Should You Consider An Infill House For Your Next Purchase?

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 However, none of the houses seem home to them – the properties were either too small or too outdated.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.

Maximizing Space In A Narrow Or Tiny Home

Using space strategically is essential if you are building a skinny home on a narrow lot. Doing that will ensure that the needs of you and your family are met. If that seems like a challenge, these useful tips can help you get the most out of a small space, and at the same time create a home that is appealing and stylish as well as functional.

1) Go with multi-purpose rooms

Designing rooms that have different functions is one way to be creative and make sure a shortage of space works for you. Combining functions that would normally happen in different rooms or areas, such as eating, working, and living is the smart way to tackle the problem of living in a skinny home on a narrow lot.

It’s easy to live and eat in the same room if you design an open plan living area. And a study nook or alcove can take the place of a dedicated office if you don’t have the space for that luxury.

Shelving, room dividers, and even the careful placement of rugs, furniture, and plants can all help to divide a space up into different zones. If you don’t have as much space as you need, it’s an easy and affordable way to create a multi-purpose room.

2) Maximize storage

It’s easier than you think to incorporate storage into a narrow or small home without taking up more space than you can afford. Creating solutions for storage that don’t take up too much of your living space is the answer, and if you are anxious about the lack of storage, this approach can solve the problem.

Some furniture actually doubles as storage space, eliminating the need for those built-in wardrobes, which may be ideal but can certainly occupy a lot of space. Instead of using a table that has one use, think of side units that have storage drawers, a bed with drawers, and an Ottoman.

3) Use the lighting

Lighting can be your friend and make your narrow home seem much roomier than it actually is. Making the most of the available natural light is important when building on a narrow lot, and one consideration is the orientation of your plot of land.

The rooms in your home will feel a lot more spacious if you make the most of the available light during daylight hours, which means designing your home to have a northerly aspect. And glass doors and windows placed in strategic places can help to welcome the light in and create that same effect of more room.

Bouncing natural light off a mirror on the wall is also an easy yet effective way of making a small room seem larger.

4) Go with the flow

You can create the illusion of more space if you are working with a small space by making sure the different spaces flow naturally into one another. Small rooms can feel claustrophobic and stuffy, and open plan living is the best approach for narrow home dwellers, as it allows you to benefit as much as possible from the available space.

You can also create the feeling of large living space by having a flow between your indoor living area and any outdoor area. And it’s nice to be able to use that outdoor space as a natural extension of your indoor space during the warmer months. Installing glass sliding doors can increase the amount of natural light that comes into your home and help create that natural flow.

5) Use light colours

The illusion of more space can be achieved by using lighter colours, while a small space can feel even smaller if you decorate with dark colours. Focus on using just a couple of different feature colours; your narrow space can seem crowded and stuffy if you use too many patterns, textures, and colours when decorating.

However, a few carefully chosen spots of bright colour can help to bring some personality into your room; it doesn’t need to all be plain or neutral. But chose your bright colours with care and tried not to overdo the effect.

Welcome To Bears Tiny Homes!

Mark Warfield is the builder of Bear’s Tiny Homes and the head of Bears, Inc. Mark has over 30 years of construction experience in labor, management and ownership roles. In addition to Bear’s Tiny Homes, Mark and his teams have built and renovated residential and commercial structures, historic properties, government buildings, boats, and racing trailers / recreational vehicles.

Bear’s Tiny Homes was established in August 2016. We introduced our first Tiny House On Wheels (THOW) in November 2016 at the Florida Tiny House Festival in St. Augustine; more than 60,000 people attended. At our first Tiny House show, with our first Tiny House On Wheels, we tied for Best Builder.

Laura Wilson helped start Bears, Inc. Laura is a long-time afficionado of sustainable housing and responsible development, and assists Bear’s Tiny Homes with design and operations.