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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Look, up in the sky!

I was looking at a new weather app to check when the late-summer drizzle was going to stop and got a nasty shock.  A rain warning.  We live in Vancouver, a notoriously rainy city.  A warning that there will be heavy rain has to be taken seriously because we usually just pretend that it’s not happening. But as climate change happens (and happens to us, we can’t avoid it) we must expect more hard rains, more frequent, more severe.

it seems to me that we have chosen the perfect roof to handle this kind of weather.  The living roof will soak up the hard rains, holding the bulk of the spate so that it doesn’t overwhelm the water run-off system that can overtax the sewers.  The rolled steel roof will slide the water right onto the rain chains and along a pathway we’ll build for it so it gradually gets absorbed.

The rolled steel roof is being installed now — yes, in the pouring rain.

20130829_3Here’s the bit of roof right over our bedroom — that will provide us with lovely sound when we are sleeping beneath it in the rain.  You see the edging slipped over the under layer, and the steel panels lay over that.  Above that you see the window that will nestle between the kitchen counter and the upper cupboards.

Here’s what will be going on with the outside walls:

20130829_2That’s strapping holding down waterproof paper, with a solid plastic flashing at the bottom, and white flashing around the bedroom window.

Here’s what the finished roof looks like on the side gable — sharp!LWHTime8

More work has been done on the inside — the sprinkler system is in place.  We’ve decided on a security provider, so that’s one more thing off our list.

Looking forward to the next few weeks, there’s so much work that will be done in just a little while.


Sweeping clean — more decluttering

Living in the rental space has shown me where my own personal mindless clutter comes from.

Mostly it’s paper.

I’m definitely a piler, not a filer, so I’m trying to work out how best to organize my papers.  The first step will be to find “an underused closet ” to put a series of bins or baskets in.

Spaces by Fort Lauderdale Closet & Home Storage Designers NEAT Method, South Florida

And the system has to be super-accessible, so I can just drop papers in every day when I go through the mail — and not have to save them up to “file properly”.  I don’t need lots of bins (I have been honing my tossing skills) but just a couple to hold work receipts, manuals,  and notifications.

Plus it has to successfully hide said paper, so DH doesn’t have his “mess alarm” tripped.

And I’m going paperless when I can — bills, bank statements, receipts, etc., but I still have a few.  This little interlude is giving me the chance to figure out how many baskets I will need and how they will be labelled.  There’s no sense buying them until I have a space I can put them — I want them to fit into an unobtrusive place and I don’t have one of those yet.

These are just steps to the final product — a clutter-free home. For. Ever.

Half way through the build!

Well we are at the half-way point of the build and although we had a slight setback we are still on schedule and set to finish on time.

The hiccup in the plans is because they insist on hiring people to inspect our building!  Everyone has a slightly different set of criteria — although the goal for everyone is a finished building that is the best it can be.  Although our builders have a lot of experience they did not have everything this particular inspector was expecting — and so they have to do some more work before the sheathing inspection can be completed. But Angelito and his crew are working hard to get everything done so the inspection will go ahead next week.  Then insulation and drywalling can go ahead.

We had a lovely chat with Novell tonight at our regular debriefing.  We received their assurance that this blip on the radar will be overcome and everything will go ahead as planned.

The electrical and plumbing are done.  The breaker box is in:


right beside the front door.  The wiring is all done upstairs


with the switch inside the planned appliance garage set up so it can’t be used unless the garage door is open.  Downstairs is ready, too with plumbing and wiring all set

20130823ShowerLights for the bathroom and the bedroom are either in hand or on order.  The hallway lamp is ordered (from Germany), and we are in the process of picking the perfect lights for outside the front and garden doors.  The deck lights will be installed very soon.

The rolled steel roof is going on next week, and the roof is being prepared for it


Compare that with the first week of the build, 15 weeks ago


Rue Britannia?

I embrace the idea of living in a small home — I’d be an idiot not to, when I’m going to be moving into less than 50 square metres of living space in a few months.

I don’t pretend it’s for everyone, but it’s perfect for me and mine and for many others.

So I was quite surprised when I read several articles from British newspapers disparaging the trend for smaller houses, calling them “rabbit hutches”; and decrying the decreasing size of houses and apartments in the UK.

According to this Guardian article by Penny Anderson,

The UK has the smallest new-build houses in Europe

a situation she called a “crisis”.  I could almost see her point.  Although her OpEd piece is rich in hyperbole and short of actual statistics, according to her anecdotal info many homes are too small to live in.

miles of single-fronted new-builds with awkward open-plan kitchen/diners/spare rooms/lounges, almost entirely free of storage. Then there are converted homes in older buildings situated in desirable areas where the market is febrile, which are often the worst low-space offenders, with bathrooms or even kitchens, squeezed into what used to be cupboards, and the original bedrooms sliced in half.

Apart from giving me a new word (febrile = feverous), she paints an ugly picture indeed.  Rapacious builders squeezing every square inch of living space out of small plots of land “to maximise profit”. “Bedrooms … as cramped as prison cells”.

Even the hard facts in this Telegraph article seem to bear her out.

Of the 2,500 owners of private new homes who were questioned, 57 per cent said there was not enough storage space, 47 per cent said there was not enough space for furniture and 35 per cent said there was not enough kitchen space for appliances such as toasters and microwave

Newer houses are definitely smaller than the traditional detached home, as Simon Bowers says in The Guardian:

In 1920, the average semi-detached new-build had four bedrooms and measured 1,647 sq ft, according to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Today’s equivalent has three bedrooms and is 925 sq ft. Typical new terrace houses have shrunk from 1,020 sq ft and three bedrooms, to 645 sq ft and two bedrooms.

But is the problem size?  or design?  I know that our North American ways are not theirs.  As Anderson says

add in the need to dry laundry inside when it’s raining, with one or more adults working from home and you have a problem.

because in Britain very few homes have clothes dryers, an appliance we take for granted.  Take into consideration other specifically British realty idiosyncracies

unlike other countries, houses in the UK are sold on the number of bedrooms rather than square footage…. The result is a lot of small rooms. And UK consumers like gardens, which leads to smaller houses.

The rise of solo living is another factor. People wanting to live alone trade space for having their own flat.

OK, I’m beginning to see the problem here.  I’ve been to Great Britain, and I know that I was surprised at the housing there.  People seem to either live in detached or semi-detached homes, or in massive blocks of flats (these are often in the less-desirable sections of large cities).  To me, a Canadian used to very wide very open spaces, I was amazed that they could fit so many people into such a tiny area without resorting to a) Hong Kong style apartment houses reaching to the sky, and b) vast housing tracts despoiling the English countryside.

But I think those days of “and Englishman’s home is his three-bed and two-bath castle” are through.  It’s time they faced up to some hard facts.  Brits can no longer expect

enough room for a two-, or even a three-seater sofa, a dining table with chairs, and a little space for those things you can’t bear to part with.

Instead, they will have to accept some compromise.

The UK has a housing crisis. A shortage of homes has pushed prices out of the reach of many hoping to get onto the ladder. But once they get there, they may be disappointed – the UK has some of the smallest properties in Europe.

Many of the problems cited (lack of storage, fitting furniture into open plan spaces) can be overcome with good design.

Happily living in a small home is first of all about psychology, says Hannah Booth, homes editor at Guardian Weekend. “You can live without much more than you think.”

Apartment dwellers in New York and Japan know the secrets of this lifestyle, she says. “They’re the masters, they eat out a lot, spend a lot of time in the park. In the winter your home can be a nice little cocoon.”

I get the impressions that these new, small homes are still following traditional building styles, separate living and dining rooms,

All of us who live in areas where building space is at a premium are having to change the way we live — not just our domiciles.  Some people are sharing gardens.  Many are using dual-purpose furniture to get the most use out of the least amount of space.  Everyone is carving storage out of spaces they never thought of before.

And we are living with less, certainly fewer of “those things you can’t bear to part with”.

But what is the alternative for British homes? How are you going to fit more people into that extremely finite space?  They can either accept living in smaller places…..or ????

Just one more quote, from Quentin Crisp:

The British do not expect happiness. I had the impression, all the time that I lived there, that they do not want to be happy; they want to be right.


A peek inside the nursery

We are being delayed by an inspection that hasn’t been completed.  It’s complicated (as you may have guessed) but since inspectors are human and since they each have their own criteria as to what should be completed when, we have to get some more work done before the sheathing inspection is completed and signed off.

This is a disappointment, of course, we will be meeting with the nice folks from Novell on Friday to get everything straightened out.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch, er, farm:

realroofIt’s a baby living roof.  More to the point, it’s OUR living roof, growing up all big and strong out in Langley, waiting to be delivered to us and placed on our home in just a few weeks.

All together now, ‘Aaaaaahhhhhhhh’.

Just in passing, I was downtown the other day at a meeting and during a break looked out the office window to see this:



A live roof many storeys in the sky.

Ours will look nicer, of course, but it’s an idea of what we can expect.


What I learned on my summer vacation

BC has an embarassment of riches as far as vacation locations go.

This summer I’ve already been to Nelson and Christina Lake, British Columbia (sweet!).  But for our regular summer vacation, we always head to Penticton.  We stay at the same hostelry every year, perfectly placed for maximum walkability, close to the beach, pool, friendly owners — we love it.


My favourite view of Penticton — toes, beach, lake, hills.

But what did it teach us about how we are going to live in the laneway? Well, we lived in a small suite with one suitcase full of clothes (between us) plus mis-matched pots, pans, dishes, and glasses.  And it was fabulous.

We bought food, drink (thank you, Okanagan wineries) and two beach towels (remind me again why storing things in a storage place is a one-way ticket to wasteville — our old beach towels are somewhere in “there”).  We spent money on experiences (miniature golf, restaurant meals, ice-cream cones) (hey, ice cream is an experience!).  And the wifi in our room is so dodgy we could only pick up our email if we stood at the kitchen counter or teetered on the balcony (we booked the same room for next year, so, yeah, we like picking up our email once a day).

Letting go felt great.  Of course we don’t believe that we are are going to be living such a simple life when we move. But we do understand that living with less is doable — and attractive. Sure it was only for a week, but it left us wanting more…..more “less”.

Back home I am looking for ways to get rid of some of the papers that flood into our home.  It’s a good start, and we will find a way to keep it to a minimum.

Baby steps. Inspired by a week without mail.

Day 102 — the calm before the storm

We dashed back after our week amid the beaches and peaches of Penticton to see what changes had occurred in the laneway and were significantly underwhelmed.

From the outside, it looked as if nothing had happened.  But when we got inside we could see that the electrician had been very busy.  All the pot lights are installed in where the ceiling will be — that is going to be one bright home — and we could also see where the receptacles and switches will be.

We are still trying to figure out one key part of the plan — the bedside lamps.  We thought we had found the perfect lamp, but then heard from Laurel our designer that the electrician had said, yes, they could be installed, but they could not be hard wired in, and that meant a visible cord running down the wall.  Why bother? We want built-ins!  So we just slipped into the Penticton branch of a local lighting store and hope that we’ve found the perfect one.  We’ll go over to their local branch to see if they can help us out.

We got a little too clever for ourselves and looked in furniture and accessory stores for the bedside lamps before we went to a lighting store.  We have learned our lesson.

I also discovered a free computer assisted design program, Sweet Home 3D.  I’m still learning the program, but it allowed me to use our plans to draw a 3D rendition of our kitchen and sitting area:

upstairsMetro.jpgIt’s still crude (like I said, I’m still learning) but we are able to visualize so much better — I cannot look at two dimensional drawings and “see” in my mind where things will go.  For instance, we were hoping to use our current coffee table, actually a carved wooden chest with a slab of glass on it.  But when I tried to fit it into the 3D rendition, it was clear that it would block the flow to the deck door.  It looked possible in the floor plan, but in 3D it was unworkable.

What is ahead for us is:  electrical and outdoor sheathing inspection, building paper and rain screening, then the metal roofing and siding installation.  Then more inspections and then…..DRYWALL!  So we are going to see some major changes soon.

Also we are waiting for the city to connect the water to the main house and the laneway — that will mean the main house can fill in the trench that currently leads from their front yard to the laneway — ugly and dangerous with a toddler around.

Living real small in the real world

So often the “small” live we see online and in magazines is what I like to call “decor porn”.  It’s so pretty!  Everything is clean and well organized, yes, but it’s super expensive, the built ins are truly built in, everything matches and was purchased at high-concept high-priced stores.

But there are actually people living in small spaces like us, doing it bit by bit and having to fit their lives into a very tight area.  But they are loving it all the same.

Thanks to Life Edited, we don’t have to start poking our noses into our neighbours’ homes to see someone living the real small life in real life.

RealSmallIn this story on their site, they tell the tale of Marya, her two cats and (cute) dog, who all live in 350 square feet in her home in Florida.  She also works out of the space, which is why she has boxes piled up.

As she says,

I live in one large room which serves as office, sleeping area, kitchen, and small sitting space. There’s a divider to separate off my bed from the rest of the room; it has bookshelves on one side and clothes closets on the other. My bathroom has a stall shower and a stacked washer/dryer. The kitchen area has under-counter fridge and freezer, 2-plate stove top, and a few built-in cupboards. I have a minimum of pots, pans, dishes but can entertain 4 people comfortably for dinner.

She has furnished her home with items from big stores like K-Mart, and has a cozy and comfy place that she owns outright, paying a monthly maintenance fee to the complex (which contains a pool).

It’s great to see that micro-living is within the grasp of people who are just like us, just wanting the simpler life and enjoying keeping her belongings to a minimum while she lives life to the max.

Put it in a box and put a ribbon on it — container homes

As soon as I heard about people using a shipping container for the shell of a small house I had to say owchamagowcha — what a great idea.  No surprise that seaport cities have led the way — in Vancouver and Seattle people are finding new uses for these sturdy structures that can be used singly or in combinations–the containers are literally thick on the ground around here.

In Seattle,

The first two cargo homes are being built at the ShelterKraft location in Ballard and set up on Whidbey Island. And, like a boat, they can easily be picked up by a boom crane and transported using a flatbed truck to a different location if needed.

“It’s the ultimate in reuse,” says Amy Gulick, an author and photographer, who purchased a Cargo Cottage with her husband, Chris Gulick. “I love the idea of taking a perfectly good steel structure and making it into something great instead of discarding it into a waste yard.”

Who can argue with recycling, it’s just the size of the tin cans that has changed.

In Vancouver in the heart of Gastown,

The 12 shipping containers on Alexander Street near Jackson Avenue have been converted into apartments by the Atira Women’s Resource Society, which bought a lot on the block in 2009. The first shipping container was dropped on the lot at the end of November, and each unit cost $82,500 to build.

Some of the homes will eventually be occupied by women over the age of 55, who will pay $375 a month in rent, while other units are intended for younger women, who will pay about 30 per cent of market rent.


Wow, said I, I would like to know more about how container living 24-7 — it’s so interesting.  And I found the source to find out more about living in containers, the blog My Home In A Box is a great way to follow the movement.

Small is beautiful!  Pass it on.

Day 92, a look inside

We met yesterday at the laneway to meet with Angelito before we all dispersed for our summer vacation.

We had signed off our kitchen cabinet drawings earlier that day, and hope that the kitchen all comes together in time for its installation in early October.

We also spoke with someone about the AV, TV, telephone connections, and the built-in vacuum.  Plus someone about our security (turns out our doors and windows already make the place into a live-in vault).

Angelito assured us that the radiant heat in the floors will not shrink our hardwood flooring because 1) it’s engineered wood, not solid hardwood, and 2) it’s made for radiant heat.  We spoke about where the electrical boxes will go for our bedside reading lights.

And I grabbed a couple of pictures.  Here you can see the bedroom wall with the radiant heat lines

20130806BedroomThe bathroom shower:

20130806ShowerThe bathroom sink and wall

20130806BathroomThe electrician has been busy and will continue to put in the switches and boxes we need.

Soon we will have the rolled steel roof installed — it’s ready for us!  We are looking forward to seeing that!

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