There are a lot of words that we use interchangeably and shouldn’t because technically they have vastly different meanings. Here are a few examples:

  • Irregardless isn’t a word. It’s simply “regardless.” 
  • How many times a day on social media do you see “Your wrong!” when it should be “You’re wrong!”?
  • Or as I was landscaping my yard, I went back and forth between the words “sod” and “turf.” Yep, there’s a difference between the two. Apparently sod is sections of grass held together by matted roots. Turf isn’t held together by matted roots and doesn’t necessarily come in sections. (And I thought sod was real grass and turf was artificial… I guess I blew that one….).

In the ADU industry, we see that a lot of people are confused or misinformed by the various terms that are floating around pertaining to backyard homes. Here are a few of the most popular terms and what they really mean.


ADU stands for Accessory Dwelling Unit and has certain characteristics that make it an ADU. An ADU is a permanent structure set on a cement slab, built on a property with an existing home, and is a separate building from the home. ADUs can be up to 800 square feet (some locations allow you to go to 1,200) and 16 feet high. In short, an ADU is a small home located in a backyard or side yard that can be rented out or used to house senior parents, grown children, or can be implemented as additional office space. Due to California’s housing shortage and high cost of living, ADUs are providing an affordable solution for those who need additional living space. 

Prefab ADU

Most ADUs are prefab ADUs. What does this mean? It means that the majority of the pieces are built in a factory and then put together on site. This has several advantages for the client. First of all, you’re not hiring an expensive architect to come and create a brand new building for your space. That is extremely costly and takes quite a bit of time. Secondly, a prefab ADU company tends to have around four models for you to choose from (typically a studio, one bedroom, extended one bedroom, or two bedroom) with a handful of choices for you to pick from when it comes to flooring, counter finishes, paint colors, and appliances. This makes the process more streamlined, faster, and again, more cost efficient. Next, you’ll usually find that a prefab ADU company has a tried and true timeline since all they do is build and install ADUs. If you hired a general contractor, they may not have the experience filing for ADU permits and building a small home in a designated space. An ADU company should have complete understanding of ADU guidelines such as looking out for power lines, assessing the possible slope in your backyard, and determining which size and model is best for your yard shape.

Tiny Home

Tiny Homes are kind of a buzzword for small backyard homes but an ADU and a tiny home are two very distinct structures. Remember when we said that an ADU was a permanent structure on a cement slab? A tiny home differs in that it’s typically not a permanent structure and it usually has wheels to be transported. Maybe you’ve seen the TV show Tiny Homes where they make miniscule homes transformed from an old school bus, mini van, or wooden crate? This isn’t that. An ADU is more like a beautiful guest home found in a fancy neighborhood or a smaller sized version of a model home. 

Modular Home

A modular home is a home where, much like an ADU, the parts are made in an off site factory and then the pieces are put together on the property. The HGTV show 100 Day Dream Home is based on this concept. The company has the basic parts and pieces, you pick out your design from what they offer, and they put it together for a fraction of the time and money it takes to build a traditional custom home. So how does this differ from an ADU? A modular home is a full sized home while an ADU is designed to be more compact to fit in a backyard. A modular home is created to be the main living structure and likely the only liveable structure on the property. An ADU is built to create more living space on a property with a home already in place. 

Manufactured Home – Manufactured homes (which are also called “mobile homes” or “trailers”) are similarly created in a factory like modular homes. However, they are definitely not the same thing. Again, modular homes have fixed foundations but manufactured homes are set on fixed, steel chassis. Also, according to Quicken Loans, “From a legal standpoint, the primary difference between modular and manufactured homes is that modular homes are held to the same local, state and regional building codes required for on-site homes, while manufactured homes are held to a federal code set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).” Another thing to note is that the average size of a manufactured home is 14-18 feet wide and 66-80 feet long. While there may be some wiggle room in the design, ADUs tend to be more compact.

So which is right for you?

If you have a huge parcel of land without any structures on it, a modular home, manufactured home, or tiny home are your best bets. If you have property with an existing home on it and need more living space, a prefab ADU is most likely what you’re searching for.  

Questions? Give ADU Warehouse a call today! We’re your turnkey solution to all things ADU. We represent multiple ADU companies to find the best ADU for your property and budget. We also work with lenders, landscaping companies, insurance brokers, and real estate agents to give you the full picture of how an ADU can benefit your future. Call us today!

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