Infill housing is starting to change the dynamic of our cities. An “infill” describes a development where a new structure is built on an older lot and the old structure is subsequently removed.

Infills can be a variety of constructions including single-family detached homes, duplexes, triplexes, or skinny houses. They are extremely customizable in terms of shape, size, and style. The concept, introduced as a solution to urban sprawl, has taken off in cities across North America.

Attracting more people to the core of the city revitalizes neighbourhoods while reducing the strain on public transit systems that can no longer keep up with horizontal growth. Many first-time homebuyers, unlike generations before them, are not interested in settling in the suburbs. They want homes in walkable neighbourhoods with amenities close by and easy access to public transportation. Infill housing meets their needs at a reasonable price.

For homebuyers considering an infill, the interior design options are endless. However, due to the unique nature of infills, there are a number of things to consider when planning the outdoor features of your home.

Style

Keep in mind the aesthetics of the neighbourhood when designing your infill unit. Consider if you want your home to blend in or stand out from the rest. Your landscaping should complement your home's design. Contemporary homes will differ from traditional ones in regards to exterior colour, materials, and greenery. Hiring a landscaper to map out some options will help suit the style of your lot.

Older neighbourhoods are likely to contain mature trees which you can incorporate into the design of your home. In fact, the City of Edmonton recently launched an incentive program to encourage owners of new developments to preserve mature trees in exchange for credit towards planting new ones.
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Privacy

With some types of infill housing, such as duplexes, homebuyers trade privacy for the opportunity to afford living in an established neighbourhood. The right landscaping can do wonders to help you feel secluded when space is limited.

Plant trees. Consider planting tall, narrow trees like cedars or columnar spruce along the side of your home to put some space between you and your neighbours. Since evergreens don’t shed their leaves, the dense foliage will offer year-round privacy. For houses that share a wall, talk with your neighbour about planting small trees or shrubs between the front entrances.

Use plants to separate shared spaces. Some duplexes share decks in the backyard. Large pots filled with tall, narrow plants can help divide the space without making you feel confined. Create an intimate environment by hanging planters around the perimeter of your half of the deck and adding some cozy furniture.

Noise Reduction

One of the main goals of infill housing is to increase population density in established neighbourhoods. With a higher volume of homes condensed in a single area, there is potential for the noise level to rise. There are several things you can do to ensure the peaceful enjoyment of your new home.

Install water features. Use water features to drown out street traffic and loud neighbours throughout the day. Look at purchasing a fountain with a rate of flow that can be increased during times of high traffic or decreased later in the evening. Ultimately the location of your water feature will determine the level of noise reduction in your space. alt Rachel Mathews Gardendesigner22, Contemporarygarden1, CC BY-SA 3.0

Make use of plants. Just as certain trees make great privacy screens, others can be used to create a noise barrier. Evergreens will provide a thick wall of leaves that block noise throughout the year, while the rustling of deciduous trees can create pleasant white noise in the warmer seasons. If your space allows for it, plant multiple rows of various types of trees and shrubs to reduce noise as much as possible.

Put up a wall. This may not be practical for some homes, but there’s no doubt that masonry walls are efficient at reducing noise. Cover the wall in climbing plants for an even quieter yard.

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Put up a fence. Since a wall may be out of budget a wooden fence is always a good option. Fences up to 1.2 meters high in a front yard, side yard or a corner lot do not require a development permit to be built. Considering proximity to your neighbours, you may want to put up an extra tall fence.

Designate a quiet area. Instead of building up, build down. Create a sunken space like the one seen here where you can entertain or relax. Building into the ground gives you the added noise-blocking effect of soil. Plant shrubs at ground level around the outside of the space to further reduce noise.

Yard Types

Just last month Edmonton city council passed a new bylaw to ensure neighbourhoods don’t become concrete jungles (read about it here). Under the law, non-permeable material will be limited to 70% of the property for single homes, semi-detached homes and row houses with lanes. Row houses without lanes will be limited to 75%.

In yards with hard surfaces, rain and snow melt can’t be absorbed into the ground and runoff ends up flowing directly into the city’s storm-water system. Here are some other options to make the most out of your outdoor spaces.

Bark Mulch

Bark mulch is one of the most commonly used and inexpensive options that comes in a variety of colours. The biggest benefit here besides price is ease of use.

Some downsides of using mulch are that its colour can fade or it can begin to decompose and degrade over time which will require replacement every year or two.

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Rock and stone gardens

More expensive than bark, stone is a material that doesn’t decompose into the soil and does not require regular replacement. It’s available in a wide variety of colours, shapes, sizes, and textures.

Rock may not be the best material in areas where there is a high level of leaf cover. It will also require a fabric barrier underneath to prevent weeds from growing through. However, once installed it can be difficult to add or replace plants later.

Sod

You can’t go wrong with sod. Compared to rock, concrete, asphalt and artificial turf it doesn’t absorb nearly as much heat. In addition, its extremely easy to work with. Out of all options it’s the fastest and easiest way to establish a lawn.

Other Options

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Patios

Stone patios are an excellent choice for any style of infill. Flagstone is perfect for retaining the natural look of a mature neighbourhood while slate gives a sleek finish to a modern yard.

Outdoor lighting

When it comes to lighting, less is more. Add a soft glow to your water feature or place path lights asymmetrically along the walkway in your yard.

Fire pits

You’ve put a lot of work into the outdoor features of your home - it’s time you enjoy them! Entertain guests well after sundown with a fire pit surrounded by comfy seating. Select a design that complements the rest of your yard. Stone and brick are popular choices.

alt ACM Design Architects, stone-fire-pit, CC BY 2.0

Infill housing is an exciting step forward in the revitalization of our neighbourhoods and the growth of our cities. TradePros makes it easy to find Pros for any of your exterior improvements who will give you a dream yard to accompany your dream home.

Useful Links

For more information on infill construction check out our guide.

If you’re looking for information on the city of Edmonton landscaping approval process click here.

Blog post header image from Morgan K Landscapes in Calgary http://www.morgank.ca/