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.

Friday, July 14

city of seattle - no more building permits


How crazy is the Seattle construction market? One indicator is the date on which the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) will accept new building permit submittals, the intake date. SDCI uses the intake dates to regulate their work flow. The busier they are the further out the earliest available intake date. This year intake dates have been available about three months out. Which is a considerable amount of time. However, we typically use this time to gather preliminaries, work on design and prepare construction documents so it doesn't slow us down much.  As of yesterday the November intake dates were all taken and SDCI has stopped issuing intake dates altogether. This is for any construction project not just backyard cottages. It is safe to assume that new intake dates will be added for the year.  It does highlight the unprecedented level of construction activity and increasing complexity of the land use, drainage, and energy codes that are affecting all aspects of the industry.

Thursday, July 13

crown hill backyard cottage

The maple tree was and is an integral part of this backyard cottage from it's inception.  The tree wraps the cottage providing a leafy screen from the street during the summer and in the winter rain drops collect on it's branches. The cottage ground floor is art studio that opens up to yard shaded by the tree. The 2nd floor apartment opens up into the leafy canopy.


The ground floor art studio features concrete floors, a small 3/4 bath, and a utility sink. Garage doors open up to the street allow a car to park on the ground floor if ever desired. 




The second floor apartment features an almost 1 bedroom with space for a queen sized bed placed over the stair.  Vaulted ceilings, skylights and abundant windows fill the cottage with natural light.


A juliet balcony off of the living room opens up into the tree canopy.



The bathroom also features vaulted ceilings and bright colors and vaulted ceilings.


The cottage has been the home of the owner's son who is off to law school. While he is away it will be used as an executive rental.



Thursday, March 30

backyard cottage open house - fremont

Join us for a unique opportunity to tour a backyard cottage in Fremont. Tuesday April 18th from 5:00 - 7:00 pm.  4134 1st Ave NW.




This cottage has the distinction of being built over, not a garage, but a room for table tennis. The logic being that once that was built why not build a cottage on top. Fast forward to today and the owner's are living in their new house and renting out their larger primary residence.

The cottage features treetop views of downtown, vaulted ceilings, two green roofs and a small deck.  The owner acted as the general contractor for the project and did most of the construction work himself, including the hand stenciled paper mache floors.



the living room floor being installed. Material cost less than $50.



The finished product complete with a hand stenciled border.

Please note that the cottage is not readily visible from the street. Outside of open house hours please be respectful of the privacy of the owner's, their tenants and neighbors.

Tuesday, February 14

backyard cottage open house Saturday

Come see what all the fuss is about and join us for a unique opportunity to tour a backyard cottage in Ballard.  Saturday February 18th from 1:30 - 2:30 pm.  819 NW 90th St.



This newly built cottage is 800 sq. ft. and includes a ground floor art studio and 2nd floor 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, carriage apartment. 


Saturday, January 7

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. Let's see what they built.


The cottage nearing completion in December


The cottage is small even by backyard cottage standards. In Seattle, backyard cottages are limited in size by their overall gross square footage and their footprint is limited as a percentage of lot size. In this case, the parent lot is relatively small limiting the allowable footprint to a mere 14 ft x 24 ft.   To maintain the minimum required side yard setback the top floor of the cottage is even smaller.



On a winters day the cottage is filled with natural light


Even given the limited footprint we were able to create a comfortable living room, kitchen, powder and laundry room on the ground floor.  The height of backyard cottages is also limited.  To increase the apparent size of the cottage we left the ceilings joists exposed. This also adds a sense of rustic warmth which is further enhanced by the owner's furnishings and choice of fixtures.



The kitchen: compact but designed for use

The kitchen is compact but designed for people who like to cook.  The refrigerator and stove are both compact 24 in x 24 in. The table fits into a nook with a bench but is also expandable so that the whole family can eat together.  A pantry is located under the stair and to the left of the table is the entry to a powder room that also contains a washer and dryer. 



The bedroom: cozy with big windows and vaulted ceilings


The bedroom is located on the second floor and features vaulted ceilings and lots of natural light.  A bathroom is located off of the bedroom at the top of the stairs.



The tongue and groove fir floor is also the ceiling below. 



Two south facing windows overlook the stair and fill both the bedroom and living room with natural light.  There is a view between the other houses on the block all the way to Salmon Bay.






The bathroom features a nice walk in shower, vaulted ceilings and a skylight. There is a walk in closet located off of the bathroom.

Click here to read an interview with Drew and her families experience building a backyard cottage.

Sunday, December 25

happy holidays!


We wish everyone a happy holiday season. Microhouse is closed from December 23rd through January 3rd. Do you have a question about backyard cottages and how one might work for you? If so, send us your address and tell us what you plan to use the cottage for and we will set up a time to talk with you in the new year.

Tuesday, December 13

backyard cottage code expansion blocked

A year ago the City of Seattle announced plans to make code changes to encourage the construction of more backyard cottages. After months of wrangling the Seattle Hearing Examiner has upheld the Queen Anne Community Council appeal of those proposed changes effectively blocking their implementation.

a backyard cottage in the Rainier Valley used as a rental



The proposed code changes are significant.  For the last year, and now for the future, the uncertainty of not knowing what the rules will be has added yet another barrier to backyard cottage development. Hopefully, Council member Mike O'Brien and the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) will show that they do encourage backyard cottages by dropping the more controversial code changes and instead focus on means to reduce the cost of backyard cottages. Most significantly these efforts should include: working to reduce or eliminate the sewer capacity charge, working with lenders to establishing backyard cottage financing tools, and on simplifying the permitting process.

So what went wrong?  Many of the proposed changes are minor tweaks to the existing land use code and make sense. These sorts of minor code updates are made as a matter of course without public outcry or even public input.  However, given the backdrop of a Mayor who seems intent on eliminating single family zoning, those living in Queen Anne and elsewhere, might be forgiven for thinking that some of the proposed changes seem like a means to that end.   

a summary of public input from one of OPCD's public hearings






The most controversial changes are…

The removal of the parking requirement.  Parking is always a contentious issue. There is currently a parking waiver process for ADU or DADU's.  It is true that waiver process could be improved. However, it has been our experience that only one DADU project has been thwarted by the parking requirement.  In that case, it was the removal of required parking for the existing house that caused the problem.

The allowance of a DADU and ADU on the same lot. This is viewed by many as tantamount to allowing triplexes on single family zoned lots.

The removal of the owner occupancy requirement. Currently an owner is required to live on the lot to have a DADU or ADU. You can read more about why we think the owner occupancy requirement is a good idea. owner occupancy 

The increased height bulk and scale of DADU’s under the ordinance. The proposed changes would allow an DADU’s to be built taller with an additional 1,200 sq. ft. of rentable space. It would also allow an increase in lot coverage in the rear yard, currently limited to 40%.

The common sense changes that should be made are much more pedestrian and not controversial at all.

Changes as to what is included in the gross square footage (GSF).  Currently what is included in the gross square footage is poorly defined. Even small under eave spaces are included in the allowable 800 sq. ft.  These areas could be excluded from the allowable GSF without increasing the height or bulk of the structure currently allowed. One of the proposed and controversial changes would have excluded garages from the GSF, effectively adding 1,200 sq. ft. to the size allowed for a DADU.

Including provisions to allow shed dormers to extend above the base height limit and other exceptions to height and setbacks found in the land use code for single family zoned properties but not allowed for DADU’s.

Allowing DADU’s to be placed adjacent to a neighbor’s lot line with the consent of the neighbor. Currently allowed for primary residences but not DADU’s.

Streamlining the permitting process for DADU’s by having a designated reviewer at the city to provide prompt and consistent reviews.


So what is next?  When the legislation was made public the Seattle OPCD issued a determination that the legislation would not have significant adverse environmental impacts. The Queen Anne Community Council Challenged that assertion which was upheld by the Seattle Hearing Examiner. The Hearing Examiner found the evidence shows that the indirect impacts of the legislation would adversely affect housing and cause displacement of populations.  Also, that the OPCD failed to adequately study the impacts of increased bulk and scale particularly on smaller lots, parking, or infrastructure. That means before the proposed changes can take affect the OPCD will need to study just what the impacts of the code changes might be the by completing a full environmental impact assessment with an unknown time of implementation. Otherwise, they can proposed more modest changes to the land use code.

Full Ruling