Over the last few years, we have spent a fair amount of time looking at property – rural lots and city lots, urban houses that we considered renovating extensively and old farmhouses with character that deserved to be protected and restored. In the end, we decided that we moved back to PEI for a reason, to be in a province that offered the best of both worlds. No matter where you live on this little Island, you are hardly more than 15 minutes from the coast, so to live any further than that from your place of work seemed counter-intuitive to us.
We shifted our focus to properties in and around Charlottetown since that is where we both work, and later decided that even a half hour or an hour out of our days commuting simply wasn’t necessary. The closer to our work and daily lives, the better – and we would take the time we would have spent commuting and use that for evening trips to the beach and weekend enjoyment of our great Island. Even the 15 minutes we would have to give up on North River Road in the morning or evening became more than we were willing to sacrifice.
We were also living with one car for the two of us and the idea of keeping it that way was pretty enticing – from both an environmental and a cost perspective. Instead of a second car, we made the conscious decision to put some of that money towards city-living home ownership instead.
The relative density of the city became more and more appealing to us. Not just from an environmental perspective, but also from the feeling of community and, admittedly, just sheer, guilty convenience. Need milk? Just walk to the convenience store on the corner. Want a good coffee? Just down the street at one of the great cafes. Banks, schools, entertainment – all at your fingertips. And beautiful, rural PEI and our stunning beaches just a few minutes away for those free evenings and weekends to explore them.
But in looking in the city, we looked at many great ‘potential’ homes… each one we viewed, we would leave and discuss the awesome renovations we could do and after much number crunching and near-hits and misses, it became more and more obvious that we ‘wanted’ to build. So we set about searching for available land in the city. What seemed like a daunting task became somewhat of a pass-time and a fun challenge. Scouring real estate listings, and later, making cold calls to land owners resulted in some disappointments and a roller coaster of a search. But eventually, we found a match! We had been to see a house on Orlebar Street several months earlier, and on one of our drives around town, we noticed it was still for sale – this time with a Property Guys sign. Recalling that the property ran through to Upper Hillsborough with a separate lot included, we took a chance and called the owner to see if she would entertain selling it separately. Timing was right and we were able to reach an agreement, and so began the frequent refrain when we told people of our purchase:
“There’s a lot on Upper Hillsborough?”
Most recognize it from the old fence that ran around it, or by describing it as the backyard of the little barn-shaped house. Or by noting that it is about halfway between Euston and Hillcrest on the right hand side. That’s the one!
We had already done some homework on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and we knew that a smaller lot size could be a benefit. Historic city lots tend to be smaller than in newer suburban subdivisions. Our lot measures only about 50′ by 80′. We like the density of the street and consider the site to be more environmentally friendly since we expect to use less resources – not just the land itself, but it’s dimensions dictate a smaller, more compact house (building up, versus a larger footprint), which ultimately requires less water, electricity and heat resources to operate. The sheltered nature of the site from built density and trees also helps minimize heat loss, and although the orientation is not ideal, there is still pretty good south exposure for solar heat gain.
We became more and more convinced that we wanted to pursue the LEED certification as we learned more about the program, as we became more familiar with our site and as ideas for our home started to develop. One of the first LEED categories is about site selection, so going beyond the lot size to look at proximity to services and activities. A quick study of the relative distance to churches, schools, transit routes, grocery stores, parks and entertainment revealed that we could gain significant points just by virtue of where our lot was located.
The next few posts will attempt to cover some of the early design decisions and provide more background on the LEED process. We hope you’ll check back soon – or subscribe for updates here! Thanks for reading…!