Building an ADU is a big life decision and an ADU designer will have a huge impact on the outcome. Before you hire someone, ask yourself these questions:

Do you need a Designer?


A designer can save you a lot of money and one heck of a headache, and unless you are an expert in the 1,000 pages permitting book, you’d be wise to hire one.

Read this horror story of a woman who hired the wrong team.

What’s the difference between a Designer and an Architect?

Not a large difference between the two but the main takeaway is that an architect is licensed to design any structure that is more than three stories tall whereas a designer is not.

We can’t name a single jurisdiction that allows an ADU to be larger than three stories, so a designer will work just fine for designing your unit.

The most important thing, however, is that your designer or architect has experience in designing ADUs.

Why do you need an ADU Designer?

how to hire an architect for an adu


It’s not enough to hire just any old designer that comes up first on a Google search. You have to find a designer that specializes in accessory dwelling units.

Building an ADU is vastly different from designing a larger home. Why? There are a lot more things to take into consideration that wouldn’t normally come up in a normal-sized home.

For starters, you have to fit a whole lot into a smaller floor plan which is why thinking about cubic feet rather than square feet is so important. Going vertical like with tall bookshelves, stackable washer and dryer, and clever storage is crucial for the success of your new space.

Your designer should also know about value engineering. Value engineering is designing a structure to minimize construction costs.

For example, an architecture firm had designed an ADU with a very complicated roof design. Our Lead Designer, Jared Basler, took a look at the designs and noted that by just adding engineered trusses and simplifying the roof design, they could cut costs by more than $30,000 while still maintaining the beautiful design.

An experienced ADU designer will know to keep these things in mind when designing your new unit.

Maxable has a great team of experienced ADU designers and experts that know how to design both beautifully and affordably. Get started with a Home Evaluation and get connected to our team.

When should you hire an ADU Designer?

Start looking for a designer as soon as you decide to move forward with your build project. Designers can help you with site evaluations, feasibility studies and explore options you may not have considered — or lead you away from options that are too expensive.

What is a Designer’s role?

  • Refine your ideas and create floor plans and elevations
  • Get your plans approved by the city and understand the regulations
  • Maximize natural light, window placements, and views
  • Maximize usable space and storage
  • Suggest stylish materials and appliances
  • Assemble a team of specialists like energy consultants and structural engineers
  • Oversee the construction phase and keep things on schedule

hiring an architect for a tiny home

What should you look for when hiring an ADU Designer?


Like we mentioned earlier, your designer should have a good number of ADU projects under their belt. Every scenario is a bit different, but

at least five to ten projects is ideal.

Designers with this type of experience will know how to maximize your space to its full potential.

A poorly designed ADU will feel cramped and might even cost you more to have built.

Local Legislation Knowledge

Again, the regulations for building an ADU are very different from building your standard-sized house.

Also, keep in mind that these regulations differ from city to city, so hiring a designer that’s local is going to be your best bet. Hiring a local designer also means they’re easier to get a hold of and meet with in-person to discuss your ideas. Which leads us to our next key thing to look for.

Maxable’s Lead Designer, Jared Basler, has worked extensively with state legislators to clarify new state laws.

Communication and Listening

Remember that this is your ADU, which means it should be designed for what you need and want. Right off the bat, your architect should be asking you what type of design, amenities, and special features you’d like for your new unit.

Once you’ve consulted with your designer they should tell you what is feasible, what your dream ADU will cost, and even suggest some new ideas.

how to hire an architect for a granny flat


Your consultation with your ADU designer should be a brainstorming session, not a sales pitch.

Here are just a few questions you should be asking as well:

  • Have you recently designed any accessory dwelling units? If so, can you share plans?
  • Do you have a signature style? Make sure you like that style and it matches the design you have in mind.
  • What can we do to maximize and design for small spaces?
  • What techniques or design principals can we implement to get close to net-zero? (This refers to energy consumption, meaning that the total amount of energy consumed is equal to the amount of energy it creates.)
  • Can you design in 3D? It can be difficult to conceptually understand 2D plans. Having someone design in 3D gives you a better idea of what your future house will look like. If an architect can’t create a 3D render of your project, it might mean they aren’t up to date


You’ll be spending a lot of time with your designer, so it’s crucial that you feel comfortable around them and connect with them.

It’ll be a lot easier to bounce ideas off of one another if you both vibe off of each other.

Also, make sure an architect asks you questions about how your granny flat will be used and what your goals are. If for example, an elderly parent has plans to live in your backyard cottage designing to meet ADA requirements and removing staircases, lowering kitchen counters, making bathrooms accessible to wheelchairs, might be a high priority.

What hurdles can a Designer help you tackle?

Permitting is an obvious one, but even more crucial, designers think about each project holistically. The design has a huge impact on a wide variety of things from health, energy consumption, and the ongoing lifecycle costs of a building. Working with a designer can save you a lot of money over the 20 or 30 years you own the building.

Plus, most people are not designers so working with someone that understands environmental forces and how a design creates a healthier environment through natural light and a connection to the outdoors is money well spent.

Plan, hire, and manage your ADU project with Maxable.

At Maxable, we believe that building an ADU should be fun and exciting. You shouldn’t have to be the one to deal with confusing obstacles like permitting snafus or ever-changing regulations. We’ll be by your side every step of the way and connect you to experienced designers and general contractors in your area to make sure your project goes as smoothly as possible.

Leave the headaches to us! Check your address and see what Maxable can do for your home during a free ADU Planning Call.