Building a Backyard Cottage in Seattle

I am now a self proclaimed expert on backyard cottages!  Save yourself some time if you have questions about DADUs or ADUs… call me!

In hopes of luring my parents back to Seattle, I decided to explore the possibility of building a ‘Backyard Cottage’ over our detached garage. Backyard Cottage is another name for detached accessory dwelling unit or DADU. There are also ADUs – which are attached to the home, like a basement apartment. Both are encouraged by the City of Seattle to help with density.

For our DADU I imagined an open, airy one bedroom unit with many windows and skylights, little kitchenette, maybe a deck or big balcony for some outdoor space. My first trip was to City planning and land use. I eagerly presented my ideas to the help-desk guy only to find out that what I could actually build was much smaller than I thought. The entire structure can only be 800 square feet. Our garage is huge, only leaving 316 square feet for the unit.

One bedroom unit is probably out, will have to go for a studio. Yes, tiny, but there are apartments smaller than that in Paris, if the Parisians can live in a small space stylishly and comfortable, so can we!  It was at this point that I decided I should consult an architect. After speaking with Michelle at Atelier Drome I felt confident that we could make the small square footage work for a nice living environment.

But how much would building a backyard cottage cost? Conventional wisdom is to get three bids. In the interest of time, and because we don’t even have the money for this project yet, we only consulted with one contractor. At least now we have a general idea that it will be about $65,000 for us to have a finished product.

If mom and dad move here it will be more than worth it to build the unit but even if they don’t move here we may decide to build this in the future. With interest rates low and Seattle rents on the increase the unit would pay for itself. We could have a nice investment right in our backyard!

After looking at the numbers I wonder why more people don’t build DADUs and ADUs? There are many different options for this type of housing like above a garage, attached to a garage, converting a garage to a living space, building a new free-standing mini house, apartment in a basement, addition to the back of a house…. But of course there are many rules and regulations, like lot size requirements, size limits, height restrictions, etc…

So yes, I have already done my homework, if you have any questions about the process I am happy to get you started!