Saturday, August 6, 2011

Powers House - Classic Prairie Style in West Centre Town Ottawa

Previously, I have written about E.P Connors House, the work of Ottawa architect Francis Conroy Sullivan in the early 1900's.  Sullivan was strongly influenced by the Prairie school and worked for several years with Frank Lloyd Wright, the best know architect of the prairie school movement.

Another example of Sullivan's work in the prairie style is Powers House - at the corner of James St. and Bay St. in Ottawa.  To quote from the Heritage plaque mounted on the building:

Originally built circa 1887 for businessman Patrick J. Powers, this house was transformed in 1915 by prominent local architect Francis C. Sullivan.  Sullivan created a Canadian version of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright's distinctive prairie style in the period before the first world war.  This house is distinguished by its wide eaves, horizontal wood bands, stucco finish and distinctive detailing.

I would have loved to have seen the inside of this house back in 1915. Wright was famous for also dedicating time to designing the inside of his houses too - even the furniture.  I am not sure if Sullivan had a similar tendency.  Today, however, it looks like this house has been divided up into three or four separate units, so I fear that if Sullivan did do any interior design, it may well be lost now.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The federal GST rebate for renovations and new houses - Election issue

Since we are in the midst of an election, and since I live in a riding where there seems to be no shortage of homes being renovated or replaced, I thought it would be timely to repost an article that I wrote last year about the federal GST refund program for new or renovated homes (or lack thereof).  It would be nice if this program could be amended to better reflect the cost of homes now.


If you substantially renovate your home or build a new one you may be eligible to receive a rebate of up to 36% of the GST you paid on goods and services to undertake the renovation.

Don't get too excited, however. There are conditions in place that effectively ensure most Ottawa home owners will be unable to claim this rebate.

First of all, you must substantially renovate your house. That means you must remove or replace at least 90% of the habitable interior. Basically, you would have to be undertaking a complete gut of the house, replacing all of the walls, electrical, plumbing and HVAC to qualify. You do not need to remove or replace foundation, roof or exterior walls to qualify, but if you do, they can count toward the 90%. Unfinished basements do not count as part of the habitable area for the purposes of calculating the percentage substantially renovated. If you basically tear down the existing house and build a new one, then you will also be eligible.

Second, the fair-market value of the house, which includes both the substantially renovated building and the land, must be less than $350,000 to receive a full rebate (i.e. 36% of the GST you paid). It's the fair-market value that is important here, not the cost of construction. If the fair-market value of the house exceeds $450,000 then you are not entitled to any rebate at all. And, if the value lies between $350,000 and $450,000 there is a formula to calculate the proportion of the rebate you are eligible for, which decreases to zero as the fair-market value approaches $450,000.

Unfortunately, the majority of Ottawa residents will never be able to qualify for the full rebate, if indeed they qualify for any rebate at all. You see, by the end of March 2010, the average price for a residential property in Ottawa (not including condominiums) was $354,698. With some exceptions, such as on the outskirts of Ottawa, it is hard to imagine the fair-market value of any substantially renovated or rebuilt house in Ottawa being less than $350,000.

If you are a condo owner, you might have better luck. The average price of a condominium in Ottawa in March 2010 was $240,409. That gives you some room, particularly if your condo is less than 1000 square feet. With average renovation costs running at about $100 per square foot, you could renovate 900 square feet of a 1000 square foot condo for about $90,000. If the pre-renovation value was $240,000, the completed fair-market value might still be below $350,000, entitling you to a full rebate (note that a full rebate is still only 36% of the GST paid).

Unfortunately, if you are reading this blog post from any other major centre in Canada, except Montreal, you have even less chance of qualifying for a rebate. That's because the average residential house price is higher in those centres - up to $800,341 in Vancouver, $471,269 in Calgary and $434,696 in Toronto. Residents of these cities have almost no chance of qualifying for any GST rebate.

To find out more about the rebate program (or lack thereof), check out Substantial Renovations and the GST/HST New Housing Rebate Guide.

Friday, April 8, 2011


This week we had a pre-delivery inspection of the house.  It looks fantastic.  Everything is pretty much finished now with the exception of a few small things like vent covers, the backsplash in the kitchen, and some exterior painting.  The landscaping will also have to wait until the weather warms up.  We take possession in two weeks.  Very exciting.


ensuite shower

Kid's bathroom

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Exterior cladding, floors and painting finished

Here are some new photos of the house.  The exterior cladding is almost complete.  All of the brick, the siding and most of the cedar shakes are in place now.  Inside, the floors have been put in, the painting has been completed and most of the fixtures are in place.

The birth of American Modernism

In January, I was in Manhattan where I stumbled across the house of American modernist architect William Lescaze.  Lescaze is one of the pioneers of modernism in America and was clearly a man well ahead of his time.  He designed and built this home in 1933.  It must have seemed completely out of place in the 30s when he built it, but today it looks very contemporary. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Electricity connected

Yesterday they connected the electricity and the bricklayers started working. Today they also turned on the water to test the plumbing for any leaks.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Electrical, plumbing and HVAC complete

Wow, I can't believe it's been almost a month since the last post about the house.

As you can see, we now have a proper roof, doors and windows. Actually, the doors and windows came at the end of November and the roofing started at that time too. But then we were hit with a huge freezing rain storm and the roofers were unable to finish the job for a week or so until the ice melted. Then, it rained cats and dogs, and water poured into the house through the unfinished parts of the roof. Fortunately, it does not appear that there was much pooling of water on the floors because the OSB floors do not appear to have swelled anywhere, which they can do when water is left standing on them.

During this period I did a lot of research on OSB, and it turns out that the OSB they use in Canada for construction is coated with a wax or resin to make it water resistant for just such unfortunate events as a week of rain. The real danger point is where the OSB has been cut with a saw. The resin in the OSB can easily absorb water along the cut edges of the boards because at these points the water resistant coating has been cut away.

We did an inspection of the house last Friday and I did not notice any swollen parts of the floor, which is great. If if had swelled, the builder would have sanded it down to keep the floor level for the floor installation.

Once the week of bad weather passed, the builder was back on the job finishing the roof and installing the plumbing, electrical and HVAC as well as pouring the concrete floor in the basement and the garage. The furnace has been installed, along with the humidifier, and soon the Heat Recovery Ventilation Unit and tankless hot water heater will be installed. By next week they hope to have the house fully insulated and connected to the electricity grid so that they can start heating the house. Right now, they are heating the basement with propane heaters.

The concrete has also been poured for the front porch and the brick has arrived for the exterior cladding. Likely the bricklayers will be on site next week.

So, all in all things are moving along very quickly. I expect they should start drywalling in the new year.