Lorraine Writes Back Oct. 29, 2012

Lorraine Gauthier of The Now House Project wrote back to my letter within a few days with a thoughtful, energized letter of her own. In it she asked a lot of questions you might be asking. Here it is, unedited, but with my comments added.

Hi there James,
Glad you were able to make it to the SFU event. I love the Craftsman-style cottages, they are definitely a step up in style and building quality from our 1 1/2 storey bungalows.

From our experience working with the Heritage Association in the city of Kitchener, Ontario, on one of our Now House projects, we found that there were quite a few restrictions on what we could do to improve the energy efficiency of the home. Adding spray foam to the exterior of the building, even though it was clad in the traditional asbestos board siding, was not permitted. We did insulate the walls from the inside by using a cavity fill foam and added a spray foam to the attic and basement walls. We did a careful air sealing to improve the air tightness, which is done from the inside and of course doesn’t alter the appearance. The front door, although not an original feature, could not be changed so we literally altered the framing on the inside and insulated the door from the inside.

The front door with single-paned glass
The front door with single-paned glass

Leanne and I never contemplated removing siding and insulating from the outside. As for the front door, it may be an original feature but we have not decided what to do about it.

The heritage designation does add some challenges. Two years ago, I spoke with a group from Vancouver Heritage who were looking at the prospect of reconsidering the benefit of sustainability as well as heritage in their retrofits. They too, did not seem concerned when I showed pictures of the alterations to the Now House in Toronto, but then, there are only a few communities in Canada where the 1 1/2 storey home has been designated heritage and the Toronto house wasn’t one of them.

The City of Maple Ridge’s Heritage Revitalization Agreement allows for alterations as long as certain features and elements, identified in the Statement of Significance, are retained. It is quite flexible.

Maple Ridge, Hammond Neighbours appears to have a lot of the community interest in the overall community, which is a key element in a community scale retrofit project. The five year, no municipal taxes is also a great incentive. Approximately, how much would five years of municipal taxes amount to?

In 2014 we paid about $4000 in property taxes, but the Heritage exemption only applies to the municipal portion, which was $2068.81. At that rate, a five-year exemption would save us $10344.05. Sound good? Well, it does help, but Statements of Significances, Conservation Plans, lawyers ¬†and surveyors ain’t cheap. Why, the storm sewer connection we are required to install cost over $16000 all by itself. Sigh.

Have you discussed with your Hammond ‘disorganized, organized’ committee the concept of a multi-house retrofit? If you recall from my presentation, feasibility comes from affordability and economies of scale come from having multiples of a reasonably uniform housing type. The link you sent me provided pictures of heritage homes, however, they appeared to be dissimilar in size and attributes. I wonder how many are reasonably close in their size and layout. Would you be able to take a guesstimate on that? Also, what does population demographics look like in Maple Ridge? Is this community growing? When some of these aging, wood-frame homes are being torn down, how does that affect demand for housing?

The diversity of housing type and the challenge of uniting individual owners remains a key challenge to the project. These questions would be answered in the next steps.

Let’s chat by email about the potential for a project. Can you and Leanne find out from someone else who has entered the Heritage Revitalization Agreement, what features of the Craftsman-style cottage are deemed of heritage value and what their experience was in carrying out their renovation? That might be a good place to start.

best regards


Lorraine Gauthier
Work Worth Doing – Now House

The question that is still open is: can we make a multi-house retrofit work here? Are these houses too different? How can we bring homeowners together?

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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