Shelley Fralic: Save the planet, recycle a house

She always wanted to own land, and so Judy Kenzie worked her way from an apartment in Kitsilano to a house on small lot in Strathcona and, finally, to a lush hillside spread in Mission with a can’t-look-away view of Mount Baker.

She had always wanted to recycle a house, too, because Kenzie has a thing for older homes and because she has found it not only sad, but infuriating, to watch as so many perfectly livable vintage houses fall to the bulldozer all over Metro Vancouver.

“I had been toying with the idea of getting land for awhile,” says Kenzie, “and I also really wanted to move a house. I looked at all those heritage houses being torn down and it bothered me.”

To that end, Kenzie hatched a plan a few years back and began looking for both a piece of property and a house to recycle.

After some fits and starts, she found two picture-perfect acres in Mission and a pretty vintage house to put on it. The latter was a 2,700-square-foot 1927 two-storey beauty listed for $5.5 million on the University Endowment Lands. The owners, it turns out, were willing to make a deal with her to move it, given it was likely to be razed.

Kenzie had been consulting from the start with house moving company Nickel Bros. They checked out the Mission site and told her the UBC house could, in fact, be successfully moved through the city and then by barge up the Fraser to Mission and, from there, by flatbed truck to her property.

But it wasn’t to be. In the end, UBC wanted $35,000 just to get the house off the endowment lands, so Kenzie declined, and settled instead on a 1,500 square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath Pan Abode log house that had been built in 2000 on San Juan Island.

Nickel Bros. had already moved the San Juan house, saving it from demolition, to a storage yard in Sidney, so Kenzie hopped on a ferry, did a walk-through, loved the five skylights, thick walls, vaulted ceilings and bright airy feel. and bought it for about $30,000. The move to Mission, again by river barge, would be about $100,000.

It all happened rather quickly, in December of 2014, including the sale of the family home in Strathcona.

With everything in motion, Kenzie and her family moved into a Maple Ridge rental while their new old home was transported to the property, and began to take shape on a new foundation.

Recycling a home, she learned, is not for the faint of heart. The overwhelming details and creeping expenses (she had to put in a well and septic system, for starters) can be mind-numbing, and there are bureaucratic hoops and endless permits to sort out. She worked closely with helpful Mission municipal officials, but knows that other municipalities have their own regulations, and don’t always make whole house recycling an easy process.

In the summer of 2015, Kenzie and her 10-year-old son Ethan moved into the replanted Pan Abode, now sporting additional square footage and a new walkout basement. It was a bittersweet homecoming, though, given Kenzie’s husband Wesley, who had been ill with cancer, had died just a few months earlier.

In hindsight, Kenzie says the transition from city to country, from bare lot to livable recycled house, has been hectic but utterly worthwhile and she would do it all again under the right circumstances.

And the 53-year-old has big plans for her dream home.

Aside from her two jobs — she freelances from home in marketing and advertising, and owns a heritage seed business called Strathcona 1890 Urban Seed Collections — Kenzie also wants to seek farm status for her property.

The goal is to operate an “experiential” B&B where dwarf sheep keep the grass clipped and guests can gather eggs and pick their favourite vegetables fresh from the garden. She has 1,000 garlic plants already planted, along with carrots, radishes, pumpkins and 189 Christmas trees, and is building a tiny house to use as a farm stand.

“I want to make it not just a place where I’m growing stuff, but also a resource for people.”

And she will tell you that while it has been an exhausting few years, it’s also been an exhilarating process that confirmed some truisms she has long held.

Such as: Life is short, so take a chance. Be bold. Look beyond your immediate horizon. Be the change that you want to see.

And, if you can, recycle a house because, as the saying goes, the greenest house is the house that is already built.

As for that pretty heritage home at UBC? It was demolished.

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