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 diversity. 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.

Saturday, November 12

Ballard Backyard Cottage Completes an Intergenerational Family Home

Last year Ballard residents Drew and Jacob decided to tear down their "scary little garage" and build a backyard cottage. Fast forward to this week and they are now living in an intergenerational family compound, sharing their property with Drew’s parents. We chatted with Drew to find out about creating a backyard cottage for “one big family living in the heart of Seattle.”


Drew's cottage nearing completion


Microhouse: What first got you thinking about building the backyard cottage?

Drew: There wasn’t really one ‘a-ha’ moment. A couple of years ago, when my husband and I were looking for a house, my parents suggested that it would be great to find a place where we could have a backyard cottage for them to live in after they retired. We ended up buying a house that had a scary little garage out back and the backyard cottage idea kept brewing. 

A little over a year ago, my husband and I took a couple of days to really think about moving forward, then we had an open dialogue about it with my parents. Friends would ask, “Why would you want to live so close to your family?” We are a very close family and get along well. Once the plan seemed doable to everyone, we went full speed ahead. 

What were the most surprising parts of the process ?

One fun surprise was uncovered during the excavation process. We found other people’s garbage from the 1930’s. I got swept into the history of Ballard, and how Seattle managed its waste. [Read more about these discoveries on Drew’s blog]. Not as much fun was the 100-plus-year-old sewer system. None of the work done on the system over the years had been permitted, so there were no records to provide information about it. Fortunately, we were able to hire and learn from a lot of talented people who knew what they were doing.

How did you balance work and life with this project going on?

We really didn’t have to do very much. Joe from Viking Construction was responsible and hired a great crew. He was on site almost every day. Since the cottage was separate from our house, we didn’t have interruptions in our daily routines like we would have had with a typical home remodel. 

What would you tell someone considering building a backyard cottage?

It's a great way to provide support for family. I think backyard cottages are definitely something more families will be pursuing as an option. During our building process, which was mostly during warm months, we'd have our windows open and could hear people walking by commenting on the cottage. Most of the comments were that they liked it! Other things I'd say: budgeting is a huge part of the process, and you need to be realistic that the building process will take time and effort.

What were the most enjoyable part of the building experience?

I think most enjoyable were the moments when the project began to feel real. For example, I was amazed at how excited we were when the sewer hole was dug! Even getting the Porta Potty delivered was a big deal (not as fun was when it blew over late one night during the October wind storm). Then there are the finishing touches—like a beautiful sink backsplash and light fixtures—that give the house soul.

Learn more about Drew and her family's experience! Check out her blog, A BACKYARD COTTAGEBUILDING OUR INTERGENERATIONAL HOME IN SEATTLE


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Wednesday, October 5

madison valley backyard cottage

Q & A with Patti, who weighs in on what it’s like to create—and live in—a backyard cottage.



For outdoor adventurers and cooking enthusiasts Patti and Austin, designing their dream home with Microhouse led them to the essence of what they value most. Located in the backyard of Austin's longtime Madison Valley residence, the couple’s backyard cottage offers a connection with nature as well as the space to indulge in relaxing downtime and gourmet meals. Living in their new space means the couple can rent out the house on their property and live rent and mortgage free in Seattle.

The home's open floor plan, with a second-floor master suite and office, allows for a well-appointed kitchen on the first floor. A rooftop deck overlooking the treetops creates a connection to the outdoors--where Patti and Austin can often be found biking, skiing or kayaking when they’re not enjoying their backyard cottage. 



Microhouse: What first got you thinking about building the backyard cottage? 

Patti: My boyfriend Austin and I were looking at possible living arrangements. I owned my own home in Bellevue and he owned a house in Seattle. He had heard of the DADU (detached accessory dwelling unit) 'movement' through his stepbrother in Portland. We decided to build on Austin’s lot in Seattle. The 'old' house was only 650 square feet, but with an 'under code height' basement with a separate entrance so we knew we could use that as storage for all our sports gear [and rent out the rest of the house]. We would actually be up-sizing our living space in the DADU!  We knew that by renting out the 'main' house when we were done we could live essentially mortgage/rent free in Seattle.

Did you have hesitations about embarking on the project?  

The entire process of permitting, inspections, decisions. We knew we wanted to do it but really were newbies with the whole building scene in Seattle.

How were the hesitations overcome?

We had a great architect and really top-notch contractor to work with through the process. It made all the difference.  

What were the most surprising parts of the process?  

It is not cheap to build.  Per square foot can be expensive. We also built in a liquefaction zone requiring expensive foundation prep, and had other fees including the sewer capacity charge. The best surprise has been how well built our new house is. We virtually spend cents a day for heating in the winter. The whole house can almost be heated when we cook!

What features of your home make it unique to you and Austin?  

We built an outdoor bike storage/tool storage area into the plans. The kitchen is pro level, as Austin is a trained chef and loves cooking.  We brought as much light in as possible as we both really love the outdoors. This winter we are adding a retractable awning to our big upstairs outdoor deck to give us winter outside space!

What is a key piece of advice you'd give to someone thinking about a backyard cottage?  

Work with a good architect, someone that understands the rules and can make maximum use of small space, and a good contractor!  Really think about how you move in your day and what is important to you.  

Any other thoughts you'd like to share about building and living in a backyard cottage?  

We love our home. We also love telling people the story. We can live extremely well and comfortably, small. And because of these decisions can rent out the main house and live for free in the city.  I really couldn't want more space to live in than we have.

Take a peek into Patti and Austin's backyard cottage:





madison valley backyard cottage

a dream home in their own backyard



For outdoor adventurers and cooking enthusiasts Patti and Austin, designing their dream home with Microhouse led them to the essence of what they value most. Located in the backyard of Austin's longtime Madison Valley residence, the couple’s backyard cottage offers a connection with nature as well as the space to indulge in relaxing downtime and gourmet meals. Living in their new space means the couple can rent out the house on their property and live rent and mortgage free in Seattle. 

The home's open floor plan, with a second-floor master suite and office, allows for a well-appointed kitchen on the first floor. A rooftop deck overlooking the treetops creates a connection to the outdoors--where Patti and Austin can often be found biking, skiing or kayaking when they’re not enjoying their backyard cottage. 



A formal entry is difficult to squeeze into an 800 sq. ft. backyard cottage but here the entry vestibule also serves the powder/mechanical/mud room. The mud room has an additional exterior entrance.



Car decking serves as both a ceiling and a 2nd floor and provides the perception of additional height in the living room.




The generous kitchen features an adjacent daybed and opens out onto the yard. A wall of cabinets in the living room provide extra storage.




The open stair provides space underneath for a writing desk. A beautiful stained concrete floor provides a sense of warmth while the white walls and abundant windows make the space feel larger than it is.




Fir treads are used for an open stair that feels both solid and open.





The 2nd floor bedroom opens out onto a private roof top deck with territorial views.  A dormer to the north provides space for a home office. His and hers closets are located at either end of the study.





The roof top deck provides ample natural light but also privacy.




The fir car decking used for the ceiling in the living room is the finished floor material for the master bedroom adding warmth and texture.



The bathroom is simple yet well appointed. Natural wood finishes pair well with the clean lines and white walls.





The bathroom tile complements the natural wood accents. The shower stall looks out over the treetops.





Bike storage is located towards the back of the cottage off of the alley.  The covered area has a removable screen floor and serves as a mud room suitable for bike commuters. The bike storage opens into the laundry/mechanical room.











Varied stone creates discrete spaces for entertaining. A low stone wall creates outside seating just off of the kitchen . The fence separating the backyard cottage from the primary residence is a scale rendition of the profile of the Stuart Range.




An exterior view of the backyard cottage shows the roof top deck with the kitchen below.

Tuesday, October 4

backyard cottage workshop thursday

Wondering how the machinations of the Seattle City Council and the Queen Anne Community Council will impact your backyard cottage plans? Well frankly, so are we. Join us for a discussion on October 6th at the Phinney Neighborhood Association. 




Bruce Parker, Microhouse and; Stefan Hansmire, Ncompass Construction
Thursday, Oct 67-9pm
PC Blue Building, Room 3
$15 PNA member, $25 Public
 Register or 206.783.2244

Friday, September 9

backyard cottage open house

Come see what all the fuss is about at this upcoming backyard cottage open house, Wednesday September 21st, 4:30-7:00 pm. 6011 33rd Ave NE




This newly built cottage is 800 sq. ft. and includes a garage and 2nd floor 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, carriage apartment.  This cottage will be available for rent starting the end of September. 

Friday, September 2

backyard cottage proposed changes appeal continues

After two days, the hearing concerning proposed expansion of land use code provisions allowing for accessory dwelling units, HE 16-004, is adjourned and will recommence on September 30th at 9:00 am.

Wednesday, August 31

backyard cottage proposed changes appeal today and tomorrow

The hearing will take place today, Wednesday and into Thursday if required by the Hearing Examiner. It will take place on the 40th floor of the Municipal Tower (700 5th Ave 98104) within the offices of the Hearing Examiner, room 4009, and begin promptly at 9:00 am. The hearing is public and open to everyone so please attend if you wish. The hearing room has limited seating so consider arriving early


The Office of Planning and Community Development released proposed code revisions to encourage the development of more backyard cottages on May 19th.  At that time, 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 (DNS). The Queen Anne Community Council is challenging that determination and will appeal to the Hearing Examiner.  

If the appeal is successful, then the city must complete a full environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed changes. The EIS document is a collection of professional and expert studies and analysis, city department review and input, citizen review and input, multiple open and transparent public hearings, multiple drafts, and final approvals after public engagement.  

If the appeal is not successful, then the legislation is anticipated to come to the Council’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee before the end of the year for discussion.