Tag Archives: house renovation

To Buy or to Build?

For the past ten months my fiancé and I have been submerged in the housing market. The frustration, disappointment, excitement, and prices have all been a little overwhelming and I thought I would share my experience.

As a first time home buyer the process of buying a home is a little confusing and as the largest purchase I have ever made, I wanted to be sure we picked the right one. We saved up our downpayment and with our realtor went shopping. In our price range we found very little that met our expectations, most homes needed major renovations, which we wouldn’t have the money for after buying the house. So we decided to increase our budget a little, sadly we where met with the same situation. We knew we would have to do some work to make the home our own, but we were met with homes that needed total renovations, needing some combination of a new kitchen, walls removed, new floors and bathroom guts. Any large renovations were not something we were willing to under take with our up coming wedding, and our housing budget maxed on the cost of the home.

After viewing countless homes in many different neighbourhoods a family member suggested we look at a new build in a brand new subdivision. I was sceptical, I hate subdivisions, on the outskirts of town, so disconnected, nothing within walking distance, all the houses look the same, little or no parks or public spaces, and the homes themselves are not very architecturally pleasing. Despite my objections my fiancé convinced me to keep an open mind.

We visited the sales centre, and yes the street and the exterior of the homes lacked character, but the interior was beautiful, a far cry from the homes we saw with our realtor and on MLS the past seven months. We were shown all the finishing choices and floor plans we could select, we could completely design our home for a price less than our original budget. It was exciting, but I had to take a step back and think about if I could live in an isolated subdivision, turns out for the price, I was willing to give it a shot. After reviewing all the possible floor plans we selected the best option for us and put down our deposit. We bought in during the pre-build phase which meant we where able to make some changes to the floor plan at a very reasonable cost. We where told we could move in on December 11, “Home for the holidays” is what they told us.

Then the set backs came, pushing our closing date back four months. We where renting at the time and could not sign another years lease, we had to move to another residence where we could live month to month. We were very disappointed we would not be “Home for the holidays”, but glad we where not forced into another years lease, even if it meant moving. Then after a few more months of waiting we were contacted by the builder to start making our finishing selections, we were met with disappointment again. Turns out most of the finishes we were told in the sales centre were standard, were not, and we would have to pay extra for these “upgrades”. This gets expensive, we were given one to eight standard options and the rest were upgrades. So, we  mixed  in some upgraded options on things that could not easily be changed or would make for better resale value.

We are still in the process of building and I often think if we would have bought an existing home we would be living there already, slowly making changes to suit our taste. Then I remember the houses we viewed and the amount of renovations they needed to be comfortable. Even with all the set backs I feel we made the right decision for our first home, we just have to remember to keep the upgrades to a minimum. I will keep you posted on the process as we move forward. 

Guest Author: Trena Tataryn

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A Greener, Cheaper Home

IMG_8272With utility costs, pollution, and water consumption on the continuous rise, the task to improve the environment and lower utilities costs is often on the minds of many homeowners. While a net zero home may not be an option for everyone, there are some simple improvements and upgrades you can make to achieve a greener, cheaper home at any price point.

Rainwater Barrel

Rainwater Barrel

Rainwater Barrels – Collect free water using a rainwater barrel. At an average cost of $100, a barrel will pay for itself in 5 years, saving you about $20 a year on your water and sewer costs, depending on the size you select. Rainwater has many uses including, plant and grass watering, car and window cleaning, and all sorts of other outdoor jobs and cleanups. Many municipalities offer rainwater barrels at a discounted price during certain times of the year, so keep an eye out.

Low-Flow Toilets – In an average home more than 30% of the water consumption is literally flushed down the toilet. Today’s more modern, low-flow toilets use less than 5L of water per flush, while their older counterparts need 13L per flush on average, using unnecessary water while hiking up your bill. A good low-flow toilet will run you about $250, but will save you $100 per year on your water bill, making the investment well worth while, returning your investment in 2.5 years.

Low-flow Faucets and Shower Heads – Easily cut bathing water consumption by 50 to 70% by switching out shower heads and sink faucets. A low-flow shower head or faucet rang in price from $60 to $300 depending on make and style. By upgrading these fixtures throughout your house you will see a noticeable decrease in your bill.

Programable Thermostat – Having better control of your indoor temperature can save you a lot a cash. With the average family home saving $150 per year by decreasing/increasing the temperature at night and during the day (when no one is home). A good programable thermostat will cost roughly $75 – $150. They are easy to install and can allow you to program the temperature several times throughout the day, 7 days a week. Returning the initial investment usually within one year or less.

Energy Star Logo

Energy Star Logo

Energy Star Appliance – With appliances efficiency is key. High efficiency products help reduce greenhouse gases and lower you energy bill. There is a lot of information on Energy Star products, so do a little research before heading to the store. Be sure to purchase products with the Energy Star logo (the international symbol for energy efficiency. Here are the best rated Energy Star appliances of 2013.

http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/residential/personal/energystar/1868

Power Strip/Bar with Switch – For about $7 -$15 you can pick up a power bar with an on/off switch, allowing you to plug in any number of items. By turning the power bar off you cut down on stand by power or “vampier power”. Stand by power accounts for 5 – 10% of electrical use in a typical residential home, as many electronics continue to use energy even when the devices is turned “off”. For more information on reducing stand by power visit:  http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/equipment/manufacturers/17201

Residential Solar Roof

Residential Solar Roof

Solar Energy Systems – Yes, the initial cost of solar is hefty, anywhere from $10,000 to $45,000 for the solar panels, system, installation and connection to your local grid, depending on the size of your home and energy needs. This investment can be offset by a monthly cheque from your local hydro company by participating in the Ontario microFIT-income program. http://microfit.powerauthority.on.ca/about-microfit This programs allows hydro companies to buy clean renewable energy from home owners with excess kilowatt hours (kWh). Homeowner’s with a rooftop solar system will receive a cost per kWh for every kWh that is sold to the grid. By participating in this program the system will paying for itself in an estimated 9 to 10 years, not too bad considering you will be producing your home with your own clean renewable energy as well. 

Whether you plan for a complete home renovation or just some simple around the house improvements, incoporating a few of these features into any project will create a cheaper home. With that you can feel good about helping to improve our environment with your greener home. 

Our House Reno has Turned Purple

Spray Insulation to Seal the top of the Foundation Wall

Our house renovation is coming along, albeit more slowly than we’d hoped. We’ve had such a busy August and September with our clients’ projects, we’ve hardly had time to attend to our own: our ongoing house renewal and renovation.

After stripping the house to its bare essentials (structure really, and not much else) we’ve spent the summer reframing and altering the building to its new configuration. Then came the windows, the plumbing and electrical rough-ins, now substantially done. So now we head into insulating and vapour barriers.

That’s why whole parts of the house are now grape purple.

This post is about the decisions we’ve made regarding sealing and insulating the house. There’s a whole variety of issues and interrelated aspects to that, so I’ll try to set them out.

First of all, we’ve got the climate to assess. Kitchener swings from over 30 degrees celsius in the height of summer to the occasional -20 winter day, with a fairly long winter heating season. The bill for heating the house is going to depend a lot on what we do under its steeply pitched roof, and how we handle sealing up the house.

One of our big design decisions was to use as much space in the small house as possible, as wisely as possible. That meant finishing the basement with some amenity, and turning the steep pitched roof areas of the second floor into a rear addition and a front set of closets and storage. that meant basement insulation and finishing, and lots of cathedral ceiling. Both situations mean careful attention to sealing and insulating are a necessity.

Insulated Exterior Sheathing with Reflective Skin

In order to ensure fuller and complete insulation, and to meet wall insulating standards while using the existing 2 by 4 walls, we removed all the old siding (both the aluminum and the older wood siding) and have sheathed the entire outside of the walls with 3/4 of an inch of isocyanurate sheathing board. We’ve taped all the joints (that’s that red tape in the photos) to create an air barrier, and we’ll be sealing any holes in this first layer of insulation (around windows and doors, for instance)  to create a good start to our envelope.

Energy gains and losses in buildings work on the basis of radiation (direct rays of radiation from hotter masses to colder masses), convection (air movement conveying the energy) and conduction (the slow, or not so slow, passage of heat along a path from hot to cold).

The reflective silvered skins on our exterior layer of insulating sheathing help to reflect radiation back onto its source. It keeps the hot surfaces and cold surfaces apart, so that’s how we help close the radiation path.

Then, we seal the building as best we can, using a combination of spray insulation and plastic vapour barrier. That’s critical, because our house is much like a hot air balloon. Since hot air rises, the winter months create a situation where the top of the house is pressurized relative to the colder exterior environment. If we allow air to escape from this envelope at the top, and enter in the basement at the bottom, we create a conveyor of energy from inside to out. That’s how old leaky houses work (and new, poorly built ones). Worse still, that warm air contains more water vapour. When the air escapes the house envelope, it cools. With the change in temperature, it has to condense some of that vapour into water (because cooler air can’t hold as much moisture). This leads to ice buildup in the upper walls and roof assemblies. That leads to damage, and even worse thermal performance. Its not a good situation.

So the vapour and air barriers are key, and that’s one of the reasons why we decided to turn the house purple.

Spray Insulation to the Rafter Areas

Well, not really purple. It’s just that the spray urethane insulation we’ve had applied comes in that colour (at lease the BASF product does). Because we’ve got so much cathedral ceiling to apply to existing rafters, the choice of spray insulation, with its complete seal and high insulating value, was a relatively easy one. It’s more expensive than traditional fibreglas batt and plastic vapour barrier, but we can get the insulating value we need in only 5 inches or so (at R-7 per inch) rather than the 10 inches that would be needed with batts. That means more space in our second floor for living.

Before spraying the underside of our roof, we install continuous vent forms between the rafters. These connect the eaves and the ridge attic, allowing air to flow just under the shingles (but outside the insulated and sealed envelope). This keeps the shingles cooler in summer, to protect against shingle curl.

Once the decision was made to spray (and in fact part of that assessment) we got a great bonus. We were able to spray the top of the foundation wall and ground floor framing, and the second floor intersection, to stop air transfer at the house perimeter. With positive pressure to the top of the house (from that hot air rises thing) comes negative pressure in the basement. To stop the ingress of air from that negative pressure, spray insulation is a great choice. For older houses, even better.

So we’re in the middle of the insulating exercise, but well on our way to a well-sealed, well-insulated envelope that will pay big dividends down the road. More comfort, and lower utility bills. A bit of trouble and expense, but really it’s a win-win.