Our Vancouver infill house: hopeful first steps

Kerrisdale – This is our journey to building a Vancouver infill house. My husband and I have been discussing what to do with our old garage since we learned that it’s foundation is crumbling and it will need to be replaced. Our conversation has covered everything from repairing it (not practical) or building a new one, to replacing it with a laneway or infill house.

When family members approached us a few months ago with the idea of building an infill home we were very excited to find out if it was feasible. They would need a house big enough for them and their growing boys. A laneway wouldn’t do because of the restrictions on size.

Saving our trees

We set up an initial meeting with the builder they selected and had a discussion about our goals. The discussion quickly turned to our two large Fir trees and how they would impact the size and shape of any potential infill house. One is nearly 200 years old, and the other is around 40. Both are very healthy and provide a beautiful connection to the natural world. We love them and want to do everything we can to ensure they live for a long long time.

Our Vancouver infill house presents special challenges when building on a lot with large trees. There are some interesting solutions to these challenges. One is to use helical screw piles to support the foundation above the roots. Screw piles allow the tree to keep growing it’s roots outward without compromising the foundation of the house. Helical screw piles are like a giant screw that is driven into the ground. The foundation is built on top of the head of the screw. An arborist has to be involved in placing the screw piles so that they don’t chop into any roots as they’re driven into the ground.

Another solution is to cantilever the floor joists. Imagine building a foundation that is smaller than the footprint of the house and then using very strong beams to support the overhanging structure. We are assuming one of these solutions will be acceptable to the city.

Footprint challenges

We started looking at different footprints that would maximize the livable space and let us keep a nice open backyard. The backyard is very important to us because we like to entertain our friends, family and clients. We’ve tried a number of options. So far, everything we come up with involves the removal of a Cherry tree and a Sumac tree. We aren’t sure about removing them, and we don’t know if the city will be favourable. It all depends on what our architect comes up with and the recommendations of the arborist.

Once we get the arborist’s report, we will submit our initial feasibility report to the city to get their feedback. We’re hopeful they will see the value in densifying our property and let us make the necessary changes. As things unfold, I’ll be blogging about the development of our infill house. We hope it will be a beautiful and practical home for our extended family.

Vancouver infill houses are part of the solution

I think infill houses are the future for many of the larger properties in Vancouver. They make better use of space and provide density while still maintaining some of the character of the neighbourhood. I expect to see a lot of projects combining infill houses with renovations of existing homes. Many of the lots in Vancouver can easily support three or four dwellings. I think it’s a very important and practical way to help address affordability by increasing the supply of single family homes. Read this resource if you want to learn more about Vancouver infill houses.

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