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It’s Alive! Living beneath a living roof.

One of the most unique features of our home is something we’ve come to take for granted — the living roof.realroof

It was grown for us out at N.A.T.S .Nurseries in Langley, who are representatives of LiveRoof.

It’s very green and ecologically responsible and etc. etc. of us to put in the living roof, but we originally just wanted it because it looks nice.

Because our roof is visible (due to the slope of the property) the folks in the main house and the neighbours are looking at it whenever they look at the laneway house. And because we have flat roof not just on the upper storey but also on the top of the garage and some of the lower storey, we just wanted something nice for them to look at.  The roof of the garage is right outside our kitchen window, and it’s much more pleasant to look at a garden than a heli-pad black slab.

Our roof is an extensive green roof, a carpet of sedums and other low-growing plants.  An extensive green roof would support larger plants, even trees.

But it turns out there are lots of other very good reasons to install a living roof of either kind.  According to the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities site, living roofs offer benefits to more people than the home owners.

For cities:

1. Cleaner water. Living roofs clean storm water.  Here in Vancouver we can have real downpours.  The water runs off hard surfaces like roads, sidewalks, and yes, roofs, and enters the storm sewer system.  All at once.  That can overwhelm the system.  But living roofs absorb and retain the water, delaying its entry into the storm sewer and easing the pressure on the system.  Plus the roofs filter the water, and through evaporation, lessen the of water they deliver to the system.

2. Cooler cities. You may have heard about the “urban heat island effect“.  This is a problem for big cities where the structures absorb heat during the day and retain it far longer into the evenings than soft, natural surfaces.  According to the EPA,

The annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1.8–5.4°F (1–3°C) warmer than its surroundings.3 On a clear, calm night, however, the temperature difference can be as much as 22°F (12°C).3

The living roofs keep cooler during the day due to the evaporation that goes on, but they also cool off much faster than hard, black roofs once the sun is down.

3. Cleaner air. Plants clean the air of pollution and particulates.  So living roofs can reduce smog.

For individual home owners:

1. Energy efficiency. The living roof acts as an insulator during the winter, keeping the home warmer.  Plus in the summer, it keeps the home cooler because the plants provide an insulating layer PLUS the evaporation of water through the plants lowers the temperature.  You may have set a sprinkler on your roof during the super hot weather to cool it off — that works by evaporation and our roof does that all the time naturally.

2. Fire retardation.  If a building near by catches fire and the sparks land on our roof, they will just go out.  It would be like trying to light a lawn on fire.

3. Noise reduction. According to Green Roofs,

An extensive green roof can reduce sound from outside by 40 decibels, while an intensive one can reduce sound by 46-50 decibels

4. Increased durability.  The plants protect the membrane below them from the destructive rays of the sun. A living roof can last at least two times longer than a plain membrane roof. And that keeps membrane and sealant out of the landfills.

There’s some maintenance to be done on the roof — weeding!  We’ll also be putting on a little fertilizer.  Thanks to N.A.T.S. Nursery for their help.

Visit N.A.T.S. Nursery at their website for more information.`

Someone’s in the kitchen I know-oh-oh-oh

When I am not strumming on my old banjo (which is totally not something I do) I like to cook.  And I like to eat.  So a well-designed and -equipped kitchen was tops on the list of what DH and I wanted in the laneway home. Some laneways have tiny galley kitchens, but we wanted one with all the bells and whistles.

And we got it!

The appliances are small but they are efficient and the design has made us more efficient.

It was while I was unloading our adorable little drawer dishwasher by Fisher and Paykel that I realized it wasn’t just its size and efficiency I loved — it was also its location.

Isn't it cute?

Isn’t it cute?

When it came to the under-counter storage I knew I wanted drawers for storing my dishes and cooking utensils rather than cupboards.  Drawers give you access to the complete space, pulled out into the light.  No more rooting around in dark corners — everything is right there.  And when I am unloading the dishwasher, having the dish storage just beside it makes putting everything away a dream. Or at least less of a nightmare.

It also helps that the dishwasher is placed just under the counter, so there’s less bending and stooping.

It takes a few minutes to unload the dishwasher and then it’s ready to hold the next meal’s worth of plates, etc. There are never any dishes sitting on the counter waiting to be cleaned or put away.  And it’s changed our lives!

Because here’s the funny part — in our old home we hardly ever used the dishwasher.  DH hates to have dirty dishes sitting all day waiting for the machine to be filled up so it can be run (he can hear the germs multiplying) so he washed them up after every meal (note:  I did not wash them, he did.) But then we had dishes sitting in the rack on our counter all day. The smaller size of our new dishwasher means we do smaller loads more frequently — perfect for the life we lead.

In her blog Nesting Place the Nester talks about her battle with the dishwasher –

For some reason unloading the dishwasher is a dreaded chore in our house.

It’s a pain to dread something that needs to be done daily.

When I dread something that needs to be done daily, it’s a red flag. It’s an opportunity to evaluate if I’m helping or hurting the situation just by something simple that I can change. 

So she reorganized her kitchen so the dish storage was next to the dishwasher and voila!  The chore that everyone was dreading a lot became just another small thing to be done.

Dishwasher unloading takes about 90 seconds and even the 16-year-old thanked me for planning out the kitchen to make unloading the dishwasher super fast and non-dread-inducing.

Do read the whole post at her blog. And when designing a space — whether it’s your kitchen or your bath or your foyer — remember to design around how you want it to work, not just how you want it to look.

 

 

Fitting families into smaller spaces

Two people can live as cheaply, and in as little space, as one. One bedroom for two people just makes sense for us.

Families, however,  need private space for their children — and space is at a premium whether you live in a condo or a small house.

When I was a child, lo these many years ago now, my sister and I shared a room for many years with bunk beds.  Eventually we had our own rooms, small spaces but completely our own with our own closets, dressers, desks and beds. But putting two children into one room is possible — and many people are doing it with style.

Apartment Therapy has some great ideas for when two children have to share one room:

Some people like to give the children identical spaces.

KidsBedroomIdentical

This room is for two sisters.  In another space (below) shelves hold the personal belongings of each child, even though the spaces look identical.

KidsBedroomIdentical2

Good use of vertical spaces.

Sometimes the different spaces are indicated by colour or pattern:

KidsBedroomColour

KidsBedroomColour2

And sometimes a single room can be divided by shelves or wardrobes (I did this when my kids were small and sharing a bedroom):

KidsBedroomSplit

KidsBedroomSplit2

And you can even put up a physical barrier in the room to split it.  If the kids get along well, a curtain will be fine.

KidsBedroomSplit3

But sometimes an actual barrier will serve the purpose better (I think my sister and I would have needed something like this):

KidsBedroomSplit4

This is a good idea if one person is a neatnik and the other not so much.

Even if you can have one bedroom per child, a small space means the play area and the sleeping area can overlap.  From this Houzz Tour we see how this family fits four bedrooms into 1500 square feet.  The kids’ rooms are very small, but have beds that fold up into the wall to create more floor space for play:

Contemporary Kids by Inglewood Architects & Designers (fer) studio
Contemporary Kids by Inglewood Architects & Designers (fer) studio
The little boy’s bed is hinged at the side, like a Murphy bed; the little girl’s is hinged along the side, like a Pullman bed.
Fitting more people into less space is kind of a mission with me.  I’m glad to see these stylish and comfortable options for families living in small homes.

 

 

Springing ahead

Well, despite what good old nurturing Mother Nature is doing to various parts of the country, here in Vancouver it is definitely spring.

Last weekend I did my spring planting.  And I also checked out out shrubs to make sure there were little buds on their bare limbs ready to turn into leaves.

But what about inside?  What’s springing up there to make us think the season has finally changed?

Cushion covers for our sofa — nice green with dots.

Our cozy corner

Our cozy corner

Plus a little round tray for setting your coffee upon (ottoman doubles as a coffee table).

To finish the look, a bowl with the same green for fresh fruit and matching linens.

What other ideas can we provide for freshening your decor?

Well, you can start small with placemats and napkins. Here’s a set from Style at Home’s website.

Spring napkins

Those would brighten your table — and look great with your winter-white china.

To change out a whole room in one go you could paint an accent wall or follow SAH’s advice and apply a wall decal.

Spring decal

Centsational Girl added some coral cushions to the cool grey of her front room, then created some artwork to match!

Spring sofa

She painted that simple botanical above the seat, and some colour-matched abstracts to pull the colour into other areas of the room.

Spring abstracts

Apartment Therapy reminds us that rain also means rainbows. In accessories.

Spring cushion

 

And art:

Spring art

 

If you’ve been living with winter for a while be sure to start your re-newal with a good spring cleaning, open the windows, bring in some greenery and celebrate.

It’s Spring!

How does our garden grow?

Yesterday I went with DD to the store and bought my first pair of gardening gloves.  Plus a bag of potting soil.  Then, while she carefully delineated and planted her first sowing of vegetables in a narrow strip by the sidewalk, I planted eight little pots with herbs.

The promise of herbs to come

The promise of herbs to come

Yup, I gardened.

One thing that you should definitely know if you are planning to build a laneway house (and I hope you are!) is that landscaping is a very important part of the process. I’ve written about this before but it bears repeating, you have to have a plan.

In the regulations it says quite clearly

11.3.3 Except as provided for elsewhere in this section, the setback area shall be fully graded and
landscaped with trees, shrubs and lawn to the satisfaction of the Director of Planning.

11.3.4 The following may be permitted within the landscaped setback area by the Director of
Planning:
(a) statuary, fountains and other objects of art;
(b) open ornamental fences if necessary for the protection and preservation of landscaping or
permitted objects of art;
(c) walks or driveways which in the opinion of the Director of Planning may be required to
provide direct access to any building or use on the site.

That’s bureaucrat for “you need some plants here, people”.

In the application for your building permit you must include

Landscape plan should include the following:
□ Plant/ Tree list (common & botanical name,
size, quantity)
□ Plant list symbols keyed to the plan
□ Indicate soft and hard landscaping

And not just any plants, either.  They want you to plant with five factors in mind:

1) low-maintenance,
2) drought-tolerance &
hardiness,
3) scale (all plants under 3ft
high not including vines &
climbers),
4) availability, and
5) variety & interest

And in the Guide the City of Vancouver provides they even list some plants that take these factors into consideration.

With the help of our landscaper Amro and his team, we have fulfilled the promise of our original plan.  We have a plum tree

Which will look like this when it's all grown up

Which will look like this when it’s all grown up

And on the laneway, we have our tall grasses, our lavender, creeping thyme and our beauty berry plants

Beauty

Also not at this luxurious stage as yet — but will be!

When you are planning your laneside plantings, you are not allowed to put in anything that will obscure the front.  We originally  wanted to put in some tall bamboo in a little hedge, but it was pointed out that would provide the perfect hiding place for someone who wanted to break into our place or who wanted to give us a little surprise when we came to the front door.

As well, because the occupants of the laneway, us, are family, we do not have to have a specially dedicated area of yard just for us — but if we ever want to rent the place out we will need to have a clearly defined area of yard just for the laneway tenants.

It’s also very important to remember that your landscaping should be substantially in place before final inspection is completed.  So unless there’s a foot of snow on the ground, it’s expected that your plants will all be planted and your land will be scaped.

When planning your walkways, sidewalks have to provide a hard surface from the street in front of the main house right to the lane and the laneway door – no meandering gravel walks — for emergency services to get to the laneway if they are needed.

When you are planning your laneway build keep all this in mind.  Just as with the design of the home itself the landscaping design has strict rules to follow, but you’ll end up with a space you really love.

 

You’ll flip for these ideas!

Due to my keen hearing and pathological interest in the other people who work in my office, I discovered that one of my co-workers has purchased an old beat-up home in their neighbourhood which they are fixing up to resell.

homeforsale

This is not just a fresh coat of paint and a swipe at the front yard then selling it for a premium, the walls have been stripped back to the studs, there is new mechanical and insulation, an open feel and landscaped property. They are now in the process of getting the new property staged for selling — and it promises to go fast (an updated heritage property in a good neighbourhood?  Catnip for buyers).

But what if you just want to get your home ready to sell?  Sure you know enough to clear out the family photos and personal chatchkes, but what are the best investments to get your place sold fast?

According to Style at Home, these are the top 10 ideas to get the most bling for your buck.

1 Kitchen
state-of-the-art kitchen is one of the most popular renovations for earning back most, if not all, of its investment. Even if you don’t fully gut and renovate, certain upgrades –granite counters, hardwood or high-end tile floors, premium appliances (especially stainless steel), islands and undermount sinks — attract attention and can increase value.

2 Hardwood floors

Especially on the main floor, hardwood is perennially popular with buyers. If your floors are refinished but worn, have them lightly sanded and resealed. If they’re very beaten up consider replacing them.

3 Premium broadloom
Broadloom is popular too (especially for bedrooms), but only if in top condition. If it’s worn, soiled or out of fashion, replace it with something more contemporary. Neutral, lightly textured weaves such as wool “sisal” are fashionable right now.

4 Master ensuite

If your ensuite is a bit tired, it’s worth upgrading, especially if you can afford a few luxuries such as a whirlpool or air jet tub, separate shower with a rainshower head, double sinks and/or heated floors. If you don’t have an ensuite, perhaps you can install one by stealing space from the master bedroomor a room next to it.

5 Radiator covers
It’s a simple carpentry job, but makes almost any older home seem more gracious.

6 Upgraded lighting
Old-fashioned  “can” track lighting can be easily replaced with more contemporary styles such as smaller cans or halogen track lights. Replace dingy overhead lighting with chandeliers (vintage or modern), or install them in rooms that don’t have any.

7 A finished basement
After kitchens and bathrooms, a stylishly finished basement is high on many buyers’ wish lists. If the ceiling is low and you can afford the investment, consider digging down to increase ceiling height. If you can’t, levelling the floor and installing broadloom will help make it more comfortable.

8 Landscaping
A well-maintained garden with attractive plantings, hardscaping such as brick or flagstone, and features such as urns or paths, add an elegant look to even a smaller home.

9 Front porch

Two or three decades ago, tearing off front porches became fashionable in some Canadian cities, but now they’re back in a big way. If you can, add a full front porch (or replace/repair the one you have if it isn’t in top condition); if not, a portico (a smaller porch that shelters the front door) can be a worthy substitute. Or add a deck in the back.

10 Adding a bedroom
A four-bedroom house will command a higher price than a three-bedroom, even if they’re both the same size. Consider dividing a large bedroom into two small ones (as long as they’re not too small, or it can have the opposite effect), or alternatively, consider converting an upstairs den or sitting room.

Ready for more ideas?  According to Forbes, these are the best ideas to give you a superior return on your investment.

1 Entry Door Replacement (Steel), Average Job Cost: $1,218 Average Resale Value: $1,243 Cost Recouped: 102%

2 Mid-Range Garage Door Replacement, Average Job Cost: $1,291 Average Resale Value: $1,083 Cost Recouped: 84%

3 Fiber-Cement Siding Replacement, Average Job Cost: $13,382 Average Resale Value: $10,707 Cost Recouped: 80%

4 Minor Kitchen Remodeling, Average Job Cost: $21,695 Average Resale Value: $15,790 Cost Recouped: 73%

5 Wood Deck Addition, Average Job Cost: $10,973 Average Resale Value: $7,986 Cost Recouped: 73%

6 Vinyl or Foam-Backed Vinyl Siding Replacement, Average Job Cost: $11,357 / 13,973 Average Resale Value: $8,223   10,119 Cost Recouped: 72%

7 Mid-Range Wood Window Replacement, Average Job Cost: $12,027 Average Resale Value: $8,707 Cost Recouped: 72%

8 Attic Bedroom Addition, Average Job Cost: $51,428 Average Resale Value: $37,142 Cost Recouped: 72%

9 Mid-Range Vinyl Window Replacement, Average Job Cost: $11,066 Average Resale Value: $7,920 Cost Recouped: 72%

10 Basement Remodel, Average Job Cost: $64,519 Average Resale Value: $45,186 Cost Recouped: 70%

And according to Bankrate, these are the best investments to get the most money when you resell;

 Top 5 ‘good payback’ projects. According to the NAR/Remodeling magazine’s 2005 Cost vs. Value report, the projects that will pay back the most at resale are:

5 projects to boost home value
1. Upscale siding (new fiber cement) replacement
2. Midrange bathroom remodel
3. Minor kitchen remodel
4. Midrange siding replacement
5. Attic bedroom remodel

The thing we learned when we sold our condo last year is this:  when you sell your place your competitors are not the other 20-year-old condos in your neighbourhood — they are the top-of-the-line modern suites with the latest conveniences and features.  Anything you can do to get your place sold is a good idea.

 

No new (stuff) is good news

Last week we went through our belongings in our storage locker and renewed our pledge to live with less.  It just makes sense.

But how do you resist the lure of retail?  After all, temptation is all around us — we see new and shiny things (or in my case, old and patinaed things); advertising is everywhere reminding us that we NEED NEW STUFF.

At this point it's mostly toys anyway, isn't it?

At this point it’s mostly toys anyway, isn’t it?

In the nick of time comes two articles from Apartment Therapy to help strengthen our resolve to fill up our lives with useless items.

First of all, avoid the idea that you are missing out on a bargain if you don’t buy that particular shirt or shoes or chatchka.

1. Avoid high pressure sales tactics.

We’ve all done it, gone into a shop for one thing and felt the pressure from the sales staff to get more.  Hey, it’s their job to sell you stuff.  But it’s not a personal rejection if you don’t submit to their wiles.  It’s your job to stick to your original plan.

Don’t have an original plan? Well,

2. Keep a list

You should always be aware of what you need, and what you buy frequently.  If you don’t keep a list in your head you may find yourself prey to the next item.

3. Avoid impulse buys.

You’ve got a shopping cart (in real life or online). Why not just slip in a couple of things that are on sale but are not exactly what you need RIGHT NOW?  Don’t do it.  You will regret that expensive impulse when you get the items home.  You know you will.  And if you bought it on sale you may not be able to return it.

4. Check the measurements and read the product info and reviews.

One of the great advantages of shopping online is being able to read the product reviews.  Those have saved me from many a foolish expenditure.  In a retail store be sure to check out the size on the package or you’ll come home with sheets that won’t fit your extra-thick queen mattress.

5. Eliminate temptation.

When we were stocking the laneway I subscribed to several on-line shopping services.  They were great when I knew I needed one white duvet and two sets of white queen sheets.  I was able to compare and was quite happy with the deals I got by waiting and checking often.

But I don’t need them any more.  There will come a time when I have to replace the sheets/towels, and I’ll subscribe again.  But right now I do not want to see a supermarket of attractive items coming through my inbox and tempting me to purchase them.

Maybe you know you have to buy a new shirt or blouse in an exact colour.  Find a sample of that colour and carry it with you to the stores.  It’s a reminder that you need THAT particular item and nothing else.

Yesterday DH and I took a little walk along Main Street, looking for a particular item.  I had a fabric swatch of the cushion covers I am making and we needed a little tray in a matching tone to sit on our ottoman and serve as a coffee table.  We whisked through second hand stores and thrift shops, zipping through in minutes because we knew exactly what we were looking for.  (We found it, BTW in the Vancouver General Thrift Shop for 50 cents).

So we’ve safely navigated the swamp of retail stores as far as impulse buying goes — what about the danger of (dun dun DUNNNNNN) Stocking up.

We can’t do it here.  We just don’t have the room for a giant case of paper towels or toothpaste.  So this article in Apartment Therapy speaks to us in the dulcet tones of truth. When you have limited room and are not expecting the apocalypse, store it at the store. What could be standing in your way?

Roadblock 1: Buy more, save more

You can save money on large quantities of things like paper and laundry products.  But we know well how much storage costs — we are paying for a storage locker.  How foolish it would be to use our in-home storage for bathroom tissue rather than bringing our good crystal home from that expensive lock-up.

Roadblock 2: Convenience

We have to go to the grocery at least every other day — our little fridge doesn’t hold very much.  And that is fine with us, we are close to 3 major grocery stores, two of which offer clothing, housewares, and yes, small appliances.  So stocking up on the bulky stuff just does not make sense when we’ll be back buying milk tomorrow.

Roadblock 3: You Might Run Out 

Once again, see Roadblock 2 above.  We are close to the store.  Running out means literally running out — the stores are open early and close late.  Plus we keep an on-going list of what we need.  We usually buy replacements for our dishwasher detergent or toothpaste just before we run out — and of course our neighbours can always help us out.

I think it’s a good idea to borrow a concept from our Zen teachers, but instead of mindful meditation we practice mindful spending.

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