Setbacks, No-Build Zones and Functional Requirements

Lot LayoutOur initial idea for this new home was to build a single level rancher style house to accomodate "aging in place" without having to constantly walk up and down stairs. Our property size, after subdivision, was 1/2 acre and we thought there would be plenty of space to build whatever we wanted. But once we got through the lengthy subdivision process, we found out that we had to work with a lot of limitations, as follows.

Our property is situated close to the location of the new Cowichan Valley District Hospital, and to plan for future changes, the Municipality created a strategic community plan for our area. This plan guides future development and re-zoning, and shows which areas will be high density living spaces, where businesses should go and much more. Our property is part of the future high density residential area. To conform with this community plan, the Municipality limited the area where we were able to build. If we would have built a big rancher home in the middle of the subdivided lot, there would be no way to build anything else in the future. So half of the new property was declared a "no-build" zone, and after subtracting setback requirements, the maximum width of our new house was now limited to 30 feet.

The septic system had to be built on the south side of the house, and this now limited the total length of the house to about 60 feet after leaving some space for a carport on the north, and for a deck to the south.

Therefore, all our initial draft plans became void, and we had to start from scratch by limiting ourselves to a footprint of 30' x 60'.

Here are some of the thoughts which guided our design:

  • We wanted some protected space for our car - so we designed a carport on the north side, as close to the road as possible.
  • The main entrance now had to be on the north side, close to the carport. To keep construction simple, we didn't want to attach the carport directly to the house.
  • A covered porch in the entrance area is important for us. It's nice for a cooler outside space in the summer and protects the entrance area from the environment.
  • The main entrance leads to a "mud room", where we can clean our dogs after being outside, leash them up when we leave, and get ourselves ready when heading outside.
  • The hallway leading from the mud room to the living room is a bit "winding" with multiple corners, so that it doesn't feel too "industrial".
  • The main bedroom with walk-in-closet and ensuite is not huge, but big enough to accomodate our king size bed and 2 decent sized dog beds. As the ceiling on the east side above the walk-in-closet was really high, we decided to put in some "bonus space" by adding a storage loft. We located the bedroom on the north side of the house so that it's fairly cool in the summer and doesn't easily overheat.
  • The office is big enough so that we can both have separate workspaces. And again, we used the high ceiling to create another storage loft. This room could also be used as a kid's bedroom by a future family owning the house.
  • Kitchen and dining areaThe main focal point of the house is the big living/dining/kitchen area. We love the high vaulted ceiling and timberframe structure. Lots of windows on the south and west side flood the room with light all day and provide nice views of various mountains surrounding us.
  • The basement has a 9' ceiling height so that it can be fully used as a living space.
  • A small 10'x10' room on the north-west side is designed as a cold room / "root cellar" to store food. This space is fully insulated, but not heated, so that it stays cooler and more moist then the rest of the house.
  • The south half of the basement is designed as a legal self-contained 1 bedroom suite. We implemented all required fire separation, smoke detectors and ventilation requirements, even though we don't plan to rent it or even use it as a suite. We currently use the suite living room as my workshop, and the suite kitchen area is used as a Finnish Sauna. If we ever sell the house, a new family just has to install the kitchen cabinets and appliances to have a legal fully functional 1 bedroom suite (with 3 piece bathroom). 

Exterior view from West

The "shed style" roof design was mainly guided by function. As we wanted to use solar panels, we had to have a decent sized south facing roof plane. Ideally the pitch of that roof plane would have been a 6:12 pitch (27 degrees), but that would have resulted in a much too high and steep sloped ceiling for the living room. After calculating the difference between this "ideal" angle for solar panels and how much less solar production we get on other angles, I decided to use a 3:12 pitch (14 degrees). This resulted in a ceiling height from 9' at the lowest point to 14' at the highest one. As we couldn't run a single roof plane over the whole length of the house, the north side was sloped with a 2:12 pitch from east to west.

Here are the resulting floor plans for the main floor and basement.

main floor plan

basement plan

For the whole design process, from exterior finishing materials to flooring, wall and ceiling coverings inside, there were a lot of choices - and a lot of decisions to make. To visualize some of these choices, we worked with MigVision, a company specialized in creating architectural 3D models. I worked with them in the past for various Ecolog projects for our customers. They do an amazing job in creating photo realistic models. Here is a photo album showing a variety of interior and exterior design choices for our home, which helped us in determining the final choices we made.

You can also watch a Virtual Tour of our Netzero home based on a 3D model of the house.

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