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