ADU Standard Plan Program – Illusion or Real?

Mar 11, 2021 | ADU

Early March 2021 city of Los Angeles announced its program for preapproved ADU plans, it was announced on all possible news platforms such as TV, Newspapers, and social media. You would mistakenly think that this is it, the solution to ADU development most painful problem has been found. Los Angeles is not the first to do so, many cities and counties across CA and outside have this in place; San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, and Oregon are just a few.


To start with I will say, this is a great step in helping homeowners developing an ADU, and I am sure we will see some use of those preapproved plans to develop ADU’s, with that, this great step is an illusion of “problem solved” the biggest challenge ADU developers are facing is the time it takes to get an ADU approved for construction, and those preapproved plans don’t solve it and here is why I am saying it:


Addressing 1 Type Of ADU Only

There are different types of an ADU you can develop:

  1. Detached new construction.
  2. Attached new construction (can be attached to main home or garage)
  3. Garage conversion as is.
  4. Garage conversion with addition.
  5. Basement conversion.
  6. Divide existing home.

The preapproved plans are addressing option 1 only, detached new construction.

Our experience shows, out of thousands of homeowners we have educated about ADU, only 15% of them were after detached new construction ADU, out of the dozens of homeowners (soon to be over 100) we have worked and working with to develop an ADU only 12% are doing detached new construction ADU, what about the rest?


In Which Cases You Cannot Use Preapproved ADU Plans:

Regardless of if you were able to find a design that you like and would consider using, there are cases that you cannot use those preapproved plans:

  1. Garage conversion or addition types of ADU, which are the majority of ADU’s by far.
  2. If your space is limited and none of those preapproved footprints is matching your available space.
  3. If your property is subject to architectural review boards that will have a say on your ADU exterior façade, like: Historical, Coastal, HOA, etc.… you might be limited to which ones you can use if at all, as they have different requirement need to be met during design and planning.


What Does It Mean Using Preapproved ADU Plans:

The obvious advantage is that they are already made, and you can use them as they are, which will save you time and money, with that, you need to know that:

  1. You are supposed to make a use of them as they are, making significant changes to structure footprint and elevations will require you to go under plan check review and approval.
  2. If you are planning to make changes to those plans and understand the cost and time it will take to do so, good luck with finding a reputable design firm that will be willing to take on it and work on other firm designs, the good ones won’t do so.
  3. The designers who made those plans together with their insight and support are not there for you to use as you will have when hiring a design professional.


Matching ADU Façade To Existing House:

Most homeowners developing an ADU, and most of those review bords mentioned before are asking that the ADU will match the exterior façade of the main house, to have a cohesive look that will not make the ADU stand out and look not related.

I am sure those preapproved plans will be matching to some existing houses exterior façade, but not to most.



With that I can clearly say that the actual potential of using those preapproved plans is very limited. Other cities, counties and states that already have it in place are a proof to that.

If cities and counties really want to have more ADU’s developed, they should look for a solution elsewhere, making the process of plan check faster.

The man and woman who are hard working on reviewing, clearing and approving construction plans were super busy before the ADU development was added on their plate, ADU development is increasing in popularity like nothing else and for a reason, and with it the amount of applications and plans that are being submitted for review, that same person who was reviewing X amount of plans at any given time, currently now has X times 3, 4 and even 5 in some cities (especially in LA), how can we expect them to do that?

As business owner that provides services of design and planning for property owners when we saw the increase on demand, we immediately added more members to our team and streamlined our process to make it more efficient so we can handle the workload and won’t leave a project behind, shouldn’t cities and counties do the same? You know the answer to that.