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..

Wednesday, July 31

DADU open house - August 8th

 11040 1st Ave NW - Thursday August 8th from 5-7 pm

Broadview Backyard Cottage

The new DADU code changes go into effect on August 8th.  To celebrate join us for a tour of one of our recently completed backyard cottages. This 2 bedroom, 2 bath cottage is nearing completion and it is for rent. Ownership of this cottage will ultimately be segregated from the primary residence using a condo agreement.

Entrance to the cottage is from the alley between 1st Ave NW and Palatine Ave N.

Sunday, July 14

2447 5th Ave W - open house today from noon to 4:00 pm



Queen Anne backyard cottage

Considering building a backyard cottage? You can try living in one before you build.  This newly completed 2 bedroom 1 1/2 bath backyard cottage is located on the top of Queen Anne Hill. The owner is hosting an open house for prospective tenants today from noon to 4:00 pm.  If you want try living in a cottage but would like a shorter commitment, there are many cottages available as short term rentals including the Eastlake Cottage at 2352 Franklin Ave E and Wren's Cottage at 2603 19th Ave S.

Monday, July 1

city council to vote on DADU rule change today


Seattle city council is scheduled to vote at their 2:00 pm meeting today on a host of measures meant to increase the number of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs). The proposed code changes and amendments will be voted on individually.  Given the makeup of the city council and support from the Mayor, all of the measures in favor of increasing the number of ADUs and DADUs are likely to pass. Once they pass implementation will take place some time between August and November of this year.


Thursday, June 20

In 2010 Colette and her family purchased her childhood Craftsman home in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood.  As Colette and Chris noticed similar houses nearby being replaced by rows of apartment buildings, they considered ways to preserve their own home and history. That meant improving and maintaining the original house, and also creating an income stream to secure their options for the future. A backyard cottage turned out to be just what they were looking for.


eastlake backyard cottage
How did the idea of building a backyard cottage come about?
Colette: My husband Chris and I moved back to Seattle in 2010 with our two children and were able to buy my childhood home from my family. The home needed extensive work so we did it at a very slow pace. Once the main house was close to being finished we noticed that many houses on our block were being sold to developers. What was once a quiet Craftsman lined street was turning into rows of apartment buildings.


That got us thinking about how to preserve my childhood home and invest and grow with the neighborhood. It was simple: build a backyard cottage and use it as a short-term rental to pay off the new debt, and later have a guest house. We also began to see it as a great investment into our retirement and something we can leave to our kids. We can live in the cottage when the kids are gone, or perhaps we can fly off to Italy and let the cottage and house support us in our next stage of life. The cottage suddenly gave us positive options for the future. 

entry looking towards the kitchen
What did you enjoy most about the process?
Colette: I loved every part of the process. Because our lot was small and there were only a certain number of ways to build our structure, the design part became quite easy. Bruce and Stefan [of microhouse] were great at listening to what we wanted and were always willing to change things to get them right. 
At one point in the build we had some large joists delivered that were used as our entryway ceiling and our loft floor. Garrick, our builder, set them up for me and loaned me his sander so I could work on them before they were installed. I really enjoyed that they allowed me access to work on projects for the cottage.

I was also able to design the inside of the cottage to fit furniture I was buying along the way. Walls were made to fit vanities and all the lighting was installed to my specifications for the fixtures I had bought. 
living room looking towards the entry What challenges did you face during the process?
Colette: My biggest challenge in this process was my neighbor. They didn’t like what we were doing. They objected to noise, dust, and anything that needed to go over their property line. It became quite ugly and it was a sad break to a 30-year friendship.

For me, living through construction was pretty fun. It was great to look out the kitchen window and watch walls go up. Garrick and I became friends and it was easy to have him around. He was missed when the project ended. 

How long did the process take?
Colette: It took about a year to get the plans down just right. The build began just before fall of 2017 and ended in the spring of 2018.




the master bedroom opens up onto a private patio



master bedroom on lower floor, bath beyond

master bath beyond
Is there anything you would do differently if you had to do it over?
Colette: If we ever decide to build again I would work with Bruce, Stefan and Garrick again. It was truly a pleasure. 

2nd bedroom located on the 3rd floor



What’s your favorite thing about your cottage?
Colette: I love the size of our cottage. It looks narrow and small from the outside, but when you enter it seems much, much larger. It feels like a trick of the eye. I love the shiplap wall we built as a focal point. I love that the appliances all fit into the kitchen I assembled. I love that I was very much a part of the build and that my ideas and creativity were used throughout. 

a full bath located off of the entry

Monday, June 17

DADU proposed code change amendments

a DADU used as a short term rental prior to grandfather's retirement

As city council prepares to vote on the proposed code changes to Seattle's single family zones even amendments have been proposed.  These include owner occupancy restrictions for short term rentals and allowance for bike parking. 

Here is what we think is important.

  • The proposed code changes would remove the owner occupancy requirement. An amendment would add a 1 year requirement for the 2nd ADU. We believe that owner occupancy should be required for all properties with ADUS for a period of time.
The impact to removing the occupancy requirement is unknown. The environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared as part of the lawsuit doesn't appear to adequately predict the impact from removing this requirement. Detractors note that the EIS does not take into account the increasing trend to sell ADUs and their primary residence separately using a condominium or land-lease agreement. Owner occupancy for a period of time (3 years) is good and should minimize the destruction of naturally occurring affordable housing by speculative developers.  

  • Owner occupancy should be required for all properties used as short-term rentals.
An amendment proposed by Lisa Herbold would prohibit short term rental use for new ADUs. It would be far better to maintain the owner occupancy requirement. Allowing owner's flexibility is crucial to long term planning for those contemplating building an ADU.  The higher rate of return for a short term rental (STR) allows more ADU's and DADUs to be built.  A majority of the homeowner's we work with plan to use their cottages as short term rental at some point.  The magnolia cottage pictured above was rented out as a STR for a few years, which paid for construction, prior to the owner's father moving in.

  • SDCI should closely monitor ADU construction and report annually to City Council. 
Two proposed amendment would monitor ADU permitting and use.

  • Garage Space should be included in FAR calculations. 
The current proposal would allow the exclusion of up to 1,000 sq. ft. of garage space for ADUs. This is effectively a parking subsidy. Consider limiting the exempted area to 200 sq. ft. or enough space for one car. One proposed amendment would allow 25 sq. ft. to be excluded for bike parking, seems unnecessary.  

Comments may be submitted to Seattle Council Member Lisa Herbold  <lisa.herbold@seattle.gov>

Friday, June 14

ADU Tour - consider biking




Joining us for the AIA ADU tour tomorrow? Consider biking, it is good for the planet and it will save you a lot of time looking for parking.  There are 900 registered participants which will make parking a challenge for most locations. It also makes this the largest ADU tour in the country.

  • tour rules: no smoking, no strollers inside the ADU, no shoes on in the ADU. 

Monday, June 10

backyard cottage public hearing June 11th

This DADU was built for a grandparent in the Bryant neighborhood

Seattle City Council will hold a public hearing to discuss the proposed code changes Tuesday, June 11th at 5:30pm in council chambers. Discussion and possible vote on amendments and the proposed legislation will be held on June 28th at 2:00pm.

City council has proposed significant changes to the Seattle Land-Use Code with the aim of increasing the construction of backyard cottages (DADUs) and attached accessory dwelling units (ADUs). These changes, in the making for years now, have been delayed by a lawsuit and appeal brought about under SEPA regulations. What do these changes really mean for Seattle and for ADUs?

The proposed code changes include many items that are minor which could and should have been completed years ago. These include modest increases in size and height of allowed cottages, details about dormers, and the location of entries. The more significant changes proposed are as follows:
  • Allowing two ADUs on one lot
  • Removing the off-street parking requirement
  • Removing the owner-occupancy requirement
  • Increasing the household size limit for a lot with two ADUs
  • Establishing a new limit on the maximum size of single-family dwellings equal to one half of the lot size (FAR = 0.5)

Owner Occupancy
Of these we believe the owner-occupancy requirement is most important. Currently the owner is required to live on the property for a minimum of six months of the year.

The impact to removing the occupancy requirement is unknown. The environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared as part of the lawsuit doesn't appear to adequately predict the impact from removing this requirement. Detractors believe that it will lead to the destruction of large numbers of existing homes and their replacement with duplexes and triplexes. They also note an increasing trend to sell ADUs and their primary residence separately using a condominium or land-lease agreement.

Our Recommendations:

  • The original proposal to sunset owner occupancy after a period of time (3 years) is good and should minimize the destruction of naturally occurring affordable housing by speculative developers.
  • Owner occupancy should be required for all properties used as short-term rentals.
  • SDCI should closely monitor ADU construction and report annually to City Council.
The builder plans to maintain ownership of this DADU and sell the primary residence using a condominium agreement 

Floor Area Ratio Limits
The EIS finds that the most significant way to reduce tear-downs (i.e the removal of naturally occurring affordable housing) will occur by introducing a floor area ratio (FAR) limit. Currently the size of new houses is limited by setbacks and height limits. The trend in new construction is for very large houses (with correspondingly large price tags), which are typically beyond the means of median income earners. The FAR limit would reduce the size of what can be built but exclude ADUs and DADUs from the restriction. The goal being to prevent tear-downs and to encourage rather the construction of ADUs and DADUs.

Our Recommendations:

  • Approve a FAR limit of 0.5 for new construction.
  • Exemption of ADUs and DADUs from the FAR limit.

The City Council will hold a public hearing to discuss these proposed changes on Tuesday, June 11th at 5:30pm in council chambers. Discussion and potential vote on the amendments and proposed legislation will be held on June 28th at 2:00pm.

We encourage you to voice your opinion with your council members and look forward to moving ahead with sensible legislation.

Tuesday, May 21

Fisherman's Cottage in Ballard

Wednesday, May 15

living in a backyard cottage

What is it like to move out of your house and into a backyard DADU?  Jenna Spesard of Tiny House Giant Journey interviewed Paul and Caroline about planning and building their backyard cottage. Watch her video to learn about their experiences. 



Monday, May 13

seattle ADU code changes - finally a decision

The Seattle Hearing Examiner has ruled that the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) in regards to the proposed code changes for backyard cottages (DADUs) and attached accessory dwelling units (ADUs), is adequate. Now the proposed code changes will go to city council for debate.

Tuesday, May 7

backyard cottage tour - full

Our annual spring backyard cottage tour on May 11th is now full. Coming up there will be an opportunity to see two of our DADU's on the AIA ADU tour on June 15th. Contact us for or sign up more information about upcoming tours and open houses.

Tuesday, April 30

DADU bike tour, Saturday May 11th





Join us for our fourth annual backyard cottage bike tour and informal cottage discussion. This will be a unique opportunity to see inside a number of cottages and speak with their owners and designers. The tour will will encompass Fremont, Greenwood, and Ballard, neighborhoods. Email us for more information and to RSVP.

info@microhousenw.com


Monday, April 8

Seattle DADU code changes - almost there?

Closing arguments will be submitted on April 21st, and responses due April 26th, in the hearing concerning proposed land use code changes affecting backyard cottages and other ADUs


this backyard cottage provides a home for proud grandparents in Ballard

Two years ago the City of Seattle proposed a number of code changes intended to promote the construction of DADUs and ADUs. Those changes include:

  • Allowing two ADUs on one lot
  • Removing the off-street parking requirement
  • Removing the owner-occupancy requirement and requiring one year of ownership when creating a second ADU
  • Modifying development standards that regulate the size, height, and location of DADUs
  • Increasing the household size limit for a lot with two ADUs
  • Establishing a new limit on the maximum size of single-family dwellings equal to one half of the lot size (FAR = 0.5)
The city contends that the proposed changes will be radical enough to spur a wave of new construction in residential neighborhoods while not adversely impacting them. Others disagreed. In hearing an appeal brought by the Queen Anne Community Council, the Seattle Hearing Examiner ruled that City's original SEPA response was not adequate. This ruling launched a full blown study (EIS) into the potential environmental impacts of the proposed code changes. The Final EIS was issued last fall and the findings were again challenged. The appellants claim the EIS does not fully assess the impacts of increased development in residential neighborhoods. For the appeal, Tree PAC (concerned with the potential loss of urban tree canopy due to increased development), have joined the Queen Anne Community Council.


Whats Next?


If the Hearing Examiner rules that the EIS is sufficient, the City Council will consider legislation to implement the proposed Land Use Code changes as early as this May. 

Friday, March 22

Pingpong, Prince, and Permits: Microhouse Collaboration Yields Cozy Cottage



“Where’s the bed?” That’s what most people ask upon entering Paul and Caroline’s 400 sq. ft., backyard cottage. (Spolier: It’s a queen-sized Murphy, tucked neatly away in a poplar wood cabinet constructed by Paul).



the living and bedroom


But you’d be forgiven for first noticing the spoons and forks—purchased from Goodwill and serving as drawer pulls and cabinet handles. Or the hanging cheese grater light cover in the kitchen. Then there’s the small shrine to the musician Prince (to say Caroline is a huge fan is an understatement).


silverware from Goodwill is creatively re-purposed


the light filled kitchen features a tree top view


No matter where your eyes alight, it’s clear that this home is unique to its owners. And it all started with a pingpong table.


 the garage is all set for a Purple Rain screening in observance of parking day,

In 2014, after several years living in their Fremont house, Paul decided to tear down the garage in the backyard and create a space for his pingpong table. During that renovation process, he and Caroline got the idea to add a second floor to use it as their living space. Paul, a skilled builder, would design and build the structure. Caroline liked the idea of a change after several years in their current house on the property.

With all of the skill and purpose between the couple, why did Paul and Caroline hire microhouse?

Paul puts it simply: “Bureaucracy.” Despite his ability to create the plans and build the home from top to bottom—doing all the framing, electrical and plumbing himself—he was hesitant to deal with the City of Seattle permitting process. Enter Bruce Parker of microhouse. “Bruce is so helpful because he's good at [dealing with the bureaucracy],” says Caroline. “It makes for a good team.”

Having lived in their backyard cottage for two years, is there anything Paul and Caroline would change about it? “I might not make the roof as steep,” says Paul, who designed it with Caroline to be consistent with neighboring homes. Now, he says, flat roofs have popped up all around them.



paper mache was used as the floor covering for the living room

“I don't have room to put big ladders and scaffolding up around here,” he says, worried for the day he’ll have to do roof maintenance or repairs. “I would have thought about roof access a little bit more.”



recycled tiles were used for the shower surround




The bath countertop is a laminate of scrap wood

For Caroline’s part, she’d go with a quieter heating system. While the convection heating works well, the loud fan bothers her. Paul comments that it’s too late to change it, then reconsiders.
“Well, it's not too late. I can replace that with a radiant panel.” He pauses. “But then I'd need a bigger wall space.Caroline laughs at this prospect. And Paul seems to agree with her sentiment. “When you're in a small space, everything affects something else,” he says. But what the couple loves about their home far outweighs any regrets. 

For Paul, his favorite thing about the cottage is the light.When you wake up, the morning light glows. It doesn't actually shine through our windows onto us, it just glows.” Caroline agrees that the light is their home’s best feature. A close second is the color. While her natural inclination was to paint the cottage purple, a neighbor had expressed negativity about it. So she waited for new inspiration. It came during a trip to her native San Francisco. “I was walking through the Alamo Square neighborhood and I looked up at the blue sky. I thought. Wow. This is it. So I went down to the Sherman Williams and looked at their color palette.” She points out the window to the exterior color. “This is it!” (It’s officially “Quench Blue,” but Paul refers to it as “the pool.”)



the stair railing was welded by a neighbor

In a more subtle ode to Prince, a purple bistro table and chairs sit outside the home, where Caroline enjoys her morning coffee and solitude. And a Prince-themed Little Free Library on the parking strip greets friends and neighbors. For Caroline, it’s these details—like the spoons and forks and the hanging cheese grater—that make the cottage home. And well worth the trade-off for a smaller living space. 

Her advice to anyone thinking about moving into a backyard cottage is simple. “You have to downsize. It’s doable, but you have to think twice about ‘stuff.’ I got rid of a lot of books, and I’m still figuring out where to store my clothes.”

Paul, as the builder, has two contradictory pieces of advice to would-be cottage dwellers. “One: it's all certainly possible. I mean, if one guy can build this, it can be done. You don't need PhD to do it. But you need to do it. People think, ‘Oh I'll get in an hour or two every weekend’. It's like, you're never going to have a house. That's not going to happen. So along with the, ‘Anybody could do it’ advice, it takes a lot more time and effort than you think. So you either get after it or stop dreaming. One of the two.”

Tuesday, March 12

SB 1582 - the DADU bill passes the Washington State Senate

Senate Bill 5812 Passes the Senate (SB 1797) and advance to the House for debate. 

Amended language changes the requirement for owner occupancy to apply only to cities with populations of greater than 100,000 which do not have an ADU ordinance in place. In case you are curious as we were how many Washington State Cities there are with populations greater than 100,000, there are ten.  All ten of them have ADU ordinances. 

Read the Bill

To comment on the Senate Bill

Comment

Wednesday, March 6

backyard cottage workshop tomorrow



Backyard cottages can be used for many things including housing a family member or as a short term rental.  Join Bruce Parker from Microhouse and Stefan Hansmire from Hansmire Builds to learn more about how to plan for and establish a realistic budget for your cottage. Bring your ideas, after the presentation we will have plenty of time to answer questions about the specifics of your project. We will also discuss proposed local and state code changes for DADUs.


  
Thursday, March 7,  7:00 pm 

Phinney Neighborhood Center
Blue Building Room 6
6532 Phinney Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103
Admission Price $15 member/ $25 general public


Wednesday, February 13

washington state vs the king county sewer capacity charge

One seemingly intractable cost to building a backyard cottage in Seattle has been the $10,000 king county sewer capacity charge levied against DADUs but not ADUs.   





Senate Bill 5812 is new legislation that is part of state wide effort intended to increase the amount of affordable rental housing by setting standards for both attached (ADUs) and detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs). If adopted the legislation will apply to all towns and cities with populations of greater than 2,500.  

One of the major costs of building DADUs have been capacity charges. In many municipalities capacity charges for a DADU are levied equal to those of a new single family residence.  The new legislation would require that utilities charge fees at a level that is proportionate to the actual cost of adding the service and additional consumption. This is particularly important for what might be considered more affordable DADUs, those that are smaller and in rural areas, as the existing cost per unit model represents a disproportionately large part of the budget for these units.  


For ADUs and DADUs the bill would also.
  • Eliminate owner occupancy requirements
  • Set a minimum size of 1,000 square feet
  • Exclude garages from the maximum allowable size for DADUs.
  • Eliminate parking requirements
  • Allow one ADU and one DADU or two ADUs per primary residence

Comments can be submitted via link

Or via session Committee Assistant Elisabeth Weeks (elizabeth.weeks@leg.wa.gov)

And addressed to:

Madame Chair and Members of the Senate Housing Stability and Affordability
Committee,




Monday, February 4

happy seattle snow day

Our offices are closed today, February 4th, in honor of mother nature.  If you have a question about backyard cottages please contact us via the open house invite form or send us an email to info@microhousenw.com.  Please include your address and tell us how you plan to use the DADU.  We will take a look and we can set up a time for a follow up phone call.




You can register for our next workshop backyard cottages for fun and profit, here.


Thursday, March 7,  7:00 pm 
Phinney Neighborhood Center.6532 Phinney Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103Admission Price $15 members, $25 general public