Small Backyard Homes Initiative


Project Origin

Portland is one of the friendliest cities in the U.S. for homeowners who want to build a small second house, known as an accessory dwelling unit or ADU, on their property. Not only does Portland’s zoning code allow for them—which isn’t the case in all places—the city actually incentivizes their construction by waiving systems development charges that would normally add between $12,000-$20,000 to the cost of building an ADU. Some of the world’s leading ADU advocates and developers are based in Portland, offering a trove of resources to help people navigate the design, permitting, and construction processes.

And yet, building an ADU can still seem out of reach for many Portland homeowners. CPID Faculty Fellow Margarette Leite has been working with students to explore options for making ADUs more accessible to more people to address Portland's affordable housing crisis. Following a graduate design studio co-taught with CPID Visiting Fellow Pedro Pacheco in winter 2017, Margarette has continued to work with students and faculty at the CPID to refine the designs that emerged from that studio with the goal of completing several full-fledged designs that will result in built protoypes.

The project is part of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions’ Small Backyard Homes Initiative, which aims to make it easier and more affordable for homeowners to construct ADUs. 


Project Description

Five prototype designs that are easily replicable and suit a range of ADU purposes have been brought to completion by Margarette and the CPID team. From a “hipster” version that uses shipping containers as the core of its design to a pre-manufactured ADU that comes in two pieces and is quickly assembled on site, the prototypes show the range of what’s possible in cost containment. The CPID is also working with Portland ReBuilding Center to put together kits of reused materials that can be easily assembled for ADU construction. Working with ISS, the team is now in the proof-of-concept stage, talking with homeowners interested in using the prototype designs for their own ADU construction.

These designs offer a variety of opportunities for interested homeowners to build small homes on their lots in order to create income that can offset the rising cost of homeownership while also addressing the lack of affordable housing options for many Portlanders.  This project seeks homeowners willing to construct one or more of these prototype houses. In exchange for being an early adopter, participating homeowners will receive free design and management services. PSU graduate students and faculty will work with participants to:

•     Identify an appropriate design from the options available 

•     Determine site and utility requirements

•     Create and shepherd permit drawings through the BDS

•     Complete construction with experienced contractors

The eventual goal of the Initiative is to combine the designs with creative financing vehicles and with non-profit partners to manage the design and implementation of services. Interested parties should contact


Portland, Oregon, United States



Institute for Sustainable Solutions, Enhabit, 





This fun-sized 6-foot square mini-module comes into an existing garage on a forklift. With a few modifications, this kitchen-bathroom transforms underused space into a fully functioning and rentable dwelling. The Insert comes in three piece. Two fit together for the bathroom, and the kitchen casework fits on as the third piece. This module nestles into the side of an existing or newly constructed space and transforms it into an instant ADU. While most garages and existing structures will need envelope updates and utility improvements, the Insert can provide significant savings over new construction. This quick conversion provides a fun weekend house for visitors or a first home for a transitioning individual.






This ADU is for the homeowner who would rather not have to contend with 8 to 12 months of construction in their back yard. Manufactured with high precision and quality in the factory, the unit comes in two pieces then connected on site for quick installation. The comfortable size is ideal for an individual or couple starting independent living, or those wanting to age in place and is a comfortable size. Its small footprint makes for more flexible placement on site. The Turnkey can even be within typically required side and rear setbacks. As a result, the yard will still appear spacious. This ADU goes up quick and does not take up much space. Its traditional appearance makes allows it to blend into any neighborhood.


CONTAINER (105, 210, 315 SQ FT)


Shipping containers are in! This ADU will be the envy of your neighbors. It can expand in size from one to three containers and is a cost effective option for adding rentable housing to any lot. As a premanufactured unit, it significantly reduces construction time on the site as well. The industrial aesthetic is unique and attractive as is, but the unit also comes outfitted with exterior wooden screens that can support bicycles and other recreational equipment. Alternatively, the screens can be define outdoor patios with vegetative trellises that transform the home into a garden amenity.





This sleek, avant-guard home offers clean lines and boundless natural light. Two translucent walls allow diffused daylight to enter the vaulted greatroom and cozy bedroom, and the full-height windows provide views and fresh air. Its size and design allow for placement within the typically required side and rear yard setbacks so it takes up less yard space. A loft above the bedroom provides storage space. This ADU has a full bath and is ideal for individuals or couples hoping to age in place in a light and airy home. The design is elegant and not too edgy, plus it allows the Pacific Northwest outdoor-living lifestyles to flourish.




The Salvage is ideal for small families or anyone needing extra space. This two-bedroom, one-bath home has vaulted ceilings and plenty of lofted storage. With principles of sustainability and cost containment in mind, this home is built with salvaged materials including wood studs, interior doors, flooring and cabinetry. The shifted volumes of this layout create two patios for outdoor engagement allowing the dweller their choice of public and private entry. Although this ADU is larger than the rest, its elegant profile and playful form are attractive.