I’ve always thought of myself as a trailblazer, but I didn’t realize I was such a trend setter.  It turns out I am the first person to build a home in City of Vancouver in 2015 under the new building by-law.  Here’s my story:

I went to the City of Vancouver on Friday February 20 for my 3:30pm appointment with a representative from the City of Vancouver and my house designer.  The city has pretty fancy new offices located kitty corner to City Hall at 10th and Cambie that were recently re-organized by a private management consulting firm they hired for efficiency.  At about 3:50pm our number was called (despite our pre-scheduled 3:30pm appt).  I think they hope to make extra money off of me adding extra time to my parking meter while waiting for my appointment.

The designer and I made our way to the counter and sat down to ask our questions.  Most of the questions were basic design questions about how to interpret setbacks and roof line allowances, etc.  And then, it got complicated.

According to the new City of Vancouver Building By-law that came into effect January 1, 2015, any washroom on the main floor must be wheelchair accessible.  In building terms this means there must be clear space of 750mm x 1200mm in which e a wheelchair can turn around without hitting the sink or the toilet.   This would not be such an unreasonable requirement if not for the fact that my house will have 6 – 8 steps between the yard and the front door preventing someone in a wheelchair from actually getting in my home.  But, I figure just in case I ever find myself in a position where I need a mobility friendly washroom on the main floor of my house, this wouldn’t be such a terrible thing.  The City of Vancouver, however, requires you also add a shower on the main floor of the house – even though there is no bedroom on the main floor.  That’s another 3ft x 3ft space for a shower….Oh wait, no….its an accessible washroom.  That shower is going to be a lot bigger.

Unfortunately, the city of Vancouver has yet to publish the code – or even make it accessible to their staff yet – so I don’t really know what the requirements are.

The purpose of the meeting was to get clarity around the potential requirements for a main floor accessible shower.  I was under the impression that you didn’t have to build the shower, you only had to make space for a future shower and install pluming for water and drainage.   I asked the clerk at the desk – whose job is to answer questions about construction – about the new requirements and the conversation went like this:

Keith: “Do I have to put a shower in the powder room on the main floor of my house or just the plumbing for one?”

City of Vancouver Clerk: “I think you have put the shower in.”

Keith: “Are you sure?”

City of Vancouver Clerk: “I’ll go check with someone in codes.”

And so, he walked about 3 desks away and starting chatting with another guy.  After about a minute, the two of them got up and walked over to a 3rd guy.  Now, Clerk, Code Guy and 3rd Guy are standing around my plans making marks and debating the shower requirements.  After 30 seconds or so, I piped up across the room and said with a smile on my face and sarcasm in my voice, “Excuse me guys! Am I the first person to build a house in the City of Vancouver this year?”

All three smiled back and offered the answer, “well no.”

“But I must be!”, I replied, “because its been 6 weeks and nobody else has run into this issue on the new building code”.

It was then offered to me that the City of Vancouver is not yet enforcing the new code because they haven’t even started looking at the permit applications for 2015.  It was also revealed that the staff has received NO TRAINING relating to the new code and therefore can’t really answer my question.The outcome of all of this is that my floor plan now includes a powder room on the main floor that is 5’7 x 11’2 and still doesn’t meet requirements.  That’s right!  My powder room is about 60sf.  For perspective, a typical powder room is 25sf. Cost of extra tiles, extra bathroom fixtures and design time…..about $2500?

Oh and I forgot to mention, the city of Vancouver brochure about the new requirements says the by-law will be available soon through the Queen’s Printer.  Its 7 weeks into effect and still not ready….

Let the fun begin!

Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll talk about my application to remove 2 trees under the 28 page City of Vancouver Tree protection by-law.

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