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..

Sunday, November 11

Magnolia Family Builds a Backyard Cottage

Ben and January live in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood and were excited when a new Seattle ordinance allowed them to build a backyard cottage behind their home.  We wanted to build a place for my father to live when he retired, so he could be closer to his grandchildren Leo and Francis. Said January.  In the near term they planned to rent the cottage and ultimately decided to use it as a vacation rental through VRBO.  This has proven to be quite successful helping fund the construction of the cottage.

In Seattle, backyard cottages are limited in size to 800 sq. ft. in size and a height of one or two floors. To create the most desirable rental unit the family chose to build a 2 bedroom, 1 bath plan.  Building a cottage involved overcoming lots of hurdles first during design and permitting done by microhouse and the construction by Carlisle Classic Homes.  While their lot met the minimum lot size and other requirements for a backyard cottage it is located in an Environmentally Critical Area (ECA)  in which  new construction prohibited except through an exemption process.  The site slope was both a benefit and a challenge.   The new cottage has nice solar exposure and a territorial view and it sits down slope from the main house providing physical and visual separation.  And while a thoughtful site design minimized excavation and use of retaining walls there were additional costs related to the ECA designation.

The steep slope of Ben and January's lot kept them from creating an accessible cottage for January's father, a common goal for those who build backyard cottages with an idea towards aging at home.  The cottage is accessed from an alley running adjacent to the cottage.  We were able to apply for, and obtain a parking waiver because of the nature of the site, this gave us a little more flexibility on the cottage placement and reduce construction cost.

Because of the small size of the cottage, the design was important.  Placement of windows and natural lighting were crucial. Although frustratingly difficult to photograph, the connection to the landscape helps make the small living room feel larger. Ben and January's cottage opens up on a patio with a nice territorial view.  The cottage is orientate with the largest windows facing south where they can get the most natural light.  The recessed porch allows winter sun to penetrate deep into the house while shading the windows during the summer months. 

"A lot of what we did was determined by what the zoning code would allow but we still had to make a lot of decisions each of which had a big impact on the overall budget." Said Ben. We had a limited budget so we chose finishes that would be durable affordable.

The north side of the house is shaded by a large fir tree.  To add natural light to the small bathroom  a skylight was used. 

Vaulted ceilings make small rooms feel larger. The scissor truss design used  is not only energy efficient, and affordable to build, but the simple gable form gave us an opportunity to play around with the overall style of the building. 

A small eating nook adjacent to the kitchen. 

Friday, November 9

drought tolerant plants: 
saving water in style

A dry summer that saw record breaking heat and drought in much of the country has come to an end. Rain and cool weather have returned to in the Puget Sound. That means the beginning of planning and planting for the year ahead.  With our summers predicted to be warmer and dryer, what can we do to create a yard that will look beautiful year round while saving water? The careful selection of native and drought tolerant plants can result in a beautiful landscape that requires minimal maintenance and water.  Read on to learn more about the use of these popular plants.

Native and Drought tolerant  plants

Native plants are often a good choice for gardens as they are well adapted to your climate and available rainfall without the use of supplemental watering after they have been established. Their use has the added benefit of creating habitats that favor local birds and other wildlife.   Lists of native plant species for your region are available from many sources one of the best of which is your local cooperative extension office.  Local and  nurseries are also a great place to see and learn about native plants.

Many Puget Sound natives are Drought-tolerant.  That means they are resistant to seasonal periods of little or no rainfall. These plants come in an amazing variety and can be used to create lush landscapes.  Here are some of our favorites.


Red Flowering Currant
Ribes sanguineum
USDA zones: 6 to 10
Water requirement:Moderate; tolerates some drought
Light requirement: Full sun or partial shade
Mature size: 6 to 12 feet high
Environmental benefits: Flowers in spring; fruit is attractive to birds
Native range: U.S. Pacific coast

Service Berry
Amelanchier alnifolia
USDA zones: 3 to 9
Water requirement: Has good drought resistance
Light requirement: Full sun 
Mature size: 10 feet high
Environmental benefits: Nutritious fruit used fresh, frozen or processed. Wildlife value: high-quality cover and food. With a sweet nutty taste, the fruits have long been eaten by Canada's aboriginal people, fresh or dried.
Native range: Northwest and west U.S. and Canada

Vine Maple
Acer circinatum
USDA zones: 4 to 8

Water requirement: Medium
Light requirement: Full to partial sun
Mature size: 15 feet
Environmental benefits: Vine maple flourishes as an understory tree in moist woods with dappled shade and along stream banks. In native stands, vine maple commonly occurs with bigleaf maple, Douglas fir, western hemlock, grand fir and Pacific dogwood, with sword fern underneath. 
Native range: U.S. Pacific coast

Sword Fern

Polystichum munitum

USDA zone: 4a
Water requirement: Able to withstand dry summers but prefers cool-weather moist soil
Light reqirement: Shade or partial shade
Mature size: 3-foot by 3-foot spread
Soil type: Does best in organic soils but can stand the most acidic conditions
Environmental benefits: Western sword fern spores have many medicinal uses, including relieving the pain from the sting of a stinging nettle
Native range: U.S. Pacific coast

Many Mediterranean plants and drought tolerant and thrive in the Puget Sound region Lavender and Rosemary are two great choices.

USDA zones: 5 to 9Water requirement:Drought tolerantLight requirement: Full to partial sunMature size: 2 feet high and wideEnvironmental benefits: Spring flowersNative range:Mediterranean

Saturday, October 27

a fun idea for a small space

One of the fun challenges about working with small spaces is coming up with creative ways to have spaces and objects serve double duty. Darrius Wellrich a Seattle based musician/artist has created this unique table that can be hung on the wall and used as a picture frame.  For more information about  the table check out Darrius' facebook page Darrius Wellrich or give him a call at 206 501.8441.

Tuesday, October 16

backyard cottage for a great grandmother

Here is a photo of Mary K's cottage as it nears completion.  The cottage footprint is a mere 16ft x 24ft. and contains one bedroom, a bath living room and kitchen. Mary K and her daughter will be completing the kitchen tiling herself so that it will reflect her own personal flair and save money.  This project was completed on a very tight budget.

The cottage contains a loft that will serve as a reading room and play area for Mary K's great granddaughter.

Large abundant windows and a vaulted ceiling make the living room feel larger than it is. 

The accessibility strategy we followed in the bath is to make things small so that those with mobility impairments will be able to move from support to support easily. (The grab bars have not yet been installed in this photo).  The toilet doubles as a shower bench.

upcoming workshop

Would you like to learn more about backyard cottages, meet others thinking about building a backyard cottage and talk to experts in the design and construction of backyard cottages? Microhouse and Ncompass cottage company will be hosting the second of our fall backyard cottage workshops this Wednesday October 17th at 7:00pm at the Community School of West Seattle.  

Do you have specific questions about your lot?  Email or call us with the address and your goals and questions and we can pull together background data that will assist us in answering your questions.  Drop ins are welcome but we prefer it if you RSVP so we can be sure to accommodate you.

RSVP: (206) 428-8599
Backyard Cottage Workshop

October 17th, from 7:00 to 8:00 PM, at the Community School of West Seattle, 9450 22nd Avenue Southwest. 

Wednesday, September 12

backyard houses catch the eye of city council

A new moratorium does not impact backyard cottages (DADUs)

The Seattle City Council has recently put a moratorium on small lot infill housing.  A recent Seattle Times article creates some confusion  by naming "backyard houses" in their title.  What is being impacted is the development of new houses on substandard sized lots.  A so called loophole exists because the city recognizes existing buildable lots that are below the minimum size allowed in each zone that existed before the current zoning codes took affect in the 1950's.  Houses on  these lots can be built to approximately the same height and bulk as houses on standard lots. As a result horribly overscaled houses being built on minuscule lots throughout Seattle. New regulations will most likely further limit the height and bulk of houses built on these lots.  We are in support of increased regulation of these houses and have commented on the record that solar access for the adjacent property to the north should also be regulated as it is for some multi-family developments.  

The scale of backyard cottages is already restricted to lots with a minimum of 4,000 sq. ft. and may be no more than 800 sq. ft. in size with a maximum ridge height of 22ft.

To read more from the city council Council News Release. 

backyard cottage workshop next week

Would you like to learn more about backyard cottages, meet others thinking about building a backyard cottage and talk to experts in the design and construction of backyard cottages? Microhouse and Ncompass cottage company will be hosting the first of our fall backyard cottage workshops next Wednesday September 19th at 7:00pm at the Community School of West Seattle.  

Do you have specific questions about your lot?  Email or call us with the address and your goals and questions and we can pull together background data that will assist us in answering your questions.  Drop ins are welcome but we prefer it if you RSVP so we can be sure to accommodate you.

RSVP: (206) 428-8599

Backyard Cottage Workshop
September19th, from 7:00 to 8:00 PM, at the Community School of West Seattle, 9450 22nd Avenue Southwest. 

Thursday, June 21

wallingford backyard cottage

Backyard cottages are a great option for many seniors allowing them to live close to family or perhaps have a family member live close to them.  Three generations of Mary K's family live in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle.  She now lives a number of hours drive away but hopes to move closer to her  great granddaughter. How much closer, into her daughter’s back yard. We worked with her to design a comfortable place to live where she can be a more prominent part of her family’s life.  Her new kitchen window looks out on a garden shared with her daughter and her cottage features a loft for her great granddaughter to play in.  While the cottage is still under construction, She looks forward to taking her great granddaughter to the nearby woodland park zoo.

No doubt her family will appreciate the extra help as well.  Raising a child is expensive in no small part due to the cost of child care.  Many parents scramble to keep up a juggling act of work and child care schedules that result in children being raised by caregivers outside the family. In this day and age it seems the lucky exceptions that have family close enough to help out on a regular basis. 

Her backyard cottage will have another benefit as well.  She will pay to construct the cottage from her savings.  It will be her home but will also be an asset for her daughter’s property.  When she no longer lives in the cottage it will become a source of rental income for the family, or perhaps her great granddaughter’s college apartment. Because the cottage is being funded with her retirement savings cost savings were crucial.

To save money we worked with Mary K to make the cottage as efficient as possible. Because Mary K at one time lived on a boat she is familiar with living in small spaces.  In preparation for moving she has calculated the exact number of inches of shelving for her bathroom and the width and height for her closet as well as all of her other storage requirements. She is designing the kitchen cabinets herself.

We used a couple of strategies to make the cottage feel larger.  Our primary strategy is incorporating the landscape into the project through the abundant and careful placement of windows.  We have also added a vaulted ceiling over the main living space and exposed the ceiling joists in the bedroom and kitchen to make those ceilings seem higher.

The cottage has been designed to be accessible for Mary K as she ages. Because it is small grab bars and surfaces will enable one with mobility impairment to navigate throughout the cottage with a degree of comfort.  In the bath we again took the approach of making things smaller rather than larger so that grab bars are always within easy reach.  The shower is incorporated into the main space so that one can bath while sitting down on the toilet.  

Wednesday, May 16

treehouse cottage

backyard cottage, carriage house

One of this season's backyard cottage projects, the treehouse's design is a response to the unique requirements of our client and his lot.  The owner is a carpenter by trade who wants to build a new shop and living space above. When the project is complete he plans to rent out his existing residence and live in the new cottage.  His prized possessions include two beautiful mature fir trees located in the middle of his lot.  The design seeks to put the inhabitants at the level of  and surrounded them by the largest branches.  The orientation of the building will enable it to take advantage of passive heating and cooling strategies.  

To protect the trees the footprint of the building is held back outside of the dripline while a covered work area will provide shelter for another prized possession a vintage pickup truck.  The truck doesn't move often and a thick layer of bark mulch will be placed to protect the soil from compaction. The covered work area will be surrounded by a cedar rain screen which extends upwards to form the siding of the second level. 

Carriage houses are a common use of backyard cottages. In Seattle garage space is included in the allowable 800 sq. ft. so accommodating two cars is often a challenge. This design maximizes the living area by creating moving one of the required parking spaces into the covered work area.

remodeling with water

rain garden,

Big houses need love too. This is a view of draft plan for a remodel that is under construction on Mercer Island. The existing house features a large three car garage prominently located on the street with the front door hidden behind.  The design seeks to accentuate the entry and sustainability.   

We have included a series of over sized concrete pavers access to the street and driveway. The large pavers are one element used to balance the scale of the auto oriented street, garage and drive. As one approaches the entry the scale is reduced by the addition of a pond that compresses the space without enclosing it.  At the same time, the rainwater from the roof is gathered via a rainchain that feeds the pond. The pond outlets to a rain garden located right up at the street. A suitable celebration of our abundant rainfall and a nice statement about sustainability.

Tuesday, May 8

beacon hill cottage housing starts construction

beacon hill cottage housing

Construction has begun on the beacon hill cottage housing project on a steeply sloping ECA infill site. This cottage housing development is unique in that the four small houses are connected by an elevated walkway with the lower units entering from the top floor. This enables us to take best advantage of the sloping site and minimize construction cost.  The unit vary from 2 to 3 bedroom and start at 1,200 sf in size. They will all have decks with nice views to the east. Completion is scheduled for the end of this year. 

Wednesday, April 25

microhouse on King 5 news

Here is the news story about microhouse and backyard cottages that aired on April 1st on King 5 News.

microhouse in the news

accommodating aging parents

NPR is exploring issues surrounding multi-generational living.  It might go without saying that backyard cottages are a great option for many families especially when considering the costs of elder care.

The Cost Of Elder Care
Adults have been providing an increasing percentage of financial assistance to their parents in recent years. Below are the national average annual costs and daily rates paid for various types of adult care.

Nursing home: semi-private room
Nursing home: private room
Assisted living
Home care: home health aide
Home care: homemaker
Adult day services

To read the full story.

preparing for a future

Monday, April 2

15 minutes of fame

Thanks for everyone who swung by the open house and for Ben and January for making the cottage available for our use.  During the open house, microhouse founder Bruce Parker was interviewed by king 5 news about backyard cottages.  We have no idea if the story aired because none of us can stay up until 11:00 pm on a Sunday night.  

Saturday, March 3

backyard cottage open house and workshop

Are you interested in backyard cottages? Please join us for an open house and information session on April 1st. 

Backyard cottages are small detached homes that share a lot with a primary residence. They are a new option for Seattle families and they have a number of possible uses. Most are used as part of a strategy for caring for an aging family member.  We are fortunate that our Magnolia cottage is being used a vacation rental and we are able to offer this opportunity to tour the cottage. 

Would you like to find out if a backyard cottage will work on your lot?  Bring your ideas and questions. Bruce Parker from Microhouse will be on hand to answer zoning and technical questions related to backyard cottages.  Rob Carlisle from Carlisle Classic Homes will be able to talk about budgeting to build a small home and Anri Rapelje from ANR Landscape Design to talk about landscape design and the challenges of working on small steeply sloping sites.   Contact us beforehand with your address and we will be able to perform a complementary analysis for your lot.

Event:        backyard cottage open house and workshop
Location:   3448 36th Ave W (alley side)
Date:          April 1st, 2012
Time:         1:00pm to 4:00pm


Open house contact:     

This cottage is available as a vacation rental. For those interested in renting the cottage please contact. 

rental web page 

Monday, January 30

stay at home strategies for seniors - PNA workshop

Microhouse, Husky Senior Care and Ncompass Cottage Company have teamed up to provide a workshop focusing on the use of backyard cottages as part of a stay-at-home strategy for seniors.  Join us to learn more about stay-at-home strategies for seniors including design, construction and use of backyard cottages. Bring your ideas. There will be a question and answer time after the presentation.  Or if you prefer, contact us directly to talk about your project.

Phone: 206.428.8599
Email: contact

Backyard Cottages; Stay-At-Home Strategies For Seniors
Microhouse, Ncompass Cottage Company, Husky Senior Care

Wed, Feb 29, 7-9pm 
Brick Building Room 32 Phinney Neighborhood Center 6532 Phinney Avenue North
$20 PNA member, $25 Public
To register call 206.783.2244

PNA home design and remodel fair

It was a good day on Sunday meeting new people and talking about backyard cottages and cabin design. Thank you to everyone who attended our presentation and stopped by our booth. A special thank you for Stefan Hansmire from Ncompass Cottage Company who co-presented with us.

Monday, January 23

pna home design and remodel fair - sunday

Please join us at the 2012 Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center Design and Remodel Fair this Sunday January 29th. Microhouse and NCompass Cottage Company will be giving a presentation on backyard cottages at 12:30. We will be talking about what a backyard cottage is, who can build one,  and how to establish a budget for your project.  This will be our second presentation on backyard cottages at the PNA. Or next presentation will be February 29 th and will focus on designing for seniors.

Tuesday, January 17

upcoming backyard cottage open house

Despite the snow we had a great turnout for our Magnolia open house. Many people, who couldn't make it because of the snow, have asked about future open houses. At this time we plan to host another open house in February at a yet to be determined date. If  you are interested in attending an open house or to schedule a tour of the cottage please RSVP at or by calling 206.428.8599.

Sunday, January 15

backyard cottage open house today

Rain, sun or snow,  stop by the backyard cottage open house today in Magnolia.  If you can't make it today let us know and we can try to arrange a private showing.  If you would like more information about a backyard cottage for your lot, please contact us with your address for a for a free analysis.