel Use

Density and Decreased Vehicle and Fuel Use

Residing in dense areas lowers your need for vehicle use. If your job is close by, you won’t need to use your car to get to it, right? But if you work in a densely populated area that has sky-high rents, you won’t exactly be able to afford to live there, correct?

Well, yes, but only if we disregard ADUs. Building ADUs in richly populated areas allows people to reduce their fuel consumption as well as vehicle use.

The Housing Mismatch

There’s a growing mismatch between the size of American households and the size of American homes. There are a lot of huge houses with only one or two residents in them. That is significant from an environmental standpoint because, as we already said, the size of the house greatly impacts energy consumption and waste.

ADUs are an ideal way to remedy that mismatch. They allow empty-nesters to downsize without actually leaving their property and the area they have lived in for years. They also allow them to earn extra income in their twilight years. 

The average size of an American household was 3.7 in 1940, but it’s only 2.9 today. So, it’s only logical that the size of an average house goes down as well.


adu construction

Although there’s a persistent myth that ADUs are gimmicks, they are, in fact, fully-functional houses. Still, because they are smaller than the average house (much smaller), they do require fewer construction materials.

Not only that, but we can also use sustainable materials to build ADUs. That’s especially true in the case of shipping container homes. And, because ADUs are smaller than traditional houses, they don’t require as much labor. The turnaround times are quicker, and there’s less renewable resource usage overall.

Reduced Consumption

Finally, ADUs allow for a significant reduction in consumption. Because you reside in a much smaller space that’s easier to maintain and clean, you use up fewer resources. In other words, less electricity, water, etc. You also produce less waste!

ADUs also allow for the implementation of new technologies. For example, energy-saving materials that weren’t available back in the day when you were building your single-family house are a staple material when it comes to building ADUs. Furthermore, many ADUs now come with solar photovoltaic systems.

Build Sustainable ADUs With Cedar Dwellings

Accessory dwelling units offer plenty of benefits both to the people and to the government of California. The social impact of ADUs is undeniable. Still, the environmental impact might be even greater. 

Overall, ADUs are one of the most sustainable alternative housing options. Both typical ADUs and shipping container homes are sustainable and affect the environment in the following ways:

  • Allowing people to downsize, pay smaller rent and spend less on utilities
  • ADUs help increase the density of the neighborhood and lower vehicle and fuel use
  • They can lower the carbon footprint of the household (and each individual)
  • ADUs use less electricity, water, and other resources
  • They are cheaper to build, require fewer materials and less manpower, and they use sustainable materials

So, it’s obvious that an ADU in your backyard can help you be more eco-conscious. If you’re looking to make that step and build an eco-friendly oasis in your backyard, give us a call! Our sustainable, turn-key solutions might be the perfect fit for you!