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.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Avoid finishing your basement for a year after it is built

Today's Ottawa Citizen ran several interesting stories in its Homes section on renovating basements.

As I have remarked before, basements in older homes were often not designed for daily living. That was certainly the case in the home that previously occupied our lot. Even though the basement had been finished, there was no waterproofing around the basement walls, beams and ductwork were hung at only six feet above the floor, and the stairway to the basement was hidden away in the back of the kitchen - hardly making it feel like part of the main living space.

The stories in today's Citizen note the trend toward taller basement walls, fully waterproofed and insulated walls and integrating the basement space into the main living space. Here are some tips the stories offer:
  • 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%.
Finally, what's hot in the home's coolest area? According to the Citizen, here's what the pros consider to be the top 10 must haves:
  1. Home theatres - with big screens and bigger sound;
  2. Watering holes - not the 1960's rec-room style bar, but full on pub style bars with pull-taps, granite counters and subtle lighting;
  3. Wine cellars - temperature controlled with glass doors;
  4. Full kitchens - reserve the main floor kitchen for show or entertaining (this seems ridiculous to me);
  5. Playrooms - with play structures and toy storage;
  6. Games - foozeball, air hockey, pool etc. To this list I would add space to set up an electric train set and a race track;
  7. Fitness rooms - complete with all your necessary excercise equipment (or you could just go outside);
  8. Home spas - spa-like bathrooms with steam and body jets (for after all that excercise, or after all that buttery popcorn);
  9. Concrete floors - if heated. Also in vogue is ceramic tiles and engineered wood;
  10. Bright colours - accent walls can splash your basement with colour and character.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The builder finished putting OSB on the roof on the weekend and on Monday, the shingles arrived. Today, they started putting the shingles on, which should take to the end of the week. They also started to put some insulation in walls, but just in areas where they will need to build more, like the box for the fireplace, the bulkhead in the kitchen and where the stairs go.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Second floor and roof

The last ten days have been busy at the house. Despite a few cold and wet days with unseasonable rain, they framers have managed to put up the second floor and the roof trusses. Apparently the roof shingles will come on Monday.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Framing: 1st floor just about complete

Framing on the first floor is just about finished. By the end of today the floor joists for the second floor should be in place and the floor put down. By tomorrow, they should have most of the second floor walls erected.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Habitat for Humanity gift home

In case you were unable to make it to the open house of the Habitat for Humanity gift house that was unveiled in Ottawa recently, DesignTies has an extensive photo series on their blog.

There is also a video on YouTube.

It's quite an impressive renovation.

Backfilling against the foundation

Backfilling of the house occurred last week. It took about two days for them to complete it, with several large trucks of fill delivered.

Waterproof membrane applied to foundation

In the last week an a half, a lot of progress has been made, starting with waterproofing the foundation.

Once the foundation was poured, a Platon membrane was applied to the outside of the foundation against living areas. Platon is a tough, waterproof, double dimpled, high-density polyethylene plastic membrane that keeps wet soil away from the foundation wall. The dimples create an air gap between the wall and the waterproof membrane. Any water that does find its way past the membrane flows to the footing drain. As an added benefit, wall moisture condenses on the back of the membrane and flows to the footing drain. This dries out the wall. Because Platon is not adhered to the wall, the wall can crack, shift and settle over the years without affecting Platon’s performance (although hopefully that wont be an issue).

Next step, back filling.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Big house, little house

It's interesting to watch the new house rise up out of the ground and it will be great to move in when it is finished. The new house is certainly bigger than our current residence, but with the hole dug and the foundation exposed it looks particularly big. Interestingly though, the footprint of the new house is not that different than the house we demolished. In fact, the living space on the main floor of the new house is about 200 square feet less than the former house. Even counting the garage, the footprint of the new house is only about 200 square feet bigger than the footprint of the former house. The difference, of course is in the second floor, which is where the additional space is added.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Foundation poured

On Thursday or Friday, they poured the concrete for the foundation walls. They removed the forms on Friday.

Forming the basement

Last Thursday, they formed the basement.


weeping tile and stone fill

Once the footings were poured, weeping tile was placed around the footings and a stone slinger deposited stone fill all around the footings in preparation for the concrete.

House Demolition

Thanks to our neighbour, we now have some pictures of the demolition.


Friday, October 15, 2010

concrete footings poured

The footings for the house were poured yesterday. Today, they had hoped to install the weeping tile around the outside of the footings, spread stone around the footings and erect the forms for the basement walls. However, with all the rain today, things were delayed. As you can see from the photo, some of the plumbing has also been installed.

Engineered fill creates a firm base to build the house on

As I mentioned in my previous post, the soil under the old house was quite loose and full of organic material. From what I have been told by neighbours, this area used to have a stream or an underground stream running through the backyard and may also have been a floodplain for the Ottawa river long ago before the entire area was developed. That would certainly explain the large amount of organic material in the soil - it was almost like peat.

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

kitchen design

Inspired by the online design contest, I have put together a "storyboard" of our proposed kitchen. I could not get everything exactly right, but it's close. Our cabinets have less red in them and are more of a chocolate colour than those shown in this photo. Also, our proposed floor will be 12" X 24" tiles in a shade somewhere close to the grey shown in this picture.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Soil troubles

With the old house removed, the site engineer had a chance to inspect the soil on which the new house will be built.

According to Mike Holmes, builders like to take advantage of millions of years of natural compaction by digging down to earth that has not been previously dug up and tamped down. If they don't do this there may be problems with shifting. The foundation has to take the weight of the house, but it also has to stand up against the pressure of the earth around it; if a foundation is going to shift, that pressure is what will cause it.

However, once our old house was removed it became apparent that it was in fact built on loose soil with lots of organic matter in it. No wonder the old house sank in one corner. In fact, I watched them dig up the soil in the corner where the old house had sank, and it was black, stank like sewage and contained logs.

In other words, when they built the original house in the 50s, they did not bother dig down to undisturbed soil and furthermore, it looks like they just piled in old trees and other junk to fill up the space. As this organic matter decomposed, it created a void and the house sank. While further sinking is not usually likely in an older home, given the amount of organic material I saw in the soil, it would not have surprised me, especially after we added extra weight to the house with an addition. All in all, I feel a lot better digging the whole place up.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Here today, gone tomorrow

Demolition of the house began on Thursday, and they wasted no time. The entire house was gone by the end of the day. Unfortunately, we do not have any pictures of the demolition because we were both stuck in meetings all day and could not find time to get down to the house while it was being demolished.

These pictures show the house with all of the wood and mechanical material gone, but the foundation is still partly there. At least the concrete slab and some of the foundation walls are present. Today, they removed the remaining material.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Living room design

Recently, I came across an online design challenge among design bloggers. The challenge was to come up with a living room design for under $6000. Some of them are pretty creative and show that you don't necessarily need to spend oodles of money to create a pretty decent look.

Check out each designer's response to the design challenge at the links below:

Services capped, permits in hand

Yesterday, the gas company finally came and shut off the gas, the city came and took their water meter out of the house, and Uniform dug up the sewer line and capped it. All of these are prerequisites to getting the building and demolition permits. With those out of the way, Uniform was able to get the permits today.

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

Reader question - Should I hire an architect?

Today I recieved an email from a reader with the following question:
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

Exterior cladding

Last week we picked our colours for the new house. The exterior of the house is clad in a combination of brick, CanXL hardboard and cedar shingles. On top of picking colours for those items, we also had to choose colours for the trim around the windows, the soffits, the front door and garage door, and panels that are placed on either side of the bay window at the front and on the side near the roof line, the roof shingles, as well as some other trim pieces. All I can say is that building with Uniform certainly made this task very easy.

Uniform works a lot with acclaimed Ottawa architect Barry Hobin and Hobin's team puts together many of the colour combinations that you can see on Uniform houses. Since we like Hobin's work, all we had to do was drive around different Uniform developments and see if there were any colour combinations that we liked. We found a combination in Uniform's St. Georges Yard development in Westboro. We gave Uniform the address of the house we liked and they pulled up the colour scheme from their database. Within about half an hour, we had all the colours and the brick style picked. It was extremely easy. We had toyed with the idea of putting stone on the house instead of brick, but stone is more expensive, and besides, most of the houses in the neighbourhood are brick, so I think brick will blend into the overall streetscape better.

The next task is picking the interior finishes. This will not be as easy

Monday, September 20, 2010

interior design - main floor

We met with our designer last week to pick interior finishes.

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

For the kitchen we wanted something fairly contemporary, but practical too (ie. not one of these pure white shiny kitchens that you see in magazines).

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.

services located

Over the last few days, Uniform has been by to fence the rear yard and locate the water, sewer, gas, and phone lines underground. No word yet on when the permits will come, but today the rental hot water tank was removed, which was the last thing holding us back from demolishing it. Demolition should now take place any time within the next two weeks.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Permit application submitted

The permit applications were submitted by the builder at the beginning of September. If all goes well, we should have our building permit and our demolition permit sometime in the later half of September. As soon as the permits are issued, work on the house will begin.

We had hoped to be able to sell the house and have it moved. Besides saving us a bit in demolition costs, it would have been nice to see the house recycled. The house is well built and could have made someone a good home. However, the buyer who was interested in the house decided that it was not for him. Unfortunately, this late in the season it is hard to sell it to someone else, so it will be demolished instead.

The electricity has now been shut off at the house and on Monday the rental hot water tank will be removed by the the rental company.

Things are really starting to move now.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

E. P. Connors House - Classic Prairie Style in the heart of Westboro

If you read this blog regularly, you'll know that I love to find examples of architectural styles in the Westboro neighbourhood of Ottawa, particularly Modern and Prairie style architecture.

Once in a while I find a real gem in the 'hood that deserves its own post. In this case, it's E. P. Connors house at 166 Huron Ave.

This house, designed in 1915 by Francis Conroy Sullivan, is a classic example of the modernist Prairie school of architecture in Canada. Sullivan was strongly influenced by the Prairie school and worked for several years with Frank Lloyd Wright, the best known architect of the prairie school movement.

Sullivan, who once worked for the federal Department of Public Works, was a prominent architect in Ottawa from about 1907 to 1917. In addition to frequently designing schools for the Ottawa Catholic School Board, he designed several buildings of national historical significance, including the Banff National Park Pavillion and the the Horticulture building at Landsdown Park in Ottawa.

Although strongly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, Sullivan's style was different in several important ways: For example, whereas horizontals predominate in Wright's creations, Sullivan used strong verticals to create tension in his designs.

It's interesting to see how architects working in Ottawa today are influenced by Sullivan's and Wright's work. Barry Hobin, for example, at least to my eye, seems to be a disciple of the prairie school and often seems to incorporate strong vertical elements reminiscent of Sullivan's work into his designs. Just take a look at some of Hobin's designs in the pictures below.

(If your interested, you can see more pictures of the interior of these homes at the Modern Ottawa blog and on Helen McCallum's website.)

Barry Hobin also designed the houses at the the old Olgivie estate in Westboro, which were built by Uniform Urban Developments. Again, notice the influence of the Prairie school.

Is Ottawa seeing a resurgance of the Prairie school movement. I think so. Arts & Crafts is still very popular, but there is no doubt that there is a shift happening.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Contract signed

Well after much delay over the past few months, it looks like things might actually be underway.

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

Finally, some progress

Well, arranging the financing is still plodding along at a snails pace (I'll provide more details about that once everything is finalized), but we have made some progress with the builder.

We do not want to enter into a contract with the builder until we have the financing in place, however, summer is marching on and we were worried about getting the house started on time. In about another month or two it will start to get more expensive to build, primarily because after November 7, a 7% winter handling premium is applied to the cost of concrete and any masonry work has to be heated to ensure the mortar cures properly.

So, we met with the builder today and agreed to start some of the necessary soil engineering studies. These studies take about two weeks to complete and cost about $2500, but are required before a building permit application can be filed. If the financing falls through (which I don't think it will) then we're out $2500, but on the other hand, we could be two weeks ahead when the financing does come through.

A word about windows

When I come across a pretty decent contractor or supplier, I like to talk about them.

When we were still researching the old design of the house, we did a fair bit of research into windows (given that we were looking at about a $45,000 bill for windows).

We checked with a couple of different window suppliers in Ottawa, but one person who really stood out for me was Paul LeDuc at Golden Windows in Kanata. He spent a fair bit of time with us and did a really great job of explaining the differences in window styles and materials. Plus, he was transparent and pragmatic about costs and quality. He knew we were trying to keep costs down, so he offered some good solutions, such as using more expensive windows in the main living spaces and using cheaper windows in the bedrooms. All in all, I found him quite helpful, even though we did not end up using Golden, because we decided to go with Uniform Construction.

In case your interested, here are some tidbits of information about the windows we investigated:
  • 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

Foundation repairs

Here are a few pictures of the foundation problems we discovered in the house after we were able to rip down some of the walls in the basement. These and some other problems are what conviced us to build new rather than renovate. While anything can be fixed for a price, it was hard to justify the cost of these repairs while still ending up with a seven foot basement and a sloping floor.

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.

The image below is from the garage, where frost has made its way under the insufficiently insulated floor. It's hard to tell from the photo, but this whole section of wall is buckling inwards due to the uplift of the floor and the force of the ground on the other side of the wall pushing in. To fix it would require supporting the house above while the entire wall is ripped out and rebuilt. The cost for this repair alone was estimated at $15,000 - $20,000

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.

Interestingly, today the situation is reversed and it would now cost more to build a cinder-block foundation (not that I think you ever would want to).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hurry up and wait

One thing about building a new house, no matter how hard you try to hurry some things along, they just will not go any faster.

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

The new house design

Well, here it is - the new house to be built by Uniform. It's called a Brantwood and it is an Arts & Crafts inspired house. Some of the details include:

First floor
  • 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

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.