Bang On: President's Column

Preventative maintenance cheaper than repairs

  • Written by Sue Wastell

It is time to get your home prepped for fall and winter. Finishing up the last remaining maintenance projects and tending to the yard and gardens is something we all are accustomed to doing. But let’s look at a few items that are just as important, and can easily be overlooked.

Window and doors, if not properly working, can allow for unwanted cooler air to find it’s way inside. Check your caulking and weather stripping. You can check door seals by closing your door on a piece of paper. If you easily can slide the paper back and forth, you may want to change the weather stripping.

Clean windows can help maximize light into the house.

Change out your traditional incandescent light bulbs to an energy efficient bulb to have increased light and save some money at the same time.

Safety proof your home by changing batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors. Also look at the expiry date on those detectors as most have a lifespan of eight to 10 years. Ensure your family reviews a fire escape plan, or create one if you don’t have it.

Driveway and sidewalk cracks are best repaired before the deep freeze of winter arrives. If water penetrates these cracks and freezes, in the spring when it thaws, you will find those cracks have grown due to the expansion of the water getting in.

When’s the last time you looked into your attic to check your insulation? Blown in insulation should be evenly distributed throughout the attic in order to keep heat inside and have lower energy bills. Top up or add insulation as needed.

Change your furnace filter. This is one item that should not be missed. By replacing the filter every three months, you keep the air in your home cleaner and extend the life of your furnace. Fall also is a good time to get your yearly inspection done on your furnace.

Drain outside faucets and hose bibs. Shut off those pipes from inside the house and then open the taps to make sure the lines are fully drained.

Test your sump pump to make sure it’s operating well. Sometimes seals dry out and you don’t want to wait until a big rain to find out the pump isn’t working. Test your pump by filling the pit with water until the float rises up and the pump turns on. If you find the pump isn’t turning on, check that the unit is securely plugged in, that there isn’t any debris preventing the float from rising, or have a plumber check it out.

Preventative maintenance always pays off.

Sue Wastell is the President of the London Home Builders’ Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.

Reno or new build clients often have similar 'wants'

  • Written by Sue Wastell

When a client comes to a home builder, it is usually because they have a housing need or want that is not fulfilled by what is available in houses for sale.

As builders, renovators and designers, we listen to every requirement and dream they want incorporated into their new space. Those “wants,” we find, are items we have seen over and over.

According to Avid Ratings research, here are the top 10 items homeowners feel are the most important in their new spaces:

1. Walk-in closets: They’re not just for master bedrooms. We find people value storage spaces more and more. Front hall and mudroom closets and pantries in their kitchen are among the highest priorities.

2. High-efficiency windows: Today’s windows have increased insulation, protect items inside your home from fading and can soften noise from the outside.

3. Overall energy efficiency: Many items can help decrease energy and resources use in a home. LED light bulbs, low-flow toilets and showerheads, tankless water heaters and programmable thermostats are just a few.

4. Kitchen island: It provides storage, appliance integration, prep space, even a homework station. Start with what you want your island to do for your family. Most have a dual use, with one side for prep and cooking and the other for seating. Working with a good cabinet designer is a huge benefit. They will look at your space allowances and maximize your island’s capabilities.

5. Energy-efficient appliances: New appliances allow you to save money by using less electricity. Programmable dishwashers allow cycles to run during off-peak hours during the night. These benefits cut down the use of fossil fuels and help control pollution levels.

6. Linen closets: When you think of all the towels, sheets, comforters, extra pillows and blankets you have, the space they require can add up quickly. With space efficiencies becoming more common in home plans, this is one area that should not be overlooked.

7. Open concept kitchens: Gone are the days of a kitchen separated from the living space. People are entertaining more and want to make their home flow easily from one space to another. Open concept also works well as square footage of homes shifts downward to reduce costs. Parties often end up in the kitchen, and having light and views extend from one space to another allows cohesion between spaces.

8. Green certification: Ontario has different certifications to elevate your home’s energy efficiency. These programs allow for healthier indoor living and lower energy consumption.

9. Large windows: Customers want larger windows to bring the outdoors inside while also allowing more fresh air and air circulation inside. Light also combats the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

10. HRV-ERV air exchange: A heat recovery ventilator is used to exchange the air within your home. New homes are built fairly airtight these days, and in order to keep the indoor air quality at its best, an HRV is used to exchange stale air inside your home with filtered fresh air from outside, all while maintaining efficiency in air conditioning or heating that air with an energy recovery ventilator (ERV).

Sue Wastell is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.     

Little known capital gains tax rule could hit buyers

  • Written by Sue Wastell

As most of us know, the real estate market in Ontario has changed over the last few years with the arrival of more buyers and investors from outside of Canada.

Some of these buyers may split their time between living in Canada and another country or have family living in both Canada and another country, which can result in them being deemed as a non-resident for tax purposes. This status makes them subject to different taxation rules than residents.

If you’re a resident of Canada, you have to pay tax in Canada on your worldwide income — meaning any income earned either inside or outside Canada. Non-residents of Canada, however, are required to pay tax in Canada only on income that is earned from a Canadian source. Employment income, income earned from a business carried out in Canada and capital gains earned on Canadian real estate must be reported on a Canadian tax return and are subject to the payment of tax to the Canadian government.

This non-resident status becomes relevant to the purchaser of a resale home when the seller of the property is a non-resident who fails to pay the capital gains tax owed on sale of their Canadian property. When the Canadian government is unable to collect tax on the capital gains from a non-resident — perhaps because they have left the country — there is a special part of the legislation that allows the government to look to the purchaser to pay the capital gains tax that is owed.

While most buyers are likely not even aware of this rule, they need to learn about it because of the potentially significant financial impact it could make on their purchase.

The impact of this is only starting to become known as more non-residents of Canada start to sell properties they have purchased in Canada.

So how can a purchaser protect themselves and find out if the seller’s permanent residence is not in Canada? One red flag would be if on the agreement of purchase and sale, the contact address of the seller is outside of Canada or if there is any other indication on other documentation or even in conversation that this could be the case.

But the best advice is to ensure that you work with a qualified real estate lawyer when it comes time to do the paperwork on the purchase of your home.

The lawyer should ensure that the seller provides a declaration made under oath confirming they are not a non-resident. Or if the seller is a non-resident, your lawyer needs to obtain a clearance certificate from the seller, which clearly indicates that the Canada Revenue Agency and the non-resident have made appropriate arrangements to pay the tax on the capital gains made on the sale of the property.

Canada Revenue Agency puts the onus on the purchaser to take prudent measures to confirm the seller’s residence status. You and your lawyer should investigate any hint or question of residency prior to closing a real estate transaction. A partial holdback of payment by your lawyer on closing is one way to protect yourself if you have valid concerns.

Sue Wastell is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.     

Proper installation key to insulation success

  • Written by Sue Wastell

Despite what the market says is the most popular insulation material or method at any given moment, the truth is each project has its own set of circumstances that call for a recommended set of options. And within those options, the specifications and installation can have a massive impact on the result.

It’s important to understand insulation materials and how they work within your home’s construction and the environment in which you live. The product that is quickly becoming one of the most popular options in North America is spray polyurethane foam (SPF).

Spray polyurethane foam is a heat-activated polymer that is a foam insulation that is sprayed into place. It is made by mixing two ingredients onsite using special equipment. The mixture is sprayed through a heated hose onto the surface that needs to be insulated. As the chemical reaction between the two ingredients takes place and the substance heats up in the hose, the liquid turns foamy, expands and eventually hardens in place.

Open-cell SPF is lighter, less dense and  cheaper but has less insulating power (or a lower R-value). Closed-cell SPF is denser and more expensive, can provide a bit more rigid support to certain structures and can act as a water vapor barrier, because it is less permeable.

Why is SPF so popular? Spray foam has the potential to tackle air leakages better than many other insulation options. Because it is sprayed into place, the foam can fill the envelope. It can be applied to vertical or horizontal surfaces to act not only as thermal insulation, but also as an air barrier. It’s synthetic and does not attract rodents or insects. When applied properly, spray foam can contribute to a successful energy-efficiency strategy.

The relative ease of installation makes it a popular choice for contractors. Even though it can be expensive, its relatively high R-value per centimetre makes it a competitive option. It’s particularly helpful for renovation projects where traditional batt or board insulation may be difficult to insert. With spray foam it’s possible to inject the insulation into a wall cavity, for example, or apply it to a sloped surface.

As with many building solutions, the increasing popularity of a product or method means an increase in misuse and misunderstandings. It is common to find examples of spray-foam insulation that have been installed incorrectly.

The most common problems with spray-foam applications are:

  • The chemicals were not mixed correctly, and the foam starts to pull away from the neighbouring surfaces
  • The installers rush through the installation, leaving gaps and holes that reduce the efficiency of the product
  • A sufficient thickness either was not specified or was not executed as specified during installation
  • The local climate was not taken into consideration, and the temperatures or humidity levels were outside of the manufacturer’s specifications
  • In cold climates, a vapour barrier was not installed over the spray foam, sometimes causing roof rot.

Installation is a key factor with any kind of insulation and can be the difference between insulation that works or causes problems.

It is essential that anyone working on the construction or renovation of a home using SPF follow the recommended health guidelines. Please don’t think that you can install this in your shorts and T-shirt on the weekend. Consult a professional and do your research.

The good news is learning the pitfalls is just part of being more aware of the consequences of a certain decision. Every insulation material has advantages and disadvantages. SPF is a viable solution for certain homes and can offer substantial energy savings if installed correctly. You just need to be aware that, relative to other materials, the installation can be easier to execute but also easier to rush through. Knowing what questions to ask your installer can go a long way toward obtaining optimal results.  

Sue Wastell is the President of the London Home Builders’ Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.

Permeable pavers protect natural resources

  • Written by Sue Wastell

Have you ever stopped to think of what happens to the water running off your house and onto your driveway when it rains?

If your home is like most, the water probably travels down gutters, through downspouts and onto an asphalt driveway, picking up traces of pollutants such as petroleum and pesticides along the way. Down a street gutter it goes, eventually finding its way into a storm drain.

This may be as far as you can visibly follow the journey, but it doesn’t stop there. Much stormwater runoff finds its way into nearby rivers and lakes.

Redirecting stormwater into the ground is a much greener option. Microorganisms in the soil are able to digest the pollutants, purifying the water on its path back into the aquifer. Allowing the water to seep into the ground also helps prevent the erosion of nearby waterways by runoff.

By replacing your impervious asphalt or concrete driveway with a permeable surface, you’ll be supporting groundwater recharge while also visually softening your property.

The first step in installing a permeable driveway (sometimes referred to as a sustainable drainage system) is deciding which design will work best for you.

Open-cell pavers are simply concrete pavers with holes that can be filled with a previous material. Filling the cells with vegetation can soften the entire look and add a bit of green to your site.

What’s underneath the pavers is what really counts. A solid base is key to minimizing heaving and cracking. You will need a six-inch sub-base of 1½-inch clean rock topped with a four-inch base of ¾-inch clean rock, to make the driveway stable enough for cars to pass over it. The paver system goes on top of that. A polyurethane liner should be used near any foundation walls or concrete that needs to be protected from water flow-back.

Pervious pavers commonly have joints filled with aggregate to allow water to penetrate between the pavers. Tabs are formed into each paver, providing the correct joint width and making installation easier. As with open-cell pavers, a sturdy base is required.

Some ceramic pavers are porous themselves, allowing the water to pass through the surface directly, instead of through the gaps between. This means the gap can be narrower and doesn’t have to be refilled with aggregate as often — a common chore with other pervious paver systems. Due to the small size of the pavers, cracking or heaving is not an issue in cold climates.

Although in our climate with snow needing to be plowed, another option is a gravel driveway. It will also need a base underlayment to maximize its pervious nature. Usually this is a plastic mat made up of circular or honeycomb cells structured to provide load-bearing support. These cells are filled with gravel and help keep rainwater in the soil and out of sewers.

One consideration is the type of soil you have. It could range from sand (fast drainage time) to clay (longer drainage time).

The best time to do a project like this is late spring or summer, when the weather will co-operate. Construction during winter in colder climates is not recommended due to frost-depth issues.

By installing a permeable driveway, you’ll be directly protecting the integrity of our natural resources, supporting groundwater recharge and adding green space to help balance carbon dioxide levels.

Sue Wastell is the President of the London Home Builders’ Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.

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