Renovating Vancouver Specials: Opportunities and Considerations from a Renovation Company in Vancouver

For homeowners and renovators, Vancouver Specials offer a wealth of opportunities for customization, modernization, and value addition.

Vancouver Specials are a unique architectural style that has left a significant mark on the city's residential landscape. These homes, characterized by their boxy design and practicality, have been a staple in Vancouver's housing since their inception. For homeowners and renovators, Vancouver Specials offer a wealth of opportunities for customization, modernization, and value addition. In this post, we'll explore the history, benefits, opportunities, considerations, and the potential for multigenerational living or subdividing within these distinctive homes.

History of Vancouver Specials

Vancouver Specials emerged in the 1960s as a response to the city's growing housing needs. These homes were designed to maximize living space while minimizing construction costs. One of their defining features was the consideration of the lower floor as a basement, even though it was just anywhere from six to eighteen inches below ground level. This design trick allowed builders to bypass certain floor area regulations, effectively creating spacious two-story homes within a relatively compact footprint.

The architectural design of Vancouver Specials includes low-pitched roofs, simple framing methods, and an emphasis on economic construction. These homes were built quickly and affordably, making them accessible to a wide range of families, particularly immigrant families looking for practical, multigenerational housing solutions. However, by the late 1980s, public sentiment shifted, leading to the cessation of their construction due to their perceived unattractiveness and the loopholes they exploited in building regulations. 

Benefits of Owning a Vancouver Special

Space and Flexibility: Vancouver Specials offer generous living spaces compared to many modern homes. Their design allows for flexible use of space, making them ideal for larger families or those looking to create rental units.

Economic Value: The construction techniques used in Vancouver Specials mean they are often more affordable to renovate compared to older homes. Their boxy design and simple structure reduce the complexity and cost of renovations.

Potential for Customization: These homes provide a blank canvas for homeowners. From modernizing interiors and exteriors to adding additional units, Vancouver Specials can be adapted to suit contemporary tastes and needs.

Opportunities for Renovation

Rental Suites: One of the most popular renovation opportunities is the creation of rental suites. The layout of Vancouver Specials makes it relatively easy to divide the home into separate units, providing homeowners with an additional income stream.

Multigenerational Living: With ample space on both floors, these homes are perfect for multigenerational living. Families can comfortably house grandparents, parents, and children under one roof while maintaining privacy and independence.

Laneway Homes: Depending on the lot size and zoning regulations, some Vancouver Specials can accommodate laneway homes, further increasing the property's value and utility.

Considerations for Renovating a Vancouver Special

Building Codes and Permits: Renovating a Vancouver Special often involves navigating complex building codes and permit requirements. It's essential to understand the regulations and ensure all renovations comply with current standards.

Structural Upgrades: Many Vancouver Specials were built with basic materials and methods. Renovators might need to invest in structural upgrades, as well as improved insulation, modern windows, and updated plumbing and electrical systems.

Asbestos and Hazardous Materials: Homes built during the era of Vancouver Specials may contain hazardous materials like asbestos. Proper removal and mitigation are critical to ensure the safety of occupants.

Multigenerational Living and Subdividing

Vancouver Specials are particularly well-suited for multigenerational living. Their spacious design and separate floors allow for independent living spaces within the same home. This setup is beneficial for families looking to support elderly parents or adult children while maintaining proximity and support networks.

Additionally, subdividing a Vancouver Special into rental units can provide significant financial benefits. Homeowners can generate rental income, offsetting mortgage costs or funding further renovations. The demand for rental properties in Vancouver remains high, making this an attractive option for many homeowners.

Case Study: Transforming a Vancouver Special

One recent project by our renovation team involved a Vancouver Special in East Vancouver. The homeowners, a young couple, had already renovated the upper floor but needed help transforming the unfinished lower level. Our team created a two-bedroom rental suite while preserving a portion of the space for the homeowners' use.

The renovation included upgrading the insulation, adding modern amenities, and ensuring compliance with all building codes. The result was a highly sought-after rental unit that was quickly leased, providing the homeowners with a steady income stream.


Vancouver Specials offer a unique combination of history, practicality, and potential for modern living. Whether you're looking to create a multigenerational home, add rental units, or simply enjoy the benefits of a spacious and flexible living environment, these homes present a wealth of opportunities. With careful planning and expert renovation, Vancouver Specials can be transformed into contemporary, valuable properties that meet the needs of today's homeowners.

For more information on renovating Vancouver Specials or to discuss your renovation project, contact our team today. We're here to help you unlock the full potential of your home.