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The New RS-1 Housing Type: How deeper consideration equates to innovation and sustainability

It’s a new approach on an old theme: build a property for the long-term. Incorporate the family’s needs now, the kids’ future needs as they attend University in 10 years. Build it for the grandparents now and the homeowners as they age. By incorporating three livable units, the architecture evolves with the people who inhabit it.
- Kenneth Chooi, DSK Architecture

 

GENERAL PROBLEM DESCRIPTION

In the second-least affordable major city worldwide in which to buy a house, Vancouver homeowners and homeowner-hopefuls are faced with the very real question of if and how they can afford a home. In 2011 Mr. and Mrs. Average Vancouverite paid $678,500 for their home with their annual income of $63,800 (that’s a factor of 10.6%, second only to Hong Kong’s staggering 12.6%), so it’s no wonder that inhabitants are constantly on the lookout for novel ways to make homeownership financially feasible. Generally speaking, the hot housing climate has forced Vancouverites either up or out. Housing “flips” have increased the cost of housing (while funding many a Vancouver homeowner up the financial ladder), and sales to foreign wealth (by those leaving the Vancouver market) have done much the same. So what happens to a family who is growing out of their dilapidated teardown of inflated value within the neighbourhood they have always lived, have always loved? Especially when their zoning says no to stratifying in order to sell off a chunk? What happens when the family considers fully the future impact of the home in which they live, both environmentally and sociologically? When they are aware of life cycles of not only the building materials but also the building inhabitants: grandparents, parents and children alike?

SOLUTION

With greater housing density and affordability a key component of any vital city within our modern day, the City of Vancouver shifted RS1 zoning in 2009 to allow for legal basement rental suites and legal laneway rental houses. For our case study Point Grey family, this change in zoning translated to positive potential in the way of cash flow and made staying in their neighbourhood financially feasible. “The zoning changes inspired a new housing type for the Vancouver area,” says Kenneth Chooi of DSK Architecture and designer of the home. “In the short term, the couple and their children will inhabit the main floors of the main home and rent out both the basement suite and laneway house. In the long term, all three spaces within the open, flexible plan will evolve as its occupants grow and change. The suites can accommodate any family member at any stage of life: from retired grandparents to growing children in need of future habitation. In this sense, the property becomes inter-generational.” Within the award-winning micro-community (Built Green’s Most Innovative Home 2012) outdoor garden spaces and courtyards are shared by all occupants, serving as centerpieces to the community. Healthy spaces (the children’s garden, playroom, under the stair nook) inspire discovery and imaginative play, while the main house’s top floor relaxation room and deck garden afford privacy away from others. Furthermore, the inter-generational house is designed to respond to the climate, site and needs of the occupants. Based on passive concepts of energy use, its form was borne of the need to maximize incoming solar energy, utilize natural ventilation and capture mountain views through the orientation of windows, rooms and livable cool rooftop areas. Natural and stack effect ventilation provide passive cooling throughout the house, window openings allow summer breezes to enter the garden and houses but are protected by overhangs to minimize summer sun / maximize winter sun, south facing concrete floors serve as thermal mass, and cool/green roofs harvest rainwater for irrigation use. “Before even considering all its modern environmental bells and whistles (from its state of the art HRV to its LEED certification underway), the Inter-Generational Home is ecologically remarkable due to the optimized way it was constructed,” offers Marcel Studer of Econ Group Construction and Development Ltd., builder of the home. “Instead of erecting the property’s wall, floor and roof systems over a six week period, we were able to do it in 4 extremely rainy days. By prefabricating panels offsite we were able to build to a higher quality, more quickly and with less waste; this translated to less carrying costs and financing charges for the homeowners during the building process.” In one of the most beautiful cities in the world, constrained geographically by the mountains and ocean, this new, environmental spin on an old theme of living together as families, may very well be just the solution to typify Vancouver’s future.

TECHNICAL DETAILS

Econ Group Construction and Development Ltd. is a Vancouver-based, medium sized design-build firm in its 13th year of business, positioned as the only explicitly modern residential contractor in the Lower Mainland. By executing minimalist details of modern architecture through a lens of environmental responsibility Econ Group actualizes low-impact, simple beauty. Its core commitment to sustainability and balance extends to the atmosphere of its workspaces.

Merging the Greens: looking longer at Vancouver housing affordability

It’s no news that Vancouver’s average monthly carrying costs for a new home far exceed the 30% of household income mark of housing affordability. As RBC’s Economics Research arm reported in March 2012 owning a home at current prices would still take up a huge chunk (86% in the case of a bungalow) of a typical household budget. And while it is astonishing that Canada is still the only G-8 country with neither a National Housing Strategy nor a coordinated strategy on affordable housing, we are pleased at our City’s recent reinvigorated efforts to tackle housing affordability.

As a modern residential contractor doing business in Vancouver, Econ Group is well aware of the financial challenges in not only owning a home, but also in the underlying process of its construction. We live and work in a place where labour is not cheap, construction regulations are time-consuming and climate constraints are structurally demanding. In a nut-shell, and as elementary as it may seem, what is inexpensive to build in Regina might never be inexpensive to build here in Vancouver.

However, thanks to Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan we now all have a shared mandate which we must meet in order to even move forward with homebuilding. From 2020 onward all new buildings constructed in Vancouver will be required to be carbon neutral in operations. With 55% of Vancouver’s greenhouse gas emissions caused by the electricity and natural gas that buildings use, this requirement will be of enormous positive impact. What’s more is that while some may see this (“yet another”) requirement by the City as a further financial burden negatively impacting the bottom-line of affordability, Econ Group sees it all as an incredible opportunity to merge the two greens: dollars and ecology.

As with all other building materials, the costs associated with the wares of environmentally responsible construction are determined by the laws of supply and demand. The quicker that early adopters (both home-owners and home-builders alike) of the carbon-neutral mandate fully embrace utilizing materials standard to Passive House and Net-Zero building methodologies, the quicker the costs will come down to light the way to a future we all can truly afford.