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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Vancouver expands laneway house initiatives

Good news, everyone!  Vancouver civic government recognizes that the laneway house movement is a great way to add density to our city without sacrificing the character of neighbourhoods.

Yesterday the story appeared in Business in Vancouver, The Vancouver Sun, and on Global News on how the city is planning to increase the number of laneway homes.The Business in Vancouver says

The city has announced that, later this spring, city staff will report to city council with proposed amendments to the program and guidelines to expand the program to other single-family zoned areas.

According to the city’s guide,

Laneway houses are allowed on lots
in RS-1 and RS-5 single family zones

They want to expand the program into more zones.  Plus they are planning to streamline the process and encourage more single-storey buildings.

I hope we will have laneway neighbours up and down our street, and the city will embrace this “new” way of housing that truly reflects our society and our culture.

There’s no place like Home Show

I love going to the BC Home and Garden Show.  Even when our home renovations were restricted to painting our hallway — just going to the show made us feel like we were “real” home owners.


This year, of course, we had a legitimate reason to be there.  We are building a home!  We wanted to look around at, well, everything, but there are a couple of things that we paid close attention to.

Home security: Currently we have an alarm system installed in our condo.  We enter a few digits on a keypad and arm or disarm the system.  This was the first alarm system I’d ever used, and I was pretty impressed with the system and the motion sensors tucked into the corners.

Seems pretty old school now. Now the smart systems can be armed or disarmed by your cell phone while you are halfway around the world.  It can be run through your laptop or ipad and control your TV, stereo, heat and lights.  My little carrier bag is stuffed with brochures from the various distributors, and it’ll take some serious on-line investigation to even get started on deciding what we need.

Window Coverings: It was great to see all the window coverings laid out before us.  We got to see them up close, and we think we will go with Hunter Douglas Silhouette.  We really love the way you can get full coverage, but also even with the blinds open the sheer outer panels give you UV and heat protection, perfect for our upstairs sitting room that faces full south.

Naturally, they can be installed to open or shut with the flick of a switch or a remote.  It’s nice to dream about, but we’re talking about two 32 x 48 inch windows and one glass door — I think a pull on a couple of cords will not be too onerous.

Of course there were lots of other things to see — from celebrity appearances to basement bathrooms to roofing options plus grdens and fountains, but we just poked our heads into the booths that we related to.  Although we also tried out every bar stool we saw, just to see what they felt like to sit in.  We will need to get two stools for our kitchen counter/table.  They will have to be a little higher than regular kitchen chairs,  which are usually 18 inches high for 29-inch-high tables.  Counters are usually 36 inches high, so we’ll need to accommodate that.  Regular bar stools will be too tall, but we were just checking the comfort levels of different styles. Note:  lushly padded seats are too precarious, your bottom wobbles on them.

Update:  Here’s what four editors of BC Living magazine found to love at the BC Home and Garden Show.

Promises made paper

We have a signed agreement with the homeowners — our daughter and son-in-law.  DD drew up the agreement from information on the internet, we went back and forth a few times adding a line here and adjusting the budget numbers. Then we sat on it for six months. But the building plans are going before the city this week (it’s called intake) and in 6 weeks or so we will be calling in the heavy equipment to start serious construction.

So it was time to get things signed.

I found a notary public on-line and made an appointment for Saturday afternoon (not many notary publics — notaries public — are open Saturday).  We all met, our grand-daughter hurled her stuffed toys around an office, and we signed the contract and had it notarized.

Then we all went back to our place for spaghetti dinner and a dvd of Peter Pan.

It is done.

There’s nothing much to the contract, it’s just to save arguments and more importantly, hurt feelings when we run across unexpected costs or problems.  But it feels good in an official kind of way.

From the ground up — landscape

I have been too busy to post — a feeble excuse but my own.

There’s lots to write about; a visit to our designer’s offices to see the final (95%) plans, another chat on the Home Discovery Show radio program, even our visits to our cabinet and window makers.

But I have been completely sidetracked by the lure of the garden.

DH told me last week that we should start drawing up landscaping plans.  Pshaw, said I, we have lots of time  (I guffawed) . Let’s just put grass everywhere and then decide where we want what to grow.  They haven’t even started ripping apart the back yard, why fret about how it’s going to be put together?

Why fret?  Because the city wants us to.

Turns out that the city wants to see a plan of what we want to grow where before we even get the permits to start building. Laurel the Designer gave us a site plan, and we are to provide, to be specific

So it was time to plumb the Pinterest page I’ve set up for my dream garden to draw up a plan.

I’ve never been much of a gardener.  I don’t like dirt under my fingernails, and I have something of a grey thumb. Also — hello — bugs.  But drawing up the plan I could see why people enjoy this part of it most of all.  It was hard work, but it was also fun.

Here’s some of what we’re thinking:

We have to put in a tree, so how about a nice plum? (Prunus domestica Stanley) 


PlumWe’ll have an arbour to the Main House yard, so let’s put in the wisteria they already own and must replant.

WisteriaAlong the fence, an herb garden in pots.



Beside the front door, a beautyberry (aka mulberry).

BeautyAnd crowning everything, our live roof.

RoofThere’s oodles more, of course, ornamental grasses in pots, tulips and daffodils in the live roof; and on the side of the laneway that faces west, in a narrow space between our wall and the neighbour’s fence, a bed of river rock flanked by ferns, bleeding hearts, and oregon grape.

BleedingHeartLookit me!  I’m a gardener! And who knows — it’s such a tiny space to garden in, we may be able to pull this off.

Keep those green-thumbs crossed!






Another way to live in Vancouver

I love Vancouver.  I was born here (yes!  native-born Vancouverites do exist) but I was also lucky enough to live in a small town, and I choose Vancouver because I love it.

But there is a heavy price for living in this city — literally.  That price is the cost of housing.  Housing is expensive here.  If they put up thousands of rental units and hundreds of low-cost condos the housing price may even out — temporarily.  Because more and more people are going to move here, and those houses and condos and rentals are going to be filled up and it’s just going to be on a giant roller coaster of prices — it’s never going to be cheap to live here. It’s like when they build more freeways to bring people into town from the suburbs.  Guess what!  That means more people will move to the suburbs and those freeways will be filled up again in a few years and you go back to the beginning, world without end.

But the cost of housing here is not reflected in our wages and salaries.  So most of us are caught in a real squeeze, especially if you are raising children.  Affordable private housing for families of 3 or 4 usually starts at about $650,000 (if you are lucky enough to find it).

So it’s always nice to see someone trying to do something for those families.

In this story in BC Business, a proposal for co-housing has been brought to Vancouver City Hall for approval. The idea is a hybrid of private ownership and co-op housing.

As opposed to a co-operative housing complex, wherein a corporation or association owns units and residents own shares in that corporation, co-housing allows each individual to own some living space outright, and share other areas with fellow residents.



I lived in a co-op with my children for over 12 years, and for me, it was great.  There was always someone for the kids to play with, space for them to play in, people watched out for each other, and we made a community.  But you always knew that you weren’t living in your “very own” space.  It was just like having a nosy landlord — except all your neighbours were your landlords.

So I welcome the idea of co-housing.  And the price will be more reasonable than detached houses.  But it won’t be cheap.

the complex estimates the price of a 875 sq. ft. unit to be $480,000.


The Grandma who lives down the lane

Hot on the heels of my previous post about ownership of our laneway comes this article on the Senior Living website.

The “canny senior” , Ann Eynon has built a laneway on her daughter’s property (such a clever idea!). She says

“It’s lovely to free up the cash rather than sitting on it,” she says while pouring over travel brochures. Where to go next?

Exactly!  Plus there’s some info on how different families are handling the ownership “situation”.

 Some families enter into joint ownership; others agree to forgivable loans. Put everything in writing, especially when adult children are involved……… amortizing …payback over 25 years and clarifying a payout schedule if, or when, the unit changes hands.

Or, if no payback is expected, as in Ann Eynon’s case,

she made sure everybody understood her situation before she broke ground. Ann will have her laneway house appraised and then assign percentages of its value to each of her two children.

Read the article for the full story.

Living on borrowed land

I was showing a friend the plans for the souped-up kitchen in the laneway house (more on that in a future post) and even dragged out the little square of wood veneer to show how the cupboards will be finished. She oohed and aahed, I kvelled, it was a pleasant time.  Then she said “It just makes sense to spend money on the kitchen, because of the resale value.”

And just like a needle being dragged across a record, the conversation veered off from cozy decor to cold hard facts.

We are paying for the laneway home to be built.  And we’ll be spending a little more than absolutely necessary to get exactly what we want in the way of finishes, appliances and building materials. And we will live in it.  But we won’t own it. The owners of the main home on the property own the laneway house as well. That’s the rule.

All our money is buying us is the right to live in the house until…..we don’t want to live there anymore.

Oh, we’ll get our money out of it.  Eventually the property owners (DD and DSIL) will eventually start making payments to us for the amount we paid to build the home — but no more, no matter how much the property may have appreciated in value.

It works out very well for us all.  They get a free babysitting at hand, we can share shopping trips, it’s a nice convivial living situation for everyone involved.

But we are stepping off the real estate merry-go-round forever.  And that’s the way we want it.

We cannot have our cake and eat it, too.  We can stay in this condo and watch it go up in value every year, but we can’t take that money and use it.  Yes we are sitting on the proverbial gold mine, but that’s just it, we’re sitting on it, not mining it.

Building the laneway home gives us a chance to live mortgage-free in a lovely neighbourhood in our favourite city in the world.  Next to the nicest neighbours we could imagine.

What more could we want?

It’s good news and bad news……

The folks at LaneCraft homes blogged today on the evolving rules surrounding Laneway Home construction.

While it’s good that there is continuing discussion about laneways, and methods of making them more popular not just with the home-owners but also with their neighbours……there are current talks with the city about the problem with parking.

It’s true that most people who build enclosed parking spaces for their laneway homes are using them for living space.  And that means that they have to use street parking (or pay for parking elsewhere).  But for us, if they change the rules in mid-stream, it is going to mean problems.

Right now we have an enclosed parking area in our laneway.  There is a proposal that laneway homes should also include another space.  To quote LaneCraft:

To address the issue, the City is proposing to require an unenclosed surface parking spot when building a laneway house. This would address the issue by ensuring at least one on site parking spot, but, by reducing the buildable footprint (keeping current setbacks and height limits in place), would create more challenges in designing liveable spaces.

Creating more challenges right now would send our designer back to the drawing board and delay start on our project.  I hope nothing happens in the next few weeks to jeopardize our current design receiving a building permit.

I feel for the city and their wish to reduce street parking.  But no one wanders up alleyways with a flashlight to make sure that every garage contains its quota of automobiles, and has not been converted to a workshop, a studio, or even a storage area.

Where will you put everything?

When I show people the plans for our place (which I am apt to do at the drop of the proverbial hat) one of the first things they ask is “Where will your stuff go?” And I say “Mostly the Salvation Army.”  Because, of course, we have to get rid of SO MUCH.

We have already begin this winnowing process, and it’s like getting rid of a huge weight ounce by ounce as things disappear from our cupboards and our closets.   I think I’ve mentioned it before, but this is more than a change of address, it’s a change of lifestyle for us.  Buy fewer, better things.  Throw stuff out.  Keep just what you need, not what you think you might need next year, or what you needed two or three years ago.  Come on, I know I’m not the only person who hangs onto winter coats long after they should have been passed on to some deserving soul at the IODE shop.

How many of us have closets for the clothes we wear now, and closets stuffed with clothes we used to wear and might again if we can lose 15 pounds or if shoulder pads come back?

But we will still need to put things away– or more accurately we need to HIDE things away.  Dishes, books, cat food.  And that means built-ins.

Built-ins are the go-to choice for small-home decorating.


Super built-in apartment, with storage under the bed loft and in the stairs.  That other room you can glimpse down the hall is the kitchen — completely built in, of course.

Storage under a built-in bed. Good idea for a very small bedroom.  We’ll have storage under our bed, who could ignore that great storage area?  But we won’t have room to pull out drawers on the side (bed fits snugly with just a foot of space on either side), so we’ll have a lift-up hydrolic arrangement that will give us access to the space beneath.

20130201-3Here’s a nice wall of built-ins from Apartment Therapy.  See that blank space between the windows with just the small green cut-out?  That entire panel flips down and rests on the little green cabinet you see on the right to make a large dining table.

Have you seen any great built-ins?  What do you think?  Keep them the same colour as the walls, or make them stand out?


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