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Canadian Flex Designs Emphasize Adaptability

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 01 May 2001 00:00

Canadians tend to grow deep roots in their communities and usually hate to move away from friends and neighbours unless forced.

Changing housing requirements for a growing family or a full-grown family are two common reasons for a move. However, federal housing researchers have developed flexible-housing designs that allow a home to be easily converted into larger or smaller units as families expand or contract, respectively.

The Chambers, a forty-something couple with two active, small boys, age two and three, and an ten-year-old daughter, are firmly committed to The Beach, a popular lakefront community in east Toronto, but they have outgrown their current home. Renovating the semi-detached home would leave them without somewhere to live for many impractical months, so the Chambers are forced to move to get the room they'll need for the next fifteen years or so.

The Beach is a popular, up-scale community along Lake Ontario that grew from a summer cottage enclave in old Toronto into a Boomer haven today.

"We feel so connected to the people on our street that it is worse than leaving family behind to think we must move," said Mr. Chambers, a long-time Beach resident who grew up a few streets from his current home. "The size of house we need is financially out of our reach in this neighbourhood. Since we want to be in The Beach after our children grown-up and leave, we feel we must compromise on size and stay in the area, instead of moving to the northern suburbs in search of a bigger house. Who knows if we'd ever be able to afford to buy back into this area if we left it?"

If the Chambers' current home were flex-designed, they could have expanded their living space without extensive or expensive renovation. If they had originally bought a home which was designed to adapt to their changing lifestyle needs, they would have purchased a home divided into two 2-bedroom units. This way they could have lived in one spacious unit, even after their daughter was born, and rented out the other unit to help pay off their mortgage quickly and save thousands in interest.

By the time the two boys were born, the Chambers would have had a financially manageable mortgage and they could have afforded to make minor modifications and take over the resulting four-bedroom home.

Flex-designs can also resolve the "empty-nester" problems of "too much house" that force some mature homeowners into a move. Adaptive design features allow the easy and inexpensive conversion of a large 4-bedroom home into two separate units once children are grown and gone.

The second two-bedroom unit could be rented to provide extra income, or used to house a home-based business, live-in property managers/caregivers or aging parents, should different needs arise later in life.

Although many builders and developers still build "temporary" housing that only supports a limited number of lifestyles, the federal government continues to encourage flexible-housing designs that allow a house to be adapted to life's changing needs.

In 1996, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) held a FlexHousing Design Competition which attracted more than 50 entries from across Canada for flexible, adaptable, affordable housing. Eventually four winners were chosen for flexible designs which included separate entrances for each future unit, common entrance foyers for the future duplex, barrier-free features, walls that could be easily moved for renovation, removable floor panels in storage rooms for future elevators, terraces above garages and space for a future home office or caregiver suite.

If you want to put down roots in a community, take advantage of the creative work of Canadians committed to adaptive housing and build, buy or renovate a house that will stay part of the family whatever changes the family faces.

For more on FlexHousing and adaptable designs, contact the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and order a copy of "FlexHousing: Homes That Adapt to Life's Changes" (Cat. No. NH15-202/1999E). This glossy, 72-page magazine-style publication introduces FlexHousing concepts with diagrams, computer graphics and photographs.

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