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Strategies for Coping with a Renovation

DD here again. We’ve been away from home for a few nights and the project at the “Big House” is underway.

For some reason, I underestimated just how stressful a renovation of this size is. Perhaps because we were able to stay in our home for the first phase, I’ve been caught off guard. So here are my top 5 coping strategies for surviving a renovation. Handy for me, too, seeing as we’ve got a few weeks to go yet:

1. Do not underestimate how stressful a renovation is!

Did I mention I’m a bit caught off guard by these feelings?

This dark photo (taken by a laneway dweller) is a hole where my kitchen was. Unexpected sadface took place when I opened it.

This dark photo (taken by a laneway dweller) is a hole where my kitchen was. Unexpected sadface took place when I saw it.

Because our reno was initially discussed for a March start, and we found ourselves with a January start, it was a bit of a whirlwind getting ready. Even without the accelerated pace, any family planning a significant reno will likely have to:

  • Find a new place to stay (we’ve squeezed into my in-laws’ condo in the suburbs), even if it’s just another portion of your existing home
  • Pack up the house, but with a fun twist (disclaimer: NOT FUN) … organizing what will be discarded, what will be stored and left unused, and what will come with you
  • Reschedule family events to sync up with the new location/being away – or plan for being without utilities (cloth diapering? yeah, let’s put that on hold)
  • Purchase items or pick out items for reno (fun at first, but it can wear you out)
  • Meet with the contractor and make big decisions about the future of your home quickly

I wasn’t prepared for how incredibly stressful this process would be. Over the holidays. With two small kids (4.5 years old and 4 months old). Thankfully, my mom lives in my backyard! Still, yowza.

2. Explain everything to the kids. Then explain again.

I have a charge ahead, think things through later approach, which means I often forget about the impacts of major life changes on the rest of the family. Don’t worry, they remind me!

My daughter misses home, and is acting out, with meltdowns a couple of times a day. And just today she turned to me and said “I miss our REAL house. Our yellow house. When can we go back to the yellow house?”

Knowing what I do now, I’d advise other parents to do a better job than we did of explaining the whole process to the kids. Try and share plans and show them materials. Show them pictures that depict what the after should look like.

Do not let your children see the house packed up, or the demo. This is something we did right, and thankfully there were no tears upon departure. We’ve also kept our daughter signed up at her daycare part-time, both to preserve the spot for when we get home, and to keep some consistency in her routine (despite the 1 hour commute, I’d say it’s worth it).

3. Dwell on the deficiencies.

Five days out of my house and I’m looking wistfully at pictures my old kitchen. So cute! So charming! So much like home. I’m … well, I’m homesick. I guess my daughter’s not the only one.

I’ve found that one of the best ways to combat this homesickness, and fear of change, is to dwell on what wasn’t working in the house before we left.

To help with this, I made a video of all the house’s shortcomings. You can view it here.

Smashy smashy! I used to make my coffee here. Now it's a giant hole. My primal brain is reeling.

Smashy smashy! I used to make my coffee here. Now it’s a giant hole. My primal brain is reeling.

And brace yourself! If you’re not home to see the demo, and your contractor (or family member) sends you photos, it can be a blow. It’s your home. There are holes smashed in it. Again, all for the best. But these things can really pack a punch.

4. Ignore the helpful comments/questions from family and friends. Instead, put them to work!

I will preface this by saying that my friends and family are AMAZING. Amazing. But even the best of intentions can lead to comments like:

  • Are you sure you want to sink all of that money into your house?
  • Why don’t you just fix the living room while you’re at it?
  • Why aren’t you taking out this wall?
  • Why aren’t you kicking the kitchen back? Just adding two feet would give you so much more space!
  • Huh, a checkerboard floor. I don’t think that’s going to age well. Why not just white?
  • Cool. A checkerboard floor. But why not just brown?

I had to quickly learn not to take these comments to heart and start second-guessing our plans.

On the other hand, my family has been incredibly helpful. My visiting aunt and uncle helped us throw a bunch of items into our attic and shift boxes around. And did I mention my mom lives in my backyard? When time was tight and we had to be packed and out, she watched both kids so we could get it done.

5. Treat yourself.

Whatever it is you need to do to look after yourself, do it. Reno time generally means time to tighten the purse strings. But don’t underestimate the power of a treat, a yoga class, a dinner out. Be kind to yourself – this is a major, major life event. If you’ve relocated somewhat far from home (as is our case), take the time to check out the local community centre, and ask around about great restaurants, bookstores, galleries … whatever might brighten your mood.

Next time I sign in, we’ll be well underway. For now, I’m going to dip into the Christmas chocolate.

Finding the help you need — contractor and designer

Congratulations!  You’ve decided that you will hire the help you need to renovate your living space.  Now you just have to find them.

build

This will probably take a few weeks (or even longer) so in the meantime be sure to browse the internet and save images of what you’ll want and need in your new space. A picture is worth a thousand words, particularly when those words are cornice, mansard, and French cleat.

In a small community you will only have the option of two or three companies.  But in a larger city…..

Don’t worry about whittling the list down just yet, just get lots of names.  Ask all your friends who have undergone renovations who their contractors are, and if they would hire them again (this helps you eliminate some of the bad eggs right away).  Go online and Google designers, builders, and design/build companies. Check out their websites — just because it’s not a snazzy site doesn’t mean they are not good contractors, but you can get a feeling about their work from what they have up at the site.

What if they don’t have a website?  Well, they are either very old-school and rely on word-of-mouth, or they are brand new to the business. Do you want to work with either of these types?

Go to the Houzz site (which you are probably visiting for reno ideas).  They can help you find local contractors/designers. 

Go to the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association website.  Check out the Trusted Pros website for more names.

When you have a good list, run the candidates’ names through the Better Business Bureau website.  Again, not necessarily a deal-breaker, but membership is another sign the business is on a long-term professional basis.

Now comes the hard part.  Start phoning and emailing.  I recommend phoning over emailing.  If you can’t get an answer or a reply to your message how will you communicate during the build?

What vibes did you get about the company during the call?  Do they seem professional?  Are they short with you, or even rude?  Remember, you will be dealing with these folks for a long time — pleasant is what you are going for.  If they are a builder, can they recommend a designer?  If a designer, vice versa?  How soon can they begin to work on your project (no kidding, some of these people are tied up years in advance)?  Are they licensed?  Insured?  Ask for several references, preferrably some recent and some long-term.

This is where your list will be whittled down.

Make appointments with the two or three you really like.  If these are eliminated you can always go back to your list.  Do they arrive on time for your meeting?  Are they keen to do the work?  Are you comfortable with them?  Do you feel they are really LISTENING to you? Talk to them about the project.

Be sure and check the references.  Did the client like working with the contractor?  How did they handle problems that came up?  Were they easy to reach? Did they keep to the budget and the timeline?  Would they hire them again?

Look, really look at the bid when it arrives.  Does it cover the entire scope of the job?  They should also have some rough plans to show you — and give extra points if they have some ways to save you money, or how to improve the plans with a few of their own ideas.

We needed design services when we built our laneway home — more than what a contractor could provide.  So we went with a design/build company – Novell.  It worked out really well for us, and I think it’s a good idea for most people.

When the designer and the contractor have worked together before they know how each other work. And most importantly, if they have any differences YOU will not be caught in the middle.

And when the bids finally start coming in,  as this story from Apartment Therapy reminds us, remember: fast, cheap, good.  Pick two.  A good contractor can deliver fast and good, but at a premium.  Or affordable and good, but not on a tight schedule.  And no good contractor will promise fast and cheap — because you can’t get a quality job with those constraints.

At the “Big House”: Big Changes

Hello!

DD (dear daughter) of your favourite laneway dweller here.

Oh, barf. The only good thing about this tub is that my son was born here. Beyond fixing. Impossible to clean (moulding from behind).

Oh, barf. The only good thing about this tub is that my son was born here. Beyond fixing. Impossible to clean (moulding from behind).

Recently we decided to bite the bullet at the “big house” and finish off the next phase of renovations we started at the same time the laneway house was built.

If you recall, we only had enough money to finish the basement suite (half of the basement), leaving us with half a gutted basement, and lots of deficiencies in our living space on the main floor.

Vancouver is a pretty tight market, and our budget is relatively modest, so our 1950s bungalow includes some peculiarities we’d been living with for some time.

In the kitchen these are:

  • Only one drawer (forcing us to use baskets in every other cupboard)
  • Less than three feet of counter space
  • An oven with tilting elements and a door that won’t open
  • A single sink (which gets tied up every time the portable dishwasher is on)
  • A faucet that rotates when in use
  • An awesomely big, but fairly ugly utilitarian fridge
  • A door to the back deck that won’t stay closed, and sits at the top of a steep staircase (to the basement)
  • Overhead lighting that doesn’t always work (there are three lights on a track and different ones light up each time)

And in the bathroom we have:

  • A medicine cabinet with warped shelves (and UGLY.so.very.ugly)
  • A fan and vanity light on the same circuit (ugly and LOUD)
  • A tub with cracks in the bottom, and a mouldy hole along the caulk line
  • Tile with rotting/mouldy grout (moulding from behind)
  • A sink with no counter and a cabinet with doors that are falling off
To me, this kitchen almost looks charming. But! Single sink. Loose faucet. Oven of uselessness. Sticker backsplash. Nope. No.

To me, this kitchen almost looks charming. But! Single sink. Loose faucet. Oven of uselessness. Sticker backsplash. Nope. Nope. No.

So some serious issues along with cosmetic ones, including the fact that the backsplash mosaic tile in the kitchen is, in fact, a sticker (one of my interim solutions).

And by finishing the basement, we’ll be able to increase our living space by about 400 square feet, giving our family some breathing and growing room.

A few people have asked us, for the amount we’re spending in renovations, why not tear down and build a new house? Great question. Some of the reasons (in the six years we’ve lived here) include:

  • We couldn’t foresee vacating the property for the amount of time needed
  • We want to keep some of the neighbourhood’s original character
  • We don’t need a bigger house, just a smarter one
  • We didn’t have the $250,000 + ready at the outset, and now that we’ve started down renovation road, there’s no turning back

So stay tuned for updates on the progress, or lack thereof, as we work through this next phase.

DIY? Or hire a pro? Ask yourself these questions.

If, like me, you have been watching the season marathons at the DIY&HG stations, you are probably looking around your place and wanting to make a few changes.  (Unless, like me, you moved into a brand new custom-built place a year ago).

Don't try this at home, kids.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

And you may even have good ideas about what you want, and you’re feeling like maybe you can do it yourself.  How do you know if you should tackle the job by yourself and when to hire a contractor?

1. Have you done it before?  Yes, you helped your brother replace his toilet.  Sure, you repainted your summer house.  OK, you are good to go.  You know the scope of the job and you’re prepared for a realistic amount of work and mess.

2. Do you have to buy or rent new tools to perform the task?  If you’re putting in a new backsplash, for instance, scoring and clipping a few tiles to make that corner fit is something most handy homeowners can handle. Hiring a tile saw takes a little fix-it job to another step.  Drilling a hole in concrete to hold a bolt is one thing, hiring a pneumatic drill is another. Got a compound mitre saw?  It’s a pretty tricky thing to operate. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but the more complex the tools, the more complex the job, and maybe it’s something you should leave to someone who has used those tools before.

3.  How much mess can you live with?  And for how long? I have friends who wanted a new ceiling ladder installed so they could have access to storage in their attic.  It wasn’t a big job, so a friend of a friend with considerable home reno experience said he would do it.  But he ran into problems.  And instead of asking my friends if they wanted their contractor to handle the now-larger job, he took it upon himself to do it.  Of course, he was working weekends and evenings, with the occasional afternoon work.  Short story long, six weeks later the ladder is still waiting to be installed and there’s a big ugly hole in their back bedroom ceiling.  When you DIY, you can be living with mess for weeks because the work is usually performed in someone’s spare time.

4. Does it matter if the job isn’t very well done?  Not a crazy question.  If you are having a complete kitchen reno in the next few years, just stick on some tiles on the floor and the walls and smarten the place up for a quick fix.  A cute mural on a wall that will be repainted when the child is a few years older doesn’t need to be Disney-approved.  A DIY slipcover on a sofa that will be tossed when your reno is done next year does not have to look perfect.

5. Does the pro who does the job need a license? Never do your own wiring.  Don’t do more than the simplest plumbing jobs yourself.  You are not only jeopardizing the future value to your home, you could be risking your life.

Now here’s something you may not have thought about

6. How much will the job cost? For larger jobs, you might want to borrow some money.  There’s a payoff to borrowing money for projects that will increase the value of your home (I’m talking about bathrooms and kitchens).  Not many lenders will let you walk away with their cash unless you have a professional doing the job.

7. What will it look like? Even if you are making minor design changes, I recommend hiring a designer.  Even after years of poring over design websites and magazines, I could never have found the creative solutions to our space problems that our designer did.  Unless you are an architect or a designer you just don’t have the knowledge to provide the best results.

Now we know whether or not we want to hire someone, I’ll have a few suggestions on finding the right person to help.

Five things I’ve learned in our first year of laneway living

The beginning of December marked our first full year of laneway living.  We have completely settled in, are thrilled to be living so close to our kids, and are looking forward to the coming new year of life on the lane.

Our house is a very, very, very nice house

Our house is a very, very, very nice house

During this time we have learned some very important lessons — hard won sometimes — that I want to share:

1. We did not need all the stuff we had.

Ergo: You do not need all the stuff you have. This is the hardest lesson to learn and you will never really learn it until you downsize.  Because……..

2. You will never get rid of your extra stuff until you have to

Maybe you are looking around you now and thinking that you have too much stuff.  Nah, just kidding, you are not thinking that at all.  You’ve just ditched the Christmas decorations and your place has a nice, stripped down look.  No way could you ever live with less.  There’s a reason you bought everything you own, just as there’s a reason why people gave you stuff.

Gradually you will stop using that gadget, stop wearing those clothes, but YOU DON’T GET RID OF THEM.  Because you have the space to put them.  And you tell yourself (those fatal words), “I might need that”. And into the closet or the storage room they go – to be forgotten.

So you will never realize how little you can live with until you get rid of everything (or nearly so) and start afresh.

This is an incredibly difficult thing to do.  Please don’t think I’m going to get all obnoxious on you because we are still getting rid of stuff.  We have a storage locker full of stuff we don’t use.  How do I know we won’t need it in the future?  Because we haven’t needed it in the past year.  When I was unpacking kitchen boxes at move-in I put a large salad bowl and some platters into some of our precious, precious kitchen cupboard space. And there they sit, unused this whole year.  I have to get rid of them.  But I haven’t.  Because I don’t have to.

But now I want to unpack some of  our storage space stuff and will have to have room for that, and those unused items will have to go, go, go.

Baby steps, my friend, baby steps.

3. Design trumps size

Up at the DD and DSIL’s big house BIG plans are afoot.  The kitchen and bath are being stripped back to the studs and rebuilt, fixing many problems (more on this later).  The rooms will not be any larger, but will be much, much more efficient.  Because DESIGN.

Ask anyone who lives in a mobile home or a houseboat — or even a small condo.  You can find storage room that you never dreamed of. Space for your shoes in your staircase. A lift-up bed for linens and more.  A half-height mechanical room off the deck with room for our Christmas decorations.

So if you are thinking living in a small house is just taking your current space and shrinking it, disavow yourself of this notion.  You can get your designer and builder to put in much more storage per square foot than you currently have.

4. Living outside of your house has its rewards

We used to spend a lot of time cleaning and primping our former place.  Two full bedrooms, two baths, plus a living room and two halls to vacuum.  Lots of open shelving to dust.

But now we have lots of time to spare after our clean-up routines.  Time to take walks.  Get on the Skytrain and go. Get out to the gym.  We are looking forward to some travel this year.  We’re getting lots of exercise and having fun.

5. A small home IS all you need

While the laneway was being built we used to drop by and watch the progress.  At every step, from the concrete pour for the foundation to the finishing touches on the moulding, we told ourselves that the place was going to be soooooo small.  It was too late to turn back, but we were worried that our home would be constricting and claustrophobic.

But we were wrong.

It’s cozy.  It’s comfortable.  It’s bright and cheery. When the rainy weather stops us from go out for a walk we are happy spending the day indoors — there’s space where we can each hideaway and do our own thing.

PS: The financial situation is pretty good, too

We consider ourselves pretty lucky that we found the laneway solution to living in a too-expensive home too far from family.  Every month we are just a little bit farther ahead financially, rather than the other way around.  We save on power, water, gas living in such a small, energy efficient home.  We buy fewer things (that we would end up not using anyway) because everything we bring into the place has to earn its space.

It’s win all the way.

BCNPHA spells relief to renters

For someone who sticks their nose into all kinds of housing, it’s incredible to me that I just recently learned of the BCNPHA — The British Columbia Non-Profit Housing Association.

As I learned from their website

The BC Non-Profit Housing Association provides leadership and support to members in creating and supporting a high standard of affordable housing throughout British Columbia.

BCNPHA members are primarily non-profit housing providers. Other members include individuals and organizations who care about affordable housing.

If you are interested in providing or living in non-profit housing, these are the folks for you. They offer training and help at each stage.

I heard about them in correlation with the Rental Housing Index.  This is a very comprehensive index that shows you the affordability of rental housing for each area throughout the province:

BCNPHA1

And within each area you’ll find a table showing the cost

The affordability for each level of income

BCHPHA2

which shows that

in Greater Vancouver, a total of 47,410 renter households are living in conditions that are too small for their household size and composition

And the bedroom shortfall

BCNPHA4

which shows that

Greater Vancouver would need at least 63,480 more bedrooms to house all renters suitably.

Even at the highest income level, $71,583 +, renters might not find accommodation suitable for their needs.

We just had a civic election where the term “housing affordability” was tossed around by all sides.These figures from the BCNPHA show just what that term means in hard figures.

When people have to spend over half their income on housing, and even the most affluent renters can’t always get what they need, there is truly need to work on this issue — immediately

Continental charm – in small doses

Whether you say piccolo, pequeño, pieni, klein or  petit,  small is beautiful all over the world.

These little homes in Europe packed a lot of style — and innovative thinking — into small spaces. See how many ideas you can use in your small space.

From Life Edited we learned about a clever Roman who saw this:

italian-micro-loft-before

And envisioned this:

italian-micro-loft-after

A comfortable loft-style home big enough for two (if they can control their shopping urges) built in the space between two existing buildings right in downtown Rome.

The kitchen has an eating area:

italian-micro-loft-dining-stairs

And a fair-sized kitchen.  The table folds away when not needed for eating (or working with a laptop).

italian-micro-loft-ground-floor

The loft lounge is great for watching TV or reading:

italian-micro-loft-lounge

Closing off the staircase gives you more leg room.  And, of course, it makes up into a bed for sleeping:

italian-micro-loft-bedIt looks like they used the exterior walls of the neighbouring buildings as part of their decor!  With the brick, the plaster, and the exposed beams it looks like it’s been there for centuries, yet still clean and modern.

Life Edited also clued us into this Spanish work/home space by PKMN Architects.  The floor plan is flexible:

All-I-Own-House-by-PKMN-floor-plan-2

A communal recreation area can also be used as a living room

All-I-Own-House-by-PKMN-floor-plan

This video shows how it all works:

I myself am not crazy about the chipboard, it looks too unfinished to me and I wonder if it’s tough enough to stand up to all that manhandling over the years.  But the space itself is very nice. And the moveable walls mean you can use the same space is many different ways.

How much would you love to live in the heart of Paris?  Enough to live in a 7th floor walk-up?  In 8 square meters (86 square feet)?

This video shows it can be done

It’s so chic!  And easy to keep clean.  It was planned to be home for an au pair for a family in the building, but it would be perfect for a student or working person, too. I really like the interior window that lets light into the bathroom.  And the stairs/shelves is a great dual use of the same space.

This video shows how they did it

But what about if you want to get away from it all?  Small spaces are fine in the city, but how would a small home fit into the wide open vistas of the Austrian Alps?

Perfectly. Once again, design trumps space, here in this charming and compact vacation home. It’s called the UVogel.  And it’s for rent if you want a taste of perching on the side of a mountain in your own cozy nest.

 

strange-tiny-house2

SONY DSC

Love that view! And the inside is just as breathtaking:

strange-tiny-house7

 

Building a platform to use as a lounge area is the ideal way to grab that view and hold onto it for hours.

strange-tiny-house5

 

Once again, bench seating gives you extra space in the dining area.

strange-tiny-house12

 

They seem to have installed the TV so it can be mounted on the other side of that half-wall and viewed from the main room, or pulled up atop the wall for bedroom viewing — that is tricky!

strange-tiny-house14

 

And the bathroom is built in a deep, narrow space.  The glass walls allow the sun to come all the way into this tiny cabin.

What about if you’re looking for something a little more old-fashioned?  How about this adorable little cottage in Finland?  Just 516 square feet, and 120 years old. Apartment Therapyalerted us to how much cute you can pack into that little area.

Finland1

The kitchen and sitting area are in one room.  It looks like they have some kind of radiators under the windows, but the kitchen has a nice old-fashioned wood-burning range as well as a modern electric stove. Using every square millimetre of vertical space gives you maximum storage.

Finland2

And the bedroom has a small stove as well.

Finalnd4

I understand it can get quite cold in Finland, so they probably need all the help they can get to keep warm.

Thanks for joining us on our trip around the continent of Europe.  Please return your seats to their upright position and make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened.  And remember — thinking big and living small are the way to fly!

 

A long, hard slog, another moving experience

The good news is that our parents’ condo in Nelson has been sold.  The subjects have been removed and in mid-October a new owner will be moving in.

The bad news, of course, is that they want to move into an empty condo.  Everything had to be removed, all the furniture, all the boxes, all the pictures, everything.

Happily my sister had gone through the place in the Spring, tossing and re-packing, and had handled most of the heavy lifting.  But there was still a lot to do, so last weekend she and I climbed into a big, honking rented SUV filled with empty boxes and drove up to Nelson from Vancouver and we started sorting.  Everything that we put into our hands had to be either given away, thrown away, or packed to be brought back to our place. All I wanted were the photos, a quilt, an afghan, and the cutlery.  My son and his wife wanted a chair and ottoman.  A local charity was taking the rest of the furniture.

I don’t have to tell you how horrible it is to move.  Tossing away boxes and boxes of opened food, half-full bottles of cleaning supplies.  Added to that there was the mental strain of decision fatigue.  The emotional wrench every time we ran across a piece of paper with our mother’s writing, a card signed by our father.  We fell into our beds, exhausted, every night.  And rose to face it all again, chaos and mess and piles of things.

To save our sanity we took time for walks around town and even had facials.  To prevent the foolish choices that come from decision fatigue we quit at supper time, and spent the evenings relaxing as much as we could before early bed-times (we were pretty pooped after shifting boxes and bags all day, neither of us is in our first bloom of youth).

When we left after a last farewell tour of the now-empty condo we were relieved, but not comforted.  We were so fortunate that we could do it together, my sister lives on the other side of the country and it was just luck that she was on the West Coast to attend a course and could take some holidays, because it would be exponentially more difficult for one person (hauling a huge old TV to the recyclers was definitely a two-person job). And we could help each other winnow through the collections of chotchkes.

One job I will be undertaking right now! is the labelling of the photos and slides I brought home.  I have to identify all the faces I recognise and scan and email the ones I don’t to relatives (while they are still around) so we can catalogue them all.  Note:  pencilling “Dad” on the back of a photo with no date is not going to help someone trying to identify it 70 years later.

So it’s good-bye to Nelson, a beautiful city but one that we have seen frequently over the past 40 years.  Now we will take trips to other equally-lovely corners of this fantastic province.

Home, home on the screen

Classic TV shows had great homes.  Roseanne aside, houses were meant to be aspirational, just a little bigger/tidier/nicer than our own, so we could relate without really noticing them.  They were sets, not characters.  Or….were they?  Didn’t they become characters in the shows?

Thanks to artists Mark Bennett  and Inaki Aliste Lizarralde we can revisit those oh-so-familiar homes through their floor plans.

ILoveLucyFloorPlansWe spent many hours in that apartment with these folks

FloorPlansLucyBut that was a New York City flat.  How about this home:

FloorPlansLeaveItToBeaver

Even with four bedrooms (and 2.5 baths) Wally and the Beav shared a room.

 

The next decade brought us more homes we visited every week

FloorPlansRobPetrie

FloorPlansStephens

FloorPlansBradyBunch

Of course, Mike Brady was an architect, so his place reflected the open-concept, shag-covered tastes of the time.

But all these houses had one thing in common, something that shows itself in the reruns of the shows.

They weren’t very big.

Sure, they were bigger than our homes.  Nicer and newer and just better.  But they weren’t huge.

According to Life Edited, in 1950 the average floor space of a house was 983 square feet.  By 2012 that area had grown to 2,662 square feet, and there were fewer people living in the house. Over the years we got used to the idea that we needed more rooms.  But we really don’t.

That Life Edited article cites the book Life at Home in the Twenty-first Century which has some interesting things to say about what goes on in those big homes:

  • 3 out of 4 of the families garages cannot fit cars because of excessive stockpiling from stores like Costco.

  • 50 of the 64 parents reported not stepping outside in the course of a week.

And what are they doing inside those homes? The book describes a survey that showed how every member of the household moved throughout the home — a measurement taken every ten minutes.  And the pattern looked like this

No one used that formal dining room.  No one sat and chatted in the lovely living room.  Those spaces weren’t needed. And they are expensive in terms of heating, cooling, cleaning, decorating.  The more house the more money you need to support it.  And to build it.

 The outstanding domestic debt of the Household and Home Mortgage Sector in 1950 was $411B (adjusted for inflation). Currently, that same figure is $9.7 trillion. While the population has doubled and home ownership and college attendance have increased, this is still an increase of over 23-times.

Let’s start thinking and planning how we want to house ourselves in this new century.  Let’s leave our fantasy homes on the screen.

A tale of two houses

Two houses recently sold in our neighbourhood.  One, the one we lovingly referred to as “the crack house”, is certainly scheduled for demolition.  There hasn’t been any maintenance to that property since mullets were in style (the first time).  It is falling to pieces, the yard filled with trash.  Soon the big machines will come and tear it down and replace it with a three-storey faux craftsman with a laneway.  It was inevitable and to a certain extent, planned-for.

We have seen the future and it is huge.

We have seen the future and it is huge.

The other house that sold is our neighbours’.  The couple who lived there spent much time and love taking care of it.  Yes, it drove us crazy to hear their tools fire up early on a week-end morning, but you could see just from looking at the exterior that these people took care of their home.  Now the big question on our minds is:  “Will the new owners leave as is? Reno? Demolish and rebuild?”

On our block we have seen it all.  Perfectly good small houses demolished for behemoths.  Aging bungalows given new life with loving renovations.  And of course, speculators buying the older, more derelict properties to hold on to for future development (while they rot and attract vermin of all species).

Rumour has it that the house next door has been bought by a family who will be moving into it as is; the tenants in the spacious two-bedroom basement suite are not looking for new accommodations yet.  But we won’t truly exhale until the moving trucks pull away, emptied of a household’s goods now placed in their new home. Then we’ll show up with a plate of cookies to welcome them to the new neighbourhood.

But if they want to make changes but don’t want to tear it down, the new owners will be stepping into a quagmire of regulations and rules that is the permit process for renovation in Vancouver.  This story in the Globe and Mail sums it up quite nicely.

Additions to the building code include a host of requirements designed to enhance accessibility for the disabled and to make houses more energy efficient. …..

Groups opposed to it are arguing that it will make renovations prohibitively expensive, adding to affordability problems and increasing the number of demolitions

Luckily the new owners wouldn’t have to do anything to bring the house up to code — the current residents have done all that.  But what if someone bought the “crack house” to preserve that old-fashioned style of house?  They would be screwed.  It would cost twice as much as the house would be worth to bring it up to current codes.  That’s one of the reasons we are losing these old houses.  It’s just too much bother and expense to try to save them.

It’s not “energy efficient” to put a house’s worth of old materials into a landfill.  And the drive to make our condo buildings air-tight contributed to the leaky condo crisis we are still trying to fix.  Personally I feel people should get some dispensation for trying to save an old house, not just one designated as a heritage home, but a place that was built in the ’60s, the ’50s, and the ’40s.  The architecture of those eras deserves to be respected and cherished as much as that of earlier years.

Meantime we will watch and see what changes our neighbourhood will experience in the next few months.

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ANNOTATED AUDREY BLOG

Artist and Desert Dweller with Big City Style.

Im ashamed to die until i have won some victory for humanity.

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