Square-foot shuffle

by lbanyay@solagroup.com

Vancouver is widely recognized as one of the most diverse cities in the world. People from all countries and walks of life flock there to visit; many choose to relocate there. This was the case with one couple who retired to a dated 1970s house in West Vancouver that boasted unbeatable views of the city of Vancouver, Stanley Park, Bayard Inlet and the Lion’s Gate Bridge.

Although the house is located in a prime position, it suffered from a poor floor plan and had a tired, dated appearance. The homeowners called upon My House Design/Build/Team in Surrey, British Columbia, to upgrade their retirement home. “Initially they thought they would do some lipstick, like updating flooring and cabinets,” recalls Graeme Huguet, owner and director of My House Design/Build/Team. “We wanted to come up with a long-term plan that could capture the view, allow them to retire and allow them to age in place if necessary.” Through thoughtful consideration and design, the remodel was able to accomplish all of these goals.

Heightless third floor

West Vancouver has height and floor space ratio restrictions, both of which limit the amount of square footage allowable on a specific lot. “This house was already at its maximum height and maximum square footage,” Huguet says. “I proposed we approach the city and go through an application process called the Board of Variance that allows you to apply to vary a particular bylaw. I wanted to make a proposal where the house would not change in height and the overall house did not change in square footage, but ultimately would change the functionality of the house.”

One of the clients’ main requests was to add a third-floor master suite that captured the sweeping views of the area, all without making the roofline higher. Huguet used existing vaulted ceilings, installed floor joists and built a third floor in that former vaulted space. “We also did some creative design with a slightly flatter roof so we didn’t go above the existing height restriction,” he explains. The end result is an 800-sq.-ft. master suite, complete with an outdoor deck and a section that looks down into the main living space.

Although that provided the third-floor, view-enabling result, it added a new problem: the house was 800 sq. ft. over its maximum limit. Huguet and his team looked to the basement for that solution. One part of the basement was buried against solid dirt and very dark. Huguet made that space a storage and mechanical room and brought the ceilings down so the room is a mere 4 ft. high, which was low enough so the city doesn’t include that space in square footage counts. The hot water, furnace and electrical is all in one spot, along with additional shelving for storage. “It’s still a totally usable space, but it freed up the 800 sq. ft. where it was more important – where the view was,” he says. 

Including conversations and approvals with the city, the remodel took about nine months, seven of which was taken up by building. And, despite adding an entire new floor, whole-house square footage stayed nearly the same. Before the remodel, the house was 3,360 sq. ft; today, it is 3,485 sq. ft.

First impressions

After juggling square feet, the next biggest project was reconfiguring the entranceway. Before the remodel, people had to navigate several stairs upon walking in the door. Huguet pushed in the entranceway several feet and put a couple stairs outside, eliminating the immediate interior steps and creating a covered entranceway outside. “When you walk in the entranceway now you see this beautiful open glass railing stairway with open treads leading to the third floor,” he says. “Everything on the main floor is now one level, which makes it a lot easier to get around.” 

The exterior facelift encompassed installing natural cedar cladding, some stucco and stone, and a planter box and lighting to dress up the entranceway. A large skylight over the entranceway introduces natural light and enhances the open floor plan. “It created a much cleaner, more modern, open floor plan out of an old box,” Huguet says.

The main floor also includes a guest suite with a full walk-in closet. “If the owners choose to, they could live on that main floor and the main floor would be totally self-contained for them,” Huguet says.

Luxurious efficiency

Not only was My House Design/Build/Team able to conceptualize and execute clever solutions for the clients’ desires, but the team did it in a highly sustainable manner. The house is a Certified Gold Green home and has an EnerGuide rating of 86. EnerGuide is the official mark of the Government of Canada for its energy performance and labeling program. The maximum rating under EnerGuide is 100, though Huguet notes the highest rating typically seen is in the high 80s.

A high-efficiency heating system with a heat pump acts like geothermal heating by using ambient air to heat and cool the house as opposed to gas or electricity. A tankless, on-demand hot water tank controls hot water, and energy-efficient glass in the windows and skylights contain heat in the wintertime while radiating it out in the summer. “The specialty glass means they don’t need blinds on their windows,” Huguet says. “They can enjoy the view.” Other green elements include high-density spray foam insulation; Energy Star-rated appliances, plumbing and windows; flow-through toilets and faucets; dimmer switches; low-VOC paints; and certified green cabinetry construction.

Huguet is particularly proud of repurposing parts of the house and presenting those ideas to the city in such a way that they were allowed to move forward. “There are a lot of considerations in this area, including not blocking the view of your neighbors, and of course the square footage requirements,” he says. “The fact we got that passed was the best part, next to seeing the final accomplishment of all the pieces coming together.”

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