Vancouver is a tough place to be if you’re thinking about buying your first home. We’re not a suburban kind of family, but we can’t afford an actual house in the city proper. The City of Vancouver, in an attempt to make the city residential neighborhoods livable for more people, made it legal to build a little house at the back of one’s property. Obviously the planning permits are complicated, and from what I hear, a bit in flux, but essentially if your house backs onto a lane, you can make a living space attached to a garage space for a vehicle. Most of the time, these little separate dwellings are called laneway houses, and can be rented out or used for other family members, but cannot be sold off separately to the main house.
Building a laneway house, or a coach house (when there is no laneway involved) might be in our future, but I’ll explain if it ever comes to fruition.
With that hazy possibility on the horizon, my mum and I signed up for Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Laneway House Tour. It was a self-guided tour, and armed with our large tickets listing out all the addresses, coffee, the provided Google Map on my iPhone, we set out.
The houses ranged in size from a tiny 380 square feet, all the way up to 1302 square feet including garage space. That last caveat is an important one, as the space built as a garage can also be living space. Many of the houses we saw had this option by adding glass French doors at one end and louvered doors at the other for the possibility of a car to access the space. Concrete floors with underfloor heating was another common feature – which made using the garage space as living space feel less strange.
The tour gave me a new appreciation for well thought-out floor plans, because the largest definitely did not feel like it had acres more space than some of the smaller houses. In fact, the 380 square foot house felt lovely for one person, with the bed on up above the bathroom, loft style.
My favourite was out in Southlands, and came in at 1050 square feet including garage. Beautifully shingled outside, it felt more traditional inside – but I loved the way the hall connecting the two bedrooms opened out to the vaulted living room ceiling, giving the upstairs a much less cramped feeling. However, a very modern house in Renfrew Heights had this great living room that had one corner that opened completely to the outside patio, and even fit in a sunken hot tub in the floor that was covered with very thick plexiglass when not in use. Amazing, though probably not practical with a preschooler.
The tour ran from 1pm to 5pm, and unlike the Heritage House Tour, we were able to fit all the properties in good time. These tours by Heritage Vancouver are very well organized, with loads of volunteers at every house directing you and marking your ticket. It’s worth wearing shoes that are easy to take on and off as you have to remove them at every stop.
Join the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, they do great house tours throughout the year.