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.

Thursday, April 9

backyard cottage workshop - April 15th

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. 

backyard cottages for fun and profit   April 15th,  from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, Blue Building Room TBD. Phinney Neighborhood Center 6532 Phinney Avenue North

Backyard cottages can be used for many things including housing a family member or as a short term rental.  Join Microhouse and Ncompass Cottage Company to learn more about backyard cottage design, construction, and use. Bring your ideas, after the presentation we will have plenty of time to answer questions about the specifics of your project. 

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

Tuesday, March 31

Check out what people are saying about working with microhouse. We use as an independent host for client reviews

Wednesday, February 25

microhouse portlandia

It has been a busy week for microhouse in the press with the lake washington cabin featured in Seattle Magizine and a send up on Portlandia.  Portlandia fame aside, we don't actually design houses on wheels. Our houses rest on foundations and are usually between 400 and 1,000 sq. ft. in size. In fact we frequently work with people who are up-sizing from a boat or small apartment, people who are looking for a comfortable place to live that is efficiently designed.

microhouse portlandia 

If you would like to tour a backyard cottage please sign up for our open house invite list. Our next open house will likely be mid May.  

We also have announced a date for our spring workshop April 15th at the Phinney Center workshop info.  

Sunday, February 8

seattle city council proposes expanding backyard cottage ordinance

The Seattle City Council considers a draft resolution that will expand the backyard cottage ordinance with the goal of increasing the number of backyard cottages being built.  While we support backyard cottages and increased density we oppose many of the proposals being considered.

The draft proposal would..

a. Remove or change owner-occupancy requirements;
b. Remove or change parking requirements;
c. Reduce permitting fees;
d. Expedite the permitting process for backyard cottages

We have talked with literally hundreds of people planning backyard cottages and would guess that the main barrier that prevents more cottages from being built is cost. But we don't see any provisions in the draft resolution that will have much impact. Permitting fees are progressive being based on square footage and less than in other places.  We can think of only one project that wasn't able to go ahead because of parking. And getting a building permit for a backyard cottage isn't more difficult than for any other residence.

There are some systematic issues that make them challenging to design most fundamentally DPD' s inability to decide what is included in allowable 800 sq ft.  size.  There are also many common sense items that are addressed elsewhere in the residential code that are for now not allowed for backyard cottages like provisions for extra height for dormers and the use of side yard agreements.

We are strongly opposed to the removal of the owner occupancy requirements because we feel that it will result in a land grab by developers and be detrimental to our neighborhoods. We not only work in Seattle but live here as well. 

If we could waive a magic wand and revise the landuse code it would be to expand the number of standards that are departable.  Now many design standards are but those are only for the conversion of existing structures. We think this should be expanded to new construction where there could be an option design review process to weigh the merits of particular departures.

We encourage you to email the city council and share your views.

Thursday, October 9

vote for the next backyard cottage open house

Open houses are a great way to get a feel for these small houses, to meet the design and construction teams, and others interested in building backyard cottages.  At microhouse we have seven backyard cottage projects under construction in Seattle and are looking forward to our next open house this winter or spring. We won't be able to host open houses for all of our projects so we thought it might be fun to have vote to help choose which cottages are featured.   To vote you can send us an email open house vote or visit our microhouse pinterest page and like the cottage you would most like to visit.

backyard cottage, microhouse, dadu

The capitol hill backyard cottage features one bedroom, living room, kitchen and bath on one floor and a sleeping loft.

backyard cottage, microhouse, dadu, backyard cottages

The tangletown backyard cottage is Seattle's 100th built backyard cottage. It features an open first floor plan with a living room and kitchen. The second floor contains a bedroom, bath and study.

backyard cottage, microhouse, dadu

The Madison Valley backyard cottage has a few bonus features that we usually able to feature like a powder room,  mud room, and rooftop deck. 

backyard cottage, microhouse, dadu

The Broadview backyard cottage will be roughed in by a general contractor and the owner's will complete construction. The cottage features a garage which will be converted to a bedroom at a later date.

backyard cottage, modern, dadu, microhouse

The Portage Bay backyard cottage has great views and an open contemporary plan. One bedroom is located on the first floor but the kitchen and living room are on the top floor to take advantage of the views. 

The Fremont backyard cottage is being built not over a garage but a room for table tennis. When it is completed it will be the home of it's owners while they rent out their primary residence. The owner is acting as the general contractor for this project.

The seventh of the aforementioned backyard cottage projects is a net zero backyard cottage located in west seattle. Images coming soon.

rainier valley backyard cottage

backyard cottage, microhouse, dadu

This Rainier Valley backyard cottage takes advantage of solar access and territorial views. The design of this cottage was intentionally simple to keep construction costs down and to make it easier for the owner who operated as the general contractor for this project.  

At the beginning of the design phase we staged a design charette with the cottage owner's whole family, our design team and the contractor.  Around the kitchen table with scones and coffee, we had an opportunity to establish the parameters and budget and get a jump start on the design process. We knew from the beginning that the available footprint was going to be small and we worked to make the cottage feel as open as possible.  

backyard cottage, backyard cottages, microhouse

Exposed ceilings in the kitchen and the living room add warmth and make the space feel taller than it is. Multiple floor levels were used to differentiate spaces and bring in natural light.

backyard cottage, backyard cottages, seattle backyard cottage

Looking back down to the living room from the bedroom.

backyard cottage, microhouse, backyard cottages

The sleeping area is elevated above the bedroom floor.

backyard cottage, backyard cottages, microhouse

The main floor contains a living room, kitchen and bath. A bedroom and sleeping loft are located on the second floor. The overall footprint of the backyard cottage is 14ft by 22ft.

backyard cottages, microhouse, backyard cottage

High windows bring natural light into the living room.

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. 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.