Craig Conway isn’t yet quite sure how he and his wife Alena will utilize the Auxiliary Dwelling Unit (ADU) they’re about to build on their property in Vista, Calif. They may use it as a guest house for relatives when they come to visit. They might rent the microhome to a tenant. Another possibility could find them living in the home themselves.
But while they’re not positive about the eventual use of the ADU, they are certain about the material they will use to build the structure. The ADU will be constructed of steel from EcoSteel, a decision both Conway and the contractor he selected heartily endorse.
“I’ve always been interested in steel construction myself,” Conway says. “My last home, in Washington [State], had all-metal siding and a metal roof. It was a great way to go. Steel is a very clean way to build. You don’t have to paint it as often. The maintenance needed is much less, especially on the roof. It just made more sense to me.”
As designed, the home Conway will have built early in 2022 will measure about 800 square feet in size. Upon entering the home, visitors will step into an entrance hallway, and from there into a kind of miniature “great room” featuring the living room, kitchen and kitchen preparation island, Conway says. Two bedrooms will be placed on either side of the kitchen area, with the master bedroom to the left and guest bedroom to the right. The home will feature two bathrooms, including one for the master bedroom.
As might be expected of a home in sunny Southern California, the design will offer huge windows expressly intended to flood the interior of the residence with abundant natural light. The living room will benefit from sweeps of sunshine beaming in through sliding glass doors that divide the interior from the inviting concrete front deck outside.
Because the ADU will be constructed on a slope, Conway and his builder faced some engineering challenges in designing the home. A concrete base with a seven- to eight- foot-tall retaining wall is part of the home support. The final touch is a garage with a workshop. Detached from the ADU, the garage will be constructed of concrete.
After thoroughgoing consideration, the colors of the residence have been chosen. The home’s exterior will be of a light gray, with a darker gray accent on the framing of the house. The interiors will be what Conway calls ”basic sheetrock white.” A light-colored roof will reflect the intense Southern California sunlight to help keep the home cool.
The size of the ADU was chosen with particular attention to California building codes. “It’s very tough building in California right now, due to the pandemic,” Conway explains. “Any home you build has to go through permitting and all the administrative process of getting the building approved. But it can be easier with ADUs. There are ADUs at certain square footage levels that are almost pre-permitted or can be permitted very quickly. They have to be less than 1,200 square feet. That is the current law.”
Much like other builders and end users who choose steel buildings from EcoSteel,
Conway identified one advantage after another provided by the company’s steel. The beautiful aesthetics available today in steel structures represent the first such benefit. “Everybody here does the adobe look,” Conway says, referring to the San Diego area, of which Vista is a part. “And I can’t stand the adobe look. EcoSteel has done a great job with the side paneling and their roofing, to give it a nice, modern, home-like look.”
While EcoSteel is chosen to construct a great many industrial buildings, when it comes to residences, the company is able to deliver homes with a look anything but industrial in appearance, Conway adds. “They have three different levels of texture, and I want a little bit of texture to hide any scratches,” he remarks. “This just fits the bill.”
Value proved another factor Conway took into consideration when deciding on a steel building. “Unfortunately, materials right now are a big issue” in building, he says. “When you build a house of wood, you have all sorts of scrap during the building process. But when you build a steel house, everything is built to measure in advance. You don’t have wasted materials. We don’t anticipate waste on our EcoSteel home.”
Also worth considering is the cost of wood, which is anything but low at current prices. “Wood is not cheap, and steel is not cheap,” Conway says philosophically. “But if you weigh the choice at current prices, steel is closer to wood than ever.”
Yet another consideration in Conway’s choice of EcoSteel was resistance to natural
disasters, of which California has had more than its share in recent years. In Vista,
situated about 45 miles north of San Diego, homes and buildings are vulnerable to
winds from the east that can swiftly carry wildfires, Conway says. “I’ve heard from
neighbors that about 6 or 8 years ago, there was a fire in the valley next to us,” he adds.
“Besides fire, there are earthquakes down here. With steel you’re ahead of the game in maintaining your structure when an earthquake strikes. Wood breaks. Steel does not. If steel breaks, we’re all in trouble.” EcoSteel’s well-known resistance to the rot, mold, warping and splitting that plagues many wood structures was another consideration. “In terms of maintenance, we come out ahead,” Conway says.
Asked when he believed his new EcoSteel Auxiliary Dwelling Unit will be completed, Conway answers with a laugh, “I’d like to be in the home tomorrow.” More realistically he is optimistic about obtaining building permits by the first week of 2022. He doesn’t believe construction of the microhome will take any longer than four to six months. That means the residence should be ready for occupancy by early summer.
“At age 70, this is the last home I intend to build, especially in the ADU style,” Conway says. “There are lots of ADU makers. But steel like this in an ADU is really new. I think it will really catch on well, and I think EcoSteel is on the right path.”