Budget Breakdown: A Portland Couple Design and Build a Compact Home For $222K

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By Lucy Wang
An architect and construction engineer couple build a sustainable, 624-square-foot abode for $221,580—here's how the numbers add up.

Small, secondary homes are popping up everywhere in Portland, Oregon—including in the backyard of Scott Mooney and Lauren Shumaker. Dive into the costs of construction, project management, and overhead below, then read on for the full story of the remarkable home. 

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Budget Breakdown: A Portland Couple Design and Build a Compact Home For $222K - Photo 1 of 20 -

Spurred by the city’s generous accessory dwelling unit (ADU) incentives and a desire to reduce their environmental footprint, the couple—he an architect and she a construction engineer—designed and built an elegant, 624-square-foot backyard home with sustainability at its core.

Scott and Lauren’s compact backyard home is located in the back half of their 5,000-square-foot lot in the Richmond neighborhood of Southeast Portland.

Scott and Lauren’s compact backyard home is located in the back half of their 5,000-square-foot lot in the Richmond neighborhood of Southeast Portland.

Designed over weekends and spare evenings, Scott and Lauren’s "labor of love" came together after eight months of work with help from builders Kevin Smith and Taylor Thompson of Taylorsmith Sustainable Construction

The total cost of the custom two-bedroom home came to $221,580 with the design, permitting, and direct construction cost accounting for approximately $172,000 of the total.

The FSC-certified Western Red Cedar siding, supplied by Sustainable Northwest Wood, was lightened and will develop a darkened patina over time.

The FSC-certified Western Red Cedar siding, supplied by Sustainable Northwest Wood, was lightened and will develop a darkened patina over time.

Named after its pinwheel-shaped plan, the Pinwheel ADU is framed with FSC-certified timber and clad in local, sustainably sourced Western Red Cedar. 

For energy efficiency, ZIP System® R-sheathing was used for continuous exterior insulation and weatherproofing, while large, high-performance glazing lets in an abundance of natural light.

To help create the illusion of more space, the great room features a vaulted ceiling and opens up to the outdoors with 12-foot wall-to-wall glazed sliding doors.

To help create the illusion of more space, the great room features a vaulted ceiling and opens up to the outdoors with 12-foot wall-to-wall glazed sliding doors.

Scott Mooney and Lauren Shumaker sit on their living room couch purchased from a local business, Perch Furniture.

Scott Mooney and Lauren Shumaker sit on their living room couch purchased from a local business, Perch Furniture.

"It was an exercise in how you can do more with less without forfeiting design excellence in the process," explains Scott, who, with his wife and his dog Merle, downsized to live in their recently completed Pinwheel ADU. "We sought a structure that was functionally elegant but beautifully simple, with ample daylight and generous connections to nature and the outdoors."

The living space seamlessly connects to an outdoor patio with seating. A dark gray, standing-seam metal roof tops the building with metal eaves that match the depth of the existing home.

The living space seamlessly connects to an outdoor patio with seating. A dark gray, standing-seam metal roof tops the building with metal eaves that match the depth of the existing home.

Key to the design is the couple’s creative approach to storage. Instead of building a separate unit to store their outdoor recreation equipment, the dynamic duo installed four "storage blocks" arranged in a pinwheel formation around the building perimeter.

The lockable "storage blocks" can be accessed from inside and outside the house.

The lockable "storage blocks" can be accessed from inside and outside the house.

The custom storage solutions  can hold a variety of items including bicycles and bicycle trailers, house and gardening tools, camping equipment, and the outdoor grill.

The custom storage solutions can hold a variety of items including bicycles and bicycle trailers, house and gardening tools, camping equipment, and the outdoor grill.

Thanks to their skill set, the couple managed to keep costs relatively low. Scott, who also works as an architect for SRG Partnership, created the drawings and oversaw the construction process, while Lauren’s background as a construction engineer allowed her to work closely with Taylorsmith Construction and co-manage budgeting and scheduling tasks. 

A highly efficient, ductless mini-split system provides heating and cooling.

A highly efficient, ductless mini-split system provides heating and cooling.

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Scott’s extensive record collection occupies a large portion of the living room wall.

Scott’s extensive record collection occupies a large portion of the living room wall.

"The project also benefited from beginning the construction process in a more accommodating bidding environment that can be found in Portland today," explains Scott. 

He continues, "In the time since this project was initially bid in the winter of 2016, the cost of building in the Pacific Northwest has skyrocketed due to the record number of projects that are currently under construction." Scott also notes that had he started the construction process now, the project would have cost more and taken longer to complete. 

A small loft was built over the bedrooms for out-of-town guests. The space is illuminated with an operable skylight.

A small loft was built over the bedrooms for out-of-town guests. The space is illuminated with an operable skylight.

Subway tile lines the compact bathroom that's fitted out with low-flow Kohler fixtures.

Subway tile lines the compact bathroom that's fitted out with low-flow Kohler fixtures.

"We hope the project can serve as a model to help the greater community understand that it is possible to downsize in a realistic way that can actually serve to improve your quality of life," says Scott.

The living area and bedroom light fixtures, as well as the cabinet pulls, were sourced from Schoolhouse Electric.

The living area and bedroom light fixtures, as well as the cabinet pulls, were sourced from Schoolhouse Electric.

All-electric equipment and appliances were installed.

All-electric equipment and appliances were installed.

"As an architect, I was also motivated by the challenge of how to make a great design that works within the narrow and often onerous constraints of Portland’s ADU guidelines—proving that these small projects do not need to be miniature versions of the larger adjacent home but, instead, can have a unique and meaningful identities that are distinctly their own," says Scott. 

The couple selected Milgard Essence Series Windows with a fiberglass exterior and solid wood interior to match the timber palette used in the house.

The couple selected Milgard Essence Series Windows with a fiberglass exterior and solid wood interior to match the timber palette used in the house.

The interior shelving and cabinetry was fabricated locally by ADX from sealed birch plywood.

The interior shelving and cabinetry was fabricated locally by ADX from sealed birch plywood.

Floor-to-ceiling glazing is installed on all four sides of the house; however, the glazed openings are recessed to different degrees to follow passive solar principles.

Floor-to-ceiling glazing is installed on all four sides of the house; however, the glazed openings are recessed to different degrees to follow passive solar principles.

The space between the ADU and the existing bungalow functions as a communal yard and garden. The lot has on-site parking for two full-size vehicles and a motorcycle.

The space between the ADU and the existing bungalow functions as a communal yard and garden. The lot has on-site parking for two full-size vehicles and a motorcycle.

Scott and Lauren plan to track the energy use of their new-build’s electric equipment and appliances. The data will inform the size of their photovoltaic array they'll add to offset the energy costs of the ADU and the bungalow.

Scott and Lauren plan to track the energy use of their new-build’s electric equipment and appliances. The data will inform the size of their photovoltaic array they'll add to offset the energy costs of the ADU and the bungalow.

An exploded axonometric drawing of the Pinwheel ADU.

An exploded axonometric drawing of the Pinwheel ADU.

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Scott Mooney

Builder/General Contractor: Taylorsmith Sustainable Construction

Structural Engineer: Munzing Structural Engineering

Survey for Permitting: Johnson Land Surveying, Inc

Cabinetry Design: ADX