Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Location

Our first consideration in creating a deep green house was to find a location that facilitated sustainable transportation modes (like walking, biking, taking the bus), had great solar exposure and kept Scott's young family away from major highways (the California Air Resources Board released a report recently saying that living along highways can shorten life spans by 10 years!). The other two main criteria were that it needed to be affordable and available. It looks like a short wish-list, but that short list eliminates over 90% of Ottawa.

We narrowed our search to a few neighbourhoods that would allow us to walk for most of our needs, have good connections to transit, and generally works for our young kids. This means relatively close to school, at least 5 blocks away from the 8-lane highway that cuts through most of the great old Ottawa neighbourhoods, and has good access to open greenspace. Our short list were are all older, established neighbourhoods where lots in our price range are sure to be narrow – 33 feet or smaller.

The challenge with all of these neighbourhoods is access to the sun. The typical street grid in Ottawa is rotated 30 degrees east of south. This grid works nicely to allow most city lots to enjoy sun from a variety of angles. However, in a passive solar design, you really want the maximum exposure to true south – or at least within about 15 degrees of south, where you have the best chance of controlling when and how much sun is invited indoors.

Given the angle of the grid, size of the trees, width of lot, and the height of the houses in most of these neighbourhoods, most lots on the south side of streets simply don’t get enough sun. Or, if they do presently, there is little preventing a read yard neigbour from building higher, or trees from growing taller. Therefore, most lots and houses on the south side were not good candidates.

Houses on the west side of the road in these neighbourhoods were also eliminated. They are typically shaded from the back yard by dwellings and trees, and the street face only gets sun early in the morning.

This leaves houses on the north side and east side of the road. Ideal solar access would be a corner lot on the northeast corner. Second best would be a northwest corner. Corner lots come on the market very rarely, and in the neighbourhoods were interested in, they are often small lots – 25X50 or 33X66 are not uncommon. The city required setbacks from the road on these lots is larger to ensure safe sight lines around corners. The result is that the footprint of any house on these lots is very small. When a larger lot exists on a corner like this – infill developers scoop them up very quickly for multi-unit projects. So – while a corner lot would be ideal for solar, we struggled to find any.

Our original hope was to find an infill lot that could be or had been severed from a larger property. These are rare, and despite testing our several against our concept, we could not find one that could work.

It was like Goldilocks - too big and those rapacious developer types were all over it paying far more than we were willing to spend, too little and it just wouldn't be possible to fit the house Scott wanted for his family.

The next idea was to buy a “tear down”. Several of the neighbourhoods we like have the odd property that have little salvage value relative to the value of the land it sits on. We considered several of these on larger lots, with the hope that we could build a semi-detached house in place of the single we remove. However, there are many infill developers in town who are doing that exact thing, and this has driven he price of these properties out of reach for my family. In fact, we had one case where a lot in Old Ottawa East went for $168,000 over the asking price of $500,000.

After several unsuccessful months of looking at infills and tear-downs, we started considering a major renovation as an option. The advantage is that there were more options on the market. The disadvantage is that it puts many more constraints on the design, and given the scope of our vision, it pretty much eliminated the idea of a semi-detached. Keep posted for what we found...

No comments:

Post a Comment