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.

Thursday, November 16

Backyard cottage EIS scoping comments due today November 16th

Backyard cottages are a great addition to our city providing the low hanging fruit for increasing urban density while providing opportunities for families. There are proposed changes to the rules governing backyard cottages that are being studied by the city of Seattle and you get to have a say on their implementation through the EIS process.



To comment:



BCBEB (back yard cottage editorial board) ADU EIS cheat sheet guide to the EIS comparison of alternatives.

1. Number of ADU's on a lot: Alternative 1 no action keep one per lot.  DADU's  built under current land-use have an impact to the built environment but one generally in keeping with current development patterns in SFR zones.  Allowing three units especially in combination with the removal of the owner occupancy requirement will lead to SFRs designed and built to be rentals with a much higher combined value. Because the combined rentals will have a higher value than one smaller SFR there will be financial incentive to increase the demolition of naturally occurring affordable SFR housing. In addition, the higher combined value of three units will make their purchase that much less obtainable for a family and more appealing for an out of area investor. It has been well documented in the HALA literature that opportunity gaps exist based on proximity and home ownership.  Ownership is one of the primary means of accumulating and maintaining household wealth. This is true for marginalized communities but also for middle class families. Allowing more than one ADU per lot, and eliminating the owner occupancy requirement, will reduce the amount of affordable housing available to families to own.  

Additional alternatives: Portland and Vancouver give special consideration to alley lots and corner lots. Vancouver only allows DADU's on lots with alleys. These lots can more readily handle increased development with less impact to the urban fabric. The code should be amended to allow these lots to be segregated to create more small scale SFRs that can be sold independently. 

2. Parking: Alternative 2 Remove parking requirement for ADU's. Not a politically palatable but removing the parking requirement will likely not have an environmental impact and will free up yard space for vegetation.

3. Owner Occupancy: Alternative 1- the current proposal to sunset owner occupancy after a period of time is good and should minimize the destruction of naturally occurring affordable housing by speculative developers.  The period of time should be 3 years. Owner occupancy should be required for all properties used short term rentals.  

4. Reduce minimum lot size: Alternative 2 - we already design many cottages on lots less than 4,000 sq. ft in size and the size of the cottage on smaller lots is driven by lot coverage as it should be. 

Additional alternatives: Portland and Vancouver give special consideration to alley lots and corner lots. These lots can more readily handle increased development without disrupting the neighborhood fabric.

5. Increasing the allowable cottage size from 800 to 1,000 sq ft.: Alternative 1 - increasing the allowable size 200 sq. ft. is a great idea and makes it easier to fit in two bedrooms.  However, Alternative 2 excludes the garage and other storage from this calculation potentially allowing 2,000 sq. ft. ADUs.  We frequently design cottages where the garage space is not intended for parking but as part of the cottage.  The city can't and shouldn't mandate that garages are used for parking but not including this space in the allowable square footage will unnecessarily increase the allowable size and bulk of DADUs. And will have a negative impact on the character of neighborhoods, the amount of natural light and vegetation available.  For the large increase in allowable square footage of Alternative 2 to be considered a corresponding reduction in allowable floor area ratio (FAR) should adopted capping the combined size of the two units. This would allow two smaller more equal sized units to be built.

Additional comment: In general the city needs to be more consistent on determining what is included in the allowable gross square footage. Seattle land use code includes all storage areas to the extent that some reviewers for SDCI want to include covered unenclosed exterior space.  The current land use code could be tweaked and specificity added to allow more usable storage area.

Additional Alternative: Consider going to a combination of floor area ratio (FAR) and lot coverage restriction to encourage the creation of two more equally sized family friendly units. 


6. Additional Height: Alternative 1 - while almost all of the cottages we design are built to the allowable height limit the current height limit is adequate for a two story structure.  Additional height can reduce the amount of sunlight reaching neighbors yards.  The multi-family code has provisions that allow additional height with a consideration for the impact of shading on neighboring properties.  Something similar can and should be adopted for DADUs.


7. Lot coverage Limit: Maintain.  Yards do have a value both for families raising children and as green spaces and as a way to reduce stormwater runoff. 

In the world in which we live, small children have almost no opportunity for unsupervised outdoor play.  Urban parks that require that children be constantly monitored by a caregiver cannot fill the void. Back yards provide a safe place for children to play, create, and be outside.  The alternative is often additional screen time with the corresponding negative health effects.

Increasing lot coverage will decrease green space and tree canopy available for habitat for wildlife.  Interconnected vegetated corridors can provide valuable habitat for pollinators and other wildlife even within an urban environment. 

Increasing lot coverage will increase stormwater runoff. As we witnessed, when the west point waste treatment plant went down, we are at capacity for dealing with urban stormwater runoff. The best alternative is to allow stormwater to enter the ground where it can be filtered and recharge streams and lakes.  The rainwise program recognizes the value of groundwater infiltration but also importantly that it is less expensive to provide point source treatment than to create new treatment capacity.  While it is true that the new stormwater code does require increased on site stormwater management, most backyard cottages are below the size threshold to trigger these requirements.


8. Rear yard coverage: Alternative 2 Recognizing that yards do have a value both for families raising children and as green spaces and as a way to reduce stormwater runoff. 


9. Location of entry: Alternative 2. Allow entries 5 ft from nearest lot line with written consent of the neighbor. 

Additional Alternative: Allow the use of side yard easements and or the ability of zero lot line development for DADUs.  This will make it easier to build cottages and allow for a more efficient use of limited yard space.

10. Rooftop features: Alternative 2 -allowing rooftop features, namely shed dormers to extend above the base ("eave height") will not increase the bulk of DADUs allowed under the current land use code and therefore have no negative environmental impact. 

11. Household Size: See comment for number 1.

12. Mandatory Affordable Housing (MHA):  Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) does not apply to creation of ADUs in Single Family zones.   

13. Maintain. Property owners renting one or more units, including in Single Family zones, must register for inspections to ensure housing is safe and meets basic maintenance requirements. 




Tuesday, October 31

ADU / DADU EIS comment period extended to November 16th

As required by the hearing examiner's ruling last year the city has begun the environmental impact  EIS process reviewing proposed land use code changes involving backyard cottages (DADUs) and attached accessory dwelling units (ADUs). 

The stated goal of the city is to increase the number of backyard cottages being built. The purpose of the EIS process is to assess the potential impacts of those changes to the natural and built environment. The first part of this process is the scoping phase. The scoping phase comment period has been extended 15 days to November 16th. 


What is scoping?Before we begin the environmental analysis, the scoping phase is a chance to hear your ideas for the alternatives and types of impacts we should focus on. Scoping is not when we consider whether to implement certain policy changes — that occurs after we’ve completed the EIS process, and you’ll have opportunities to weigh in on the proposal then.

To read more:  ADU EIS link to seattle.gov site

To comment:

Sunday, October 29

backyard cottage tour today

Join us for a unique opportunity to tour backyard cottages (dadus) in Fremont, Greenwood, and Ballard. Starting with an open house at 4134 1st Ave NW from 10:00 - 11:00 am.  Following the open house will be a tour of other nearby cottages. Sign up for our open house invite list for more information.





fremont backyard cottage

The comment period for the scoping phase of the proposed land use changes affecting backyard cottages (DADU EIS) ends on November 1st.  

Read More





Thursday, October 26

encouraging backyard cottages (DADUs) - tonight



As required by the hearing examiner's ruling last year the city has begun the environmental impact  EIS process reviewing proposed land use code changes involving accessory dwelling units also known as ADUs, DADUs and backyard cottages. The stated goal of the city is to increase the number of backyard cottages being built. The purpose of the EIS process is to assess the potential impacts of those changes to the natural and built environment. The first part of this process is the scoping phase.

At the start of the EIS process, we invite the public to comment on what we should study during a specific scoping period. The scoping period alerts us to areas of concern early in the process. During this period, the public helps us identify topics that need the most thorough review and the range of issues we should study.

To read more and comment ADU EIS

To participate and learn about the EIS process and proposed land use code changes you can also attend one of two public meetings.

October 26, 2017, 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Hale's Ales (in the Palladium)
4301 Leary Way NW

To tour nearby backyard cottages and see what all of the fuss is about sign up for our open house invite list.

Thursday, October 19

backyard cottage tour October 29th

Join us for a unique opportunity to tour backyard cottages (dadus) in Fremont, Greenwood, and Ballard. Starting with an open house at 4134 1st Ave NW from 10:00 - 11:00 am.  Following the open house will be a tour of other nearby cottages. Sign up for our open house invite list for more information.





fremont backyard cottage

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 garage set up for a movie screening in honor of parking day

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 backyard cottage and renting out their larger primary residence.

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.

Friday, October 13

columbia city farmhouse

This small cottage was designed using the same principals we use for our backyard cottages but is a little bit bigger.  The house is designed for the owner's family of four and contains three bedrooms and two bathrooms.  The total area of the cottage is 1,100 sq. ft. The house sits on a newly segregated 3,000 sq. ft. lot. It is placed back against the alley to preserve a number of mature trees located in the front yard. Because the lot is under 3,200 sq. ft. in size the cottage went through administrative design review which required posting of the project and a public comment period.  The comments received praised the design reflecting the character and scale of the neighborhood. 


The cottage owner, from Seattle but currently living in Brooklyn, understands small spaces and we were on the same page when we set out to design a new house for him and his family in columbia city.  


The traditional front porch features reclaimed lath as an accent which is continued on throughout the house.



A compact kitchen is located in the center of the main floor and features an island and a window bench seat. We used a built in but open book shelf to segregate the study from the rest of the open 1st floor.  In the near term this allows separation without making the rooms feel too small. It also allows for this area to be converted into a bedroom if having a bedroom on the ground floor becomes a necessity. A full bath and back door are located off of the study.  






Exposed fir t&g ceilings with fir beams and custom joist hangers. Shiplap clad walls.





Changes in ceiling finish were used to create rooms within rooms with exposed t&g fir car decking and exposed joists as the ceiling in the living room and study and a soffitted ceiling over the kitchen.  


The stairs lead up from the entry.  A back door is located under the stair and adjacent to the ground floor bathroom.


Upstairs the cottage features three bedrooms and bathroom. The flooring throughout is fir t&g which is also the ceiling viewed from the main floor.


The bedrooms are compact. The largest two measuring 12 ft. x 12 ft. but feature vaulted ceilings and rustic finishes including the car decking floor and t&g walls and ceiling.



Tuesday, October 3

backyard cottage EIS comment period starts

The comment period runs through November 1st, 2017




the rainier valley cottage - currently used as a short term rental

As required by the hearing examiner's ruling last year the city has begun the environmental impact  EIS process reviewing proposed land use code changes involving backyard cottages. The stated goal of the city is to increase the number of backyard cottages being built. The purpose of the EIS process is to assess the potential impacts of those changes to the natural and built environment. The first part of this process is the scoping phase.

At the start of the EIS process, we invite the public to comment on what we should study during a specific scoping period. The scoping period alerts us to areas of concern early in the process. During this period, the public helps us identify topics that need the most thorough review and the range of issues we should study.

To read more and comment ADU EIS

To participate and learn about the EIS process and proposed land use code changes you can also attend one of two public meetings.


  • October 17, 2017, 6:00-7:30 p.m. 
    Location: High Point Community Center, 6920 34th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98126
  • October 26, 2017, 6:00-7:30 p.m. 
    Location: Hale’s Ales (in the Palladium), 4301 Leary Way NW, Seattle, WA 98107