Georgie Awards Winner Logo 2021Havan Awards Logo 2021
Real Estate Investment

Peat Bogs: Vancouver’s Soggy Underbelly

Lumpy roads, uneven fences, and lopsided houses - these are all signs that you are in one of Vancouver’s Peat Bog areas.  What many people don’t know is that parts of Vancouver used to be swampland, and in order for the city to grow these areas were drained to create what seemed to resemble solid ground. Early Vancouverites began to build streets, houses, and infrastructure on top of drained bogs, not realizing that the land underneath was still unstable.  This poses a conundrum for homebuyers, as the home you are potentially looking to purchase could have been improperly built on the peat, or if building a new house your new home may need to undergo special construction procedures.  

Where Are Vancouver's Peat Bogs?

Back in the day, Vancouver had many streams and rivers running through the city. If you take a look at this map, you can see the many historical rivers and streams that once flowed through the Lower Mainland. It is hard to imagine that Broadway once had multiple streams running through it!

Vancouver's Old Streams
Higher Res Version

All this water led to Vancouver being comprised of a lot of swamps and marshland, contributing to the formation of many peat bogs. To accommodate the growing city, these areas were drained to what seemed like solid ground. However, unbeknownst to people at the time, Vancouver's peat bogs remained.The map below shows the approximate locations of peat bogs throughout Vancouver, represented by the dark green colouring.

Vancouver's Peat Bogs
Source: Legacy VanMap

How To Access the Vancouver's Peat Bog Map

  1. Go to the Legacy VanMap
  2. In the map legend on the left-hand side, expand the "Districts and Areas" list
  3. Select "Peat Areas"
  4. Make sure both "Districts and Areas" and "Peat Areas" have a green checkmark next to them

What is a Peat Bog?

Peat bogs are wetlands comprised of slowly decomposing organic matter that has built up over thousands of years. On the Vancouver Real Estate Podcast, Jeff Langford of JDL Homes compares peat to a sponge full of water. Explaining that when peat dries out it contracts, and when filled with water it expands. Consequently, this phenomenon is causing structures that were improperly built on peat to shift with the land, contributing to their lopsided characteristics.  

How Does Peat Effect Home Value?

Generally, if a home is located one of Vancouver's peat bogs that will have a negative effect on its value. This is because the quality of the land is not considered to be as ‘good’ or useable as one not on peat. Building a home on peat can come with extra costs and hurdles, and a high proportion of older homes (many pre-1960's) were improperly built on unstable land.

Don’t Let This Deter You - Buying a Home on Peat Can Be a Great Opportunity.

Looking at the map, some of Vancouver’s most vibrant and desirable neighborhoods are located either near or on peat bogs. This poses an opportunity for homebuyers to get a fabulous home location at a discount. As a long-term investment, you could still very well be getting a good return down the road. Sought-after areas like Kerrisdale, Arbutus, Trout Lake, Mount Pleasant, and Hastings-Sunrise are all home to peat bogs, it just depends on your personal preferences and priorities.  

Keep in Mind This Discount Can Come at a Cost  

Found your dream home in your dream location – and it seems like a bargain? Check the map, that lot may be located on one of Vancouver's peat bogs. The reason peat bog properties are discounted compared to their similar non-peat counterparts is due to the extra risk and financial implications associated with them.  

When Considering a Vancouver Peat Bog Property, There Are a Few Things To Keep in Mind:  

#1: Building on Peat

It is possible to build a structurally sound building on peat, but you may need to secure it into solid, bearing soil. There are two main ways to do that:

  1. Dig Out the Peat
  2. The first option is to dig out the peat until you find solid-bearing soil and then build your home on top of that. Although in theory the simplest, the risk is that if your house is on peat, it is likely that your neighbors are as well. Therefore, if you start digging and draining the water you may cause a neighboring house to sink and compromise the structure of their home.  
  3. Use Helical Piles
  4. The second option is to use helical piles. Helical piles are basically giant screws that are drilled into the ground until bearing soil is found. To hold the weight of your house, a grid of helical piles is designed by a geotechnical engineer for which usually a slab-on-grade foundation is laid on top of. This is considered the safest way to secure the structure as this approach is not as likely to disturb your neighbor's property as digging out the peat.  [caption id="attachment_4616" align="aligncenter" width="1591"]
New Construction helical Piers Florida
  1. Source[/caption]Building a house on peat is a project that can involve many specialists and engineers to ensure your home is stable, up to code, and safe. It also may require extra materials and resources. As such, these added steps and procedures can add quite a bit to the bottom line.  The building cost is very site specific, so it is important to do as much due diligence as possible before taking the plunge.

#2: Peat Can Be Inconsistent

Depending on where you are on the bog, it can also vastly vary in depths. It is possible to be on the edge of a bog, where the front of the house is on bearing soil yet the back is on a few feet of peat. Generally, the deeper the bog the more expensive and complicated the build, as helical piles are usually charged by the foot. They are also unpredictable. Because peat bogs consist of decomposing organic matter, they never stop breaking down. As such, they are forever shifting and moving.

#3: Mitigating Your Risk

Don’t go in blind. Before making the huge financial, emotional, and time commitment to a Vancouver peat bog property make sure you do your research with professionals and know what you are getting yourself into. Working with a knowledgeable and trusted realtor who can help guide you through the buying process is key. In addition to an experienced realtor, getting in touch with construction and engineering specialists before signing the deal could be a good idea too. Bottom line: Work with a trusted realtor and do your research (always!) when buying your home.  

How Do I Know if I Am Purchasing a Property on Peat?

Your realtor can help advise you if the home you are interested in purchasing is located on peat. At Icon Marketing, our realtors will work with you to get as much information as possible through your home buying process.

Did You Know That Shaughnessy is Surrounded By Bogland?  

Studying Vancouver's peat bog map can give us some insight into how our predecessors may have been strategizing when they planned the city.  Shaughnessy was born from the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1900s. At the time, the CPR was the time was the largest real estate developer in Canada and had acquired the Shaugnessy land in exchange for developing what is now Downtown Vancouver. The CPR’s intention was the make Shaughnessy an upscale residential district of Vancouver and an alternative to the West End, which had up until that point been home to Vancouver’s upper class. The area was equipped with services and infrastructure that much of Vancouver didn’t have at the time like streets, sidewalks, and electrical, sewer, and water lines.  The original subdivision was to stretch from West 16th Avenue to King Edward and from East Boulevard to Oak Street, but over the years was extended south to 41st. If you look on the bog map, you can see that this exclusive area was directly nestled between two large bogs, to the west of East Boulevard and east of Oak.  A coincidence? Maybe. We are merely speculating – but think we could be onto something.

Vancouver's Peat Bogs
Notice how directly adjacent to both Arbutus and Oak street are two peat bogs?

Neighborhood Spotlight: Get To Know the Camosun Bog  

From the map, you can see that bogs previously made up a great deal of Vancouver’s visible landscape. Yet, the only bog that remains in a way that somewhat resembles its original form is the Camosun Bog in Pacific Spirit Park. Visit the Camosun Bog to learn about what much of Vancouver was built upon and the history of the area. The once large Camosun Bog acted as a source of food, medicines, raw materials, and trade commodities for the Musqueam people who originally lived in the area.  Nearly lost due to damaging human activity, since 1995 the Camosun Bog has undergone restoration work to reverse the damage. A boardwalk has been built around the bog so the public can walk around, enjoy, and learn about the space. It is the perfect place to go any day of the week to get some fresh air and enjoy the amazing natural environment we are surrounded by.

Vancouver's Peat Bogs
Vancouver's Peat Bogs

The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be taken as expert opinion or professional advice.  Opinions given are lay opinions only and do not constitute professional advice.  Please consult with an expert in the field(s) discussed prior to making any financial decisions.  All rights reserved.