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.

Wednesday, April 4

backyard cottage rule changes

This morning SDCI staff briefed the city council on proposed changes to the land use code affecting backyard cottages. The changes are part of omnibus code update, a collection of amendments that are relatively small in scale, and have a limited scope of impact, into an “omnibus” bill. 

If you were hoping, as we were, that clarification on gross square footage or parking or other hot topic items you will be disappointed. However, if you live in a shoreline area you can now build a backyard cottage. The original legislation concerning backyard cottages prohibited DADUs on lots if any portion of the lot was within a shoreline district.  It is not clear what the intent of the original legislation was. Now that it is proposed to be eliminated, should we expect an explosion in the number of beach cabanas in Seattle?  Unlikely, since 2009 we have only spoken with two potential DADU builders who were impacted by this restriction. Of course, they will be quite happy.

Meanwhile, the more significant proposed DADU code changes, those that are part of the ongoing EIS process, are scheduled to go before Seattle City Council this summer.

Sunday, March 11

backyard cottage - would you move into your own backyard?

The owner built this backyard cottage as a rental but fell in love (with the cottage) during the design process and decided to rent out his house instead.  



This backyard cottage features an open floor plan on the ground floor with a kitchen, living and powder rooms that open with accordion doors onto a patio with a gas fireplace.  Upstairs is a master bedroom complete with a kitchenette, and a bath with laundry room.  The overall strategy with this backyard cottage, as it is with most of our designs, is to keep the structure simple allowing a larger percentage of the budget to be spent on finishes. The height and size of DADUs is limited based on the size of the lot. This lot was particularly small limiting the allowable footprint to 294 sq. ft. 



Ceramic tile accentuates the entry area.  The view from the entry towards the kitchen and patio beyond.






The kitchen is located along one wall is both compact and simple.



Accordion doors open up the cottage to the new patio with gas fireplace.


A movable kitchen island is the perfect accessory to the compact kitchen.  Exposed wood joists add warmth and texture in contrast with the concrete floors.  The joists were spaced to accommodate the owner's weight lifting rack.






Where some houses may come with a man cave this DADU features a "man wall" with big screen tv, electric fireplace, weight rack and the ultimate amenity, beer taps.  A keg fridge is located behind the wall in the under stair space.  



A door located at the bottom of the stairs allows for the two floors to be used independently.



The city of Seattle limits both the eave and ridge height of cottages allowing greater height for a gable roof which we took advantage of to good effect. 



The master suite features vaulted ceilings and abundant light. A kitchenette allows this room to be used separately from the first floor.




The shower is tucked into an under eave space. 







The master bath features vaulted ceilings and skylight.  A laundry room is tucked off to one side under the eaves.




The owner built a new patio with a gas fire place.  The stairs from the house were rebuilt align with the cottage.

Tuesday, March 6

backyard cottage workshop tomorrow - Wednesday, March 7th



Would you like to learn more about backyard cottages and meet others thinking about building a backyard cottage?  If so you might be wondering, can I build a backyard cottage on my lot and how much does it costs to build a backyard cottage?  To answer these questions we periodically assemble experts in the design, construction and of financing backyard cottages. Our workshops offer a unique opportunity to have your questions answered in an informal setting. 

backyard cottages for fun and profit   Wednesday March 7th,  from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, Blue Building Room 1. Phinney Neighborhood Center 6532 Phinney Avenue North

Backyard cottages can be used for many things including housing a family member or as a short term rental.  Join Microhouse and Ncompass Construction to learn more about backyard cottage design, construction, and use. Bring your ideas, after the presentation we will have plenty of time to answer questions about the specifics of your project. 

Microhouse and Ncompass Construction
$15 PNA member, $20 Public

Thursday, February 1

backyard cottage open house rescheduled for Saturday February 24th.


Cleanup and yard work continue for the Ballard backyard cottage scheduled for an open house on February 3rd.  The open house will take place on February 24th from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm instead.

Wednesday, January 17

backyard cottage open house scheduled

Come and see one or more new backyard cottages in Ballard on February 3rd between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. For further information or sign up for our open house invitation list.

Monday, January 15

OPCD releases ADU EIS Scoping Report

The office of planning and community development (OPCD) is reviewing proposed changes in the land use code intended to encourage backyard cottages. During the scoping phase they compiled and reviewed over 1,000 comments and incorporated them into a scoping report.  If you are waiting to hear which if any of the proposed changes to encourage backyard cottage are likely to be adopted you have to keep waiting. However, if you are interested in learning more about what will be evaluated in the next part of EIS the process read on. 

Backyard Cottage Scoping Report

Thursday, January 4

more backyard cottages in 2018

We are looking forward to another busy year doing what we love, designing backyard cottages.  




Last year saw the completion of a record number of backyard cottages and 2018 is shaping up to be another big year for ADUs. In 2017 the City of Seattle had a mayoral election during which housing and livability were major themes. The public and policy makers seem to agree that ADUs have, and will continue to play, an increasingly important role in our vibrant city. 

In 2017 the city proposed code changes to encourage the construction of more backyard cottages and began preparing an EIS to inform the public and policy makers about the possible impacts of these changes. This process is schedule to be completed and the city council expected to vote on the proposed changes this summer.  


Importantly, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) has at long last agreed to clarify the rules governing the size of cottages. We estimate that the current system, which is rife with inconsistencies, adds $1,000 to design and permitting costs and over six weeks to the permitting process. We are working closely with SDCI to ensure common sense interpretations for what is included in the allowable gross square footage are adopted into the next omnibus code update. 

Even with the support of city council and SDCI, backyard cottages will continue to face hurdles. Intense competition for material and labor will see another year of double digit construction costs rises for the Seattle area. Rule changes under EIS review won't reduce the cost to build a backyard cottage even if more are built. Permitting and construction scheduling will also continue to be affected. SDCI is starting the year with a temporary hold on new building permit intakes and an ongoing 6-8 week increase in review time on projects already in their system.

In spite of these challenges backyard cottages are still a great option for many families, we are expecting another banner year for backyard cottages. We will be continuing to do our part in the community to maintain and encourage thoughtful planning and exercise patience as the city rolls out new policies and changes.