Vancouver Specials: Complete Illustrated Guide & Database

Vancouver Specials FAQ

  • What are Vancouver Specials?

Vancouver Special” is a term used to refer to houses built in a particular architectural style in the period from roughly 1965 through to 1985. Most commonly in Vancouver and it's immediate vicinity (although they also can be found in other areas of BC). The second generation of Vancouver Special continued to be built until 1993.

  • How many Vancouver Specials are there in the City?

There are literally thousands of them – the estimated number is above 10.000. No one knows for sure...that is, until I complete cataloguing every single Special in the city. Another difficulty is that there isn’t yet a formalized definition of a Vancouver Special (What we might count as one, others wouldn’t). What we do know is that the Vancouver Special is the most widespread single style of residential building in the city. Even all the Edwardian boxes, Victorian cottages, and craftsmen homes combined fail to outnumber them.

  • How can I spot a Vancouver Special?

Vancouver Specials have certain unmistakable features that differ from other houses. Firstly, they are considerably larger than the houses built today, usually between 1,500 and 2,700 square feet (depending on lot size). They are big, box-like structures that usually have two stories with similar square footage, and the bottom story is typically above ground. They feature near-flat roofs with only a minor peak in symmetrical and asymmetrical styles. The exteriors are often a combination of stucco finishing, brick, wood or vinyl. They were originally built with sliding windows in aluminum frames and shallow balconies with low railings — usually across the whole front of the house.

St Georges St 4133
St. George's Street 4133

More than anything, Vancouver Specials were the result of builders wanting to reduce costs while maximizing the amount of livable square footage on a lot. Specials also included a shift away from long flights of stairs to a home’s front porch, favouring the much less expensive option of building the main door close to ground level and putting a staircase inside the house to reach the living area. Read more about the history of Vancouver Specials.

  • Are there any Specials out there that are three stories?

Technically, the zoning of the time would have allowed for a third story to have been built. However, building costs made this an uncommon option, so there aren’t three story specials recorded at City Hall.

  • How did Vancouver Specials get away with such a large footprint?

At the time, the basement of Vancouver Specials didn’t count as part of the square footage. Therefore, builders were able to maximize the livable square footage to nearly 3,000 square feet while usually only counting 1,500 in the plans.

  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms does a typical Special have?

What you see in most Vancouver Specials is 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a dining and a living area upstairs. The ground level usually contained utility rooms, furnace and hot water tanks and roughed in plumbing for an additional bathroom.

Typical Vancouver Specials Floorplan
Typical Vancouver Specials' Floorplan
  • What’s with the flat roofs?

The characteristic flat roof of a Vancouver Special was due mostly to economical building. Builders were trying to reduce not only the amount of lumber but general roofing supplies.

St Catherines St 4751
St. Catherine's Street 4751
  • Any particular reason that most of the exteriors are stucco?

Value and efficiency are again the instigators of the Vancouver Special Exterior Aesthetic. It was cheap and easy to apply to the huge walls of the buildings, and met the fire safety requirements of the time.

  • Do Vancouver Specials have yards?

While most Vancouver Specials have a front yard, back yards are uncommon. The rear lot space is often used for a concrete car port, over which a large functional deck is usually erected that is attached to either a kitchen or major living space via a sliding door. Corner Vancouver Special lots are particularly interesting because they often feature a side garage entrance which allows for yard space to be built under and behind a deck in lieu of the car port.

Sherbrooke St 5584
Sherbrooke Street 5584
  • How can I look for Vancouver Specials?

For an easy and fast Vancouver Special search, use our Vancouver Specials Database. You can search by street and neighbourhood and see the results on a comprehensive map.

  • What is the future forecast for Vancouver Specials?

Vancouver Specials have become very popular, and thanks to the increasing amount of interest in redesigning and renovating them, Vancouver Specials are setting a truly remarkable trend in the city’s neighbourhoods. This section shows some of the Vancouver Special renovation designs that are leading the way in innovation and modernization.

  • What is the most famous Vancouver Special?

One of the best-known examples is the renovated Vancouver Special called Lakewood Residence, which won the Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia’s Innovation Award for Architecture in 2005.

  • Are there examples of successful renovations of Vancouver Specials?

For starters, there is the Lakewood Residence, which captured the 2005 Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia’s Innovation Award for Architecture. The Delta Residence in Burnaby is in our opinion one of the most successful, (although more risque) renovations of a Vancouver Special. There’s also the Joe Wai Special, which was reconstructed on Union Street in the Strathcona neighbourhood, and the Yew Residence.