Unlocking the untapped potential in backyards: Cover’s new tool makes it easy

March 3, 2018

When you think of American housing, backyards immediately come to mind. For many, these spaces are larger than needed for the occasional barbeque and birthday party. They represent untapped potential to provide more value to homeowners and to our communities. Small living spaces can be built in backyards that offer homeowners alternative living options and greater financial freedom and stability. For neighborhoods, these backyard homes offer increased housing supply while retaining each neighborhood’s character.

Today we launched a free planner tool that makes it easier than ever for homeowners in Los Angeles to explore what they can build in their backyard, whether it’s a new home to rent out, live in, or for friends and family to stay in when visiting.

Within 5 minutes, and at no cost, the tool tells homeowners what kind of space they can build in their backyard, how big it can be, and provides them with priced, zoning compliant sample designs that fit within their backyard.

More on this tool later - first we’ll explore who it’s for.

One of our customers, Patsy, lives in the San Fernando Valley where she’s owned a home for over thirty years. It’s the home she’s raised her family in, a home that is steeped in memories. Many of Patsy’s friends are moving into nursing homes. Patsy wants to stay close to family in the neighborhood she loves while maintaining her independence as she ages. That’s why she’s decided to build a 750 sq.ft. one bedroom Cover backyard home that she will move into, and her daughter, a local school teacher, and grandson, will move into the primary home. This allows Patsy to remain independent and close to family, and is a great option for Patsy’s daughter given how expensive home ownership is in LA.


This is part of an increasingly common approach to living. As families have decreased in size from an average of 3.3 people per household in 1960 to 2.5 today, the homes we live in haven’t adapted to the the times.  The most prevalent form of housing in America, an enormous 40% of the housing supply, remains the three-bedroom house. While 28% of American households are now 1 person, only 12% of housing is studios and one bedrooms.

We expect to see many homeowners like Patsy choose to create backyard homes that are tailored to their needs, and provide a better quality of life for them and their families.

These backyard homes, more commonly known as ‘granny flats’ or by their policy and zoning term Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are secondary homes on the same property as a larger, primary home. They have their own kitchen, bathroom, living area, bed, and a separate entrance, and they range in size from one-room studios to two-bedroom houses.

Today, homeowners who want to understand what backyard home restrictions apply to their property need to decipher a web of exceptions and neighborhood specific regulations; researching the property’s zoning district, how much further development is allowed on the property based on existing structures and the applicable rules for each structure type, and how far the backyard home has to be from the property line and from existing structures. Today, to figure this out your options are to either spend thousands of dollars to hire a professional or to spend numerous hours at the City office and on the phone. It’s an obscure process, that requires an investment of time and money that’s difficult for many people to make.

That’s why we’ve created the Cover Planner Tool. Anyone in Los Angeles can now get a good picture of what’s possible in their backyard with a few clicks, for free. To do this, we’ve built software that programmatically reviews each single family home parcel, determines which regulations are relevant, and based on that, figures out what is possible to build on the property. It presents homeowners with specific, priced example designs that are zoning compliant for their backyard. We plan on expanding this tool to more cities across the nation over time.

Today Senator Bob Wieckowski joined us at the Cover factory in Los Angeles for the launch of this tool. The Senator drove two statewide Bills in Sacramento last year that made these backyard homes easier to build, and he’s now proposing a bill called SB 831 to remove some of the remaining permitting and utility fees for homeowners, and further streamline the process.

“We have a housing crisis in California and allowing people to place a small addition in their backyard will increase the supply of more affordable homes at no cost to taxpayers” Wieckowski said. “These units are an important part of the overall solution to our crisis because they provide opportunities for people of all ages to stay in their communities rather than move away from their family, friends, work or school. I am pleased to see Cover and other companies help walk homeowners through the process of designing and building a cottage for their homes.”

Senator Bob Wieckowski at the Cover Factory

Policymakers opened up possibilities for homeowners, and Cover is building on that foundation. The Cover Planner tool simplifies the first step of the backyard home building process for homeowners, and brings us a step closer to achieving our mission to make thoughtfully designed and well-built homes for everyone. It’s one part of how we’re using technology to streamline the whole building process, from design and permitting to manufacturing and assembly.  

We encourage you to share the tool with friends, neighbors, and family, and try it yourself, by simply entering your address on our homepage at www.cover.build.

Alexis Rivas

Co-founder & CEO