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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Tetris housing? China says yes!

I bet the first house you designed was built of blocks.  And although it may have had tons of style, I bet it didn’t have a lot of structural integrity, nor did it have a lot of interior room.

But Studio Liu Lubin has designed a modular home plan that lets you fit pre-made blocks into each other to make a small, or a large home.

Studio-Liu-Lubin-Tetris-House-537x405According to this story at Inhabitat, the home can function as a single room, or

can also be stacked up to create a mini housing complex that meets China’s land use policies

Read more: Tetris-Like Micro House Can be Stacked to Form Expanded Housing Suites | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

I’d love to see the housing complex go up!  Especially when they start flipping the modules around to get them to fit perfectly.

Day 35 of the Laneway Build

This is one of those update pictures that looks like nothing much has happened — but actually a lot has gone on since last week.

For one thing, the damp-proofing has been applied to the outside of the foundation, first a coating of tar, then dimpled membrane, which will make the foundation completely waterproof.  Good news for us, we’ll be sleeping just inside that near wall.

Inside the foundation, the sump has been installed, with lots of plumbing connections for the shower, toilet, sink, and washer.

Day35Large(click to enlarge)

Lots of gravel has been placed in the foundation, the first layer in construction of the slab.

Over on the left side, in what will be the garage, you can see some of the joists that will make up the framework of the laneway.

The windows and doors have been ordered from Cascadia Windows. Everything is very energy efficient, with narrow fibreglass frames (made with recycled glass) holding the large panes.  On the ground floor, all the windows and doors will be laminated so they can withstand, say, a tire iron beating on them. Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin!  Housebreakers cannot come in!

According to our handy-dandy schedule, framing will start this week and continue to the second week of July.  There will be underground inspections as they build up what will be the slab.  And the dirt will be filled in (the process of “infill”) so we’ll get a much better idea how the yard will look with the main house and the laneway in place.

We’re also scheduled to meet with Laurel and Ange this week to talk over the build.

So much to look forward to!


*Not In My Neighbour’s Back Yard

This week’s public meeting at City Hall really opened my eyes to some of the problems the city has in getting anything done. Every time the City wants to move forward there’s always push-back.  Not from everyone, no, but from some of the people who have property here.

Sitting and listening to the speakers at the meeting clued me in to how those people really want things to be. And this is how people want things to be:

The same.

They want their neighbourhood to stay the same — the houses the same size they are now.  They want places to park their cars and roads to drive on them.  They don’t want “developers” and “Translink” to ruin everything. They don’t want laneway houses in their neighbour’s back yards.


There goes the neighbourhood!

But at the same time, they want their property values to go up (but not their civic taxes), they want their kids to be able to buy in the same neighbourhood they live in now, to take safe and convenient public transit to schools that are well-maintained and full of happy kids.

It seems like they want a small-town life in a big city. And they don’t see how that just won’t work.

We live in a big city — with big city problems.  We have homeless.  We have poverty.  We have drugs and crime and traffic.  And we can’t solve those problems if everything remains the same.

Everyone who spoke agreed that we have a housing problem in Vancouver.  We have limited rental space, which makes it very expensive.  We have no more room to build more houses, which means the houses that are here go up in value — a limited supply for an increasing demand. And people want to live here because the jobs and the economy.

Of course some people had solutions.  Don’t densify within Vancouver city limits, let the suburbs absorb the people who will be moving here.  Or densify by building large apartment buildings.  Or densify, but don’t build apartment towers, build low-rise rental buildings, only don’t re-zone any single-family homes to do it. Or (my personal favourite) slow down the economy in Vancouver so people won’t want to move here any more.

There seemed to be a quasi-elitist sentiment behind many of the speakers’ comments — I’ve got mine and now I will protect it by making sure that you don’t get yours. I got the feeling some of them wanted Vancouver to become a gated community, where the professionals and the wealthy get to live here, and the people who flip our burgers and clean our hospitals and type our letters and sell us clothes get to take transit in from the suburbs.

But, as Mark Sakai from the Greater Vancouver Home Builder’s Association pointed out, the city is changing, it has to change and we want it to change.  The only important thing is that it changes in ways that mean a better life for its citizens.

So I am happy that the City has allowed laneways to add to the densification of Vancouver, and I am glad that it’s become more inclusive.  There was some talk about limiting the number of laneway homes allowed to be built on any one block, but everyone could see how unfair — and elitist — that was.

By the way, if anyone is thinking that small town life is stress-and-wierdness-free, remember that Mt. Airy, North Carolina, hometown of Andy Griffith and model for Mayberry, was also where Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese Twins, had their home, and their descendants still live there.

City Hall confidential

This isn’t confidential at all, of course.  I just wanted a really dramatic headline for this post.

I’d never been to Vancouver City Hall before DH and I attended the public hearing on June 11. But I wanted to have my say about laneway homes, I wanted to be sure there was at least one voice who didn’t have a dog in the fight.  It’s one thing to have the developers there — and I was sure they would do a good job.  But I just wanted to be a “Jane Citizen” showing support for laneways knowing that we would not be affected either way.


There were two items on the agenda.  First there was a discussion of the Regional Context Statement, our contribution to the Regional Growth Strategy that will be shaping our communities in the next few years.  Since this was my first public hearing, there were two things that really stood out for me

  1. The Vancouver City Council is made up of people who are really on the ball, and
  2. Most people do not listen

Although it was explained that there was no new information in the council’s contribution to the Metro Vancouver report, that is was all about giving the baseline information so people could move forward, speaker after speaker insisted that this was all new information, and their neighbourhood/community/back yard would be adversely affected by the report, and HOW DARE THEY submit this report without their input.

I guess I must expect that average people with a full head of steam about something are going to be sitting rehearsing their five minutes at the podium, and won’t be listening to the replies that all the previous speakers were getting.  But I, a neutral by-stander at the beginning of the process, was 147% in favour of council’s acceptance of the amendment by the end.

Thanks, fellow citizens!  You made council look very good!

Also — what is with the hate-on that people have with Translink?  I’m saving a post about the NIMBYism we encountered throughout the evening for later, but wow.

We got to the part of the evening where we were discussing the amendments affecting laneway homes. The city gave their presentation, which you can see here.  SPOILER ALERT!  These amendments were accepted. (Yay Us!)

I was 8th in the line-up to speak.  First was Jake Fry of Smallworks, who did a very good job presenting the “pro” argument, as did the representative of LaneFab.  A couple of people spoke about their lane homes.  I spoke about how building our laneway is helping keep our family truly together.

There were some arguments against the laneways (see what people opposed wrote to City Hall here).  They were basically:

  1. I don’t like laneways
  2. No one should have them.

Most of the problems people were speaking about were with parking (laneway dwellers using their in-home garages as living or storage rooms so they have to park on the street) and the heights of the 1.5 storey laneways causing loss of sunlight and privacy in their yards.

Since both of these problems are addressed (and hopefully solved) with the new amendments, those arguments didn’t seem to be helpful to the process.

All in all this was a very valuable experience for me.  I actually walked away from the meeting (taking Translink home with DH) feeling much more confident in the transparency of the processes the City uses to decide issues, and in the City Council itself.

And now there will be more laneways!  Huzzah!

A guaranty of quality

I was on the Home Discovery Show this morning for a chat with Ian and Steve.  Their other guest this morning was Mike Holmes.

Yes, that Mike Holmes.

Mike Holmes changes people’s lives by going into their homes after bad building practices or crappy renovating have ruined them, and he makes them right again. He’s a hero to these people.  He respects good work, and he is constantly frustrated when he sees shoddy construction.

But what is to say we’re not going to have a badly constructed laneway home?  Sure, we can see a building going up, but how do we know it’s being built to withstand the weather? To not leak or creak or (shudder) reek?  So we can look forward to years in a well-built home that will need minimal maintenance and will never have to call upon someone like Mike Holmes to fix catastrophic problems.

Well, first of all we trust our builder, Novell.  Angelito and Laurel had our confidence right from the start.  They are a part of the Renomark Renovator Program, a member of the Greater Vancouver HomeBuilders’ Association, and are rated A+ in the Better Business Bureau Business Review. And we’ve seen how they work — always keeping the worksite tidy, using good materials.  Plus we talk with them all the time, in addition to our every-other-week meetings, we can call or email them anytime if we have questions.

And we have another reason to feel confident that our home will be solidly built.

Like all BC residents, we have the Homeowner Protection Office, a branch of BC Housing.  And that means we have Home Warranty Insurance on our new home; we are

covered by mandatory, third-party home warranty insurance. As a minimum, this coverage includes 2 years on labour and materials (some limits apply), 5 years on the building envelope and 10 years on structure. It’s the strongest construction defect insurance in Canada.

The HPO’s Guide to Home Warranty Insurance in British Columbia is a 24-page comprehensive guide to what you can expect in the way of protection.

The 2 year labour and materials coverage includes

defects in materials and labour supplied for the electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning delivery systems, as well as for the exterior cladding, caulking, windows and doors

The 5 year building envelope coverage includes

the components that separate the indoors from the outdoors, including the exterior walls, foundation, roof, windows and doors.

And the 10 year structural coverage includes

defects in materials and labour that result in the failure of a load-bearing part of the new home, and for any defect that causes structural damage that materially and adversely affects the use of the new home for residential occupancy.

Novell has purchased insurance through a company called Pacific Protected for our build.

I recommend that anyone who is building or renovating (or if you are interested in the process) go to the HPO site and explore.  They have guides for every stage of the build so you can see for yourself if each aspect is being built properly.

On this week’s Home Discovery Show it’s me — and Mike Holmes!

Not together, unfortunately, but I’m sure you will all be ready to ask the questions I would.

The Lady will be visiting with Ian and Steve on the Home Discovery Show on CKNW, chatting about the newest developments in the laneway build, and why I am not worried about the quality of the building process.

By the way, tomorrow’s show will repeat on the Corus Radio Network across Canada next Saturday.

Day 29

We have just started week 4 of the build, and we met with Laurel and Angelito, our designer and builder yesterday to talk about the new developments.

First of all:
Week4.1Ta dah!  We have foundation walls.  It’s kind of interesting how the forms were built — first of all they put up the outside of the forms on top of the footings, with horizontal pins running through them.

Day23Then the inside walls were attached with wedges attached to the pins.  Then the concrete was poured — in the rain.

ConcretePourThen the forms were removed and we have foundation walls!


Ang showed us the features: — those vertical white pipes are set into the foundation for drainage of the flat roof.  They will divert the rainwater from the living roof down into the separate rainwater drainage system the city has running in conjunction with the sewage system.

There’s a connection already in place for the electrical power for the main house and the laneway. Right now the power is connected to the main house by a  big cable running diagonally across the yard.  We really don’t notice it — it’s necessary and ubiquitous.  But the new power connection will be directly to the laneway house, then down under it and underground to the main house.  That big cable will be gone.

Those square holes in the foundation are for plumbing connections.

Next the foundation will be sprayed with tar and will have dimpled membrane attached for waterproofing.

Ang expects to start framing soon.  They will be following a TJI layout from the engineers.  TJI is a type of joist — very strong.

Needless to say we are pretty chuffed about the way the build is going.  Nice and smooth, with no ugly surprises.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed about that!







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