Monday, March 28, 2011

Death by drowning

Did you know that you can borrow the building code from your local library? I didn’t until one rule buried in the 350 page double volume book set us back $500 last week. Yup, it’s always important to know the rules of the game before you start playing. Now I'm not a rule breaker, in fact I usually go out of my way to follow them but some of the ones we’ve had to deal with throughout this process are just, well... dumb.

Did you know that according to the City of Vancouver Building Code your vanity has to be a minimum of 16 inches from the midline of your toilet? Seems simple enough…but try doing that in a tiny bathroom. We bought a vanity that was 22inches wide – by all accounts a small vanity but not small enough to satisfy code. Jake and Kate from Smallworks came to visit last week and delivered the sad news. We would have to find a smaller option. Let me tell you – miniature vanities are hard to come by. At one point I went so far as to look in marine stores where they sold specialty options for boats.  Finally, we found one option at Home Depot. A 19 inch sink and cabinet that we’re hoping will do the trick. That said, I’m still frustrated. The code appears to have been designed to give ample room for an ample bottom. Neither Brendon nor I have enough cheek to fill up the extra foot and a half of wall space but in order to get our occupancy permits, we must comply.

The vanity though was the most reasonable of the rules in retrospect. The sprinkler system we have in our home is my favorite demonstration of the city code. In a 500 square foot home we have 9 sprinklers. Yes, you read that right.  The reason? – By code every ‘room’ must have a sprinkler. A ‘room’ by definition can be a closet, a crawlspace and my personal favorite – a hallway.  We're going to be uber-safe!  If we're unlucky enough to ever have a fire, we'll probably drown trying to escape.  Here are a few of our favourite sprinkler's we've liberally had spread though out our home.

Notice the differences between our kitchen sprinkler and hallway?

And our bathroom sprinkler clearly matches the new vanity.  Phew.

And into our 4 foot high crawlspace.  We got's 2 of them down there!

The last of my favorite rules is one that as a ‘greeny’ is especially ironic. The City of Vancouver is a leader in environmentally-friendly regulations and the building code has been one of the tools used to increase energy efficiency and improve product selection. But the lighting code has me baffled. The city has mandated that 40% of lighting fixtures be hardwired for energy efficiency. That means that only lights like GU24 (it’s a compact florescent double pinned bulb) can be used. The intention is good. They wanted to make sure that people didn’t just put in compact florescent bulbs for inspection and then switch them to incandescent afterwards. The thing is though that no one sells the fixtures that are hardwired for efficiency. They don’t have to because BC has banned incandescent bulbs and since January 2011, no retailers can stock the energy suckers. So by 2012 every home will be lit entirely by compact florescent anyhow.  (Sigh) Until then we have to suffice with the one and only (ugly) ceiling light sold by Home Depot that is hardwired GU24.

GU24 bulb. 

Compact Florescent

 Incandescent banned.

It’s times like these when you wish common sense could override our devotion to rules and regulations. Ugg.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Death of the Single Family Home Neighbourhood

I've been trying to write this post for two weeks now, ever since Brendon and I attended a presentation hosted by the Dunbar Residents Association (DRA) on the perils of laneway housing. But I've struggled every time with what to write. Partly this is because I'm emotional, I want people to like us and not campaign against giving people like Brendon and I a chance to live here. When I get emotional I get angry and want to write a diatribe against 'the haters'. I've written and deleted content on this post more times than I can count, getting no closer to something I was ready to share. But I'm hopeful that today I've settled on a story that talks honestly (though not unbaisedly) about what's happening in this neighbourhood. So here it goes.

This is a story that started a long time ago and while the events that I'm about to recount happened in the neighbourhod of Dunbar, this is a story that is/has/could happen in countless communities across the country. The city of Vancouver is seen as a leader in the world when it comes to community-based planning and back in the early 1990s, it was one of the first places in North America to formally involve neighbourhoods in the design and planning of their own communities. The policy they created was called CityPlan and in 1998 Dunbar built and formalized a community vision for the neighbourhood. The purpose of the vision was to help provide a framework for future development in Dunbar. The document tackled things like housing style, transit, commercial development and the preservation of green space. Dunbar residents were clear - they wanted to preserve the single family home neighbourhood, and they were interested in density only along the arterials. They were also quite adamant that density take the form of only duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes. The residents were generally against apartment buildings except for limited use to accommodate seniors.

Since the plan was developed almost 15 years ago there have been some physical changes to Dunbar but for the most part this neighbourhood has remained relatively unchanged for decades. However, something unexpected has changed that is threatening the viability of the entire community. Dunbar residents are getting old. Very old. And new families are not replacing them in the numbers necessary to sustain and grow the community. The reason? - the average price of a home here goes for $1.6 million dollars. The big problem is that by following Dunbar's vision for density, the neighbourhood can only supply between 280 - 750 new households over 20 years and none of these are small enough to be afforable. In order to meet the minimum number of people to keep the stores open, the transit running and environmental footprint contained, they need another 2000 dwellings. Most of these need to be apartments or small homes in order to create more affordable housing options.

So Houston, we have a problem. Dunbar residents said in 1998 that they didn't want density and yet their very viability depends on gentle changes to their community like laneway housing. This single family home neighbourhood is in jeopardy (just like the article above states) just not for the reasons that the DRA is suggesting.

With springs arrival there appears to be a renewed fever of dissent and the Dunbar Residents Association (made up almost entirely of well educated, white, seniors) is mounting a campaign against laneway housing in Dunbar. They've lobbied the city, written countless articles and hosted a presentation to educate the residents about the problems with the policy. They are fighting against what I call the 'P.P.P.S' or Parking, Privacy, housing Prices and Shading. Their arguments are not uncommon. Communities across the country have used identical reasons to build cases against density in all its iterations, many times with success.

With the DRA actively proselytizing its opinions, its easy to believe that everyone is against this policy. But we have had nothing but the best kind of experience with our neighbours and this community. Not only have we met more people on our block than I have in the three years we've lived here, we've gotten an incredible amount of support and encouragement from everyone we've talked to. So this one is for you neighbours. We're so excited to get to live on 23rd and its because of people like you that we feel honoured to stay.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Locked out for a week

This month we handed back the keys to Smallworks to begin some of the finishings. Today after one week of being locked out of our home we gingerly opened the door to discover our beautiful floors. The concrete had been poured, polished and set and suddenly the main floor is really starting to look finished. See for yourself.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How to hide your mistakes

Soon after my last blog post I got a call from my friend Lindsay. (You know, the one with the great insights on Home Depot.) She started by congratulating us on getting our tiling down. She's been trying to motivate her husband to finish their bathroom too and has encountered a few obstacles along the way. Their most recent one was that they weren't able to start until they sourced a shower rod so that they could tile around its location.

Upon the words 'shower rod', everything seemed to go in slow motion. Not only had we not sourced a shower rod, we had totally forgotten to even plan for it as we completed the tiling.  sh@$#&t!

While I would like to say that this was our first and only mistake, it is not. Luckily, after some searching around on the Internet, it looks like the problem can be easily solved with a tension-based rod.

That said, it seems as though making mistakes and figuring out how to fix - or at least hide - is part of the process. First off, I'll admit it. I make more mistakes then Brendon does. I'm the hare and Brendon is the tortoise. I get more done but then I spend the time trying to hide or fix my mistakes. Brendon takes WAY longer to do something but then he usually does it right.

The mistakes we've made so far are small but great pieces of learning. Sometimes fixing them involves doing it all again - like we did with the painting when we had to redo the entire room because we drywalled the window casing. (Note to self: don't paint before you figure out the door and window framing!)

Other times it nurtures our artistic skills. My art classes have come back to me full force. I have pulled out all my tiny detail brushes and have spent hours painting wood filler to look like the rest of the sills. I might have avoided this if only I had cut the sills just to size.

But my all time favourite solution to mistakes is construction glue. In fact this new tool has surpassed duct tape in the MacGyver hall of fame. Specifically PL 400 and Alex Plus. PL 400 is a serious glue that bonds everything from wood to metal to concrete. In our case it was our solution to keep our stairs from creaking and the main way we secured our sills. Alex Plus is perfect for filling in seems between two pieces of wood. In our case I used it to fill the join on our pony wall cap. It's paintable, water soluble and sandable too.

While more mistakes (at least for me) are in our future, sometimes it is as much fun to figure out how to fix the problem as doing it in the first place.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Baby, look how far we’ve come!

Today my uncle Len called me to let me know he was in town from Saskatchewan for a few days. My uncle is the consummate handyman. By day he works as the Assistant Chief Building Official for the Saskatchewan government, setting and ensuring the implementation of building codes for the province. By night he is a master carpenter that has fully renovated his own home and built beautiful furniture and cabinetry that are easy to admire.

He asked me what I had been working on today and I proceeded to explain that I was priming the drywall return on our windowsills so that we could have the space prepped for the installation of our poplar stool and apron.

My uncle said something along the lines of, “I’m really proud of you”.

Two things happened after he said that. First off, I was just so grateful for his praise. Over the last few months we’ve had a lot of people try to discourage us from taking on this project, instead impressing upon us the importance of going with professionals anytime we felt like we got stuck. Secondly, it made me realize how much Brendon and I have learnt. We have a whole new vocabulary and a skill set that has blossomed along with the experience.

This last week was no exception.  We started on the bathroom and began what has loomed as one of the most daunting tasks on our list of ‘things to do’ – the shower tiles. The fear with tiling isn’t necessarily that it won’t go on straight or that the tiles will crack, its that you’ll do it wrong and a few years from now you’ll end up with mold in and behind the walls of the bathroom. And truth be told, it’s not uncommon for that to happen. So prompted by fear but constrained/motivated by our shrinking bank account, Brendon went out and canvassed Home Depot employees and customers. In aisle 74 he ran into a professional tiler and proceeded to pick his brain for all of the tips and tricks of the trade. He then supplemented this info with YouTube videos and was ready to go.

Assess the foundation. We started with a moisture resistant drywall. It looks just like gypsum board but it’s blue.

Seal, seal, seal. The drywall is not enough. We bought RedGaurd – a waterproofing paint that seals cracks and creates a moisture barrier.  
Measure, once, twice, three times. Brendon and his dad went as far as drawing out the lines and mapping the placement of every tile.
Cement, scrape and apply tile. Repeat.


Separate tiles with 'doohickies'.

Cut tiles to fit.

Wipe down and wash up. Let cure for at least a day.

To be continued….