Laneway Houses Offer Green Urban Renewal

Laneway house

Laneway housing, also called "backyard cottages," are becoming popular almost a century after people stopped building them on their properties. Toward the end of the 19th Century urban areas began running out of room and building small housing units behind the original home became popular. A generation short of having the technology to build large apartment buildings city governments encouraged homeowners to build cottages in their back yard to accommodate another family. As most businesses and factories were located within the city centers the pressure on housing the workers was lifted somewhat by homeowners building small cottages in their backyard. In some cases carriage houses were converted.

Today the concept of laneway housing has come full circle. As the demand for urban housing becomes crucial in cities like Vancouver and Toronto the governing bodies of these cities has relaxed the rules on multi-family dwellings in established neighbourhoods, especially in areas where there are alleyways.

What Are Laneway Houses?

A laneway house is a garage-sized home, measuring between 400 and 750 square-feet, built on the alley side of the home. Rather than just a converted garage these dwellings can be as complicated or simple as the homeowner wants to build. Some even have small garages and carports, and gardens. The guidelines for building them requires that they have the latest in energy-efficient materials. This means that the landlords, or owners, can count on miserly heating bills.

Guidelines for Laneway Houses

Before a homeowner gets excited and begins to rip his or her garage apart to reap the rewards of a laneway house there is a checklist that should be followed to see if the property can accept the addition.

1. Power

Most homes built in the past twenty years have 200 amp circuits or higher and so the neighbourhood is wired to accept a higher load. Homeowners with older homes should have an electrician look at the service and control panel. In most areas of Canada the power grids in older neighbourhoods have been increased during the rebuilding of the urban cores.

2. Water and Sewer

One of the best things about being on an alleyway is that the services are close at hand. This is especially good for the sewer connection however water is pressure-based. And upgrades to get the required pressure for two households may be expensive if water pipes have to be unearthed and replaced. This may

On the other hand the sewage system requires gravity, which would seem like a simple operation. However, if there are problems and the sewage can t trickle down hill then a tank with a pump would be needed to get the sewage to the main sewer line. Another variable with sewer in an older area with a where sewage and runoff are combined the city may require an upgrade to the present sewage system to the property before a laneway house can be put in. This could increase the costs from $10,000 to $15,000.

Lane Houses and Vancouver's Ecodensity Plan

In Vancouver, British Columbia, the idea for lane houses evolved from the city's EcoDensity committee. To show how this idea grew in popularity The Vancouver City Council fast-tracked the movement to build lane houses in order to quickly provide affordable and rental housing citywide.

Here are some of the preliminary guidelines:

1. Qualifications: Lane houses are permitted on city lots with minimums 33 feet in width and 122 feet in length that are located on a lane open at both ends (alley). This stands to reason as closed-end lanes would create a traffic concern when private vehicles and utility vehicles are vying for the same road.

2. Location: The specific area on the property is within the space where a garage would be normally be permitted. This means in the rear 26 feet of the lot and a minimum 16 feet separating the lane house from the primary home.

3. Usage: the unit can only be used as a rental unit or for the use of the primary family. Garage-based businesses are not allowed.

4. Size: The maximum size shall be 750 square feet.

5. Style: The unit is restricted to one-story or one-and-a-half-story.

6. Parking: One parking space required so that the main street is not clogged with extra vehicles.

7. Green: Lane houses must be built or renovated within the requirements of the Green Home Program. This includes design guidelines intended to minimize shadowing, massing and enhance privacy.

For more information on laneway houses consult our Contractor Directory or simply post your project online.

Posted by: Kim Kinrade
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