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..

Saturday, December 19

happy holidays

Microhouse will be closed between December 20th and January 4th. 

Over the holidays when families gather is a good time to start the discussion about planning a backyard cottage.  If you are thinking about building a backyard cottage, and would like us to preform a preliminary analysis of your property, please send us an email and tell us your address and what you plan to use the cottage for. We will get back to you after the holidays.  Also, we have an invite only open house tentatively scheduled for January 3rd.  The exact date is dependent on the construction schedule.  If you would  to be added to the invite list  or to contact us during the holiday break email us at .

Happy Holidays

Friday, December 4

encouraging backyard cottages

The city of Seattle and council member Mike O'Brien want more backyard cottages . The Seattle department of planning and development (DPD) have created a liaison position Nicolas Welch to field suggestions about how to improve the process of permitting. We suggest as a starting point that DPD have a designated land use reviewer for accessory dwelling units to streamline the review process and provide consistency. Possibly because backyard cottages have been a low priority every reviewer seems to have a different way of measuring basic criteria like square footage and height. This is adding unnecessary delays and project costs. 

encouraging backyard cottages

Join us December 9th for Mike O'Brien's lunch and learn session about backyard cottages.

Tuesday, November 10

backyard cottage workshop this thursday full

Open house tentatively scheduled for January 16th

Thinking about building a backyard cottage and not already on the list for Thursday's workshop? Not to worry, if you send us your address and tell us a bit about what you are planning to do, we will preform a preliminary analysis of  your property and answer your questions.

If you would like to learn more about backyard cottages and tour a recently completed cottage sign up for our open house invite list.

Wednesday, October 28

backyard cottage workshop, November 12th

Our workshops and open houses, are a great opportunity to more about and meet others thinking about building and living in small houses. 

backyard cottages for fun and profit   ThursdayNovember 12th,  from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, West Seattle Office Junction 6040, Sutie B, California Ave SW, 98136

Backyard cottages can be used for many things including housing a family member or as a short term rental. Join Microhouse and Ncompass Cottage Company 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. 

so what is your backyard cottage worth?

Choosing to add a backyard cottage is an important long term decision. A good first question to ask when making that decision is, how will I establish a budget for a cottage? While it may be hard to put a value to how a well designed home makes you feel or the value of having a family member living nearby, some qualities are easier to asses.  If that family member is an aging parent who would otherwise be living in an assisted living facility it is relatively easy to look at the costs of local facilities.  For others building a new cottage may be less expensive than remodeling their existing house to more closely meet their needs. For example, new cottages can incorporate universal design components to assist those with mobility impairments.  Many people plan to use their cottages to generate rental income.  In this case,  a careful consideration of the rents in your area and anticipated costs can help you establish a budget range.  Having established a realistic budget based on your needs and values will guide the many decisions that make up design process.

Read read more

Real estate appraisers struggle with how to value backyard cottages and other ADU's primarily because there simply enough comparable sales to serve as a guide. This informative article by Martin John Brown and Taylor Watkins explains how traditional appraisals are done and some alternate methods that might be used for ADU's.

Saturday, October 3

madison valley backyard cottage preview

Downsizing with style,  this backyard cottage is a home for a seattle couple. 

Saturday, September 12

capitol hill cottage

a backyard cottage offers a quiet garden retreat in a busy urban neighborhood

Jennifer conceived of this cottage as place to stay when visiting her adult daughter and as future home.  She wanted a separate bedroom, full sized kitchen and an bathroom that could accommodate changing needs.  As it often is, one of our primary challenges was accommodating her needs in the available footprint of 400 sq. ft. The result is a sun filled cottage nestled within her daughter's garden.

Wednesday, September 9

microhouse recommended by houzz

Check out what people are saying about working with microhouse. We use as an independent host for client reviews

Saturday, August 22

4,000 backyard cottages for seattle

City Council Member Mike Obrien calls for the addition of 4,000 backyard cottages

Mayor Murray's Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee (HALA) report and the subsequent action plan have deservedly drawn harsh critiques. The one item that everyone seems to agree on is that the cost of living in Seattle is high (See previous post on this impacts backyard cottages). One of the least controversial solutions to providing more affordable housing options seems to be adding backyard cottages. To this end, council member, and head of Planning Land Use and Sustainability Committee,  Mike O'Brien, wants to add 4,000 backyard cottages to Seattle. This means more cottages like Jennifer's cottage on capitol hill.  

Jennifer's cottage like many, will provide a home for a family member in the long term and in the short term will be used as a rental property.  It and other backyard cottages, can provide what many housing advocates are seeking, an increase number of housing units within the city.  As of a year ago, there have been around 100 backyard cottage built in Seattle since the program was expanded at the end of 2009. Even though interest in backyard cottages is increasing, it seems unlikely that anywhere near the number of cottages envisioned by Mike O'Brien  will be built. Why? Based on ongoing study being prepared by the City of Seattle, when those who had built cottages were asked to list the "significant barriers to building a backyard cottage" the number one reason was given was development regulations (71%) followed by the basic cost of construction (64%).  

The Seattle City Council is currently considering ways to ease regulations to increase the number of backyard cottages.  Of these, the one proposal that would be most likely to have an impact, and one that we are opposed to, would be to eliminate the owner occupancy requirement for accessory dwelling units.  Currently, to add an accessory dwelling unit you must live in either the primary residence or the accessory unit for a minimum of six months out of the year.  This requirement is almost universal among municipalities that allow accessory dwelling units.  Why?  It is widely believed that having the owner living in the unit will minimize the impact of having what could otherwise be considered multi-family housing within single family zones. More importantly, it also restricts the types of investors that can buy and hold these properties.  Currently purchasing a single family residences as rental property is cost prohibitive which favors owner occupants.  However, if developers are allowed to build two units on a single family zoned lot it becomes a much more attractive investment package for a absentee landlord. This would further escalate the prices for single family zoned land and houses.  

Owner occupants act differently than developers in a number of important ways.  To a home owner building a back yard cottage is a major long term investment.  The majority of homeowners finance their cottages with cash or by taking equity out of their primary residence.  This makes them cautious by necessity.  Also, the primary impact of their development is going to be on their lot and in their neighborhood. When we begin a project a typical client wish list contains the desire to minimize the impact to their neighbors.  We have and continue to work with residential developers. Not once has one of them expressed the least concern over how the neighbors might be impacted by their development. 

Tuesday, August 18

portage bay backyard cottage in the news

Smaller pieces of HALA puzzle, with or without upzone, in motion across Capitol Hill

capitol hill blog

Friday, August 14

historic egan house open sunday

Historic Seattle is offering this unique opportunity to tour the Egan House, one of Seattle's most iconic modern houses. The open house takes place this Sunday August 16th from 1-4 pm.  Registration and event info at historic seattle event
Construction of the Egan House was completed in 1959, with the house nestled between Seattle’s Eastlake and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. At the time, it cost $10,762. Designed by architect Robert Reichert for Admiral Willard Egan, it is one of Reichert’s most notable residential designs. Its fame is based on two factors—the advanced design and the house’s relationship to the surrounding property. For these same reasons, the wooden triangular form on a rectilinear plane sitting atop a pier block is an easily recognizable landmark within the city. Though threatened with demolition in 1989, it survived four subsequent ownerships. When the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department purchased a large swath of land below St. Mark’s Cathedral in 1998, it included the Egan House. Historic Seattle arranged to acquire it, along with the rights to use the immediate surrounding land, from the Parks and Recreation Department - See more at:

Sunday, August 9

backyard cottage for rent

A tight housing market is leading to an increase in backyard cottage construction

While the mayor and city council debate ways to lower housing costs homeowners building backyard cottages are benefiting from the tight housing market. Higher property values make financing easier to obtain. For the owners of rental properties, rising short term and long term rental rates offset increasing construction costs.  The real estate axiom, location, location, location, does apply to backyard cottages. Those in close in neighborhoods command the highest rent while construction costs are more or less consistent across the city.

A recently completed project by microhouse, this two bedroom backyard cottage features sweeping views of portage bay and is conveniently located near the university of washington and south lake union.  This backyard cottage will rent for $2,500 per month.

Wednesday, June 17

invite only open house wednesday june 24th

sign up for our invite list and see the backyard cottage we toured with the delegation from Salt Lake City.

more cottages please

A Salt Lake City delegation comes to Seattle seeking ways to increase the number of backyard cottages in their city. 

We met with a group of SLC planners at a recently completed cottage and talked about the ins and outs of the Seattle backyard cottage ordinance.  Also in attendance was a Seattle researcher who has been patiently interviewing those who have built backyard cottages and ADUs. The question on the planners minds was how can they increase the number of backyard cottages and what are the hurdles that prevent more people from doing so? While SLC has allowed backyard cottages for two years not one has been built, why?  

It would seem that the two primary factors affecting the decision to build a backyard cottage are financial and regulatory.  Seattle's hot real estate market makes backyard cottages attractive rental properties and increasing numbers are being built.  For example, the two bedroom cottage we were touring will rent between $2,000 and $2,500 per month, proving to be a good investment even with correspondingly high construction costs. The strong real estate market has also made financing easier with many people choosing to finance construction using a home equity line of credit.  In cities like Vancouver, B.C., the economics are tilted even more in favor of backyard cottages and roughly ten times as many have been built.  

Regulations intentionally create a barriers to construction, one that city planners have control over. The Seattle City Council is considering ways to ease regulations to increase the number of backyard cottages.  Of these, the one proposal that would be most likely to have an impact, and one that we are opposed to, would be to eliminate the owner occupancy requirement. For the record, SLC won't be eliminating their owner occupancy requirement any time soon. However,  from our experience, the restrictions imposed by regulations definitely shape what can be built, but they rarely make building a cottage infeasible.

We talk with hundreds of people each year who are considering building a backyard cottage.  In the past, the most common reason given has been providing a home for a family member.  While this is still one of the main reasons people chose to build a backyard cottage, more often now people are planning to use the cottage as a long term or short term rental. 

How about you? Are you thinking about building a backyard cottage, why or why not? Planners from Salt Lake City want to know.  


Thursday, April 9

backyard cottage workshop - April 15th

Would you like to learn more about backyard cottages and meet others thinking about building a backyard cottage?  We periodically assemble experts in the design, construction and of financing backyard cottages.  These workshops offer a unique opportunity to have your questions answered in an informal setting. 

backyard cottages for fun and profit   April 15th,  from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, Blue Building Room TBD. 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 Cottage Company 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 Cottage Company
$20 PNA member, $25 Public

Tuesday, March 31

Check out what people are saying about working with microhouse. We use as an independent host for client reviews

Wednesday, February 25

microhouse portlandia

It has been a busy week for microhouse in the press with the lake washington cabin featured in Seattle Magizine and a send up on Portlandia.  Portlandia fame aside, we don't actually design houses on wheels. Our houses rest on foundations and are usually between 400 and 1,000 sq. ft. in size. In fact we frequently work with people who are up-sizing from a boat or small apartment, people who are looking for a comfortable place to live that is efficiently designed.

microhouse portlandia 

If you would like to tour a backyard cottage please sign up for our open house invite list. Our next open house will likely be mid May.  

We also have announced a date for our spring workshop April 15th at the Phinney Center workshop info.  

Sunday, February 8

seattle city council proposes expanding backyard cottage ordinance

The Seattle City Council considers a draft resolution that will expand the backyard cottage ordinance with the goal of increasing the number of backyard cottages being built.  While we support backyard cottages and increased density we oppose many of the proposals being considered.

The draft proposal would...

a. Remove or change owner-occupancy requirements;
b. Remove or change parking requirements;
c. Reduce permitting fees;
d. Expedite the permitting process for backyard cottages

We have talked with literally hundreds of people planning backyard cottages and would guess that the main barrier that prevents more cottages from being built is cost. But we don't see any provisions in the draft resolution that will have much impact. Permitting fees are progressive being based on square footage and less than in other places.  We can think of only one project that wasn't able to go ahead because of parking. And getting a building permit for a backyard cottage isn't more difficult than for any other residence.

There are some systematic issues that make them challenging to design most fundamentally DPD' s inability to decide what is included in allowable 800 sq ft.  size.  There are also many common sense items that are addressed elsewhere in the residential code that are for now not allowed for backyard cottages like provisions for extra height for dormers and the use of side yard agreements.

We are strongly opposed to the removal of the owner occupancy requirements because we feel that it will result in a land grab by developers and be detrimental to our neighborhoods. We not only work in Seattle but live here as well. 

If we could waive a magic wand and revise the landuse code it would be to expand the number of standards that are departable.  Now many design standards are but those are only for the conversion of existing structures. We think this should be expanded to new construction where there could be an option design review process to weigh the merits of particular departures.

We encourage you to email the city council and share your views.  Mike O'Brien is the current chair of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability committee.