Friday, March 27, 2009

Heritage Restoration and B & B Renovation

When I purchased 977 Broughton St., it had already been five decades since the old house had been used as a single-family home. The history of Vancouver's West End is that many of the prominent upper and comfortably middle-class families began to move out of the downtown neighbourhood between the two great wars. Gradually, large homes, such as this one, were converted to revenue properties. In our case, I figure this conversion to rentals may have occurred in the early forties.

Fifty years of rentals meant that many hundreds of individuals have lived in the house. Fortunately, the series of owner/landlords never subdivided the original rooms nor seriously damaged the character of the home. Bedrooms were simply converted to monthly rental spaces, locally called "housekeeping suites". Most rooms had a fridge, a gas stove or hotplate and a sink. A number of these suites shared a bathroom down the hall.

When I came along, thinking bed and breakfast, my first choice was whether or not to restore the house to it's early 1900s, Edwardian layout or gut and renovate to entirely modern standards. In the end, I opted for restoration of the public areas and renovation of the guest areas. I had the great advantage of purchasing a house that really needed no major reconfiguration or structural repairs. Because the bedrooms already had plumbing in them from the old rental days, I set out to quickly add ensuite baths for the use of B & B guests. Of course, the old kitchenettes were quickly removed. The entire house, inside and out, was scrubbed and painted. Where possible, original hardwood floors, banister rails and some built-in chests of drawers were sanded and refinished. Carpeting was added. The roof was re-shingled, stopping leaks and adding some small insulation improvement. The existing gas furnace was at least cheaper than oil, so I left it alone.

But the focus was on baths. A pair of shared hallway baths were gutted and rebuilt. One remained a shared bath for more budget-minded B & B guests. The other became an ensuite. In fact, over the course of some years, a total of four new ensuite baths were created for guest use. Two more were rebuilt and enhanced for my own and staff's use. In building six baths, I took the opportunities presented to insulate inside and outside walls for each project. However, I made the mistake of neglecting to insulate the remaining exterior walls. I worried more about delaying and disrupting B & B operations than long-term energy conservation. I rushed to redecorate with interior panelling, wallpapers and paints. That was way fun! I wanted to get and keep the bed and breakfast up and running for both the guests' enjoyment and to recoup some of my investment. In the process, I put off the big, messy task of drilling holes in the walls and blowing in insulation.

If I have learned one thing in the physical creation of Nelson House B & B, I would tell all aspiring innkeepers that "going green" is no longer an option, as it seemed to me back in 1989-90. Energy conservation is now a fundamental necessity to build your business bottomline. I know. You should see my gas bills!


  1. excellent advice. Many bed and breakfasts by nature are green. The housing alone with an historic structure is a picture of sustainability. Meals with regional flare and management of the small business variety (frugal:)) tend to highlight true green practices. I am the third owner in a house that had no previous renovations so the original brilliant integrity of old construction maintains energy efficiency. In a case like yours, with adaptations through the years, some of pre-existing innovation of natural cooling and heating is lost. you are correct in recommending that issue be dealt with in a shade of green.

  2. Great and the best article ever. Very intersting blog I hope you will post more. Thank you for sharing.


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