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.

Wednesday, June 17

invite only open house wednesday june 24th

sign up for our invite list and see the backyard cottage we toured with the delegation from Salt Lake City.

more cottages please

A Salt Lake City delegation comes to Seattle seeking ways to increase the number of backyard cottages in their city. 

We met with a group of SLC planners at a recently completed cottage and talked about the ins and outs of the Seattle backyard cottage ordinance.  Also in attendance was a Seattle researcher who has been patiently interviewing those who have built backyard cottages and ADUs. The question on the planners minds was how can they increase the number of backyard cottages and what are the hurdles that prevent more people from doing so? While SLC has allowed backyard cottages for two years not one has been built, why?  

It would seem that two primary factors affecting the decision to build a backyard cottage are financial and regulatory.  Seattle's hot real estate market makes backyard cottages attractive rental properties and increasing numbers are being built.  For example, the two bedroom cottage we were touring will rent between $2,000 and $2,500 per month, proving to be a good investment even with correspondingly high construction costs. The strong real estate market has also made financing easier with many people choosing to finance construction using a home equity line of credit.  In cities like Vancouver, B.C., the economics are tilted even more in favor of backyard cottages and roughly ten times as many have been built.  

Regulations intentionally create a barriers to construction, one that city planners have control over. The Seattle City Council is considering ways to ease regulations to increase the number of backyard cottages.  Of these, the one proposal that would be most likely to have an impact, and one that we are opposed to, would be to eliminate the owner occupancy requirement. For the record, SLC won't be eliminating their owner occupancy requirement any time soon. However,  from our experience, the restrictions imposed by regulations definitely shape what can be built, but they rarely make building a cottage infeasible.

We talk with hundreds of people each year who are considering building a backyard cottage.  In the past, the most common reason given has been providing a home for a family member.  While this is still one of the main reasons people chose to build a backyard cottage, more often now people are planning to use the cottage as a long term or short term rental. 

How about you? Are you thinking about building a backyard cottage, why or why not? Planners from Salt Lake City want to know.  


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.