Bylaw blocks B.C. family’s bid to move older house onto property

A young family in British Columbia’s Comox Valley thought they found a creative solution to expand their home, but a recent city bylaw change has put a stop to their plans. 

Paul Myers and Jessica Evans live in a 1940s one-bedroom rancher house in Courtenay. When they welcomed their baby last year, it didn’t take long for their home to start feeling cramped. 

“He’s taking up a lot more space than he would seem to if you just look at him,” Myers said, laughing. 

But when the couple looked at moving an existing house onto their property, they discovered that the city updated its bylaws earlier this year to only allow that option for homes less than 15 years old — with most of the stock available to them being much older than that.

“Crushed,” Evans said of how she felt when she heard the news. “I’m still in a little bit of disbelief …. that this is a hard stop for us.”

The couple hope councillors in the Vancouver Island city will hear their pleas to amend the bylaw, with those in the house-moving industry saying that moving a fully-built house could help divert waste from landfills.

In a written statement, the city said it updated its building bylaws in 2024 to increase safety for building occupants.  A staff report presented to council says that the move was also made to ensure the city maintained energy efficient buildings.

“Over time this will have the benefit of not only increasing safety standards, but reducing operating carbon emissions and energy demands by requiring higher efficiency buildings being moved into the city,” the city said of the bylaw change. 

Paul Myer and Jessica Evans’s one-bedroom rancher in Courtenay, B.C., started to feel a bit small after they welcomed their baby last year. (Submitted by Paul Myers)

The couple spoke at a city council meeting last week about the issue, pointing to the fact that moving a used house could be more cost-effective than a new build.

“What gets me is that a large percentage of this town is houses that are older than 15 years,” Myers said. 

“We’re allowed to live in our 80-year-old house, but we’re not allowed to bring in a 30-year-old house.”

Upcycling to reduce carbon emissions

Myers says one day he was driving into nearby Comox when he saw two large, empty houses on the side of the road with a sign for the company Nickel Bros. The company stocks used houses and moves them onto other properties.

Evans and Myers looked into it, and discovered they could purchase a used house for less than half the price of building a new one on their property.

“What made a lot of sense to us was the idea that we could spend a certain amount of money and land a house in our backyard, and be able to rent out our existing house in order to make that investment make sense,” Myers said.

A large home is seen being towed away in a barge.
Nickel Bros moved this arts-and-crafts-style house off a 20-foot cliff and onto a barge from downtown Seattle, Wash., to the San Juan Islands in 2015. (Nickel Bros)

According to Cassidy vander Ros, Nickel Bros’ manager of communications and business development, over the last five years the company has relocated 153 homes to Vancouver Island. 

In the process, the company says it has diverted 15.3 million kilograms of demolition waste from landfills, and saved 18,360 trees.

Even though new homes are more carbon efficient, vander Ros says, relocating an existing home can save carbon emissions over a building’s lifespan when carbon output from waste and construction are factored in. 

For the same reasons, a recent information bulletin from the province’s Building and Safety Standards Branch says relocating a building “can have positive environmental impacts.” 

‘This is where we chose’

Myers says he found out about the bylaw change when he went to the city’s permitting office to discuss a different matter. 

“The building official [informed] me in no uncertain terms that this was basically disallowed with no workarounds, and that the only option that we had was to lobby city council,” he said.

The couple hopes the city will rescind its bylaw change. If not, they’re not sure what they’ll do.

When Myers and Evans first looked at options to expand their home, they thought about moving to a more affordable city like Powell River.

But in the end, they decided they wanted to stay in the community they loved. 

“This is where we chose,” Evans said. “We each chose the Comox Valley before we even met each other.”

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