Coach houses are small infill houses, usually in the back yard of properties. They are being used more and more by municipalities as a way of increasing density in neighbourhoods without dramatically altering the built fabric. They also work well as ‘granny suites’ or starter houses for families, or as suites for grown children. There are over 1000 now in Vancouver, and a dozen or so in North Vancouver, and West Vancouver is about to go to vote on the subject (in fall of 2013).
There is something very appealing about these small houses. But they often require more design effort to get right than larger houses, because there is so little room for error. Some features to look for: south facing windows; high ceilings, at least in places; if possible, ‘long views’ through the house to make it feel more spacious; clever use of outdoor areas to extend the livingspaces outdoors. Also make sure there is reasonable privacy within–by locating doors and windows to prevent overlook from neighbours.
One of the main advantages of an infill house is that it is completely independent of the main house. If the alternative is to renovate an existing house to accommodate a suite, the infill house will be much quieter, more private, and will have more access to light, fresh air, and outdoor spaces.
There are a many things to consider before taking the leap:
Does the zoning on your property allow infill houses? For example, in the City of North Vancouver, all properties in RS zones can have them, but RD zones (duplex) cannot. And your lot must be a minimum of 33 feet wide (and preferably wider). 50 foot wide lots are ideal.
Do you already have a suite in your house?–if so, you probably will not be able to build an infill house.
What is the site coverage and floor area for your existing house? If you are under the maximum allowable, you should be OK.
Are your neighbours going to be OK with it–because they will have some say, especially if there are issues around view, privacy and shading.
Infill houses cannot be strata-titled, so you cannot sell them separately from the main house.
If you are considering one, the first step is to call and discuss the particulars of your property. A quick zoning review and some number crunching will determine whether you are good to go.