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Stylish Designs Found In the Backyard Shed
Dressing up a residential property doesn’t have to end at the back door

By Peter Mitham

Curb appeal may begin out front, but a number of companies are offering homeowners options for dressing up sheds, gazebos and garages like never before. Cities such as Vancouver are even adjusting zoning requirements to allow the structures to become secondary suites, independent of the main house.
Neither the CHBA nor the CMHC currently publishes statistics specifically tracking these structures, but John Derose, who oversees a team of mortgage specialists at Vancouver-based credit union, Vancity, says many home-owners are adding a secondary structure on the property to generate cash flow. The cash, in turn, helps leverage the financing needed for the main home, but also adds long-term value to the property.
The key is making sure the design of the secondary structure complements and enhances the existing building as well as surrounding properties. “You have to do it professionally,” Derose says.

Manufactured Kits
A professional approach is something Toronto-based Decor Structures Corp., which offers a range of structures under the Summerwood brand, provides. Its custom designed structures range from sheds to studios and workshops, even small cabins that are packaged in ready-to-build kits and shipped around the world. Running from $3,000 to just under $40,000, the kits provide structures with regional character for contemporary urban yards.
“We do whatever you like,” says John Hickey, Summerwood’s senior designer. “I will ask people to send in photos of the yard and the home. Then I’ll pull some of the elements from the home or existing buildings on the property or in the area and incorporate them into the design of their buildings just to give them more of a natural fit.”
Increasingly, clients are looking to set their lot apart from the rest. While it doesn’t take much to dress up a shed, many companies don’t offer this type of custom design service.
“We will take the time to cut out the rafters and give you a curved roof,” Hickey says.
Contractors like the product, he said, because the kits cut installation time and construction costs while still providing a product that meets or exceeds local home building codes. “Within a day they’re in and out, where normally that project would have taken a week on site.”

Secondary Suite Structures
Decor Structures isn’t the only company providing stylish outbuildings for homeowners. Smallworks, a design studio in Vancouver, as well as a number of other Canadian and American prefab building manufacturers serve the market.
A handful of Smallworks’ structures currently serve as residences, while more than a dozen serve a variety of purposes from studios to workshops. Combining elements of custom design with cost-efficient prefabricated components, the units reflect a West Coast Modern esthetic.
While some of the company’s earliest orders were for small-scale studios and backyard offices, Smallworks principal Jake Fry says the units are ideal for secondary suites. An initiative by the city of Vancouver to allow in-fill housing to boost density and affordable housing stocks in established single-family neighbourhoods has added to the interest.
Smallworks’ structures run from studios of under 100 square feet to cottages of approximately 550 square feet (including a loft). The residential units run about $130,000 apiece.
Homeowners who want to incorporate secondary structures into home renovations can tap a number of funding options to finance the purchases, especially if they’re adding the structures to accommodate seniors or other family members.
The CMHC, through its Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program, provides funding for the development of self-contained units accommodating seniors and low-income adults with disabilities. The CMHC will provide up to $24,000 for construction of the unit through its secondary/garden suites program, with potentially an additional $24,000 available if the structure boasts accessibility features to accommodate residents with disabilities.
Applicants must receive approval for funding before beginning construction and ensure the project complies with municipal requirements — for instance, not all municipalities permit garden suites and rents must not exceed the median value in the local market.
Meanwhile, financial institutions such as Vancity offer a variety of mortgage products that may be suitable for financing the structures. Derose says that any secondary unit, provided it complies with local zoning requirements, would be of interest to lenders given the potential it provides for generating cash flow for the owners from tenants.

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