Yes, in my backyard: Easthampton startup builds its first mini home  

  • A rendering of Backyard ADUs “Jade” model mini backyard home, a 574-square-foot one-bedroom apartment style home.  Photo courtesy of Backyard ADUs 

  • An artist rendering of “The Jordan,” a 710-square-foot tiny backyard home option, which includes two bedrooms.  Photo courtesy of Backyard ADUs 

  • A closer look at “The Jordan” model of the mini backyard tiny home.  Photo courtesy of Backyard ADUs

  • A rendering of “The Jordan” at night.  Photo courtesy of Backyard ADUs 

Staff Writer
Published: 12/15/2019 5:32:58 PM

Sarah Hunter, 33 of Easthampton, bought her home in 2016 with her partner, Chandra Linnell, with plans to build a second home on the double lot of land they purchased. Recently, Linell’s 73-year-old mother Ramona decided to relocate from California to western Massachusetts to be closer to the couple’s 4-year-old son, Soren, so when it came to finding permanent housing for Linell’s mother, the couple looked no further than their own backyard.

The Easthampton family plans to break ground this month on a miniature home for Ramona — an energy-efficient, 526-foot, one-bedroom living space similar to a backyard apartment and connected to utilities that will be the first backyard mini home by Easthampton-based real estate developer and startup Backyard ADUs, which was founded five months ago.

“I try to get people housing all the time; that’s part of my job as a social worker,” Hunter said. “I’m very aware of what it costs to rent a one-bedroom apartment here, so we were kind of like, ‘You could rent an apartment in Easthampton and spend all your money that way, or you could spend it and build a house on our property.’”

Initially, Hunter said they looked into building an addition into the home’s garage, but the cost was double the amount. She posted on an online forum for Easthampton, where she connected with Christopher Lee, founder and president of Backyard ADUs.

“We build backyard homes, and what we’ve found is that they’re something that can make a huge impact, helping families live closer together and helping seniors downsize,” Lee explained. “It just adds quality housing to house stocks right now across Northampton, Easthampton, and western Mass, and hopefully beyond.”

Limited housing options are a problem not only in the Pioneer Valley but across the region.

“There’s no room without cutting down trees and building in pretty fields and places that you wouldn’t want to build up,” Lee, a 29-year-old Easthampton resident, said, adding that he believes mini backyard homes are one way to create more housing in the area.

“It has this ability to reduce pressure on the housing market,” he explained. “Basically, freeing up homes that seniors are living in that they’re saying are too big for them.”

Lee, who has a background in business, finance, economics and real estate development, said the modular, factory-built mini homes take just a few months to put together from start to finish. The company’s first foundation will be put in place this month, the Easthampton house will arrive in February, and within a couple days after it’s delivered, it should be a livable home.

“I wasn’t sure what to think about modular home building,” Lee said. “My business partner, Kevin Schnell, definitely didn’t like it because he’s a stick-builder and thinks things should be built (on-site) and worries about customization. But we toured a bunch of the [Pennsylvania-based] factories, and it was incredible. There were 100,000 square feet of homes being constructed in every size and configuration you can think of. We can sit down with a homeowner and customize something, send it to our factory partner, they’ll engineer it, and make sure it fits on the truck. It takes them two weeks to build the home. For the most part, it’s no more than a week to put it together.”

Building a tiny backyard home depends on the zoning bylaws of each community. In Easthampton and Northampton (where Lee is working with a client to create what will be the company’s second backyard home), the zoning allows for mini homes. But in communities such as Southampton, Hadley, Chester and Monson, they aren’t allowed.

Lee said there are several other communities in western Massachusetts that allow backyard mini home projects, including Amherst, Greenfield, Palmer and Plainfield. Each town’s and city’s zoning is unique, and part of the Backyard ADU’s work is to navigate municipal zoning bylaws and gain the necessary permits to move projects forward.

Some of the basic rules for a mini backyard home are that they can’t be bigger than one-third of the existing home and a homeowner must live at the property, Lee said. The cost of a mini backyard home is typically between $120,000 and $155,000, depending on the size.

Hunter explained that her mother-in-law Ramona’s mini backyard home — which Ramona paid for with the sale of her home in California — could potentially be used later in life for Hunter and Linell’s son, who is autistic.

“I just like having the option,” she explained. “He could live in the house, or we could live in the house. We could rent out the house and use the money to pay for his living situation somewhere.”

For Lee and his business, western Massachusetts has become a main focus. He hopes to have several more mini backyard home projects completed next year.

“All of the town planners and city councilors I’ve spoken with have been incredibly supportive of the concept in general,” Lee said.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at

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