The old mews, now converted to coveted, quiet residential courts was one of planners’ answers to accommodating horse and carriage; what are our solutions for the “horseless carriage”?
Space for the car has been an irritation on the developers and planner’s minds for good reasons. It uses up valuable land; it adds to the house price; it affects the street appeal and can affect the environment. It is not an easy puzzle to solve; luckily, others have been there before.
Let’s try and trace previous solutions and their logic and adapt them to suit a new neighbourhood plan. Start by accepting that cars are vital, valuable possessions and it costs to own them, keep them and to use them. Many tradesmen earn their livelihood by being on the move. Controlling the costs of its home and its impacts is the true task.
Control starts with optimizing the land it takes to house the car. Building compact pays off because more can be done with the same land parcel. This means building up not out to accommodate the car and sticking with regular house shapes. Tuck the garage below habitable space; there are plenty of examples of how this can be done well. Putting the car under living space has other advantages also. It reduces excavation and foundation costs and, importantly, it squeezes the footprint of the house. Lower footprint means more space for rainwater absorption, a “green” advantage that can be a selling point.
As the price of land goes up, lot sizes come down and housing for the car becomes harder. When the lot frontage reaches 33, 30, 25 and 20 feet and, sometimes, 16feet for townhouses it seems almost next to impossible to come up with an effective, good-looking solution.
A seemingly easy solution is to use back lanes but it comes with heavy penalties: more infrastructure to build and maintain; the garage requires a separate structure with its own foundation; and the lane may add a maintenance cost, as some cities refuse to clear snow in lanes. It also adds to the total house footprint. From a buyer perspective, it takes away precious yard flower-and-spices space and may add discomfort, particularly in the winter, in reaching the house door. Finally, the unsupervised lane could turn into a hiding place and also an untidy spot. Disputes may arise about cleanliness.
More effective, advantageous solutions do exist. One, by manipulating the lot size, we can increase its width and reduce its depth keeping the same lot area but now having the advantage of the critical extra feet at the front of the house which permit a proper entrance and a garage door in balanced sizes. For example, a 16-foot townhouse bay would become 20 but the lot only 80 feet long. The increase in frontage width makes the house plan more efficient: fewer corridors and wider rooms.
The same logic works for narrow semis and even singles; a better front and a better floor plan. In all these cases and when there is sufficient frontage, keep the garage from protruding in the front yard. For every foot of protrusion an equal amount of usable, precious backyard is lost.
The next solution for narrow frontage lots is to park the car in the basement. No front or rear garages no driveways by the house entrance no asphalted lanes; only a bit of extra foundation work that comes with an advantage – a large deck overlooking the back yard. Units in this solution share a covered driveway and each has a private lockable garage under it. And because it hides all signs of the car, driveways, garage doors and garages, it gives a greener look to the street and increases the permeability of the site. (see Bois Franc). A variation on this theme is individual access to the half-sunk basement from the front; a common solution in renovated townhouses and sometimes in new. To get a spot for a tree, combine two driveways at the sidewalk.
A newcomer to the range solutions, suits wide, large houses that sit on a constrained lot. The “entry court” option uses the garage to create the “court” and makes it part of the front fence and gate. Set astride the property line each of two garages face one side and take only ten feet from the lot space leaving about thirty or so for the paved and landscaped court.
A natural complement to all solutions is the range of new materials for driveways and walkways that allow water infiltration and in some cases even grass to grow through them.
With this range of solutions, you can be at home with the car.
Note: This article first appeared in the Canadian Home Builder Magazine.