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my reno saga: are we building a second floor?

February 11, 2009

zora naki

we haven’t changed a thing yet, but it’s taken nine months to get to this point. we are finally (finally!) applying for a development permit to add most of a second floor to our house.

this is what it took.

We have two bedrooms and five people. We really like our house and our neighborhood, and would like to stay put, but there is no getting around the fact that we need more livable space.

our initial plan was to raise the house and finish the basement. In order to have a proper staircase and a front hall closet (and increase our usable kitchen floor space), we were going to sacrifice a bedroom on the main floor. There were also plans afoot to knock down a few walls to open up a 1940s floor plan of small separate rooms, reno the bathroom and the kitchen on the main floor, and throw in a few skylights.

then i got some quotes from contractors.

after i came to, it became obvious that the basement plan did not make financial sense. we would increase the livability of the house for us in the short term, but we would only increase the resale value of our home by about 5%. it would be a total waste of money.

it was really hard for me to take a step back from the planning process and my emotional attachment to our house (and my garden!) to see things clearly, but it became obvious that our proposed reno did not make any sense.

i called the real estate agents. i would recommend this step to anyone who is on the verge of a major reno. we discussed what we could sell our house for, what similar houses in our neighbourhood have sold for recently, what the value added would be of finishing the basement, and what it would cost to buy a house that would meet our needs.

basically, they told me that it would cost about the same to build a second floor as it would buy a house with four bedrooms. we would boost the value of our house by about the same amount as the cost of the reno.

i went to look at some houses for sale.

there are not a lot of decent four or five bedroom houses out there in our price range.

i called the architect.

you may not have this problem where you live, but in vancouver there are fairly strict by-laws concerning floor space to lot size ratios. any floor space above or below ground with a ceiling height of 4′ or more counts as part of your allotment.

to give you a rough idea, our lot measures 122′ x 33′. we are allowed to have 2400 total square feet. we currently have 2100 (1050 main floor, 1050 unfinished basement). there is an additional by-law concerning how many feet of above ground area – we are permitted 2200 square feet, and we currently have 1050. we are bottom-heavy! new houses built in our area are usually designed with little to no basement to maximize their liveable space.

in order to build a partial second floor of approximately 800 square feet, we need to apply for a variance to exceed our total floor space ratio by 500 square feet. we would still be within our above grade permitted area (using 1850 of 2200).

the other option would be to infill our basement to a height of 4′ or less to remove this square footage from the calculations. however, we would still need to apply for a variance because there are rules regarding setbacks from the property lines that our house (built before the &%*$ by-laws) exceeds by a few feet.

the architect drew up the plans below and took them to the city planner to see if we could get his support. he was okay with the reno, but said we had to apply for a development permit (basically getting the approval of the whole planning department) before proceeding. this will take another few months. if we get this, then we can proceed to the Board of Variance to see if they (and our lovely neighbours) will approve the plan. if we get this, then we can apply for a building permit.

second floor plan

i have a sneaking suspicion that the whole process is set up to wear people out – it’s a war of attrition! now all i can do is wait. i’m consoling myself with seed catalogues in the meantime.


One Comment

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  1. Eddie #
    March 18, 2010

    I am in the same boat…this is a year later..what decisions did you make and what kind of timelines were involved in getting all the approvals…we are thinking it might be less stressful for us to just tear down our place and start a whole new home…love our location too….

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