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, May 19

backyard cottage proposed code changes

The seattle department of construction and inspection (SDCI) has released it's recommendations for easing land use restrictions on building backyard cottages.  These recommendations will go to city council for approval with anticipated action in July and possible adoption in August.

The recommendations look a lot like the ideas to encourage the construction of backyard cottages previously presented in public meetings.  As a mater of fact all of the policy suggestions presented in the meetings are being proposed with some additional details.

The most significant changes are an increase in allowable size for detached accessory dwelling units from 800 sq. ft. to 1,000 sq. ft. and decoupling the garage area from the allowable size.  An increase in height limit will also make a big difference in some situations. Under the proposal owner occupancy would be required for only one year, rather than being abandoned altogether, in an attempt to limit speculative development interests. There are also a host of common sense code updates that are likely to improve the design of cottages whether or not they actually encourage more people to build them. 

For a complete summary of the proposed changes 

proposed code revisions

The public can comment on the proposed revisions through June 2nd by emailing Nick Welch at

For a list of self guided backyard cottage tours please sign up for our backyard cottage invite list.  

Monday, May 16

tour de backyard cottages

Thank you to all of the cottage owner's who participated in the tour of cottages. It was a fun ride and great to see such a diverse collection of cottages.  

So what do cottage owner's talk about when they get together? The number one topic of conversation, after Donald Trump, was the $10,000 King County sewer capacity fee assessed to backyard cottages. Recently king county has begun charging the sewer capacity fee for backyard cottages as if they were new single family residences. Conversely, a much larger attached accessory dwelling unit or renovation of an existing residence does not pay the sewer capacity fee. It sounds like we will find out Wednesday if Seattle city council has been able to exert any pressure on King County for a more equitable assessment for backyard cottages. 

encouraging backyard cottages timeline updates

After a series of public meetings, reviewing public comments, and interviewing backyard cottage owners the Seattle city council  and Office of Planning and Community Development are poised to release a draft proposal of measures to encourage the construction of backyard cottages. 

This Thursday, May 19th, the Office of Planning and Community Development will publish a draft proposal reflecting many of these comments, for purposes of environmental review according to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Councilmember O’Brien intends to share the highlights of the proposal publicly on Wednesday.

The legislation is then scheduled to come to the Council’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee in July, with a potential vote in August.

Please note that the legislation that is published this week may not entirely reflect the legislation that ultimately gets introduced at Council in July, as there could be changes to the policy that do not implicate the environmental review. We continue to welcome your comments during this time. There will be at least two City Council meetings between July and August as well, at which time there will be further opportunities to comment upon and shape the legislation.

Friday, April 8

seattle - tour de backyard cottages

join microhouse for this unique opportunity to view multiple backyard cottages, meet their owner's, and get some exercise

To celebrate backyard cottages and the city of seattle's efforts to encourage more of them, we are hosting a city wide bike tour. The tour include cottages in Capitol Hill, Madison Valley, Portage Bay, Tangletown, Greenlake, Ballard and Fremont with three to four cottages open to view inside.  The tour date is tentatively scheduled for Saturday May 14th with more information and registration information available soon. 

Friday, April 1

in praise of owner occupancy requirements - part 2 short term rentals

Short term rentals are an increasingly popular use for backyard cottages.

Ben and January are an example of a young family currently using their backyard cottage as a short term rental. After January's father retires in a few years, he plans to live in the unit allowing him to be closer to his young grandchildren and family. With this arrangement their rental income allowed them to completely pay for the cottage in 5 years and it now provides supplemental income for the family until January’s father is ready to move in. 

The sharp rise in the popularity of short term rentals has resulted in some increased scrutiny and call for regulation from city officials. New legislation proposed by Seattle City Council aims to more closely regulate short term rentals. Council member Tim Burgess is currently proposing the following "guiding principals" for the regulation of short term rentals.

·  All short-term rentals must pay applicable taxes.
·  The type of short-term rental that will require the highest level of regulation is: entire units rented frequently that are not the primary residence of the owner. We might consider restricting short-term rentals where the host does not live on-site in residential zones.
·  Primary residences rented infrequently may require a lesser level of regulation.
·  We must ensure we have a regulatory system that works on the ground. This may require cooperation from the major short-term rental market platforms like Airbnb or VRBO.

Not surprisingly, owner occupancy is favored by Tim Burgess as a means of regulating the use of backyard cottages as short term rentals. It makes sense that owner occupants will do a better job supervising their guests than an absentee landlord. Maintaining owner occupancy requirements for backyard cottages was also favored by those attending city sponsored forums on how best to encourage the development of more backyard cottages. 

Maintaining owner occupancy requirements for backyard cottages was also favored by those attending city sponsored forums on how best to encourage the development of more backyard cottages. 

Encouragingly, additional measures aimed at making it easier to build backyard cottages (such as the removal of parking requirements and increasing the allowable size of backyard cottages) have been met with broad public support.

The city of Seattle planning department is collecting information about rules regulating backyard cottages with an eye towards encouraging their development. Comments can be sent to Nicolas Welch

Tuesday, February 2

in praise of owner occupancy requirements

The Seattle City Council is currently 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 accessory dwelling units.  Currently, to add an accessory dwelling unit you must live in either the primary residence or the accessory unit for a minimum of six months out of the year.  This requirement is almost universal among municipalities that allow accessory dwelling units.  Why?  It is widely believed that having the owner living in the unit will minimize the impact of having what could otherwise be considered multi-family housing within single family zones. More importantly, it also restricts the types of investors that can buy and hold these properties.  Currently purchasing a single family residences as rental property is cost prohibitive which favors owner occupants.  However, if developers are allowed to build two units on a single family zoned lot it becomes a much more attractive investment package for a absentee landlord. This would further escalate the prices for single family zoned land and houses.  

Owner occupants act differently than developers in a number of important ways.  To a home owner building a back yard cottage is a major long term investment.  The majority of homeowners finance their cottages with cash or by taking equity out of their primary residence.  This makes them cautious by necessity.  Also, the primary impact of their development is going to be on their lot and in their neighborhood. When we begin a project a typical client wish list contains the desire to minimize the impact to their neighbors.  We have and continue to work with residential developers. Not once has one of them expressed the least concern over how the neighbors might be impacted by their development. 

Thursday, January 14

encouraging backyard cottages II

The next encouraging backyard cottages public meeting with Mike O'Brien will be in Wallingford on February 3rd.

Backyard Cottages Community Meeting

When:       Wednesday, February 3rd, 6-7:30 pm

Where:      Wallingford Senior Center
                 4649 Sunnyside Ave N
                 Seattle, WA