An ADU Rises From the Ashes of a Former Garage

Second Suite by Christopher Strom Architects crafts a sustainable accessory dwelling unit (ADU) atop a Minneapolis garage

Photos by Alyssa Lee Photography

Kirsten Jaglo clearly remembers that day three years ago. “On the day the Vikings lost the quarter finals, our garage had an electrical short and burned down,” she recalls. Actually, Jaglo adds, the garage burned down twice. “The firemen didn’t get it out the first time. The fire started up again the next morning.”

But in the ashes of their former garage, Jaglo and her husband Michael Graven also sensed an opportunity. For a while, they had thought about building an additional living space or accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on their property. Not only because Jaglo would love her aging parents to move closer, “but having an ADU would be great when friends visit, which gets tricky as my office is my sewing room and the guest room in our main house,” she says.

Enter the Twin Cities’ ADU guru: Christopher Strom. Since forming his own firm Christopher Strom Architects in St. Louis Park, Strom has also founded an ancillary business, Second Suite, which is dedicated to the design and construction of ADUs throughout the region. (Strom served as an advisor to the City of Minneapolis’ zoning staff when the City Council approved an amended zoning code allowing ADUs.)

The couple hired Strom to design an ADU atop the new garage. Working within the City of Minneapolis’ ADU regulations, Strom created a 660-square-foot ADU with prefinished metal panels, double-pane windows, and Trespa exterior wood panels. The former garage had solar panels, too, which generated nearly half the electricity the couple’s home uses. The ADU now hosts the solar panels, which also power the ADU itself.

Because Jaglo and Graven are interested in sustainable design, the ADU is sheathed in a zip-insulation system that includes two inches of rigid foam insulation over the studs, leaving room for spray foam insulation to create an R-40 value wall. The ceiling is insulated with spray foam and blown-in fiberglass. The tight insulation is akin to “putting a sweater on your house,” Strom explains.

An in-floor heating system, plus an open-plan living area with a full kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom complete the small home. But that’s not all: “This ADU was challenging because it has so many amenities tucked into it,” Strom says. The sustainably designed ADU has galvanized steel bar grading for the stairs that sheds the snow; composite decking that doesn’t have to be refinished; an aluminum cable rail; lots of windows and skylights; a stackable washer/dryer—and an elevator. (That’s for Jaglo’s parents, should they decide to move in.)

“It’s really tricked out,” Strom says. “The challenge was getting all of the electrical and plumbing tucked into the walls. Every single cavity in the ADU is filled.” Moreover, the clients like modern design. “So, we had to incorporate all of these systems without creating visual clutter.” The airy space has IKEA kitchen cabinets with Semihandmade custom fronts, walls finished with low-VOC paint, and a Marmoleum on the floors.

The couple didn’t anticipate the ADU’s many uses during the pandemic. “Right now, we’re using the ADU as a getaway,” says Jaglo. She and Graven have date night in the ADU. Their son studies there, Jaglo does yoga in the space, and they even cooked and enjoyed Thanksgiving inside.

After things get back to normal, Graven says, “we hope people will come and visit, and they can have their own space.” For now, the ADU provides a nice change of venue for at-home life. “The ADU is our cabin,” he says, “our at-home getaway.”

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