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, July 21

tangletown backyard cottage nears completion

Natural light was a driving factor in the design of this small cottage in Seattle's tangletown neighborhood. 

Now that their children are grown, the cottage owners wanted to downsize from their beautiful but too large house but they didn't want to leave their neighborhood and friends. So they contacted Bruce Parker of microhouse to assist in the design of their new small dream home behind their current house.  The lot is small, less than 4,000 sq ft and the cottage had to take advantage of every available square inch, of the allowable 800 sq. ft., and work with limited opportunities for light and views. 

The stair is located on the south wall adjacent to the neighbors garage. High windows were used to let in natural light from up high above the garage. The kitchen is on the east wall facing the primary residence so no windows were placed on that wall the outside of which is now much needed storage for bikes, and garden tools. 

The kitchen is dead simple and takes advantage of an adjacent pantry.

A combination of wood soffit and exposed floor joists add richness and a feeling of openness to the living and dining rooms.  These areas open directly onto the alley and parking pad so frosted glazing was used to provide privacy while allowing in the maximum amount of light.  The primary heat source is radiant heat in the concrete floor. 

The limited allowable height meant that we had to use vaulted ceilings with low perimeter walls which was done to dramatic effect.

The stairwell while not counting towards the allowable square footage provides natural light to the fist floor.


The light filled study with its tree top views and large skylight is their favorite room in the house. A fold out sofa provides a place for guests to sleep.

Now that the cottage is complete the owner's are moving in and will rent out their lager primary residence.

Monday, July 18

backyard cottage workshop postponed

Due to the delay in the Seattle City Council timing to debate the proposed land use code changes affecting backyard cottages we are going to postpone the workshop scheduled for this Thursday until September 22nd. 

backyard cottages code updates  Thursday, September 22nd,  from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, West Seattle Office Junction 6040, Suite B, California Ave SW, 98136

In the mean time, to find out how these changes might impact your specific plans feel free to contact us. We look forward to hearing how you plan to use our cottage. 

Monday, June 20

read about one families backyard cottage adventure

Drew, Jacob, Meredith and Elyse are building a backyard cottage and a muli-generational household. You can follow their progress at the following link.

the beginning

Friday, June 10

backyard cottage legislation update

The legislation encouraging more backyard cottages has been delayed due to an appeal filed by Marty Kaplan of the Queen Anne Community Council. Seattle City council is now hoping to vote on the legislation by the end of the year.  

When the legislation was made public, the Office of Planning and Community Development for the City of Seattle issued a determination that the legislation would not have significant adverse environmental impacts. The Queen Anne Community Council is challenging that determination and will appeal to the Hearing Examiner. The process of being heard by the Hearing Examiner can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months. More information about the timeline will be available after the hearing date is scheduled.  

Council member Mike O'Brien will continue his work in the interim focusing on means to reduce the cost of backyard cottage construction. Most significantly working to reduce or eliminate the sewer capacity charge for backyard cottages. He will also work with lenders to establishing backyard cottage financing tools.

Those considering building a backyard cottage will for a time be left in limbo.  While the proposed legislation was not likely to alter the decision to build a backyard cottage, the changes are significant enough to drastically impact their design.  Unfortunately, this will make the planing process that much more complicated and add yet another barrier to their construction.

Tuesday, May 31

backyard cottage code changes workshop

how might the proposed code revisions impact your plans?  

The city council is set to review the recommendations for easing land use restrictions on building backyard cottages.  These recommendations will go to city council for approval with anticipated action in July.  Join us for a workshop July 21st to dissect the recommendations after city council has had a chance to weigh in.  We will have an additional workshop in September following the anticipated adoption of the revised land-use code.

backyard cottages code updates  Thursday, July 21st,  from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, West Seattle Office Junction 6040, Suite B, California Ave SW, 98136

To find out how these changes might impact your specific plans feel free to contact us. We look forward to hearing how you plan to use our 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.