Small is the new green

Increasing environmental awareness along with economic and demographic trends favor smaller house sizes. Many cities are doing their part by updating zoning codes to allow cottage housing and small backyard cottages (detached ADU's) on residentially zoned lots. Seattle and Portland are two cities which allow backyard cottages up to 800 sq. ft. in size. These small houses provide opportunities for families, while increasing housing stock, density and affordability. Continue reading for more information about small house design and Seattle's backyard cottage ordinance or contact us to find out if your lot is eligible for a backyard cottage.

Monday, September 8

City of Seattle DPD 1- reality (tv) 0

We were recently approached by the producers of tiny house nation about featuring a Seattle backyard cottage on their new television series, Tiny House Nation. They had a family ready to downsize and move in, were looking for a contractor, and the film crew was scheduled to be in the area in four weeks.  All they were lacking was, as it turns out, a building permit. 

This is perhaps a good time to reflect on the permitting process for backyard cottages in Seattle.  In Seattle backyard cottages otherwise known as detached accessory dwelling units, require a full building permit. The building permit process usually takes 3 months for a simple project and can take considerably longer if one is interested in pushing the boundaries of what is allowed or the site is in an environmentally critical area. 

Pushing the boundaries is not hard to do because of what is and what is not included in the actual wording of the land use code and inconsistency in interpreting the code from Seattle DPD. Backyard cottages haven't been allowed for long and the code section allowing them is brief and not well vetted. In addition because of the relatively small number being built it isn't a high priority for the city to fix the shortcomings. 

How does Seattle compare with other West Coast Cities when it comes to regulating backyard cottages? The sightline Institute and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Green Building Team recently compiled a list of West coast cities that allow backyard cottages, compiled a chart, and ranked them on friendliness to accessory dwelling units. Vancouver was the clear winner with a score of 96, Seattle received a score of 58, near the middle of the pack. So as we get ready to celebrate Seattle's 100th backyard cottage, Vancouver a city of roughly the same size, has completed roughly ten times that number.  Is that good or bad? It depends on your perspective, but inconsistent rules and a cumbersome permitting process don't make for better built work they just make it take longer and cost more.

Tuesday, July 15

backyard cottage open house today, July 15th

Please join microhouse for an  backyard cottage open house today at  3273 McClintock Ave S, Seattle, WA. Entrance is off of the alley west of McClintock.  4:00-8:00 pm.


Wednesday, June 25

backyard cottage open house - tuesday 7/15

Would you like an opportunity to see inside a backyard cottage (DADU)? 

Microhouse's newest backyard cottage has a footprint of 14 ft x 22 ft but features two full floors on three levels and has one bedroom, one bath a kitchen living room and sleeping loft.  For this project we worked with the owner to create a cottage with a small footprint that would be simple to build and love the sun.  The project will serve as a rental property for the owner and in Seattle's tight market was rented out before the construction was even completed.  The tenant has graciously offered to host an open house on Tuesday July 15th from 4:00-8:00 pm.  3273 McClintock Ave S, Seattle, WA. Entrance is off of the alley west of McClintock.

Open houses are a unique opportunity to see inside a backyard cottage, meet the design and construction team, and others thinking about building backyard cottages.  Please follow our blog or contact us for updates.  

Considering building your own backyard cottage? Contact us with your address and your goals and we will run an preliminary analysis and talk you through the design and permitting process.

Friday, March 7

backyard cottage workshop - wednesday 3/12

meet others and learn about backyard cottages

Would you like to learn more about backyard cottages and meet others thinking about building a backyard cottage?  We periodically assemble experts in the design, construction and of financing backyard cottages. These workshops offer a unique opportunity to have your questions answered in an informal setting.  Drop ins are welcome but we prefer it if you RSVP so we can be sure to accommodate you. If you send us a description of what you would like to to and your address we can do background research for you prior to the class.

RSVP:  (206) 428-8599

backyard cottages and ADU's; stay-at-home strategies for seniors   Wednesday March 12th,  from 7:00 to 9:00pm, Blue Building Room 6. Phinney Neighborhood Center 6532 Phinney Avenue North

Microhouse and Ncompass Cottage Company
$20 PNA member, $25 Public

Backyard cottages provide opportunities for seniors and their families. Join us to learn more about stay-at-home strategies for seniors including the design, construction and use of backyard cottages.  Bring your ideas, this is a great opportunity to meet others thinking about how a backyard cottage may fit into their long term plans.

Tuesday, March 4

thinking about sustainability - think small

Are you interested in simplifying your life, reducing costs, and a more sustainable lifestyle?  Small houses can help achieve all of these goals.  But how does house size stack up against a myriad of other green building technologies? A 2010 report by the Oregon Department of Environmental Equality examines the impacts of constructing, maintaining and operating a home over a 70 year occupancy.  Key findings of the report include:

  • Of 30 different material reduction and reuse practices evaluated, reducing home size and multi-family living achieved the largest greenhouse gas reductions along with significant reductions in other impact categories.
  • Reducing home size by 50% results in a projected 36% reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Reducing home size is a significant leverage point for environmental impact reduction and may be a more effective measure than achieving minimum levels of "green" certification.
  • New and existing homes can incorporate accessory dwelling units (ADU's) as an option to increase density and reduce the square foot/person ratio, provide flexible living spaces, and achieve the environmental benefits of both small and multi-family living.

To see some examples of our backyard cottages, small houses and multi-family projects check out our projects page and visit one of our upcoming open houses.  To read more about the environmental benefits of small houses and the full report follow the link. DEQ smaller homes, smaller footprint, report

Wednesday, February 26

microhouse has been voted by the Houzz community as one of the best in the Houzz 2014 Awards.

Wednesday, December 18

a backyard cottage with a view

A lake washington cabin is the perfect retreat for a grandmother

location: Seattle, Seward Park
house size: 650 sq. ft.
design: Bruce Parker/Microhouse

When Lisa and her family were looking for a new house they chose one with a great view and a plan, for her mother to relocate from North Dakota.  Their new house has a great view and a yard perfect for a backyard cottage where her mother, Sylvia, now lives.

Lisa and Sylvia worked with microhouse to design the cottage. Now that it is complete, Sylvia enjoys being a more prominent part of her family’s and particularly her granddaughter’s life.  Classical music and opera are her passions. Being in Seattle she can now regularly attend performances with her daughter. Her new cottage features a loft for her music studio and for her granddaughter to play in.  She is happy to be walking distance to the grocery store, and nearby Seward Park.

The design itself was dictated by the site as much as by the program.  The project was a multi-faceted puzzle rich with potential. From the beginning we were working with the site to create a vibrant living space that captures both the views and natural light.  We were fortunate that the primary views are to the south, the same direction as our fickle winter sun.

backyard cottage

The living room features a vaulted ceiling that opens up to the south taking advantage of both the views and winter sun.  The vaulted ceiling and generous but selective use of windows make the house feel larger than it's 650 sq. ft.

The view from the loft stair into the living room showing the summer sun shining deep into the house.  The landing doubles as a bench.

To save space the bedroom was designed to be just large enough for a bed and circulation.  

The cottage has been designed to be accessible for Sylvia as she ages.  Even though the site is steeply sloping, a gently path connects the cottage to her daughter’s house.  Inside, grab bars and surfaces will enable one with impaired mobility to navigate throughout the cottage with a degree of comfort.  In general we took the approach of making things smaller rather than larger so that grab bars and supporting surfaces are always within easy reach. 

Using a pantry wall allowed us to create efficient storage, made the kitchen seem larger and  left more room for windows.  A beautiful quartz countertop highlights the blue glass tile backsplash.

We used open ceilings in the kitchen and bedroom to make the space to add warmth and texture while making the ceiling higher.  The ceilings in these areas is 7"0" high to keep the overall height of the cottage low.  The kitchen table doubles a a work surface and can readily be switched out if a lower accessible table is ever required.

The view from the bedroom through the kitchen.

A gas fireplace is the primary heat source.  The landing for the loft stair doubles as a bench.  The bench to the right of the fireplace features a hinged cover and provides extra storage.

The bathroom is on the main floor off of the bedroom. It features in floor radiant heat. The walls have plywood backing to enable the addition of grab bars in the future.

A view through the kitchen into the bedroom.

Now that her cottage is complete, Sylvia enjoys being a more prominent part of her family’s and particularly her granddaughter’s life. Classical music and opera are her passions. Being in Seattle she can now regularly attend performances with her daughter. Her new cottage features a loft for her music studio and for her granddaughter to play in. She is happy to be walking distance to the grocery store, and nearby Seward Park.The first floor t&g fir ceiling is also the finish floor in the loft.