Alternative Living, Design, Green Building

It’s 2016: Time to Design a Laneway House

Happy New Year!

January marks an exciting time for me- I’m back in school with two classes and my final project which is to design a Laneway house! The original plan was a Tiny House, but this past Christmas, standing in the backyard of my mother-in-law’s house in Calgary, I saw a glorious opportunity.

There’s currently a single-car garage, but after a few quick measurements I discovered that there’d be room for a two-car garage with a 480 sq. ft. suite on top! This solves the legality/zoning/land ownership issues that pesters Tiny House builders, and it’d make for double the square footage of a tiny house on a trailer.

What’s a Laneway House?

Known also as a garden house, garage suite, or mother-in-law suite, a laneway house is a smaller residence on an existing house’s lot, and it backs on to the alleyway. It would’ve been clearer if it was called an alleyway house but that just doesn’t have as nice a ring to it apparently.

In neighbourhoods like Kitsilano in Vancouver it’s been extremely popular and effective at adding density to an area without impacting the character and feel like a high-rise apartment might.

A beauty of a laneway house in Vancouver, BC

Keep in mind that in places that allow laneway houses there are several rules to follow, boxes to check, and hoops to jump through. Here’s a few examples:

  1. The alley must be a certain width so emergency vehicles can reach the household
  2. The laneway house must fit in with the surrounding neighborhood, and resemble to some degree the main residence
  3. Windows must be minimized in places that would look onto the neighbor’s property (in order to avoid being a total creeper.)
  4. The laneway house can’t be taller than the main residence
  5. You need to make sure all the neighbors are cool with it and it’s generally accepted in the area.

It doesn’t sound like the easiest process right now, but the more laneway houses that are built the easier and more streamlined the process will become. And that’s great news because laneway houses have several excellent benefits:

  1. With us millennials not being huge fans of living in the ‘burbs and having to drive everywhere, and just the general population growth in cities, densifying central core neighborhoods is becoming ever more important.
  2. Laneway houses offer density that isn’t a huge metal condo box in the sky. It also adds community and invested owner-residents in neighborhoods as opposed to more transient people renting apartments.
  3. It creates a family-oriented life cycle:
    1. Parents live in main house, kids live in suite
    2. Kids have family, move in to main house.
    3. Parents don’t need the space anymore so move in to the suite
    4. Parents are close to act as grandparents and free babysitting (woo!)

So now for the bread and butter, my proposed design for a laneway house. It’s all to scale but just a basic idea of what it’d look like. I used Google Sketchup, a free 3D drawing program that is super fun and learn-able. I took the Tiny Nest course which was awesome and gave me everything I need to create my house.So here’s the existing backyard and garage with neighboring garages in brown. You can see sort of see the alley behind.


And here’s the proposed design for a suite above the garage, with access by porch. A clerestory roof design would allow those windows in the loft for great daylighting. They could also be opened for air flow in the summer:


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