Ever since the inception of the laneway suite movement, forward thinking professionals in the building industry took a leap of faith by using their knowledge and fundamentals of design and construction to pioneer the development of laneway suites in Toronto. As the interest in laneway suites among the general public grows, experts in this field, (including designers, suppliers, and builders) are being provided with new opportunities to showcase their innovative visions and technical prowess. We at TurnKey wanted to highlight experts who have made significant contributions in the new, and innovative laneway industry in Toronto. In this segment of the Laneway Expert Series, we’re featuring an expert from a neighboring city — meet EkoBuilt.
EkoBuilt is an Ottawa based homebuilding company that looks at the industry with a sustainable building perspective. Paul Kealey, the founder at EkoBuilt believes that smaller homes are more sustainable as they allow the use of fewer materials, hence keeping the construction cost on the lower end. Their approach revolves around providing carbon free, net zero, planet friendly homes to minimize carbon footprint. The concept of backyard homes attracted EkoBuilt to play the role of developers in this market. While Paul established that most developers steer away from backyard homes due to lower volume and smaller footprint in turn returning a smaller profit, this space provides the opportunity to build carbon free buildings instead of just creating a design that meets the minimum code requirements.
He sums it up by saying “homes are built to last for 300 years with older energy sources such as gas, propane and fuel, all of which will be gone in a short time now”. Hence, it is time to start shifting the paradigm to include sustainable design practices.
Paul recalls that one of the biggest challenges when it comes to backyard homes is meeting all of the local buildings codes. His first backyard project opened his eyes to the limitations in what is permitted and what isn't. More than anything, it was a great learning experience that allowed him to become an expert in the field of backyard homes. Paul also believes that these limitations are mostly unknown to most homeowners. Backyard homes are limited by size to an extent but with every project, Paul learnt just how much can be done in a smaller space and more importantly, how there is relatively lower loss in comfort even with the reduced space. Paul mentioned that 2 bedrooms can easily be accommodated in the smaller footprint of a backyard home, including the standard size of a kitchen, bathroom and living room.
When asked how he would rate Toronto’s laneway suite potential and progression on a scale of 1-10 (where 1 under-utilized and 10 is utilized), Paul stated that the Garden suite potential is at 10, whereas for Laneway suites there are limitations, as some homeowners abutting laneways may fall short on other by-laws posed by the city. Paul believes that Garden suites will provide the option for building backyard homes to every homeowner in the city, and hence they have the most potential.
During his time in the backyard suite space, Paul noticed that many clients usually aim to rent out the unit as it poses as a great business opportunity, however there are also many clients who use the unit as a Granny Suite, providing a great alternative to a retirement home, which usually costs from $3000 to $5000 a month and can pose a huge financial burden to many. The backyard home comes at a lower cost, whether in construction cost or post construction utility and maintenance cost while allowing for families to live and grow on the same property.
Paul strongly believes that there needs to be a major revamp when it comes to marketing the possibility of backyard homes in order to raise awareness amongst homeowners living in Toronto. He stated that he would do things differently if he got a chance to start over. He would definitely invest in marketing and promotion of the concept of backyard homes, in order to raise awareness on the feasibility and benefits of it. He wants to be at the forefront of changing the perception of homeowners who believe that backyard homes do not provide enough space and hopes that providing a model home for homeowners to walk through and feel the space would be an ideal way to do so.
In summary, Paul views backyard homes to be of great potential that provides a lot of value to homeowners living in Toronto. He believes that with the right amount of marketing and exposure, we will be able to show the residents of the city how much can be done even in a smaller footprint and by going an extra step and designing it with sustainable design practices, people can reap the benefits of minimal costs while also working towards creating a positive environmental impact on the planet.
The project and video walkthroughs of their Double Backyard Project with homes that include:
A living room
A full basement w/ laundry
The 720 square foot Nepean Point Model which includes:
A separate den
Kitchen and open plan living area