Guide to Rural Living

There are many issues that can affect your property, such as road access, utility services, property issues, land and environment, and agricultural issues. It is important to research these items before purchasing land.

It is important for you to know that life in the country is different from life in the city. County governments are not able to provide the same level of service that city governments provide. To that end, we are providing you with the following information to help you make an educated and informed decision to purchase rural land.

  • Road and Property Access

    The fact that you can drive to your property does not necessarily guarantee that you, your guests and emergency service vehicles can achieve that same level of access at all times. Please consider:

    • Emergency response times (RCMP, fire suppression, medical care, etc.) cannot be guaranteed. Under some extreme conditions, you may find that emergency response is slow and/or costly.
    • There can be problems with the legal aspects of access, especially if you gain access across property belonging to others. It is wise to obtain legal advice and understand the easements that may be necessary when these types of questions arise, and remember that easements are not legal access for the purpose of subdivision and development approval.
    • You can experience problems with the maintenance and cost of maintenance of your road. Yellowhead County maintains 2063 kilometers of roads, but there are also some county roads that are not maintained by the county – no grading or snow plowing. Make sure you know what type of maintenance to expect and who will provide that maintenance.
    • Extreme weather conditions can impact roads. You may want to determine whether your road was properly engineered and constructed.
    • Many large construction vehicles cannot navigate small, narrow roads. If you plan to build, it is a good idea to check out construction access.
    • School buses travel only on maintained county roads that have been designated as school bus routes by the school district. You may need to drive your children to the nearest county road so they can get to school.
    • In extreme weather, even county maintained roads can become difficult to travel or even impassable. You may need a four wheel drive vehicle to travel during these times.
    • Yellowhead County will repair and maintain county roads; however, internal roads and driveways are the responsibility of the landowners who use those roads. Determine if you will be responsible for your road before purchasing a property.
    • Residents served by private roads and/or bridges may be responsible for the cost of repairs and/or reconstruction after floods.
    • Unpaved roads generate dust. When traffic reaches specific levels, Yellowhead County treats some roads to suppress the dust, but dust is still part of life for most rural residents.
    • If your road is unpaved, it is unlikely that Yellowhead County will pave it in the foreseeable future.
    • Mail delivery is not available to all areas of the county. Ask Canada Post to explain the system for your area.
    • Newspaper delivery is not always available to rural areas. Check with the newspaper of your choice before assuming you can get delivery.
    • Standard parcel and overnight package delivery can be a problem for those who live in rural areas. Confirm with the service providers as to your status.
    • It may be more expensive and time consuming to build a rural residence due to delivery fees and the time required for inspectors to reach your site.
  • Utility Services

    Water, sewer, electric, telephone and other services may be unavailable or may not operate at urban standards. Repairs can often take much longer than in towns and cities. Please review your options from the non-exhaustive list below.

    • Telephone communications can be a problem, especially in the mountainous areas of Yellowhead County. Cellular phones will not work in all areas.
    • If sewer service is available to your property, it may be costly to hook into the system. If you have on-site sewage disposal, it is important to look into the cost of maintaining that system.
    • If sewer service is not available, you will need to use an approved septic system or other treatment process. The type of soil you have available for a leach field will be very important in determining the cost and function of your system. Check the Alberta Private Sewage Systems Standards of Practice for guidelines.
    • If you have access to a supply of treated domestic water, you may find that your monthly cost of service can be more expensive than municipal systems.
    • In most cases you do not have access to a supply of treated domestic water and you will have to locate an alternative supply. The most common method is use of a water well. There is a cost for drilling and pumping. The quality and quantity of well water can vary considerably from location to location and from season to season. It is advised that you look into this issue for your property very carefully, through Alberta Environment.
    • Not all wells can be used for irrigation of landscaping and/or watering livestock. Licenses from Alberta Environment may be required. If you have needs other than for your household, make certain that you have the proper approvals before you invest. It is advised that you look into this issue very carefully, through Alberta Environment.
    • Electric service is generally available to most areas of Yellowhead County, but it is important to determine the proximity of electrical power. It can be expensive to extend power lines to remote areas.
    • It may be necessary to cross property owned by others in order to extend electric service to your property in the most cost efficient manner. It is important to make sure that the proper easements are in place to allow lines to be built to your property.
    • Electric power may not be available in all configurations. If you have special power requirements, it is important to know what level of service can be provided to your property.
    • If you are purchasing land with the plan to build at a future date, there is a possibility that electric lines (and other utilities) may not be large enough to accommodate you if others connect during the time you wait to build. Make sure you enquire as to the potential future of the area with this in mind.
    • Power outages can occur in outlying areas. A loss of electric power can interrupt your supply of water from a well. You may also lose food in freezers or refrigerators and power outages can cause problems with computers as well. It is a good idea to be able to survive for up to a week in the cold with no utilities if you live in the country.
    • Household waste removal can be more expensive in a rural area than in a city. In some cases, your trash dumpster may be several kilometres from your home. It is illegal to create your own trash dump, even on your own land. It is good to know the cost for trash removal as you make the decision to move into the country. In some cases, your only option may be to haul your garbage and recyclables to the landfill and transfer station yourself.
  • The Property

    There are many issues that can affect your property. It is important to research these items before purchasing land.

    • Not all lots can be built on. You must check with the Yellowhead County Planning Department to confirm that a piece of land can be built on.
    • Easements may require you to allow construction and maintenance of roads, power lines, water lines, sewer lines, etc. across your land. There may be easements that are not on record. Check these issues carefully.
    • Many property owners do not own the mineral rights under their property. Owners of mineral rights have the ability to change the surface characteristics in order to extract their minerals. It is very important to know what minerals may be located under the land and who owns them. Much of the rural land in Yellowhead County can be used for mining. Be aware that adjacent mining uses can expand and cause negative impacts on property and quality of life.
    • Fences that separate properties are often misaligned with the property lines. You can confirm the location of your property lines through survey of the land.
    • Many subdivisions and planned unit developments have covenants that limit the use of the property. It is important to obtain a copy of the covenants (or confirm that there are none) and make sure that you can live with those rules.
    • The surrounding properties will probably not remain as they are indefinitely. You can check with the Yellowhead County Planning Department to find out how the properties are designated and to see what future developments may be in the planning stages. The view from your property may change.
  • Mother Nature

    Residents of the country can experience problems when the elements and earth turn unfriendly. Here are some thoughts for you to consider.

    • The physical characteristics of your property can be positive and negative. Trees are a wonderful environmental amenity, but can also involve your home in a forest fire. If you start a forest fire, you are responsible for paying for the cost of extinguishing that fire.
    • Steep slopes can slide in unusually wet weather. Large rocks can also roll down steep slopes and present a great danger to people and property.
    • Expansive soils, such as Bentonite Clay, can buckle concrete foundations and twist steel I-beams. You can find out the soil conditions on your property if you have a soil test performed.
    • The topography of the land can tell you where the water will go in the case of heavy precipitation. Take this into consideration when you decide where to build,
    • Nature can provide you with some wonderful neighbors. Most, such as deer, are positive additions to the environment. However, even “harmless” animals like deer can cross the road unexpectedly and cause traffic accidents. Rural development encroaches on the traditional habitat of coyotes, cougars, bears and other animals that can be dangerous and you need to know how to deal with them. In general, it is best to enjoy wildlife from a distance and know that if you do not handle your pets and trash properly, it could cause problems for you and the wildlife.
  • Agriculture

    Owning rural land means knowing how to care for it and how your neighbours use it. There are a few things you need to know:

    • Farmers often work around the clock, especially during planting and harvest time. Hay is often swathed or baled at night. It is possible that adjoining agricultural uses could disturb your peace and quiet.
    • Land preparation and other operations can cause dust, especially during windy and dry weather.
    • Chemicals (mainly fertilizers and herbicides) are often used in growing crops. You may be sensitive to these substances.
    • Animals and their manure can cause objectionable odors.
    • Agriculture is an important business in Yellowhead County. If you choose to live among the farms and ranches of our rural countryside, do not expect county government to intervene in the normal day-to-day operations of your agri-business neighbors. In fact, Alberta has “Right to Farm” legislation that protects farmers and ranchers from nuisance and liability lawsuits. It enables them to continue producing food and fiber.
    • Before buying land you should know if it has noxious weeds that may be expensive to control and you may be required to control. Some plants are poisonous to horses and other livestock.
    • Animals can be dangerous. Children should know that it is not safe to enter pens where animals are kept.
    • Dogs harassing livestock are detrimental to the livestock’s health. You are responsible to keep your animals/pets on your property or under your direct control.
    • Livestock will eat loose garbage which can harm them. Keep your garbage enclosed and on your own property.

Even though you pay property taxes to the county, the amount of tax collected may not cover the cost of the services provided to rural residents. We are all fortunate to share in services that are funded in no small part, by the taxes paid by industry.

This information is by no means exhaustive. There are other issues that you may encounter that we may have overlooked and we encourage you to explore and examine those things that could cause your move to be less than you expect.

We have offered these comments in the sincere hope that it can help you enjoy your decision to reside in the country. It is not our intent to dissuade you, only inform you.