Tuesday, March 15, 2011


There was an interesting article on CBC news the other day.  It was about a house that one neighbour thought to be too high and that blocked his view. That storey has me reflecting on the process we went through to design our house and have it approved by the City and with the blessing of our neighbours.

It is with great neighbours and, the understanding of the land use bylaw, that has allowed us to build our house. Essentially it boils down to this:

1. We are building in a mature neighbourhood overlay, which limits heights to 2.5 storeys.  Now the city reviews this height as if you were building a pitched roof- where the height is measured half way up the angle of the roof!  Theoretically, you can build a house that would be about 34 to 36 feet high!  Their rules are more strict for flat or shed roofs. You can review the bylaw by clicking here.

We limited the height of our house by building a "flat roof," and had to go to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board [SDAB] to argue that it would actually be lower than a pitched/gabled roof house.  We could have built a 2.5 storey house with a gabled roof and NOT have to go through any of this extraordinary approval process. Luckily, we had the support of a majority of our immediate neighbours too! We had to seek the blessing of all our neighbours within 60m of our house- and we went even further, canvassing the entire block of people around our house. We even presented our design to the Beverly Heights Community League. We were extremely pleased that two of our neighbours even came to our SDAB meeting and spoke in favour of our house proposal.

Red outline shows the allowable, buildable area.
Notice also the tree branches in the background- the existing
trees on site shaded the neighbours too.

2. We built to a height that did not go higher than the previous, old scraggly trees that were on site and also created shade.  We showed sun shadow studies that proved the shadow of the house would not be worse than the shadow of the previous trees that had to come down.

3. We are building higher- rather than wider.  We have a small building footprint- in order to conserve a large part of the lot for an edible garden and green space. We actually only use 20.8% of the site area, which includes the existing single car garage on site.  The land use bylaw allows you to use/build up to 40% of the site area when you include the garage!

4. Like many other houses on Ada Boulevard, we built the house in order to maximize our view to the river. Our house is the last [or first] house on Ada Boulevard- which is lined with houses of various stature and heights. We consider our house as one of the variations of houses along this lovely boulevard- some of them that take a "modern" design aesthetic.

We are grateful for the support of our neighbours and the Community League for helping us gain the approval to build! We hope to be good neighbours and we will endeavour to make a positive impact on the neighbourhood we will call home.


  1. Richard Fontaine, WinnipegMarch 15, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    First off, congratulations on your house! I've been following the blog from the start and have really enjoyed it. I'm curious about your shadows. Have you studied how the shadows will fall on Dec. 21st? The June 21st shadows are the shortest of the year. Should your neighbour seek to take advantage of solar energy (passive or active, PV, etc.) as you will be, how will your current house affect his year-round ability to do that versus a traditionally styled house built in a similar position on the lot to other homes on the street?

  2. Thank you for your comment, Richard.
    Yes, we studied the shadow on Dec. 21st- and it is very long- as one would expect.
    One must remember that people don't typically use their backyards in the winter to sit and enjoy the sun. Also, most of the houses to the north of us are in good shape and it didn't look like anyone was going to be tearing down a house anytime soon to build a passive house. Many of our neighbours have large trees that would make a PV installation unfeasible.
    We did prove that if you built a pitched roof, traditionally styled house to the maximum size and height that the land-use bylaw allows, the shadows would be worse. In fact, that is why we moved our house as far south on our lot as possible, so the shadow impact would be less for our neighbours to the north.

  3. Shafraaz,

    Still enjoying your blog.

    Architecture has a lot to do with light and how it plays through buildings directly and indirectly. You don't have to be sitting in your backyard in the winter to enjoy a sunny day. Our kitchen faces east and when the backyard is lit up with sun, it brings that light into the house even when the sun is not coming through the window. I would not enjoy looking out there or being in that room if the backyard was shadowed more. Winter is when people need that light the most.

  4. Yes, very good point, Dan. We should remember the sun is never static- so the shadows move throughout the day- so the important thing is for the sun-shadows never to block sun permanently from neighbouring property. Our strategy was to create a skinny building and set as far from the neighbouring property as possible to help mitigate this.

  5. Extremely interesting information Shafraaz and I love seeing the intelligent comments and responses to this issue.

  6. Shafraaz,

    Do you plan on building a garage at all? If so, what will the total percentage change to once complete? It is true that with a garage it is up to 40%, but with a detached garage or without, the total percentage is maxed at 28%.

    Considering RF1 & historical overlay zoning, did you have to get side yard adjustment at the SDAB?

    Finally, I don't see how you get a maximum height of 34-36 feet? RF1 and Historical overlay limit building heights to 2 1/2 storeys, and 10.0m and 8.6m respectively. Are you saying that limit is to the exterior wall edge, and roof height doesn't play a factor?

    Otherwise, thanks for the continued updates. I'm glad to see the proactive approach of canvasing neighbours prior to construction with adequate information and building consensus, but that is just the planner in me happy to see mitigated conflict! The shadow studies are great too. (which anyone can easily do in SketchUp these days).

  7. You have provided a beautiful post about building a house. The picture description you have presented, make this post more impressive. Thanks a lot for this valuable post.

  8. Hello Dave,

    Yes, one day we will re-develop the existing garage. Perhaps even build a studio above it.

    Currently, the house alone takes up 15.8% of site coverage and the single car, existing garage takes 5%. Doubling the garage footprint is a good, conservative estimate of what we might do, having at total site coverage of 25.8% in the future- still far below the 40% allowable.

    We are actually on a RF3 site. And no, we were fine with the side yard. The minimum side yard was 1.2m on the north side. We were no closer than 1.5m and like I mentioned, we pushed the house as south as possible, where there was a 3m side yard.

    It was actually the REAR yard setback for which we did get a slight variance. Because the house is long and skinny, it extended a bit into the rear yard. This wasn't a major issue, as our lot is a very irregular shape and we showed we are providing more than ample "backyard space."

    As for the maximum height- you have to remember the City measures the height of a roof at the MID-point of a pitched roof- so, basically, it can be 8.6m at the point half way up your gabled roof- and that allows the overall height to be much higher than the 8.6m maximum, depending on the slope of the roof. I can send you a diagram, if you like.

    Thanks again for following the blog- and I hope you can stop by for a tour one day.