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.
Monday, December 13
Bellevue Backyard Cottage Survey
Friday, October 29
What are the best lot for backyard cottages? The simple answer may be a lot meeting the minimum lot requirements, relatively flat with alley access and ready access to water and sewer. The true answer is much more nuanced. A flat site may minimize site costs and alley access certainly provides parking options but challenging sites may ultimately inform and result in the best designs. A case in point is the eco cottage we are designing in Seattle's magnolia neighborhood. Here the steep slope provides an option for an attached tower with a bonus room that can be part of the cottage or used by the primary residence as a home office connected by a bridge. The slope also provides a nice separation and privacy for the residents of the two structures even though they are located on a fairly small lot.
Beyond the physical aspects of the site there is a social component as well. A lot close to amenities such transportation, family and work will be a better value for anyone who lives there.
Thursday, October 28
Most people hope to age in place, a catch phrase for seniors living at home as long as possible. And why wouldn't we want to grow old near the families and the communities that support us? ECHO housing because it can incorporate universal design and health monitoring systems is able to prolong the period of in-home residence. Because it can be located on the same lot as a family member's house, or can be lived in by family member, they can provide a invaluable part of a multi-generational living experience.
The recent expansion of backyard cottage ordinances is an exciting development for aging in place and ECHO housing advocates. Unlike temporary housing units available the past, increasing numbers of municipalities are allowing site built backyard cottages. These cottages can be an attractive addition to a home that will add to the properties value. Temporary structures on the other hand, have a short life span and become a long term liability for the homeowner. Site built backyard cottages may also be financed with an inexpensive equity line of credit often available to seniors who have built up equity in their homes but have limited incomes.
To view a partial list of municipalities that allow backyard cottages check out our backyard cottages other cities page or contact us directly.
In Seattle you can determine if your lot meets the requirements by checking your lot on the DPD GIS web site as outlined on our backyard cottages Seattle page and giving us a call or email. We can usually assist you in making this determination on the phone.
Lots with less than 4,000 sq. ft. existing accessory structures and those located in environmentally critical areas (ECA) are two situations that require extra attention. Fortunately, we have a great deal of experience with these projects and can assist you in determining what your options are.
Wednesday, October 13
Entry forms: Located on the kids design competition page
You and your friends
Bruce Parker - Microhouse
Dora Taylor - Architecture for Kids
J. Crone- and works
Sharon Khosla - 16th Workshop
To be determined
This competition is loosely patterned after the Prefab Backyard Cottage Design Challenge held in Seattle this past spring. To see what the adults came up with check out the method homes prefab cottage design challenge. To see what students have come up with in past
Friday, October 8
Backyard cottages are an great option for many seniors. On one hand, families may be able to build a backyard cottage on their lot enabling all the benefits of multi-generational living. However, unlike moving into a room in the main house, seniors and their parents are able to maintain their independence. Because new cottages can incorporate universal design standards that facilitate mobility they may be cheaper than remodeling an older house to say add a downstairs bath, or a residential lift. There are many other considerations like efficient environmental controls, easy to use hardware and appliances that will enable a senior to live and function comfortably in their home.
The Wheelocks are an example of a son building a cottage for his aging mother adjacent to his house. The 800 sq. ft. Tangent Cottage designed by Anne Van Dyne, provides a beautiful and functional home with a traditional craftsman flair and vaulted ceilings and a large deck for entertaining. The local zoning and sloping site allowed for the cottage to be built over a workshop used by the son for his business.
Beyond the immeasurable benefits of having family close by, there may be real financial incentives as well. In home assistance is much less expensive than assisted living or a nursing home care which runs in the range of $3,000 to $5,000 per month*. The cost of a cottage financed through an equity line of credit is in the range of $1,000 per month and increases the value property.
*Genworth 2008 cost of care survey
Monday, October 4
Wednesday, September 15
The real estate downturn and low interest rates may make the thought of purchasing an investment property appealing. Here in the Northwest we have a plethora of vibrant forward thinking industries and abundant natural resources and intellectual capital. Washington state is the only state in the U.S. that has a trade surplus with China and our position on the Pacific Rim will benefit from the migration of the global geopolitical center towards Asia. This all bodes well for long term regional growth. Perhaps because of this buying a two bedroom house in an in-city neighborhood still costs well over $300,000. With wage growth likely to remain flat for the foreseeable future, buying a house will remain out of reach for many. This will support the rental market.
A hypothetical $300,000, 2 bedroom, 1 bath, house may rent for around $1,500/Month with tenants paying utilities. Factoring in taxes, vacancy and credit loss, but for the sake of simplicity ignoring depreciation and maintenance, we have a annual net income of approximately 5% of purchase price. A hypothetical 2 bedroom, 1 bath, backyard cottage would have comparable rental income but the cost of the cottage would be in the range of $100,000 - $125,000, yielding a return on investment greater than 10%.
While construction costs are fairly consistent across a region rental rates vary greatly by neighborhood. For this reason backyard cottages in good neighborhoods can generate higher rates of return. A quick check on craigslist can help to get a handle on rental rates in your neighborhood. Microhouse can help put together a proposal regarding your project construction costs. We work with a tested team of engineers, surveyors, and contractors that can insure a smooth design and construction process. We can also recommend lenders to aid in financing your project.
Friday, September 3
We are seeing people around us cutting back and slowing down. There is a growing trend to downsize and simplify lifestyles. Partially, this is the result of the new economy. The positive side of this trend is a renewed focus on family and friends, and time spent together. Backyard cottages have a role to play in the new economy allowing extended family to live closer together. Cottage housing also, with smaller interior spaces and an emphasis on shared community space will likely also continue to grow in popularity.
A compilation of recent data shows further erosion in consumer demand for larger houses. Obviously there are a combination of factors that affect consumer sentiment. The economy and the real estate market being perhaps the biggest two. According to research by Trulia.com 9% of consumers now believe that their ideal home is 1,400-800 sq.ft.. Granted an equal percentage feel that their ideal home is over 3,200 sq.ft. and probably need 800 sq.ft. just to park their hummer, but it is a significant change. For more detailed breakdown see the attached link.
Consumers Declare McMansion Era Over
Thursday, August 26
burien mother-in-law backyard cottage
Wednesday, August 18
The steeply sloped ECA site has its share of logistical challenges as well as opportunities. Using the Eco cottage plan as a design departure point we are able to come up with a cost effective two bedroom design with a minimal amount of site work. Tweaking the design to take advantage of the site slope we are able to pull the bathroom and circulation outside of the main plan into a tower structure that will house a home office on the top floor. The office can be accessed via a bridge from the main house via a bridge or from the cottage. The dual access allows it to be a third bedroom for the cottage or an office for the owners in the main house.
Monday, August 16
Ecohaus locations in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco will continue to provide a great resource for Microhouse patrons. Their well staffed showrooms are a great place to view our standard finishes and materials.
Here is a photo of a small rain garden designed by Landscape Architect Vinita Sidhu nearing completion Ballard. The garden is designed to handle the roof runoff from an existing garage. During heavy storms and prolonged periods of rainfall the rain garden will briefly fill with rainwater. The owner chose a decorative rain chain to connect the gutter to the inlet providing visual interest even during periods of light rain.
Tuesday, July 27
Infill cottage housing for volunteer workers, I thought, would be a great re-purposing for this house. In Richland, when the houses were originally built, land was in abundance and the car was king. The current proposal for an undeveloped urban infill site, requires a more compact footprint and greater emphasis on community. To date, two plans have been developed. One 200 sq. ft. studio loft unit and one 400 sq. ft. 1 bedroom unit. Contact us for pricing and additional information.
Wednesday, July 21
Rain Gardens 101: Rain gardens are small retention ponds that collect runoff from impervious surfaces. In many parts of Seattle rain water that is not absorbed into the ground (runoff) is collected into combined sewer systems (CSO's) where it is combined with sanitary sewer. The cost of conveying and treating this runoff is considerable which is why Seattle Public Utilities can offer incentives to homeowners who reduce runoff by building rain gardens.
In a pristine environment, most rainwater would be absorbed into the ground, picked up by plants, or slowly percolate to recharge local streams and ground water. In urban area impervious surfaces like paving and roof tops prevent rainwater from entering the ground and must be collected and discharged. Increased runoff from these surfaces create excessive peak flows that lead to erosion and water degradation. Runoff often contains biological contamination from fertilizer and pet waste and oils from road and driveways. Rain gardens increase groundwater infiltration and break down these contaminants keeping them out of local waterways. Rain gardens also create meaningful water features and provide great landscaping opportunities.
Check out the Seattle Public Utilities Rainwise Program for more great resources.
Wednesday, July 7
Microhouse will make a virtual appearance at the West Seattle Summer Fest along with our building partners Ncompass Cottage Company. In collaboration with Ncompass we are able to a provide a more comprehensive design/build process. The integration the design and building results in smarter designs, improves construction quality, and reduces cost.
Stop by and say hi to Stefan and Drew and talk to them about your project. They have 30 years construction experience working in and around West Seattle and are enthusiastic about the new opportunities allowed by backyard cottages. Their booth is located on California Ave SW just South of Key Bank.
Monday, July 5
All inquires are confidential. We have a proven track record of legalizing existing cottages built without a permit and a select group of select contractor referrals.
Monday, June 14
In general, legalizing, or establishing use of an existing cottage, requires bringing the cottage up to current building codes. This may include ventilation, electrical, energy and seismic upgrades. For many older cottages the condition of the foundation may be of primary concern. The current building code has minimum requirements for concrete foundations and the building mudsill must be bolted to the foundation. Cottages originally built as garages may not have adequate foundations. Meeting the current energy code may also require upgrades. For Lars and Denise this meant adding insulation to the cottage ceiling and perimeter of the foundation. They also had to add a fan in the kitchen.
Why legalize your backyard cottage? Municipalities that have revised their zoning codes are offering a carrot to homeowners. The stick is that they are cracking down on illegal cottages. In Seattle landlords will be required to register their rental units and be subjected to mandatory inspections beginning October 1st, 2011. Seattle also levies a minimum $5,000 fine for dwelling units established without a permit with additional daily penalties.
If you have a cottage that was inhabited as as residence prior to 1956 you may be eligible to establish you cottage as a stand alone residence without meeting current building codes. Contact us to find out more.
Thursday, June 3
Tuesday, May 25
What is the smart module? The microhouse smart module is a prefab unit that contains the all basic elements of a contemporary home. Grouping the environmental systems, plumbing, cooking and sleeping in a small prefab unit reduces construction cost and maximizes space for work and play. It’s small footprint is ideal for infill lots, environmentally critical areas, and everywhere else. The smart module can be attached to existing accessory structures such as free standing garages to create a backyard cottage.The smart module can also be combined with new prefab units, on site construction, or serve as a stand alone cabin with room to grow.
function: kitchen, bath, sleeping loft, and mechanical room.
uses: add module to existing or new construction or use as a stand alone cabin.
dimensions: 8 ft. x 16 ft. x 13 ft. tall = 128 sq. ft.
construction: prefab, stick built or sip panel.
Wednesday, May 19
Thursday, May 13
Thursday, April 22
Tuesday, April 20
Congratulations on the opening of the new ecohaus retail outlet in San Francisco. Click here or more information about ecohaus.
Sunday, April 11
Wednesday, March 31
Friday, March 26
Wednesday, March 24
new google bicycle map read more
Monday, March 1
Thursday, February 25
Construction starts today on four microhouse 1,200 sf duplex modules at 113 13th Ave E on capitol hill. The L3 zoning of the lot allows for greater density, size and height than backyard cottages which are allowed only single family residential zones. Parking will be located in a garage under the duplex units. The entire project will consist of 10 units arranged around a courtyard.
Sunday, February 14
Tuesday, February 9
Saturday, January 30
Thursday, January 28
This nice web site has an overview of the Richland letter houses.
Microhouse will be at the Phinney Neighborhood Assoc. Home Fair on January 31st. and will have Internet access. We will be able to answer whether specific lots qualify for a backyard cottage, provide preliminary design, guidance and email a sample packet to homeowners. Representatives from the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) will also be there to answer questions.