Homeowners who feel inspired to freshen up their living quarters tend to spend hours watching HGTV shows or scouring Pinterest for the latest trends in design and remodeling. However, just like our homes, accessory dwelling units (ADU) — granny flats, in-law suites, casitas — also need an occasional upgrade. 

ADUs are a hot commodity in the current market. Buyers try to seize these properties for rental income and additional living space, whether it’s a garage-to-ADU conversion, an above-garage loft, or a free-standing structure. According to a 2021 study, ADUs can increase your home’s listing price by 35%.

Although they are practical and valuable, ADUs are an investment. They cost homeowners an average of $40,000-$125,000 to build an attached addition or interior conversion — or roughly $100,000 for a detached new construction. For that reason, you’ll want to get the most for your money by breathing new life into the space. Consider making these six common upgrades to revamp your ADU.   

1. Update the Finishes

Depending on when you built your ADU, the finishes may have gone out of style. However, installing new kitchen cabinetry or choosing a timeless subway tile backsplash are excellent options for enhancing the aesthetic and bringing your ADU up to date. 

You might also choose to upgrade the flooring. Recent surveys suggest that hardwood floors still reign supreme at 66% desirability for new home purchases and construction while also delivering a higher return on investment. 

Of course, it’s understandable that some homeowners may not want to spend so much money on installing hardwood floors in their ADUs. Instead, luxury vinyl flooring (LVF) is a cost-effective, durable, and easy-maintenance alternative. The average cost range for LVF is $800-$2,400, with many people paying about $1,600 to install 200 square feet of textured planking.

More minor updates might include switching out the light fixtures for modern pendants or adding recessed lighting. You could also swap out the hardware on doors, cabinets, or bathroom fixtures for a contemporary look.

2. Aim for Energy Efficiency

Upgrading your ADU to meet energy-efficiency standards saves money on power bills and entices potential tenants. 

Suppose you’ve set your ADU up as a small apartment unit with its own appliances. In that case, you may want to consider replacing the refrigerator, washing machine, and toilets with modern alternatives. 

For example, choosing Energy Star-certified washer and dryer units saves about 25% of power and uses 33% less water than older models, equating to $370 in savings over the product’s lifetime. Additionally, the new federal standard for toilets is now 1.6 gallons per flush — down from 3.5 gallons in 1994 and 22% more efficient than older models. 

A garage-to-ADU conversion may present opportunities for upgraded energy efficiency, as well. Older garage doors may be susceptible to warping and indentation, leaving gaps for water and air to enter. However, a new door could significantly improve the ADU’s efficiency and keep the elements out.

A smaller upgrade may also comprise replacing incandescent lightbulbs with light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The U.S. Department of Energy states that LEDs use 75% less energy than traditional bulbs and may last 25 times longer. 

3. Optimize Security 

There were 59.7 million multigenerational households in the United States as of March 2021, making ADUs popular for accommodating older relatives while allowing them to maintain their independence. Alternatively, ADUs are rentable as vacation units or long-term housing. 

Security is vital for any residence, whether an apartment, townhome, single-family home, or ADU. 

Upgrade your ADU with advanced security features, such as motion detection lights, cameras, and a keyless door lock that uses a code to open and close. Double-pane windows add a second layer of protection against burglars. 

Additionally, setting timers in the interior lights enable them to turn on at specific times to give the impression someone is home. These smart features can sometimes be synced to your phone, allowing remote control access.

4. Spruce up the Curb Appeal

Your ADU’s exterior is just as important as its interior — and investing in enhancing curb appeal can go a long way.

Painting the siding, planting window flower boxes or garden beds, and even designing a unique walkway to a separate entrance are possibilities.

Hardscape designs, such as new pavers or a small patio, will also attract renters looking for an outdoor living space to barbecue and lounge. 

Your ADU is still a part of your property, which means its curb appeal affects your home’s market value. Houses with high curb appeal can sell upwards of 7% more than properties that need exterior work. 

5. Add More Storage

Storage is a necessity for homeowners and renters. According to the 2021 U.S. Houzz & Home Study: Renovation Trends, storage and organization systems accounted for 33% of the top renovation purchases in 2020. 

An ADU isn’t a traditionally large living space, meaning you’ll need to get creative to maximize every square foot.

Opt for a Murphy bed that can easily fold up into the wall during the day in a bedroom or living room. Ottomans serve as extra storage and additional seating for guests in place of a coffee table.

Other creative solutions to optimize ADU living space include vertical storage. For example, integrate built-in shelving or cubbies within the walls or build a loft accessible with a ladder in your closet. Hanging open shelves, hooks, and brackets to keep items off the floor is another answer to storage space issues.

Likewise, if your ADU happens to have stairs, remember to utilize the area underneath. 

6. Let in the Light

An ADU may be small, but you can make the space look and feel larger by incorporating enough natural light. It’s best to have natural light come in from at least two sides of an ADU, whether it’s the bedroom, living room, or kitchen. 

A potential upgrade for a dark ADU may be to install extra windows if the layout allows. On the other hand, if your ADU lacks walls for cutting out a window, skylights may be another possibility. 

The cost to install or replace windows in an ADU varies according to the size, type, materials, and labor. However, most homeowners can expect to pay between $3,250 and $12,586 for window replacements. 

Upgrading Your ADU for Optimal Living

Upgrading your ADU will provide optimal living and comfort for everyone, whether you utilize it for an additional living area for a relative or rent it out for extra income. Continue to make the most use of your ADU by upgrading it to meet your needs best.


In case you have any architectural, structural, and MEP design including fire sprinkler design requirements, or need an ADU including structure, and HVAC design, feel free to contact us.  We provide you with the full permit set design + T24 for your request.


Author’s Bio:

Rose is the managing editor of Renovated. She’s most interested in sharing home projects and inspiration for the most novice of DIY-ers, values she developed growing up in a family of contractors.