ADU Vs. Tiny House: Key Distinctions You Need to Understand

adu vs tiny houses

ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) and tiny houses have become distinctive living solutions in compact living. Understanding these options’ differences is crucial for downsizing or seeking an alternate living space.

ADUs are additional living units on the same property as the main house. They can be converted garages, basement apartments, or separate cottages. ADUs allow homeowners to expand their living space and generate rentals while maintaining the privacy of both units. 

On the other hand, tiny houses are compact living spaces intentionally designed to be small and efficient. These houses often feature a minimalist lifestyle, where every inch and corner is maximized for functionality. Their features of affordability and sustainability make them a popular choice for those seeking a simpler lifestyle.

In this blog, we will discuss and explore the differences between these housing units and which compact house suits you.

What is an Accessory Dwelling Unit?

An ADU is a secondary housing unit entirely separate from the main house on the property. ADUs generally have private entrances and have living space, bathroom, kitchen, sleeping room, and eating area. It has everything a main unit has but in a compact style. These living spaces are referred to as granny flats or backyard cottages. These units are mostly garage conversions or basement apartments. 

ADUs are gaining wide popularity for their potential to make extra income and add value to the property. 

What is a Tiny House?

A tiny house is a compact but fully functional home, usually not more than 400 square feet. Inside this miniature house, you find cleverly designed furniture and storage solutions to make the most of every inch. Tiny Houses can be built on wheels for mobility or a foundation, like traditional homes.   

They are cost-effective to buy and maintain in comparison to regular-sized houses. The main concept behind these compact homes is to simplify living and focus on what truly matters to you.  

10 Differences Between ADU and Tiny House

Are you using the terms ADU and tiny house interchangeably? You may be surprised that these units differ in definition and function. Here is a list of 10 differences that can help you understand how these housing options stand apart:

1. Size


ADUs are generally larger, with more living space. It ranges from a few hundred to over a thousand square feet(other than the main house).

Tiny House:

Tiny houses are quite small in comparison to other housing options. It usually ranges from 100 to 400 square feet. 

2. Purpose & Location


ADUs are built on the same property as the main house. It usually serves as an additional living space for family members or to earn rental income.

Tiny House:

Tiny houses are often standalone and mobile. Its main purpose is efficient minimalist living. It can be placed on various properties or in tiny house communities.

3. Mobility


ADUs are stationary structures. Once constructed, it cannot be moved. 

Tiny House:

Tiny houses are typically built on trailers. It makes them mobile and easy to relocate whenever required.

4. Regulations


ADUs are subject to local zoning regulations. They are designed to be permanent structures and serve as an additional space in existing property. So, they require permits and compliance with rules by local authorities. 

Tiny House:

Tiny houses are often built on wheels or trailers, complicating their legal status. Although having a tiny house in most areas is legal, some places have legal restrictions. 

5. Carbon Footprint


ADUs can be eco-friendly but may have a larger carbon footprint due to their living space and utility requirements.

Tiny House:

Tiny houses are designed with fewer resources. A home that needs to be moved is usually built with different efficiency standards than a permanent house. It results in a small carbon footprint.

6. Incentives


In California, the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) operates an ADU grant program that reimburses a said amount in pre-development costs for qualified builders. 

Tiny House:

In the case of tiny houses, no such schemes or reimbursements exist for the builders or homeowners.

7. Lifestyle


ADUs cater to a more traditional lifestyle, accommodating families or long-term residents.

Tiny House:

Tiny houses are best suited for minimalistic, eco-friendly, and mobile lifestyles.

8. Costs


ADUs can be more expensive to build due to their larger size and utility connections.

Tiny House:

Tiny houses are generally cost-effective to build and maintain.

9. Ease of Resale


These homes are seen as the future of affordable living spaces. Building an ADU adds to the overall value of the property. So, ADU homes are worth the investment and easy to resale.

Tiny House:

The resale value of tiny houses depends on market demand and location. It is difficult to resell tiny home property because not everyone finds the small space comfortable.

10. Ease of Navigation for Older Adults


ADUs incorporate features like wide doorways, ramps, grab bars, and step-free entrances, making them accommodating for older adults or anyone with mobility challenges.

Tiny House:

Due to their compact size and loft beds, tiny houses may pose significant challenges to older adults’ mobility and navigation.  

Pros and Cons of Tiny House

Tiny houses offer compact and minimalist lifestyles that are appealing to many. But like any other housing option, it also has a list of pros and cons. 

Pros of Tiny House

  1. They are quick to build.
  2. They are cost-effective to use and maintain.
  3. They are minimalist, reducing clutter.
  4. They are a good option for a bachelor or a family of 2-3 members.
  5. They offer mobility to its residents.

Cons of Tiny House

  1. Putting a tiny house at permanent foundations requires a permit, which can be challenging.
  2. They are often too small to comply with the zoning laws.
  3. They are considered recreational vehicles (RV) by the law, subject to RV codes and taxes.

Pros and Cons of ADUs

ADUs are gaining significant attention as compact housing options. These secondary living spaces are often found in the same space as the main house. It comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Here is the list:

Pros of ADUs

  1. They are customizable.
  2. They are available in a variety of sizes.
  3. They are more complicit with zoning laws.
  4. They can increase property value.
  5. It can be used for multi purposes, like rentals, hobbies, to accommodate expanding family, etc.

Cons of ADUs

  1. They are usually more expensive than tiny houses.
  2. They are built on permanent foundations and can’t be moved.
  3. They have more utility expenses.

Why Choose Beach Front Property Management Inc. for Building ADUs?

Beach Front Property Management Inc. is an excellent choice for building ADUs due to our experience and expertise in the field. We have a team of professionals who can guide you through the entire process of designing and building your ADU, ensuring that you get the perfect space to meet your needs.

We offer expertise, quality craftsmanship, cost-effective solutions, and timely completion of your project. Contact us today to get started on your ADU project.

Trevor Henson

Trevor Henson is an experienced entrepreneur (10+ highly-successful start-ups) and property investor with a demonstrated history of building and leading teams in investment property management environments, maximizing returns for property owners, and optimizing properties through construction management and re-positioning. He…
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Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

Tiny houses can be used as ADUs, but strict size limits are in place, and they vary for all zones.

A shed is the storage space in the backyard of a house. It can be converted to a living space with legal permission if required. In contrast, a tiny house is a movable compact living space built with minimalist amenities.