Sustainable Living in Mom’s Backyard

As they soon discovered, it was an impossible challenge — partly because he’s stubborn and she’s picky, but also because Vancouver had been outed as a beautiful, livable city.

They wanted a place that was preferably modern, close enough to their work so they could get by with one car and small enough that they wouldn’t spend all their time and money maintaining it. Mr. Chan, who works primarily at home, needed an office; Ms. Chan, a high school baking instructor who loves to bake for family and friends, wanted an expansive kitchen.

In all, they saw more than 100 places — and way too much slapdash construction, said Ms. Chan, 42. Nothing satisfied their conditions or fit their budget, which they knew would be a stretch on their incomes.

Eventually the search wore Mr. Chan down. “I finally realized,” he said, “there wasn’t a place that was going to suit us.”

There were huge advantages, it turned out, to building new, in his family’s backyard. And not just because his mother continues to cook for everyone on weeknights.

Their two-bedroom, 1,050-square-foot laneway house is sleek and energy-efficient, and designed to meet their exact needs. And it was more affordable than they expected.

Because they didn’t have to buy the land, the total cost of the project was well below their budget: less than $500,000. So they can save for Maddy’s college tuition and they have more disposable income.

“Carrying a large mortgage is not fun,” Ms. Chan said. “We watch our friends. It’s hard on a person’s life.”

To get what she calls “a full-sized feel to the house,” they opted for fewer, larger spaces, she said, “instead of squeezing in lots of rooms.” They sacrificed a dining room, for example, so they could have a bigger kitchen.

Now, Mr. Chan…

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