Downsizing to an eco-friendly home

New Avenue Homes founder Kevin Casey is rethinking how we live by focusing on multi-generational living, where grandparents, parents, and kids share one piece of land with two homes on it. The parents and kids live in the main house and the grandparents live in an eco-friendly backyard cottage that his company designs and builds. SmartPlanet visits Casey on one of his construction projects in Orinda, Calif.

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26 Families in 2011

For New Avenue, 2011 started with nearly 500 people attending our first open house in Berkeley and by year-end we were working on 15 new homes that will help 26 families enjoy a new and better lifestyle.

Why are there nearly twice as many families as homes? Because when a homeowner hires New Avenue, we change their single family house into two homes that two families can share.

The stories about the families and friends that hire us are the most important part of what we do. Having an old best friend, a new good neighbor, a parent, a child or grandchildren nearby creates an almost endless list of benefits.

Here are three stories from our 2011 clients that illustrate who our clients are and a few examples of the benefits of their new lifestyle.

Three Generations in Orinda

Our first client in 2011 is a grandmother whose daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren moved to a beautiful hillside property in the Orinda Hills. The grandmother helped buy the home and then moved in with them so she can be an active part of their lives. The property had an asbestos filled, run down and literally collapsing guest house that we tore down and in place rebuilt a beautiful new cottage. Now this family is living comfortably, with privacy, but together in the same place. The grandmother sees her two grandkids every day and shuttles them around to summer camps, school and other activities. The children are enjoying a beautiful home with space for their kayaks, woodworking hobbies and hosting big family get togethers. With the grandchildren now attending Orinda schools, they may be the greatest beneficiaries of this new family compound.

Flexibility in Berkeley

The second client is a parent in Berkeley with a daughter who just had her first child. The daughter, son-in-law and grandkid will be splitting their time between Lebanon, where the son-in-law is originally from and currently works, and Berkeley, where they will eventually be moving into the main home that the daughter grew up in. Thinking of her growing family, then looking at the old garage full of junk, this new grandmother decided to replace the garage with a cute, 2 story cottage tucked away at the end of their driveway. In the immediate future, this new home will provide some income as a short term rental, will be a guest house for the children and grandchildren on their extended stays. In the distant future, when the daughter, son in law and grandchild move into the main home, this will be grandma’s cottage.

An Annuity for College/Retirement

The final story is about rejuvenating a great old home. This Berkeley client lives in the Elmwood Neighborhood in Berkeley and inherited what was once a beautiful carriage house in the backyard. Over several decades the early 1900 construction wore down and rotted into an unusable structure that was unsafe and barely fit for storage. However the space is perfect for a second unit, between several trees with a large yard extending to the main house. We worked with them to give it new life, in compliance with the zoning rules, keeping some of the original walls and building a new eco-efficient cottage in place of the old. This home is a pure investment strategy for the owners. With three bedrooms and two baths it will be a prime rental apartment for UC Berkeley students or young professional couple. The monthly financing cost for this home will be approximately $1,500 per month, while the rent for similar apartments on this block is over $3,300 per month. For this family the cottage will be a great annuity that will help with the tuition bills for two soon to be college students.

We’re looking forward to working with many more families in 2012 and helping more homeowners transform their properties from one home into two.

New Avenue at PCBC 2011

PCBC was launched in 1959 as a small educational conference at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Since then, then show has evolved to become homebuilding’s most innovative event on the Pacific Coast, where the industry’s most influential trendsetters gather to share ideas and information. The PCBC community, has led the way to integrating new technologies into the home and embraces the idea that community is more than a collection of homes; it’s a feeling of belonging and feeling connected.

Two New Avenue designs were on display from June 22-June 24 2011. This exhibition was New Avenue’s first demonstration in the national spotlight and was very well received. Roughly 100,000 people toured the two homes over 3 days earning New Avenue press coverage from the SF chronicle, Dwell Magazine and an assortment of Green Building and Home & Garden blogs. Both homes were built in partnership with the innovative co-sponsors listed below.


‘Home of Innovation’ – PCBC 2011

Second Units for Stronger Communities: B the Change New Avenue

New Avenue Homes of Berkeley, CA is taking a small approach to solving a big problem. Most of us live in more space than we need, and sink more time and money than we would like into maintaining these large spaces. A practical approach to solving that problem is putting more people within big spaces or otherwise put – increasing the density of our living environment. This doesn’t mean packing too many people into one house, it means getting more utility out of the space that we have.

Building a second unit on a single family property makes sense in several ways. First, property becomes more useful and less expensive. Adding a second living space gives families flexibility to accommodate older parents, young adult children, live-in care takers and nannies, or the option to take an entrepreneurial route and become a landlord in their community. Each of these actions minimize the cost and maximize the benefits of owning property.

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Clean Tech Accessory Dwelling in San Jose

New Avenue Homes, builder of a popular NZE tiny house in Berkeley, has a new Clean Tech Exhibit home on display in San Jose. The home has a living room, kitchenette, bedroom, bathroom, storage, and all sorts of green technology and sustainable materials. New Avenue prefabricated the structure and estimates that a home of this size costs about $70,000 to build and permit, not including upgrades or special circumstances.

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Get income from accessory dwelling units

During retirement, sources of retirement income typically come from Social Security and a retiree’s own savings. But seniors around the country are finding that adding a second, independent living space to their homes can provide welcome extra income as rentals. Called accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, these in-law units or cabins can also serve as private living quarters for aging parents or an adult child in transition.

Michael Litchfield, a certified green building professional and author of “In-Laws, Outlaws, and Granny Flats,” a primer on planning and building ADUs, calls them an intelligent solution to the problems of urban sprawl.

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New Avenue Homes: Going Big with Small

Green Corridor entrepreneur Kevin Casey is proof that the biggest ideas come in small packages – and in the field of energy efficiency, the smaller the better.

Casey was a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business when he first became inspired by the idea of “net-zero” homes: dwellings that would emit no carbon dioxide and would create their own, self-sustaining energy source. His interest was two-fold: as a student and professional, Casey wanted to learn more about the potential intersection of modular home construction and clean technology. As a young person in the Bay Area (where 85% of families cannot afford a median-priced home), he was also motivated by the desire to create affordable housing. Casey had no substantial housing design experience in 2008 when inspiration hit, but that did not deter him from launching what is now New Avenue Homes. Three years later, Casey’s idea is a thriving clean tech business with big plans for very small houses.

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Wins for: Providing eco-chic housing, without building up or sprawling out.

From Micro to Macro: 2011 Eco Awards

2/ Micro: The Delaware House
Wins for: Providing eco-chic housing, without building up or sprawling out.

A new backyard cottage on Delaware Street in Berkeley provides city planning clues that scale beyond its tiny stature. Finished last fall, the 420-square-foot Delaware Cottage exemplifies “stealth infill”—in this case, the conversion of backyard lots into affordable housing units.

While mini cottages aren’t new to the community, this one claims net zero energy status, by featuring wider wall boards that pack more insulation and by running off nine solar panels on the main house. The cost of the cottage was $98,000. Owner Karen Chapple, associate professor of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley, recognizes that there are barriers to these dwellings, namely parking and permitting, but through research funded by the UC Transportation Center, she’s already identified more than 3,000 lots in Berkeley that could accommodate such units.

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New Avenue builds infill model

Picking the right word was everything for New Avenue’s affordable housing. Just the phrase “affordable housing” scared affluent neighborhoods fearful of multi-story blight.
Founder Kevin Casey needed something quaint, cozy, friendly — he needed to sell the idea of a “backyard cottage.”

Once armed with the right words to sell the housing, Casey could pursue his vision for meeting new housing needs. California will have to add 2 million more homes over the next decade, according to statistics from the California Department of Finance. By nestling new units into the backyards of high-demand urban areas, Casey hopes to meet the housing demand without tacking on commutes.

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Could There Be a Boom of Backyard In-law Cottages?

In the nearly three years I spent researching and writing a book about accessory dwelling units—In-laws, Outlaws, and Granny Flats: Your guide to turning one house into two homes—I thought I had seen every variation of designing and building ADUs out there. But as I was putting the book to bed, I came upon a developer in Berkeley, Kevin Casey, with a new twist. Namely, Casey’s start-up offers homeowners a turn-key ADU package that includes private financing, design, permit approval and construction. What’s more, he seems to be making a go of it, with a first backyard cottage garnering a lot of praise, and six more units in the pipeline. Now he’s looking for builders in other regions to partner with.

Whether Casey’s ADU model will thrive in other states depends on its surmounting some formidable barriers—particularly, zoning codes. But it should do well in Left Coast cities and suburbs from San Diego to Seattle, which are by and large receptive to second units. And it’s hard to argue with his numbers. To keep this blog brief, I will encapsulate four Q&A’s below and let the interview do the rest of the talking.

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