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Laneway houses face a major Hydro barrier

September 13th, 2009 · 17 Comments

An interesting story here in the Sun by Kelly Sinoski, highlighting the previously unknown fact — this in spite of two years of discussions about laneway houses — that it could cost up to $20,000 to run an electrical hook-up to them.

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  • jesse

    How long before house inspectors look at a “garage” with a fully working kitchen and bathroom and sign off on inspection before finishing and hookup?

    If the city really wants permit revenue, why not tackle the elephant in the room and start requiring permits on obviously illegal basement suites? That’s serious lost revenue for the city. I think, though, that anyone working in the permits department knows that’s a box that’s difficult to close if opened.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Actually, I’m not so sure that it is a “previously unknown fact” that the hydro to lane homes wouldn’t be expensive.

    It is a specialized trade to get power to a home like this. In fact, “live” work has never been anything but expensive. It’s not like someone is running conduit through the walls or along the end of a ceiling truss and then setting it.

    I ran a story in 2008 on the potentially exorbitant cost of power work, as per laneway housing, that was dismissed by it’s blind advocates.

    How did I arrive at the information?

    Nothing complicated: I called my electrician, and he explained the potential challenges.

  • Joe Just Joe

    The $20K in the story is certainly not the norm and it should be noted as an exception. The norm is in the $1-2thousand range.
    In the case that you are the unlucky one stuck with the $20K quote, I’d recommend investing in solar water heaters/solar panels, plus a wind turbine feeding a battery bank system (don’t need an abundance of power for a engery efficient laneway house) . The system would cost about same amount but without another bill, plus you’d benefit by higher resale value if you ever decide to sell.

  • LP

    Hey Joe, the wind turbine wouldn’t happen to be fed by the hot air coming from Geoff Meggs would it?

  • Joe Just Joe

    Don’t think the wind turbine cares how it’s spun, perhaps once winter comes and the cyclists are off the road they can come over and spin the turbine up with pedal power. Of course I’m just joking. 🙂
    With the amount of rain we get I’ve always wondered how much electricity could be produced if a generator was installed at the bottom of the roofs gutter. Probably not enough to make it worth it, but perhaps an engineer could answer that for me.

  • Kirk

    There’s no capacity left because every block has a grow-op.

    And, what’s going to happen when the City gets everyone to put electric car chargers in their garages?

  • Darcy McGee

    The electric car question is a legitimate and good one. Conceptually I like electric cars, but seriously…the infrastructure hasn’t been through through. Vancouver’s reliance on street parking is going to mean a lot of extension cords running from the front of houses.

    What happens if I don’t get the spot right in front of my house as well? I’m screwed.

  • Darcy McGee

    thought through. That should say “thought through” not “through through.”

    Electric cars are not a panacea. Electricity infrastructure costs money & doesn’t eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, though it can–theoretically–make it vastly more efficient by allowing effective consolidation.

  • Denis

    The price seems a bit high, but heck I’m not an electrician. (But I am an engineer. )Surely some in fill houses would work. Yes it might affect the ability of some guy next door from parking on the street in front of his house than in his driveway. Whatever happened to medium or small sized houses? I know a guy who built a garage right on the property line because as an outbuilding there was no required set back. It was 40 feet by 24 feet. Cathedral hieght roof. Has sewer and water and lots of electricity. It will shortly have tenants, with or without any permits.

    As I understand it, hydro doesn’t normally bring in another line to one lot. A farmer I know wanted another service for some greenhouses and was denied. But there is some sort of appeal process. But lets not simply stop thinking about alternate ways of doing things. Stratas for example are studying the need for extra internal lines for electric vehicles in their common property garages. Start changing things now with some thought in what we were doing or wait till the oil runs out and suffer the results of our fixed mind thinking.

  • Darcy McGee

    > Whatever happened to medium or small
    > sized houses?

    This is not a new problem, nor one unique to Vancouver. A friend commented that his new mobile home (in rural Washington state) “wasn’t very big” at 1,200 – 1,300 sq. ft.

    That’s what I grew up in. Two kids and a parent (for a while, two parents.)

    These days though people seem to want either small condos or huge houses.

    I, for one, am waiting for someone to sub-divided a 400 sq. ft. condo into 10 individual 33.5 square foot units with the remainder used as a common kitchen and bathroom. (33.5 sq. ft. is area of a queen sized mattress.)

  • Tessa

    on the electric car question, electric cars use less power than a plasma t.v., and tend to be charged during off-peak times such as overnight when power consumption is already low. Power companies expect to have some work to do in relation to that, but not a lot from what I understand.

    On the other hand, plasma T.V.’s should be a big concern. They really do suck power, and often at the peak times. If we get rid of all plasma t.v.’s I bet laneway houses would be no problem.

  • Darcy McGee

    > plasma T.V.’s should be a big concern

    I’m going to post an edited version of this here to address the real scourge:

    > T.V.’s should be a big concern

    and the concern isn’t electrical.

    The city should be encouraging (and perhaps only allowing) only high efficiency laneway housing. Converting the garage of some 1926 Kerrisdale house isn’t going to work.

    Built from scratch, a highly energy efficient laneway house should have a fairly minimal impact on energy consumption. They should, in essence, be LEED compliant (though the LEED standard is not perfect.)

  • Joe Just Joe

    On the issue of Plasma tvs, Europe has banned the sale of plasmas, limiting new flat screens to lcds.
    The federal conservatives of all people have already introduced a planned ban of incandest light bulbs and a very strict requirement on what’s called phantom (vampire) power draw which is another huge issue. I expect they will follow suit with a plasma ban shortly as well.

    Electric cars are said to help with peak power, the way it would work is they would act as a buffer on a smart gird, during peak times you would draw from their batteries to help systemwide loads, then during non peak time the batteries would recharge themselves. The technology already exists and is being tested in California right now.

  • As I read the posts on this item, I could not help but think this blog needs a third party ‘reality check’ …someone to go through the comments and identify obvious errors….because most issues are not black or white.

    For example, when Council proposed the requirement for charging connections in 20% of the spaces in future parkades for electrical cars, I was surprised at the concerns of UDI, the developers’ association who noted that the hook-up costs could be quite expensive. When I questioned those involved, I learned that in many cases, there could be an overall capacity issue that would affect costs…in other words, it would not be just the cost of the electrical outlet; the additional load might require another transformer, etc…..

    There was also a question as to the KIND of outlet…it costs more to install the electrical outlet service for a clothes dryer than a bedside table lamp. While both might work for some electric cars, they both wouldn’t work for others, and the charging time could be significantly different.

    (If you want another analogy, think about the cost of batteries for a digital camera…some cost $3; some cost $8; some cost $40 or more…)

    I have not yet investigated the laneway housing electrical hook up issue, but expect that there are similar considerations…is there sufficient capacity in the block? where will the lines run? can they be above ground or do they have to be below ground, what is the anticipated load for the unit, etc.?

    I share this since I too was criticized by some readers of this blog for suggesting the total laneway housing costs could be much higher than what they thought they should be. But they hadn’t considered all the hook-up charges and other ‘soft costs’.

    As we all ‘start a new school year’, perhaps we should vow to be a little more open minded and a little less critical and judgmental towards others, especially on matters about which we don’t really know everything.

    To help get us in the right frame of mind, I would like to recommend Edward de Bono’s 1991 book “I Am Right You Are Wrong”. ( I just read his latest book “THINK, Before it’s too late” on the plane back from London which I also recommend.)

    For those of you not familiar with De Bono, he is a psychologist and medical doctor who argues that the way we were taught in school seriously influences our ability to make judgments and think creatively. He likes to address why so often we are sure we are right and others are wrong….when in fact the opposite may be the case.

    As a final comment, Joe Just Joe reminds me that while I was in Belgium, the European community formally banned incandescent light bulbs…that’s right, soon you will not be able to buy an incandescent bulb in any of the EC countries.

    Of course there was a lot of outrage, especially on the BBC….”it costs too much to buy the new bulbs, especially the ones that can be dimmed” and so on.

    I suspect that we too will ban incandescent bulbs and we will soon start wiring our homes differently so that we can easily shut off all the appliances that are using ‘vampire power’. (I don’t know about you, but I turn off all the lights that aren’t being used, only to leave on dozens of units that draw power…since I’m too lazy to go around and turn them off, and am sometimes uncertain of the consequences if I do!)

    So to summarize, there is an issue to be addressed with the cost of electrical hook-up to laneway housing, and there will also be other issues that have not been fully considered with laneway housing, suites within suites, electrical outlets for electric cars and many other zoning and planning changes still to come.

    None of us have all the answers…so let’s be a little more considerate towards the opinions of others…because to paraphrase De Bono, none of us are right all of the time, and none of us are wrong all the time!

  • FBT

    Mr. Geller,

    “…none of us are wrong all the time!”

    I guess you haven’t been paying close enough attention to city hall lately.

    If it wasn’t for the “socialists” and “fringe left” as Stephan Harper calls them, they would have no supporters at all. The swing vote that handed them their majority have run for the hills.

    That wouldn’t be the case if they were doing “some” things “right”.

  • SV

    Bwah hah hah.

  • I read the news and all the hub bub about the $20k with amusement. Talk about a bunch of mimics. Just as a reality check I had BC hydro move my service and upgrade from a 100A to 200A so I could get my laneway house a little closer to reality. Total cost was $430 from BC Hydro, and $500 for my electrician to put in a second panel for the laneway house.