City’s plan insufficient to preserve heritage homes Building-codes changes needed to make renovation, restoration viable
By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun June 9, 2014 3:29 PM
Two Tudor-style houses known as the Two Dorothies were recently saved from demolition by being moved, but may be stripped down to the studs because they are going to be strata titled, that kicks in provisions that would require them to be rainscreened and seismically upgraded. Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, Vancouver Sun
Demolitions of heritage character houses are the subject of the City of Vancouver’s heritage action plan going to city council this week. Although it is a step in the right direction, concerns remain.
The city’s report is in three parts: (a) Steps to enhance protection of First Shaughnessy and pre-1940s character houses; (b) Encouraging reuse and recycling of construction waste from pre-1940 homes and construction and demolition-waste diversion strategy; (c) Vancouver heritage register annual update
A few of the proposed actions may help discourage a repeat of the more than 1,000 demolitions in 2013, however, many of the interim actions may not be effective, and most of the long-term solutions will not happen until 2015, after the next election in November 2014.
The demolition of character houses undermines the city’s green initiatives, affordability objectives, and neighbourhood character. It is a result of current policy, some of which is recent.
Although demolitions in Vancouver have been a problem for several decades, recent changes have made the situation worse. Under EcoDensity approved by the NPA council in 2007 and then implemented by the Vision council in 2009, there have been a number of zoning and policy changes under which demolitions increased dramatically.
Contrary to Vancouver Heritage Commission recommendations, laneway housing was approved for new house development outright rather than being reserved as an incentive to retain existing character homes. Then, further, the city added increases in height and density to the zoning. In essence, this has created a bonus to demolish and is responsible for much of the recent increase in demolitions.
The current report to council attempts to counter this pressure to demolish character houses. However, the most glaring omission is the report fails to deal with the building code.
The current building code is biased toward new construction and adds significant impediments for renovation of existing character buildings. The city, through its powers under the Vancouver Charter, should remove these impediments immediately so retention and renovation of character buildings is more viable and affordable. Home owners should not be forced into upgrades that increase the financial burden of maintaining or renovating a character house.
Many of these buildings have stood for a hundred years without problems. Yet the building code requires a character house to upgrade to full building code compliance when it undergoes a substantial renovation, or is moved even a few inches off its existing location on site, or to another lot.
The current code is based on new construction technology, not the materials and craftsmanship of a different era. The rules often require the removal of the very character defining features that make the building worth saving and result in little of the original house remaining when the renovation is complete.
A recent example are the code upgrades triggered by moving of the twin Tudor-style homes known as the Two Dorothies, which were moved two blocks in Kerrisdale. Among other upgrades, these buildings may be required to be rain-screened.
Rain-screening of a character house would require the entire outside finishes to be removed, including siding, stucco, trims, windows and doors. Then it would need to be wrapped with building paper and strapped, allowing air flow, even though most character building envelopes already breathe because of how they were originally built. The outside finishes would then need to be reassembled, but generally are replaced because the dimensions will have been changed and materials damaged in their removal. This destroys the building’s character and is very unnecessarily expensive. Rain-screening should not be required for character buildings.
The insulation requirements can also be unreasonable. To meet code, a character building’s exterior walls may need to be changed from 2x4s to 2x6s to allow for thicker insulation. (Yet in new construction the city allows glass curtain-wall with concrete construction that has almost no thermal value.) To change to 2x6s, the interior trims, plaster, windows and doors would be removed, ruining the interior character. Again, this should not be required.