A young couple from Edmonton decides to purchase a home to raise their own family. Being in the know, they list the property’s location as a priority for their ultimate choice. So they make a few trips to view suburban homes but then think about the number of hours they have to spend on the commute. Then they try for properties in central neighborhoods to find a more feasible option. However, none of the houses seem home to them – the properties were either too small or too outdated. And then they find the home that seems perfect – a family-friendly neighbourhood, boulevards lined with mature trees, an accessible school, and – better yet – a short commute to their jobs downtown.
This is currently considered an easy solution for families looking for a home – building an infill house or even a skinny home. They purchase a home in what is regarded as a mature neighbourhood, then tear down the existing house, and build a new, modern home. Cities are welcoming families with this goal in their minds. New developments want families and property owners who choose to build an infill house.
This may seem like a good solution both for families and for the cities they live in, but it is far from being the easiest. An infill house is more costly, difficult to build, and time-consuming. There are more benefits, of course, but it is also essential for potential homeowners to understand the kind of costs they have to manage should they choose an infill house.
Why Cities Want Infill Houses
In the past three years, a strategy has been designed by the city, which includes a goal for ensuring that 25% of new houses built are infill. Initially, the city instead focused the approach on building single-family housing to replace older homes in neighbourhoods that stood in Edmonton’s suburbs.
By building modern houses in mature neighbourhoods, the city can provide an opportunity for young families who are tempted to move to the outer areas to find a place that meets their needs. In the last four decades, 73,000 people have transplanted themselves from central neighbourhoods, even as the population of Edmonton continues to increase at a rate faster than that of the national average. If there are no new residents who will fill up the void left behind by population loss in specific neighbourhoods, amenities and services will gradually decline. This, in turn, will start the cycle of population loss followed by service loss.
Infill houses also do not provide a solution for individual neighbourhoods. The city itself enjoys certain benefits when people move to core neighbourhoods and begin to use public transit more. When more people use existing infrastructure, the cost of upgrading and maintenance is reduced, which keeps tax dollar spending on the development of new services low.
This is why the city is marketing infill houses as “Everyone’s Edmonton.” By building in mature neighbourhoods, the city ensures that these areas become more economically and culturally diverse and sustainable.
The potential presented by these circumstances seems attractive, but homeowners must be aware that practicalities tend to be more daunting.
Is Building an Infill House Harder?
Building a house is a complex, complicated business, but an infill house comes with several unique challenges.
For one, financing tends to be more difficult. The mortgage on Edmonton skinny homes may not come with coverage from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which means that a potential home buyer may have to pay a bigger loan deposit. Homeowners will also have to shoulder the difference between the property value and the existing home because the house will have to be demolished, making it invalid as mortgage collateral.
Infill homes are also more likely to be custom-built, which makes them more costly since every decision that comes into the construction of an infill house is unique. Homeowners also tend to play an active role in the building process of custom homes starting from design. When homeowners are involved in every decision, there is a definite difference that can be observed compared to homes built using pre-designed structures.
Keeping Neighbours Happy
The city, to create a balance in the needs of both new home builders and existing residents, created the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay in 2001, designed for 107 neighbourhoods.
The MNO ensures that infill houses do not impact neighbourhood character and that streets are still pedestrian-friendly. They also ensure that existing neighbours always enjoy privacy and access to sunlight even as new properties are built.
However, the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay has implemented bylaws that are more complicated than those designed for greenfield development, adding both to the cost and complexity of infill house projects.