I’m tired of people trying to sugarcoat things in the name of cooperative constructive engagement. Meetings, conventions, more meetings, public charrettes, more meetings, another conference, more meetings… Welcome stakeholders! We value your input!
I’m not a patient person. I want to go out in to the world and actually get things done. But that’s not how things work. Instead, a series of opaque and unresponsive bureaucracies put your project through a meat grinder. When the authorities are finally done watering down your proposed plan into beige conformity, you then have to indenture yourself to a bank for thirty years. Fuck it. I’ll be dead before any of these committees of concerned citizens get anything useful accomplished. I’m moving on without them.
I know this sounds like some kind of conservative libertarian rant. I’m actually an old school San Francisco liberal. But somewhere along the way we went from regulating things in order to guard the public health and safety to something else entirely. “Maintain property values.” “Preserve the character of the neighborhood.” “Keep out the wrong element.” “Where will everyone park?” “Think of the children!” Or just plain revenue enhancement. I’ve traveled all over the country to red states and blue states, small towns and big cities. The particulars are different, but the overall effect is exactly the same everywhere. Look around at all the schlock. This is what our society mandates.
Enter the Bitter Suite. I attempted to build a granny cottage in the back half acre behind the main house. I hired a local architect who walked me through the legal parameters. Then I decided to do the rational thing instead. Nothing. The numbers didn’t add up. It wasn’t even close. So I reverse engineered what was legal as-of-right without permits, fees, or inspections. 120 square feet, no more than 12 feet tall, no electricity or plumbing. Full stop.
I think the results are pretty sweet. There’s a certain you-know-it-when-you-see-it quality that a place either has or doesn’t. I call it the “Mom Test.” As in… if you showed a place to your mother would she approve? I believe this little cedar shed / guest cottage meets that basic standard.
The shell of the shed came in flat packed panels from a company in Canada. This model cost about $4,500. I then added plenty of insulation, plywood interior walls, paint, trim, and a wood and slate floor. Toss in some second hand furniture from Craigslist and a new mattress ordered from the internet and it totaled around $9,000. That’s significantly less than the cost of a building permit for an Accessory Dwelling Unit in this jurisdiction. Spot the difference?
Lighting comes in the form of a couple of 5 watt LED bulbs powered by little battery bricks designed to recharge cell phones and iPads. This part of the world has such a mild climate most of the year – and the shed has been so super insulated – that some long underwear, fuzzy socks, and flannel pajamas do all the heavy lifting on cool winter nights. Six windows and a door provide cross ventilation in summer. The kitchen and bath are a dozen yards away in the main house.
Is this exactly what I wanted? No. What I wanted would have entailed a process and a price point I wasn’t willing to endure. But this comes very close.