A house that could be a new model for sustainable development is testing the waters on the Sunshine Coast for interest in character homes saved from demolition and barged in, and a focus on sustainability.
The two-storey black house that now sits on the corner of Veterans and Fitchett Road in Elphinstone is new to the area, but it’s not a new building. The house was originally built in 1961 in Maillardville, Coquitlam, but was destined for demolition when it and three others were bought by a developer who wanted to build townhouses.
Instead, the one-storey rancher was barged over from the Lower Mainland by Nickel Bros House Moving Ltd. in late 2020 to become the first project by Renewal Home Development.
The company was founded in June 2020 by Glyn Lewis and Alan McNee. Between Lewis, who studied sustainable community development at Simon Fraser University, and McNee’s experience in the construction industry, the two decided to rethink the building process.
“You look at Fairy Creek, at all this stuff around logging and just think – why do we need to be throwing away all of these homes? In Metro Vancouver, every year, 4,000 homes get torn down.” Lewis said. Forty per cent of Metro Vancouver’s landfill is old homes, he added, calling it “unbelievably wasteful.”
Once the house arrived at its current location, it was placed on stilts as a foundation was poured, and its square footage was doubled with the addition of a new first storey. A detached garage with an electric vehicle hookup and solar panels was added, helping the property generate 80 per cent of the power it would use and selling it back to the grid. A rainwater collection tank will be used for a vegetable garden.
When asked why they chose the Sunshine Coast, McNee said it’s a beautiful location and “it’s easy to access Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, but it’s removed enough, you can live a different type of life.”
McNee, who grew up in Scotland, also places value on the sense of a close-knit community.
Barging houses to the Coast is not a new practice. Allen Whittelton, the chief building official for the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD), said based on his 20-plus years of working on the Coast, it won’t be every year a home is barged in, but some years will see two to four houses come over. They’ll often arrive from Richmond or Seattle, and a number of PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) prize homes were shipped to the Coast before they were built in a modular style.
There are some areas of the Coast that a building can’t physically be moved to, as it’s not accessible by barge or by the highway.
Another complicating factor can be local bylaws.
At first, McNee and Lewis almost purchased a lot in lower Gibsons, but the town has a bylaw against moving an existing building or structure into or within Gibsons. The exception is when a registered professional certifies that the building and its foundation “substantially comply” with the current version of the building code.
The town’s director of planning, Lesley-Anne Staats, told Coast Reporter in an email, “The intention for this provision is to ensure all new buildings are being built to current BC Building Code and Fire Code requirements, as we move towards more sustainable building practices. The Town has also implemented Step 1 of the BC Building Code, and may move towards more energy efficient standards in the future.”
The District of Sechelt also requires all dwellings, constructed on or off-site, to meet Sechelt’s building bylaw and the BC Building Code.
Instead, the developers found a lot in Area E of the SCRD, where moving existing buildings is permitted. While new buildings are required by the SCRD to comply with Step 1 of the Energy Code, houses that are moved in are only required to meet safety provisions. The SCRD’s records would designate a house as moved in “just so that people can’t get the wrong impression that … it should match all the requirements of the building code that was in place at the time. And that’s not the case,” Whittelton said.
“We just want to make sure that they’re reasonably safe,” Whittelton said of the SCRD’s policy on moving existing buildings. “So, if some of the houses are old enough that, say, they didn’t need smoke alarms or handrails back then, that’s something we do ask them to upgrade now.”
Lewis said while the house is old, since it produces its own power, it already has a good environmental footprint, and has saved the trees a new build would usually require. The company, McNee said, is trying to participate in development in a more sustainable way.
“I think this home is one example of where this entire market should be going,” Lewis said.
“We’re taking the sustainability of just moving the house and preventing it from going to landfill, and added some additional sustainability aspects to sort of enhance that,” McNee said.
The house on Veterans Road will be sold at market value, Lewis said. At 3,000-plus sq. feet, with five bedrooms and four bathrooms, it was listed for $1,495,000. Moving forward, Lewis would like to work towards affordable housing. One lesson from the pilot project, he said, is that they over-renovated.
“There’s an adage in this industry, which we didn’t really fully appreciate before, which is ‘Don’t take an old home and make it a new home.’ It’s not worth it,” Lewis said. Future projects may still undergo some renovations or modernization, but not to the same extent.
“The intent was to see how the market reacts to it, and then the ultimate goal is to build a sustainable community on the Sunshine Coast,” McNee said, where people could grow their own food and keep animals, creating a co-op type of environment, with sustainability as a focus.
“I think we are very well positioned to do the world’s largest community of upcycled homes somewhere on the Sunshine Coast or in Powell River,” Lewis said.
For now, they’re in the early stages of looking at properties on the Coast.
As of Oct. 8, offers were still coming in for the Veterans Road house.