When it comes to houses, small is often big enough

Image of Lanefab laneway home exterior
Example of a laneway home by Lanefab Design/Build. Company co-founder Bryn Davidson says small homes are an increasingly attractive option for Vancouverites who now consider a 1,000 square foot house spacious. Photo by Two Column Marketing.

Two laneway home builders in Vancouver focus on energy efficiency

The perception of small houses is changing, with bigger no longer implying better. Just ask the folks who know: builders who are leading a wave of small-home development in Vancouver.

Bryn Davidson, designer and co-founder of Lanefab Design/Build, says the shift to smaller homes is linked to other changes in lifestyle.

"In cities like Vancouver where there is a move toward downtown living, people have become acclimated to living in condos, so a 1,000 square foot house seems spacious," he says. "And at the same time, there are economic and environmental interests that are driving the micro home movement."

Smaller homes have added value

Jake Fry, founder of Smallworks, agrees, and says there aren't currently enough small homes to meet that increasing demand.

"Every week, we get calls and emails from people all over North America who are interested in smaller homes," he says.

Both Davidson's and Fry's companies focus on building laneway homes, which are typically small homes that share a lot with a pre-existing house. Laneway homes provide an opportunity to build a home without having to pay for the land. And in a city like Vancouver, where there is no vacant land and real estate prices are high, this is an essential benefit.

Small homes offer many advantages, including:

  • Reduced size makes them inherently easier to maintain.
  • A well-built small house will demand a lot less energy for heat and light.
  • The smaller size often means there can be a greater focus on craftsmanship and quality, without compromising affordability.
Image of the interior of a laneway house by Smallworks Studios and Laneway Housing Inc.
This Smallworks-designed home features plenty of natural light and a lots of space off the kitchen. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Studios and Laneway Housing Inc.

Smaller houses build better communities

Fry, who is also a founding director of the non-profit society Small Housing BC, sees another another advantage in the move to smaller homes: building community.

"Building healthy communities means people have just the right amount of personal space," he says. "As houses get bigger, the areas of commonwealth — such as shopping and parks — are farther away, and people become further insulated from their community."

With smaller houses, as opposed to high-rise condos, people have their own private spaces, but remain connected to the land around them.

Smaller homes can be 'efficient by design'

Both Fry and Davidson emphasize energy efficiency in their homebuilding. Fry asserts that rather than relying on "green gizmos" to improve energy efficiency, the focus on building small homes is on efficiency by design, starting with a well-built building envelope with good air quality and insulative properties.

Smallworks and Lanefab take advantage of the incentives for energy efficiency offered through the Power Smart New Home program. The program offers financial incentives to builders, developers, and owner-builders to help offset costs of building to a higher standard of energy efficiency, including achieving an EnerGuide rating of 80 or higher and installing ENERGY STAR® products.

"It's definitely helpful and we definitely appreciate the program, but it's not very hard to achieve that [EnerGuide] rating," says Davidson who has built to EnerGuide 90, the highest EnerGuide rating in the City of Vancouver and one of the highest in B.C.

Fry agrees. "We only build to that standard. We won't build below it," he says. "Then we set it all up for our clients and let them get the rebate as a way to reward them for choosing to build with us and to our standards."

Find out more about the Power Smart New Home program.