Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
- If you are buying a newly-built production home, says Bruce Nicol, VP of Tartan Homes, wait at least a year before investing money in the basement. Some settling of a house is inevitable in the first year, and the standard warranty won't cover upgrades if your basement develops problems like water seepage.
- Don't give too much credence to reality television shows that trumpet low-cost upgrades. If you are adding 1,000 square feet to a house, why would you think you could do it for $15,000. For a good basement upgrade integrated with a home's ovearll flow, be prepared to pony up $50 to $60 per square foot.
- To ensure a basement reno is successful, it's not smart to scrimp. Make sure you continue all of the finishings downstairs, using the same carpeting and similar moldings.
- It helps if the ceilings are higher, because the feeling of space is immediate, but paint and lighting can work wonders too. Donna Corey, the owner of Ottawa's KISS Design Group says she has often gone with a dark wall or two because darker colours seem to recede, creating the illusion of more space. Adding wall sconces at a little over six feet so that they will cast light downward can also create the illusion of greater ceiling height.
- Upgrading your basement likely will not yield a financial payback. According to Jennifer Skuce, president and broker at RE/MAX metro-city realty, the return depends on the style and design of the house. Owners of a smaller home, such as a two bedroom, one bathroom bungalow, can expect a far greater return on their investment if they add a third bedroom, den or family room and a second bathroom in the basement because they will have effectively doubled the size of the home. With decent finishes, a 70% return would not be unreasonable. However, the payback is not nearly so lucrative in a larger two or three storey home. In that case, the return is more likely around 25 to 30%.
- Home theatres - with big screens and bigger sound;
- Watering holes - not the 1960's rec-room style bar, but full on pub style bars with pull-taps, granite counters and subtle lighting;
- Wine cellars - temperature controlled with glass doors;
- Full kitchens - reserve the main floor kitchen for show or entertaining (this seems ridiculous to me);
- Playrooms - with play structures and toy storage;
- Games - foozeball, air hockey, pool etc. To this list I would add space to set up an electric train set and a race track;
- Fitness rooms - complete with all your necessary excercise equipment (or you could just go outside);
- Home spas - spa-like bathrooms with steam and body jets (for after all that excercise, or after all that buttery popcorn);
- Concrete floors - if heated. Also in vogue is ceramic tiles and engineered wood;
- Bright colours - accent walls can splash your basement with colour and character.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
In the last week an a half, a lot of progress has been made, starting with waterproofing the foundation.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
So, to ensure that the new house would not settle, the builder had to remove all of the organic soil until they reached undisturbed mineral soil - about 60 cm below the level of the bottom of the footings on the new house. Then, about 160 metric tonnes of engineered fill were dumped in the hole, spread and compacted to create a firm flat surface to build on.
Now the surface is ready to build on and the next step is to pour the concrete footings.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
Friday, October 1, 2010
Uniform is now trying to organize the contractor to demolish the house, and they hope to begin demolition on Monday or Tuesday.
Below are two pictures of the beginning of construction. The first taken earlier this week and the second taken Thursday.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
I was wondering if it is a necessary evil & even more critical to hire an architect before you hire a Contractor to build a couple of major additions on your house (estimated at $100K), and just as importantly, is it the architect who takes your wish list to redo the whole interior with high end, cedar, tresses, stone etc.; or does the contracting company have the structural engineers and designers working for them to do this. When you hired your architect, how much did she charge? Did she have the exact knowledge of the structural supports, readjusting H&V, electrical or is that the Builder? Before you did any of that did you have to make a trip to the municipality to ask what the land regulations were? What did you learn from your process, if you had to do it over.
These are all really good questions and exactly the questions I had when we embarked on our little house renovation/building adventure almost a year ago now.
First, let's deal with whether or not it's critical to hire an architect before hiring a contractor. The short answer is no, it is not absolutely necessary, but chances are you will almost certainly need to have an architect at some point in the process given the size of your renovaton.
In my earlier post Architect, Designer or Design-Build? Lot's of choices for renovating a home I talk about the differences in the qualifications and services provided by architects, designers and design-build companies. Basically, all of the advice that I received boiled down to the fact that if you are doing something really complicated, or if you want to preserve a certain look, then hire an architect first. In any case, if you are adding square footage to your house or your are doing major structural changes, then you will most likely need an architect to sign off on the drawings before you can even submit them to the municipality for a permit.
That said, it does not mean that you must hire an architect before hiring a builder. If you know a builder with a stellar reputation who you have upmost confidence in, and you know exactly what you want, then you could take the cheaper route of hiring an architectural technologist to produce the drawings and then hire an architect just to review and approve the drawings for the permit application. A slightly more expensive route is to hire an architect just to do a design and construction drawings and then take these to several builders to get a quote. The most expensive option is to hire an architect to do the design, produce the construction drawings, run the tendering process and oversee the administration of the builder contract. This last option could cost 15% or more of the overall construction cost in architect fees, but it's a great way to go if you don't feel like going toe-to-toe with a builder because they haven't done their work correctly.
The bottom line is that before you start anything you need to have some sort of drawings or specifications that you can give to a builder to get a quote. The more detailed these specifications are, the more accurate the quote will be. If all you have is a vague, very general description of what you want, then I think you run the risk of a builder either giving you a very high quote in order to cover off many different possibilities, or worse, a very low quote for the most basic of work that will quickly ramp up as you start to specify details. If you really trust the builder, then you could have them design and build it, in which case I think you should pay them produce the design first before you sign a contract with them to build it. In any event, someone is going to have to design the final product and produce the construction drawings, and nobody is going to do that for free. No matter what you do, follow Mike Holmes advice and check lots of references before you hire a builder.
Second, let's deal with whether it's the architect who takes your wish list to redo the whole interior with high end, cedar, tresses, stone etc. or whether it is the contracting company that has the structural engineers and designers working for them to do this.
Architects are certainly capable of doing interior design, as are designers. If you look at the work of Linda Chapman or Chris Simmonds, they do a lot of their own stunning interior design. Again, the benefit of producing a very detailed design first with an architect is that you will then have a specific set of drawings to take to builders to get a quote, which means the quotes you receive will likely be more accurate and more competative. You could also get an architect to design the basic structure of the addition and then have a designer design the interior finishes, but not all architects like to work that way. Finally, a lot of builders do have a good design sense and can put together a pretty nice interior. The only down side is that it is too late to find out that their design sense does not mesh with yours once you have signed the contract with them.
In my research, I certainly heard lots of stories about how architects will design a fabulous house that cannot possibly be built for the budget you provided. Mostly, I heard these stories from design-build companies, so the veracity of the statement is somewhat dubious in my mind. I think that most architects actually have a pretty good idea of how much it costs to build a house and if you give them a budget, they will design a product that fits within that budget. Furthermore, many architects work directly with builders to get more accurate cost estimates. In fact, it is wise to factor in a couple of thousand dollars so that the architect can hire a builder as a consultant to help estimate the costs. In terms of keeping the construction costs down, your biggest enemy is probably yourself. You see a fancy kitchen island or bathtub in a magazine and you tell the architect to add it in and the next thing you know you planned renovation is thousands of dollars over budget.
Third, let's deal with the question of how much an architect costs, whether they have exact knowledge of the structural supports, readjusting H&V, electrical or is that the Builder?
The cost of hiring an architect varies. Some of the more established architects charge a set fee. We interviewed one architect that wanted 15% of the final build cost. The one we settled on cost 10% of the final build cost. Other, mostly younger architects that we interviewed charge a set fee for each service. So, for instance, the initial design drawings might be $5,000. Construction drawings would be$ 5,000 - $10,000. Running the tender process to hire a builder might cost $5000. and so on. The younger architects argued that this was a fairer fee schedule because the amount of work to design and draw a house with cheap fixtures is the same as the amount of work to design a house with expensive fixtures. After all, just because you decide to put in $60,000 worth of exotic wood kitchen cabinets, there is no reason the drawings should now cost $6,000 more. It's a fair point, however, I think for an average quality house the cost will work out about the same whether one hires an architect for a set percentage of the build cost or based on a fee per service. It's when you get into a house with lots of expensive finishing that the price will sky rocket with the former fee schedule. In my blog post Picking an architect for our renovation I talk about some different ways to pick architects and how much they cost.
It's absolutely true that architects will have knowledge of structural components, H&V and electrical, often better knowledge than the builder. For anything really tricky, they may call upon the advice of a structural engineer. In any event, most structural changes to your house must be signed off by an architect or a structural engineer.
Fourth, let's deal with whether we had to make a trip to the municipality to ask what the land regulations were.
Fortunately, I did not need to go to city hall because the City of Ottawa has a pretty good website. However, depending on what you want to do, it's wise to check things out with city hall first. For example, if you wanted to open a B&B, or put in a rental apartment in the basement, your zoning may not allow for that. Similarly, you may not be able to add a floor on to your house because you are already at your zoning's height limit. Before even thinking about doing renovations on our house, I checked out our zoning and the required setbacks to make sure we had enough room to put on an addition. Still, that said, any architect or builder worth their weight in salt should know where to find the relevant regulations and one of the first things they should do before they start to design your renovation is look up the relevant regulations. I talk more about this in my blog post Getting zoning information and old air photos of your property.
Fifth, let's deal with what I have learned from the process so far.
I think going into our renovaton project we vastly underestimated the cost of bringing the home up to the standard we wanted. Part of that was because we came across expensive problems, like the foundation, that there was no way to predict. But part of it was because we really had no idea how much renovations could cost. If I had known from the begining that the cost to renovate would be almost as much as the cost to build new, then I think we would have gone straight to Uniform to begin with and skipped everything with the architect. That said, I loved the process of working with the architect, I felt a good connection with our architect, Linda Chapman, and when I do it again, I will go into the project with a much more realistic budget and the intention of building a new house with an architect.
I would also say that I feel the cost of hiring an architect is worth it, especially for big custom jobs. I had lots of builders tell me it is a waste of money to hire an architect, but I don't think it is. With an architect, you do all the planning up front and end up with a very specific design which can then be taken to a builder for a quote. In turn, the builder's quotes will be accurate and competative, saving you money. Certainly, I did not get the sense through my research that it is any cheaper to go with a build-design company or a designer, at least for big jobs. However, for smaller jobs, where there are no structural changes, then I think a designer would be just fine for the job. It also depends on how confident you are reviewing the work of your builder. If you feel that you have both the time and the technical skill to check the work of your builder on a regular basis, then it may not be worthwhile hiring an architect. But most of us don't have the time or knowledge, which is where hiring the professional expertise of an architect comes in.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
For the floor. we chose a maple floor in natural stain finished on site. We love dark floors but decided against it for a couple of reasons.
- I strongly dislike oak and to do a dark stained floor in maple requires using an engineered wood floor. That's because maple does not accept stain evenly, so there could be a lot of variation in staining and the floor could end up looking terrible. In order to ensure a consistent quality of staining the only option is to use a factory stained engineered wood floor. While I like engineered wood floors, it would have cost about $10,000 more to put in such a floor.
- Walnut was not really an option for us either. While it is easily stained on site, it is much softer than maple. With two little kids in the house, it would not take long for the floor to have dents and grooves all over the place. Sure, you could argue that dents add to the "lived in" look of the house, but I think I'd rather have smooth floors
- Everyone we talked to who has had dark floors at some point in the past agreed that dark floors really show the dirt. Again, with two little kids, there is no shortage of dirt and crumbs constantly on our floors. On our current maple floor, that dirt is barely noticable. That's a look worth keeping.
We also picked a tile for the kitchen, powder room, mudroom and entrance. It's a 12" X 24" light grey tile with slight flecks in it. It has a look of natural stone, but it is also very simple and clean.
We were inspired by several kitchens including the one below:
For our kitchen, we picked a simple flat door stained in chocolate brown and we are pricing a white quartz countertop from cesarstone. The countertop we are looking at is not pure white, but rather white with with some flecks in it so that the crumbs and such don't show up so obviously. The flecks actually have some grey in them to pick up on the floor tile.
In a couple of weeks we will meet again with the designer to pick the upstairs finishes.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Sunday, August 15, 2010
The financing came through last week and, subsequently, we signed the contract with the builder. If all goes well, they could be breaking ground by mid- to late-September.
The next step is to contact the building movers and see if they are still interested in buying the house.
Friday, July 30, 2010
- Aluminum clad wooden frame windows are the most expensive, but also offer the widest range of colours on the outside and have a beautiful wood finish on the inside.
- Coloured vinyl windows are about 20% cheaper than wooden windows, but only come in about 4 colours on the outside and only in white on the inside.
- Plain white vinyl windows are about 30% cheaper than wooden windows and are white on both the inside and outside.
- from an energy efficiency standpoint, there is virtually no difference in the efficiency of wood or vinyl windows
- Marvin Windows also makes a window from a product called Ultrex, which is a fiberglass based product. The exterior of the window frame is made of Ultrex and the interior is made of wood. It costs about the same as coloured vinyl windows, and has a beautiful wood finish on the inside, but is limited to about 4 or 5 colours on the outside. Ultrex also has the advantage of being thermally stable, so the window frame does not expand and shrink as the temperature goes up and down.
- Wood doors look great but are twice the price of steel or fiberglass doors, primarily because the locking mechanism is more complicated (wood doors typically lock at three points to prevent door from warping, whereas steel and fiberglass door locks are simpler, locking at one point).
- Fiberglass doors now come in a range of faux wood finishes, some of which are remarkably realistic. Fiberglass doors also do not dent like steel doors can, but steel doors are stronger.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
In the image below, this crack was directly beneath a window. The wall did not have enough strength to hold back the force of the ground on the other side. To fix it would have required pulling out the window and pouring a new concrete sill heavily reinforced with steel, which would prevent the wall from buckling in. The cost was estimated to be as high as $5000.
In the two images below, a large crack (about 1" wide) can be seen running down the wall from the ceiling to the floor. Amazingly, the basement window is also bent, but the glass is not broken.
It was interesting to hear from our builder some of the history of these types of cinder-block foundations. Apparently, when these houses were built in the '50s, poured concrete foundations were available, but were more expensive and required a trained crew. A builder could save some money by using cinder blocks because the blocks were cheaper than the equivalent volume of poured concrete and the builder's own workment could usually do the job.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Almost three weeks ago we got a draft contract from the builder along with some drawings and technical specifications. We submitted these to the bank for review so that they could finally do the building loan.
Since then, it has been a painfully slow and unnecessary wait for a bank that has a funny interpretation of customer service (not to name names, but it's a national chain that hails from the province with the name New Scotland)
When I submitted the documents, I asked if there were any other documents I needed to submit. "Oh no," said the Bank, "we have everything." One week later I asked for a status update. "we need a letter of employment" was the curt reply". Within one business day I sent off the letter of employment and asked if they had completed the appraisal of the land. After two days with no response, and almost two weeks after submitting the necessary paperwork, I was on the phone to the bank manager seeking some answers. The bank manager agreed they may have dropped the ball, but then said the delay in ordering the appraisal was because they were waiting for documents from me! huh? This week, I finally met the appraiser at the house. Hopfully, by this Friday (three weeks after I submitted the paperwork) we may actually have a loan.
Once we have a loan in place, we can sign the contract with the builder and away we go.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
- Large two-story home has four bedrooms and a generous front proch. A home with an open family dining and kitchen area overlooking the rear yard
- the two-car garage has direct access to the muc room and powder room with an opening window
- the standard plan features a private quite space retreat off the front entry alonw with a home offic/den (in reality, we will probably use the front "quiet space" room as an office and the middle room as a TV/toy room.)
- an oversized great room includes a fireplace and is open to the second floor
- A large master retreat occupies one end of the secon floor. It features a vaulted ceiling, two large his/hers closets and a five-piece master bath with double sinks
- An oversized laundry facility comes complete with a large linen closet
- Three generous bedrooms have easy access to a common bathroom
What are we missing in this design that we would have had in the house designed by Linda Chapman?
- No mudroom off the front door so I can already imagine how messy it will be
- no walk-out basement
- less interesting architecturally
- the vision of the whole land and how the house integrates into it is not as strong as with Linda's house.
Otherwise, though, this house has all of the features we wanted and with a decent landscaping budget we can integrate the back garden into the home more effectively.