Renovation Glossary – Planning


If you’re considering building a new home, or expanding the one you have now, you’re likely to find yourself bombarded with a variety of construction and City of Vancouver zoning jargon that will have you reaching for your phone to Google the terms every few seconds. Our company believes in keeping the public informed and cutting through the confusion, so enjoy this vocabulary lesson on terms you’re likely to encounter when planning a project.


This is the percentage of your building lot you’re allowed to build on, represented as a number. For example, if your FSR is .70, on your average 33 x 120 lot, the most common size in Vancouver, you will be allowed to build a 2772 square foot home. Floor Space Ratios can wildly vary depending on your zoning and location, but on average, most Vancouver lots are between .62 and .72 FSR.


Exclusions are elements of your building’s design that “don’t count” against your building’s FSR calculation, or a bonus amount of floor space provided. Many of these, such as the “Wall Thickness Exclusion” (which allows you to add 2% to your building’s size if you install thick insulation) are there to encourage energy efficient construction.

A clever designer can take advantage of FSR exclusions to give you more space to build on.


A ‘District Schedule’ is a set of rules and regulations based on your home’s location in the city. It determines things like allowable Floor Space Ratio, available Exclusions, and the size of some elements such as patios and garages that you can build.

This maze of regulations can be difficult to navigate without professional assistance. Our partners at BC Home Drafting and Consulting are experts in helping people put together a permit application that passes inspection and gets the most out of local regulations.


To make alterations to your home, you need a building permit. Permit applications are evaluated by the city planner’s office looking at the drafed plans for the proposed project and assuring it complies with the district schedule and other building regulations.

It can be tempting to try to save money and time by being sneaky and doing your project without getting one, but this often backfires. This opens up the risk that the city will discover your project and levy fines and a stop-work order. Worse, most legitimate contractors will refuse to work on illegal renovations, leaving you with less professional “fly by night” builders who are likely to provide subpar (or even unsafe) work, or even fraud.


Stop work orders are levied by the city on projects that were started without getting the correct permits. Violating a stop-work order will result in serious penalties and may even land you in court.

If you do get a stop work order, it’s not the end of the world. Retaining a building consultant and going through the permit application process will get your project back on track.


The allowable distance from the border of the lot to the building. These are in place largely for safety reasons, assuring emergency crews can access the building from any side, and protecting neighboring buildings in case of fire.

Different district schedules have different regulations involving setbacks applied to front, back and side yards.


A secondary building allowed in some district schedules. Laneway homes are constructed specifically for rental purposes. District schedules that allow laneways often provide bonus FSR in order to encourage increased rental stock.


A secondary building larger than 924 Square Feet. An infill building differentiates itself from a laneway home in that it is allowed to be stratified into an official duplex and sold separately.


A Multiple Conversion Dwelling is a building that contains multiple units in single family zoning areas. Large Victorian homes and boarding houses from the turn of the century are often converted into MCDs, but can also be placed on single lots, typically with suites on the top and bottom floor, with an infill building in the backyard.

The number of units that can be built in an MCD depends on the size of the lot and its District Schedule, ranging from 3 to 6 where they are allowed. With retrofits to assure building and fire code compliance, MCD units can be stratified and sold separately, effectively turning a home into a small condo development.


These are buildings that are considered to have some historical or aesthetic merit, typically referring to buildings older than 1940. The City of Vancouver has put programs in place to encourage owners of character homes to renovate and restore their buildings, rather than demolish them.

Renovations on Character Homes are granted bonus FSR and more lenient requirements for laneway homes, infills and MCD developments.

If you’re wondering if your home qualifies for Character Home benefits, take our questionnaire  or contact us and we can find out for you.


Buildings of historical or architectural merit that are on the Vancouver Heritage Register. They can be classified as “Protected” or have no protection designation. “Protected” buildings require consultation with the city to make any alterations. If a building is to be designated as “Protected”, the city will often offer concessions to the building owner to compensate them for the inconvenience.

Heritage buildings without protected designation are simply recognized as historically or architecturally important, with no restrictions on alterations or additions.

Heritage Buildings are broken down into three categories:

Heritage A: Buildings of deeply significant historical and architectural value that are often city landmarks. Examples would include the Carnegie Library, Christchurch Cathedral and the Hotel Vancouver.

Heritage B: These are buildings of moderate historical value, providing a prime example of an architectural style, possibly the location of significant events, or lived in by significant individuals.

Heritage C: The least significant designation. Heritage C buildings are usually a part of a group of buildings that together make up a historical streetscape. Areas of Strathcona and Mount Pleasant have a large number of Heritage C streets and buildings.

If you’re interested in exploring Vancouver’s Heritage Homes, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Interactive Map provides a fascinating look at the city’s history.


It’s always been our top priority to make sure prospective clients are informed when making important decisions like home renovation. If you have questions about a project you’re thinking of, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.