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.

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: bruce@microhousenw.com  (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.






Thursday, November 7

Backyard Cottage Open Houses and Workshops - Fall


Lake Washington Cabin - Sunday December 15th 1:00-4:00 pm




Deciding to build a backyard cottage is a big decision for most families and the holiday season when families are together is a great time to start the discussion. Our open houses are a great chance to learn more about backyard cottages and meet others thinking about building backyard cottages.  Walking through a completed backyard cottage can give you an idea of how generous a small house can feel.  Microhouse staff will be on hand along with the contractor to answer questions.


5200 55th Ave S -Lake Washington Cabin:   Sunday December 15, 1:00-4:00 pm.  The shape and form of this backyard cottage were carefully crafted to capture southern light and expansive views of Lake Washington and Mount Rainier.  Vaulted ceilings and exposed joists make the cottage feel larger than its 650 sq. ft. size. The house features a one bedroom, bath, kitchen and living room on the main floor and a granddaughter loft. 650 Sq.Ft. 1 Bedroom, 1 Bath.



Backyard Cottages and ADU's; stay-at-home strategies for seniors   March 12, from 7:00 to 9:00pm, Brick 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, August 13

backyard cottages seeking homes

Do you have a large lot that would be suitable for subdividing but are worried that if you sell you may end up living next to a McMansion?  We are frequently approached by people looking for lots for small homes, backyard cottages and even cottage housing developments. We would love to show the development community that well designed small homes create vibrant neighborhoods, are great places to live, and are a viable development prototype.

Given the scarcity of vacant lots in and around Seattle, finding a small lot is a seemingly impossible proposition.  When small lots are developed it is most often to the maximum extent allowable by the code.  Given the provisions in the Seattle zoning code, these houses can be huge ugly boxes way out of scale with their surroundings. No shortage of these houses have been built in Seattle over the last few years.  Enough to finally prompt amendments to the land use code. The Seattle Weekly recently did an article about the reaction to one local developer who's excesses led to these amendments.

crowded houses

Beyond a much needed overhaul to the Seattle Municipal Code, the most effective way to reverse this trend is to demonstrate viable alternatives. To this end we are currently looking for small lots on Mercer Island, North Seattle, and for a backyard cottage site on or around Queen Anne.  If you think that your lot may qualify or are otherwise interested please give us a call or shoot us an email. 

Tuesday, July 9

tiny home seeks a home



A tiny home demonstration project by students at Emily Carr University of Art and Design underscores the challenges of providing shelter for at risk groups and the homeless.  

To read more about this unique project. vancouver sun article 




Our own experience working with a Vancouver land owner to come up with provide services for at risk youth has run into some similar challenges.


Located on the outskirts of Vancouver the zoning of this site allows for a multi-story high rise development.  However, the local rental market cannot support the cost of development. Microhouse and the land owner have teamed up to for this innovative affordable housing solution.  The 30 units will house at risk youth and social workers. The units are based around a series of overlapping courtyards that will facilitate small group interactions and provide support for the residents.

The local municipality views our proposal as an under utilization of the site and has proposed utility hookup costs of $450,000 equivalent to that for 30 apartment buildings. Effectively keeping the project in limbo for now.
The owner plans to start a demonstration project by building the first unit, as a backyard cottage. Thank you to Studio 216 for the beautiful rendering.