seattle backyard cottage blog

Backyard cottages (DADUs) provide opportunities for families, while increasing housing stock density and diversity. Continue reading for more information about Seattle's backyard cottage ordinance or contact us to find out if your lot is eligible for a backyard cottage..

Friday, June 24

Seattle Multifamily Zoning Code Updates

Seattle has recently updated it's multi-family zoning code and released the details to the public.  What does it mean for residents? Are you a landowner who wants to know what these changes mean to you? Read on. For lot specific information contact us for a free or low cost analysis for property owners.

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The Seattle Multi-Family code has been updated for the first time since the late 1980's.  The new code offers carrots and sticks to builders.  Some of the carrots are; reduced building setbacks, increased height limits and finally a retooling of the allowable building width depth requirements in favor of a more flexible floor area ratio limit.  The sticks are; reduced allowable unit densities and for many projects design review and increased landscaping and green building requirements.  Will design review result in better projects? Only time will tell. It is hard to legislate good design but perhaps with more flexibility granted in the design review process better projects will get built. It will come at a price though. I estimate that design review will tack on a minimum of $30,000 in cost and six months to a year in permit time.  This aside from creating a scramble amongst builders for previously permitted projects, will ultimately result in increased prices for buyers.


Since the 1980's Seattle has undergone tremendous growth. Particularly in later years, townhouses have become the affordable housing option of choice. In part because of their popularity and often times because of their scale and apparent lack of addressing the street in a neighborly way, the new code takes townhouses head on.

Perhaps the biggest change will be a requirement for design review for two or more townhouse units. One hopes that this will result in townhouses that have units that have primary entrances and glazing that face the street at the ground level. This will now be regulated in a manner similar the way in which it is currently is in commercial zones.  Ever wonder why so many townhouse projects have veil fattening pen like fenced yards? It is the old zoning code. The new code will relax the requirements for the separation of open space which combined with the new landscaping requirements should contribute to nicer street-scapes.


Rowhouses will be the big winners under the new code. Requiring no side yard setback and no design review we will be seeing more of these.  

Cottage Housing

Cottage housing will continue to be a popular housing choice for both buyers and builders. Cottage housing  offers an affordable housing choice for those who don't need a lot of space and like connection to the earth. Sadly, despite a great number of  highly successful old and new cottage housing projects the new multi-family code doesn't make any real concessions to cottage housing.  Congregate housing will continue to be allowed in both single family and multi-family zones is becoming a viable option for students, senior citizens and others who don't need or want to pay for a full kitchen.  

Seattle Multi-Family Zoning

Here are some highlights of the revised code from the Seattle DPD web page.
  • Reduce the number of zones from five to three (LR1, LR2, LR3) for code simplicity;
  • Encourage a diversity of housing types among townhomes, rowhouses, cottages, apartments, and auto-court townhomes;
  • Require new design features. For example: At least 20 percent of street facing fa├žades must be windows and doors, building materials must be varied, townhouse parking garages must be designed to fit large cars;
  • Provide incentives for "green building" and hiding parking underground or at the back of the lot;
  • Use the City's "Green Factor" landscaping requirement, which promotes keeping trees or planting new ones;
  • Change the lowrise height limits to match the height limit for single-family zones in most cases;
  • Allow for shared open space, for larger usable common areas;
  • Waive parking requirements for projects in growth areas and within .25 mile of frequent transit service (15 minute headways), allowing the market to dictate the level of parking to provide;
  • Waive density limits for certain housing types when good design features are achieved;
  • Use a new flexible standard of measuring floor space, "Floor Area Ratio," rather than previously restrictive setback and lot coverage requirements; and
  • Streamlined Design Review will be required for townhouses with three or more units, but not for rowhouses, cottages or apartments in multifamily zones

Wednesday, June 22

backyard cottage info session - tonight

Join Microhouse and Ncompass cottage company for the first of two free backyard cottage presentations offered this summer. We will discuss general guidelines for backyard cottage design and construction.  Bring your questions and ideas for your project and we can help you determine feasibility and establish a budget.

Workshops are offered June 22,  and July 13, from 7:00 – 8:00 PM, at the
Community School of West Seattle, 9450 22nd Avenue Southwest.
For more information or to RSVP for a workshop, contact or call 206-428-8599.

Wednesday, June 1

microhouse? 248 sq ft apartment

Christian Schaller's innovative 248 sq. ft. Barcelona apartment shows how thoughtful design can make the most of small spaces.  Micro houses aren't for everyone but many of us can't afford and .don't need a lot of extra space

apartment video

cottage housing and front porches

Front porches are a predominant feature of traditional neighborhoods.  In cottage housing increased emphasis is placed on community and the front porch again plays an important role.  The resurgence in popularity of cottage housing and in new urbanism principals have been mirrored by a national trend of new homes with front porches according to a study by the National Association of Home Builders.  


A shady retreat: Front porch enjoys new popularity

Front porch is enjoying a renewed surge in popularity

April 29, 2011|By Leslie Mann, Special to the Tribune

Like pieced quilts and chair rail, the front porch was born of practicality. It provided Grandma and her front rooms shade from the hot sun.
Although two acronyms nearly killed the front porch in the 1950s — TV and AC — it is enjoying a renaissance, thanks to the New Urbanism movement and a renewed appreciation for all-things-Grandma.
More than a collection of square feet, the front porch is the architectural version of a hug, the hyphen between our indoor and outdoor spaces, the green room that separates our public and private lives.
In 2007, 62 percent of new homes had porches, up from 50 percent in 1999, according to the National Association of Home Builders. The South and West are the most porch-crazy regions, with the Midwest close behind.
The front porch ranked higher than the patio and rear porch on buyers' wish lists in the NAHB's "The New Home in 2015" report."It changes the tempo and pace of your life," said Gail Warner, a public relations consultant who bought a house with a front porch in a planned community in Fort Mill, S.C., in 2007. "We're out there in the evening with our porch mayor (pet dog), having a glass of wine and talking to the neighbors. We all have front porches here, which means we all know each other. When a neighbor needs help, we galvanize."
Before moving to Fort Mill, Warner and her husband lived in a porchless town house. "Nine years there, and I never knew my neighbors," said Warner.
The couple's house also has an upstairs front porch that she calls her "ponytail porch" because the added distance from it to the sidewalk gives her privacy.
"There's an unwritten law that if you're on your upstairs porch, you're not dressed and not ready to be social," said Warner. "But if you're on your downstairs porch, everyone's welcome."
The front porch is one of the features that helped sell 21 of 26 houses in nine months at the SchoolStreet Homes development in Libertyville, said developer John McLinden. The Craftsman- and bungalow-style houses, which start at $525,000, showcase architect/author Sarah Susanka's "Not So Big House" tenets.
Curb appeal
Even homeowners who do not use their front porches want them for curb appeal, said Jason DeBaker, managing principal for Orren Pickell Designers & Builders in Lake Bluff.