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Don't Waste Your Money On A Multiplex

Updated: 3 days ago

If you approach building a fourplex or other multiplex the same way as building a house, there is a much higher likelihood of taking a financial loss or not being able afford starting construction at all.

simulated photo of a modern duplex, wood siding, brick, zinc roof, sunny summer day

You'll gain here a bit clearer understanding of how multi-family dwellings are built differently and why it's essential to adapt your design and construction strategies. Recognizing these differences allows for more effective planning and execution, making the project more likely to be financially feasible even for an ultra high-performance project. The unique demands of multifamily construction often lead to underestimated costs.

simulated photo of a modern duplex, wood siding, brick, zinc roof, sunny summer day

Although the zoning regulations are being revised by some municipalities and will be updated eventually by all cities to allow for multiple dwellings on a single-family lot, very few homeowners can actually afford the cost of constructing a new multifamily building. Even laneway houses are usually cost-prohibitive. The financial barriers are significant and often underestimated, making it crucial to understand the specific challenges and costs involved in multiplex construction.

simulated photo of a modern duplex, wood siding, brick, zinc roof, sunny summer day

I regularly receive calls from people interested in building a multiplex in Vancouver, the North Shore, or even in other cities in the Lower Mainland, where it's not yet permitted. A multiplex tempts us with a greater return on investment if sold or substantial revenue if rented, but it is more expensive than building a house. The initial investment is higher due to the increased complexity and scale of the project, but effective cost management can make it an attractive option for long-term financial gain.

A larger building entails more extensive structural requirements than a one- or two-storey home. This means the foundation and framing systems must be robust enough to support the increased load, especially for a three-storey structure. These increased load-bearing requirements necessitate a more substantial and reinforced foundation, significantly adding to the overall project cost.

simulated photo of a modern duplex, wood siding, brick, zinc roof, sunny summer day

The plumbing and electrical systems must accommodate a greater number of fixtures, appliances, and other equipment for multiple kitchens and bathrooms - driving up both material and labor costs. The compact layout of a multiplex compared to a single-family home means that the cost per square foot for these installations is significantly higher.

More stairways than in a single-family house are required to ensure proper access and egress for all units. This increases the complexity of the design and construction. The additional stairways also occupy valuable floor space, potentially reducing the usable living area within each unit.

simulated photo of a modern duplex, wood siding, brick, zinc roof, sunny summer day

The need for complex fire separations between suites adds to the structural and material costs, as each suite must be adequately isolated to meet fire safety codes. Some residential designers are unfamiliar with these separation practices.

simulated photo of a modern duplex, wood siding, brick, zinc roof, sunny summer day

Multiple heating, cooling, and ventilation systems may be necessary to ensure that each unit maintains a comfortable and healthy living environment - critical for climate resilience. These systems must be designed to operate independently, adding to the overall mechanical complexity and cost of the project. The need for separate HVAC systems for each unit also requires more space for equipment and ductwork, further increasing construction costs. A single, centralized HVAC system is an option and sometimes the preferred configuration, but elements must be added into the systems where elements cross fire separations.

simulated photo of a modern duplex, wood siding, brick, zinc roof, sunny summer day

Permit costs are higher for multifamily buildings due to the more complex regulatory requirements and the need for additional inspections. Each unit must meet specific building codes and standards, which involves more detailed and frequent assessments by building inspectors. Additionally, development charges are usually levied on multifamily projects and are separate from permit fees. These costs can quickly add up, making it essential to factor them into the overall budget from the outset.

simulated photo of a modern duplex, wood siding, brick, zinc roof, sunny summer day

Much of my career has entailed documenting and administering the construction of multifamily buildings, so I understand how creating a multiplex can be different from developing a single-family house. My experience has equipped me with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the unique challenges of multiplex construction, ensuring that projects are completed efficiently, cost-effectively, and to the highest standards of quality.

I developed and formalized a pragmatic sequence of pre-design and design that most other architects and designers lack -- my SAPPHR Strategy™. This approach of slowing down the design stage has been proven by teams on many Passive House projects and can be applied to Net Zero construction as well. The SAPPHR Strategy™ ensures that every aspect of the project is meticulously planned and executed, from initial concept through to final completion, reducing the risk of costly delays and errors.

illustration of a document cover

If your project has a sufficiently comprehensive research phase, adequately detailed design development, and thorough documentation, the design and construction processes are simpler and substantially less expensive. This proactive approach minimizes the likelihood of unforeseen issues arising during construction, streamlining the entire process and ensuring that the project stays on time and within budget.

If you assume that the design process will capture all the requirements, you'll nearly always end up with sub-optimal design solutions, delays, changes, and subsequently extra costs and delays. A lack of thorough planning and documentation can result in significant problems during construction, leading to increased costs and extended timelines. By adopting a comprehensive and detailed design approach, these issues can be avoided, resulting in a smoother and more cost-effective construction process.

Embarking on a multifamily building project can be daunting, but with the right strategy, it becomes manageable and rewarding. My approach guides you from initial assessment to final documentation, ensuring a solid foundation by aligning your vision with feasible options and fine-tuning strategies to meet your goals. Detailed design and precise documentation are keys to seamless execution, helping you control costs and mitigate risks. Take the next step to make your multiplex project a reality with a structured, proven approach.

Click on the button below to book your Diagnostic Session - a free, 30-minute consultation. during which I describe how to get your duplex, fourplex, or other multiplex project started on the right foot and not waste your money.



The information included in this article is to an extent generic and intended for educational and informational purposes only; it does not constitute legal or professional advice. Thorough efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of the article, but having read this article, you understand and agree that Daniel Clarke Architect disclaims any legal liability for actions that may arise from reliance on the information provided in this article. I am an architect in BC, but readers are recommended to consult with their own architect on their specific situations before making any decisions or exercising judgement base on information in the article.



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