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Ta ta to teensy weensy

Over the holidays I found myself prone on the couch watching those marathons on HGTV.  I had never really watched those tiny home programs during the season, so it was quite the eye-opener.  I was truly surprised by some people who really, really wanted a tiny home but still had to have full-size appliances, a bath tub, and a king sized bed.  Something tells me these people are not ready to make the sacrifices involved in living in a super-small space.

So it doesn’t surprise me to learn that many tiny house dwellers have given up on the idea of spending the rest of their lives in a space that is typically between 100 and 200 square feet.  In this Globe and Mail article, author Erin Anderssen recounts summers spent in a 320 square foot cottage without hot water, indoor toilet, privacy, nice appliances, and presumably wifi.  It’s a summer house, not built for permanent, year-round occupation.  But it gave this family a taste of tiny-house living, and it’s not for them.

And, it is pointed out, it’s not for a lot of people who thought they wanted it.

Melanie Sorrentino and her husband, Mark,.parked their 150-square-foot tiny house on a wooded four acres in Eureka Springs, Ark. … They lasted one year.

The tiny-house movement is really good philosophically, but it shouldn’t be whitewashed with cutesy little houses,” she says. “My advice for anyone looking at a tiny house – or any lifestyle painted so perfectly – is to try to imagine whether you can grow as a human being in that space.”

For another couple with a child:

Travis Marttinen, who built his own 187-square-foot home in Barrie, Ont., while completing an architectural technology diploma. He sees people jumping on the trend but expecting to live exactly as they did before. “You need to radically simplify. Not only in the number of possessions, but in lifestyle. You cannot have all of the creature comforts that most people are used to. It simply doesn’t work.”

No.  Tiny-house living, even small-house living is not for everyone.  I think it’s best for those who know they are there for a limited time.  A married couple staying in a tiny house before children arrive.  Someone in transition between homes or lifestyles.  Someone coming from “straitened circumstances” like homelessness.  Or those, like this community in Portland, who have their own tiny homes but share amenities.

When DH and I moved to our laneway, we were coming from a good-sized condo (over 1100 square feet).  And we knew that there would be room for us each to have some private space to ourselves.  And we’d lived in lots of other places, mostly houses and large apartments.  We knew what we were giving up.  And what we gained.

It always amazes me when I see people who have never spent so much as a wet weekend in a small motel room with their beloved think they can move out of houses into, basically, less room than the average living room.  Forever.

My advise is to rent before you buy into the tiny-house lifestyle.  It can be done.  But it’s not for the dreamy-eyed.

A hard rain’s gonna fall

Here I sit, surrounded by Christmas cheer — decor, cards, goodies.  My home is the cutest, most adorable little welcome Christmas laneway home all lit up for the season:

XmasHome

But full disclosure — Christmas is kind of a tough time for me.  Three years ago, my mother suffered a stroke and lay in a coma for over a week until she died on Christmas Eve.  You know how Christmas traditions gladden the heart?  Remembering how Mom used to bake for weeks, how the house was filled with music and the intoxicating scent of gingerbread and cloves?  Cards from distant friends and relatives?  Caroling?  Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special? Well, that reminds me of when my Mom died.  Everything about the season reminds me of it.  As the years go by I hope that the achy feeling I get will fade a bit. But for right now…..

Of course, I’m not the only one who is hurting this time of year.  As Marsha Lederman reminds us in her Globe and Mail article,

Maybe this is your first Christmas after the death of a loved one. Maybe you’re going through a divorce. Maybe you’ve just lost your job at CHCH or Bell Media or Suncor or in some other layoff that didn’t make the news. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Or, heaven forbid, your child has. Maybe you have depression or anxiety. Maybe you had a miscarriage or are trying, desperately, to conceive a child. Maybe there’s alcoholism in your family and you’re worried about another Christmas Day blow-up. Or maybe you’re sober and can’t face one more boozy holiday party. Perhaps treacherous family dynamics have left you out in the cold this year, disinvited to Christmas dinner. Maybe a loved one is in trouble with the law or has a mental illness or has lost their way and is suffering. And so you are too.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the people who just can’t afford Christmas.  The tree, the decorations, the extra food and the gifts.  The stress on them must be nearly unbearable.

Of course adding to the melancholy that overtakes us is the feeling that we should be having a wonderful time!  How dare you be blue at Christmas! It’s the time of CHEER, DAMMIT! Or those poor souls who were expecting a magical Christmas and found that it was just **meh** (kind of like when you were a kid and woke up on Boxing Day and realized that getting what you wanted and asked for was not going to make you truly happy). Those people can find January a very cold month indeed.

And there will be cheer for me, visiting with my beloved family on Christmas Day and just being quietly, gratefully there. But there will be a few tears, too.

I am glad of the way I’ve found to display the very old ornaments we had when I was a child — suspended from a tension rod in a window:

XmasWindow

And I’m especially glad that we’ve cut way back on the baking and visiting and gift-giving (and ergo:  gift buying — so exhausting) and that I can just slip back to our little haven if celebrations elsewhere get too tiring.

So along with all the thoughts of sugarplums you’ll have this year, please spare a thought for those of us who will not be filled with the spirit of Christmas present.

Aly Semigran knows what it’s like to face depression during the holiday season.  And in her blog post she offers this comfort:

That you deserve to be healthy and that it takes work and time and it’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. Your friends and family will be waiting for you at the other end of this, whether it’s on a holiday or some random Wednesday when that fog finally lifts.

It’s okay to skip the songs on the radio that make you feel sad (Burl Ives will have to serenade someone else), it’s okay if the mall makes you feel utterly overwhelmed (though I will take that Auntie Anne’s pretzel, thankyouverymuch), and it’s okay if this particular holiday season wasn’t it what it was “supposed” to look like. It’s the best gift you’ll ever receive: the understanding that it’s okay. You’re okay. It’ll be okay.

VHF Laneway Tour — another great success!

DH and I got into the car yesterday, which is a treat in itself as we usually use transit to get around.  But there was not a minute to waste if we wanted to get through all 6 homes in the Vancouver Heritage Foundation Laneway House Tour.

Three years ago, it was the Laneway House Tour we took with our designer, Laurel, that showed us some of th4e features we wanted to incorporate into our lanehouse design.

Two years ago our house-in-progress was part of the tour, a great honour for us.

Now that laneway homes are becoming more and more common, it was interesting to see how the designs are being interpreted across the city, finding solutions to how to keep families together and even how to save a beloved tree.

The first home on the tour was not, strictly speaking, one of this generation of laneway homes.  Instead it was a strata-title home tucked behind a heritage house in Point Grey.  In 1988, architect Robert Lemon purchased the Barber Residence, built in the art deco style by Ross Lort in 1936.  The home straddled the front part of two lots, and Lemon wanted to make sure that the home would not be torn down to take advantage of the land.  So with a plan, patience, and perseverance, he convinced the city permit department to let him build a complementary home behind his, and to let him enter into a strata ownership with its inhabitants.

The result was stunning:

LW2015-1

At 2340 square feet the home is a spacious one bedroom and den, and those two-storey-high windows bring light and an upstairs view into what could be a rather dark north-facing home.  Skylights upstairs also lighten the interior.  The decor and artwork are stunning, too.  Comfortable but elegant, a perfect partner to the Barbour Residence.

But there was no sense in mooning about what could never be (for us, anyway), on to the rest of the homes.

We zipped up to House 4, just off King Edward Avenue and Columbia.  Built on a 150′ by 50′ lot, this was the largest of the laneways we saw, 1000 square feet.  There was a nice kitchen and sitting area, but the home is used as a vacation rental, with 3 bedrooms and two baths, so it didn’t say “homey” as much as “convenient”.  The take-away from this home was the heating/cooling system — a heat pump.  You get heating and cooling with the same system, and it costs much less to run, but costs much more to install.

House 2 is a real cutey:

LW2015-2

It’s an adorable one-bedroom cottage, all on one level with lovely high ceilings in the kitchen/sitting area.  That rounded front door is repeated in an interior hall archway.

House 3 fits in perfectly with the neighbourhood and allows a mother and child to live on the grandmother’s property (having grandchildren right there is a blessing!):

LanewayTour2015

House 5 provided a solution to a marital break-up that didn’t break up the children’s lives.  One ex-partner lives in the house, and one lives in a spacious laneway with room for the children to stay:

LW2015-5

House 6 is right in our neck of the woods and provided another solution — how to keep a mature magnolia tree and build a laneway house.  Lanefab found the answer:

LW2015-6

The house is a reverse plan like ours, with the kitchen/sitting area up top and the bedroom in the lower level.

So what did we take away from the tour?  All the homes were well-built, and most had radiant floor heat with boilers instead of water tanks.  So new home technology is being used freely in these new builds.  I’m sure all are energy efficient, and all make the most of the natural light available to them through windows and skylights.

We met some new builders on the tour, so you have lots of choice when it comes to pick your own you’ll have dozens of options.  And the tour showed us that laneways are a solution, not just for Vancouver’s housing shortage, but for all kinds of problems that people have.  A way to keep families together, to let children stay in the neighbourhoods they grew up in and to raise their own children there.

Vancouver Heritage Foundation Laneway House Tour is October 24

Three years ago, DH and I and our designer, Laurel, took the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Laneway House Tour.  It wasn’t the first time we’d been inside a laneway home — we’d seen a couple of examples — but it was a real eye-opener as to the esthetics of the different builders.  Plus it showed us that we didn’t have to be bound by old-fashioned designs and expectations — we could truly have what we wanted in our home.

Two years ago, our unfinished laneway was part of the Tour — a real honour for us.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to make the tour last year — but we’ve been looking forward to seeing what the VHF have in store for 2015.

LanewayTour2015

This year those hard working people at the Vancouver Heritage Foundation promise fabulous examples of new laneway homes, showing a wide variety of design. Plus you can also see an infill home that was added to the property of a heritage home on the west side of the city over 20 years ago.

This tour is not just for people planning to build a laneway, it’s interesting for everyone who loves good design.  But it’s invaluable if you are looking for ideas to incorporate into your home. We had never seen a small window set into the backsplash between a counter and the upper shelves in the kitchen before we took the tour.  But we’ve got one now, and it makes the kitchen much brighter.  We loved the way open staircases allowed you to see onto the stairs and the lower storey — so our designer put that into our home.  After seeing how bright the upper floors were on the two-storey homes, we confirmed our wish to put our bedroom in the darker ground floor level.

Get your tickets now!  You won’t be able to get into those tasty homes without a valid ticket.  This is a tough tour to do by transit, if you want to see all the homes start right at 1 pm and drive between the homes — carpooling is a good alternative if you can find someone else who wants to take the tour.

See you on October 25!

Water pressure

faucet

 

The other day the water bill came to the big house on the property.  We split it 3 ways, with the main house paying for two thirds (home and basement suite) and us paying the remaining third for the laneway house.  The bill gave us three amounts:

$XX low season rate
$XX water metered A
$XX meter charge 25mm
and while none of us are sure what those numbers mean, we ARE sure that we are paying our fair share because both houses are metered.  All NEW houses (and those with substantial renos) are metered in Vancouver.  The rest pay a flat rate. The City of Vancouver talks about putting meters on all homes, as this recent story says.  Of course this story from 2013 says the same thing.  AND this one from 2011.  The cost of putting meters in all the homes would be very expensive.  But until government is prepared to go that route they will not convince people to conserve as we should. Counting all the new homes, the businesses and institutions, only 50% of water consumption in Vancouver is metered. And that will cost us more in the long run.
Because think about it….if we are all paying a flat rate, what incentive do I have to conserve?  Not wasting water is not going to bring me any monetary advantage.  And there’s always that feeling that it’s not going to have any effect on the big picture — especially when we’re sure that our neighbours are not doing their bit. Having a meter reminds us all that higher usage means higher payments.
Vancouver has plans to be the Greenest City in the world by 2020. Maybe that means green colour, as in well-watered lawns.  The plan does not include water meters on all residences and businesses.  Instead, they are hoping a stern talking to and short-term incentives will lead to conservation
incentives and programs Low-flow toilets, rain sensors for sprinkler systems, and water meters are some of the many technologies that can improve water efficiency in homes and businesses. This strategy includes actions such as incentive and retrofit programs to install these tools in new and existing buildings.
Even though water consumption is down over the past 10 years, this story in Friday’s Vancouver Sun shows — 40% in West Vancouver which has universal metering, 16% in Vancouver;
  Vancouver uses more water per capita than communities such as Surrey and Maple Ridge
In Richmond, BC, the plan is for ALL homes to have meters by 2018. Vernon, BC also has water meters on all their homes. Most major cities around the world have universal water metering.
Right now the Vancouver area is in the middle of an unusually dry summer. We didn’t have those customary heavy rains in June to replenish our reservoirs.  Plus the unusually dry winter meant that there was no snow pack on the local mountains to fill the reservoirs in the first place.    Water restrictions are currently in place (no watering your lawn!  No power washing!) but many experts feel that it’s too little and too late to avoid a serious water shortage by the end of the season.
In the long run it doesn’t matter so much about the amount of precipitation we get (Tofino, one of the wettest places on earth, suffers from periodic water shortages) as it does the amount we can store.  Currently we have adequate storage for the city if we maintain average precipitation and everyone conserves as best we can.  The city is expecting to grow significantly over the next 20 years.  Metering water is one way we have to monitor and control the amount we use as our community grows.

Where — and how — do you want to live

When DH and I began planning our laneway we started by looking around at what was familiar to us.   We had a pretty conventionally designed condo, two beds and two baths,  and we couldn’t get around the idea that we were going to be living in less than half the space we had.  We thought about what we would lose, not what we would gain.

We looked at how other people were downsizing and building laneways, we saw what we liked and what we didn’t like.  And gradually it dawned on us that we shouldn’t just look at how other people live, or how we USED to live, we should look forward, to how we WANTED to live.  We let our imaginations go a little.  We didn’t just want an average house that had been shrunk, we wanted a new plan for us that would lead to a whole new life.  We knew there would be sacrifices (Like “space”.  And “things”.) But in the end we had exactly what we wanted.

There was no way to imagine at the beginning of the journey how it would end. And how it would change our lives.

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Among many other advantages our new life has given us is that we drive less and take transit more often. And we like it. When the car was available down a flight of stairs we used it all the time — whenever we went down town or out for dinner or over to the kids.  Even though transit was right there we didn’t even think about it, we had a car!  Why not use it?

But now we take transit all the time.  I take the 99 Express to work.  It takes a little more time than driving, but I read or knit, and there’s no problem getting a seat because I’m at the end of the line (both ends of the line).  We take transit down town, it’s less than half an hour and we don’t have to worry about parking.  We get down to Granville Island without going through the Hell that is finding parking on a sunny Saturday. If we want to take in a Night Market we can zip out to Richmond or take the Sea Bus to North Vancouver.  All in all Translink is a pretty good system.

So when Translink wanted to expand we were enthusiastically supportive.  Even when the Provincial Government said that the local governments would have to raise their share through a sales tax hike (.5%) we said yes.  But the Provincial Government wanted it put to a referendum; we said yes — but 62% of the region said no.

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I was pretty steamed. Although I could also understand it.  It’s the old problem of trying to see the end of the journey from where you are now (comfortably behind the wheel of your car).

Others were also frustrated.  Peter Ladner in Business in Vancouver pointed out it was a pretty dumb idea in the first place (or as he put it more elegantly “Determining complex funding and planning issues with a single yes-no vote is an abysmal surrender of political leadership.”) Follow the link, he points out other lessons learned through the referendum process. Hard, nasty lessons, but lessons all the same.

But it was a column by Peter McMartin that put all my inchoate rage into a coherent verbal form. Read the whole thing, please, but for me this is the key issue:

The questions pile up. But the most perceptive question was one I heard in a conversation with Gordon Price, director of Simon Fraser University’s City program. To him, the plebiscite asked a question much more philosophical than yea or nay to a transit tax.

“To me,” Price said, “it was an existential question.

“It asked Metro Vancouverites, ‘Who are we?’ ”

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Pete+McMartin+real+Vancouver+emerges+from+ruins+plebiscite/11187386/story.html#ixzz3fF1TYKXt

I have to agree with Peter McMartin that Vancouver is currently nothing special.  We’re in a lovely natural setting.  But we’re not living up to our reputation as innovative and free-thinking nature-lovers.  We just can’t imagine our lives without cars.

I want you to do it — to imagine your life with a dependable transit system that can take you all over the Lower Mainland.  Cheaply.  Easily. No congestion. Freeways with smoothly-running traffic from Horseshoe Bay to Hope.   Doing your shopping by hopping on and off the Broadway Skytrain.  Taking the family to the beach or the park on the bus.  No parking problems.  Less pollution.

Or how about this?  Using a service like ZipCar or Car 2 Go in combination with Transit.  Giving up the ownership of a vehicle that sits parked 90% of the time for greater freedom of mobility. Answering the question of Who are we? with “we’re the people with vision, we ARE the future, we embrace change for the better and accept the inevitability of the end of the automotive age. We are part of that change.”

Otherwise those of us who use transit will be forced to use a less reliable form of transportation:

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Reduce, reuse, recycle — a house

In our neighbourhood – as in yours I’m sure – the old makes way for the new.  And it’s disappointing at best and heart-breaking at its worst to see fine old homes ripped down for cookie-cutter-mini mansions (in our neighbourhood) or mega-mansions (in richer neighbourhoods).  We had a moment’s worry when the homes on either side of our two-house compound were sold, but luck was with us, the new owners have renovated a bit and moved into the original structures.

Tearing down old houses creates waste and lots of it.  Each demolished home sends 50 tonnes of material to the landfill.  Often homes are ripped down with no thought of recycling the building materials.

But not in Gimli.  Gimli, Manitoba.  According to this story in the Interlake Enterprise newspaper, clever Melanie Casselman is recycling homes rescued from nearby Winnipeg and putting them on lots in Gimli.

Photo courtesy of Interlake Enterprise

Photo courtesy of Interlake Enterprise

 

It’s a great idea, and not just because it saves money for the developers (because they don’t have to pay for demolishing) and not just because it puts up instant homes in a growing community.  It’s a great idea because it perfectly embraces the idea that we don’t just throw things out.  We try to save as much as we can.

Well done, Melanie Casselman!  Bravo Gimli!

Full disclosure, Melanie Casselman is a distant cousin of my son-in-law.  Further disclosure, I went to college with a girl from Gimli, a natural Icelandic blond by name of Solvason.

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