Bang On: President's Column

Pet friendly trends coming to new homes

  • Written by Sue Wastell

It would have been considered laughable some time ago for you to think that you would consider building a pet-friendly home.  However today pet culture has taken off and pets are now considered members of their family and their needs are considered when building and renovating.  

If you are looking for ways to make your pet more comfortable in their new space, there are many options which can house, feed, and entertain your beloved pet.

Would you like to have pet food hidden away sometimes?  Many cabinet designers can incorporate food and water dishes into the bottom of base cabinets in a kitchen or mudroom.  This keeps food bowls off the floor and prevents a tripping hazard as well as they pull out like a drawer and when not in use, they recess into the cabinet.  Also popular are converting a large lower cabinet to hold pet food in it’s own pull out sealed container.  If your pet is a messy eater, a dustpan built into your baseboard or cabinet that connects to your central vac system is a convenient idea to quickly sweep spills away.  

When it’s time to wash your pet, the mess of water and hair all over the house can get overwhelming.  Also in our climate, the cold water of an outdoor hose isn’t practical so many homeowners are incorporating simple to elaborate grooming features into their home to simplify things.  By adding a hot and cold water tap to your garage space allows you to keep water warm all year round.  For the deluxe washing station, a stainless steel sink with a plank for your pet to walk up and into the washing area makes it so you don’t have to lift a nervous pet up, and keeps them safe in one spot while they undergo their spa treatment.  

The days of putting child gates across doorways are now a thing of the past.  You can install dutch doors allowing a pet not to feel like they have been locked into a room, or a pocket door that has one compartment with a door, and a second one with a gate.  

A luxury item would be an electronic dog or cat door, which opens in response to a magnetic key on the pet’s collar and otherwise remains shut, keeping four-legged and other intruders out. Owners can program times to allow access for their pets. Each key is unique and owners can even view on a camera when their pet uses the door.

Moving into a new home without landscaping in the backyard can be really difficult when you have a pet that needs to go outside. Having a pet run installed for when you take possession of your home provides a safe space for your dog to spend time outside while keeping your fresh new floors clean inside.  Pet runs generally include crushed rock with wire fencing around it so your pet can be outside and not wander off, which should help tie them over until grass is installed in the spring.  

Pet friendly flooring like laminate or tile are good choices because they are easy to clean and non-porous.  If you choose a wood floor, look for harder wood species as soft woods are easy scratched by pet nails.  

Washable paint used in areas where your pet might spend a lot of their time is money well spent as your pet will likely bring in dirt and water and rub against the walls.  Look for eggshell, satin or semi-gloss sheen.  

If pets are a part of your family, it’s nice to know you can design areas with them in mind.

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

Orientation worth considering when moving or building

  • Written by Sue Wastell

With the many things that cross the minds of clients building new homes, or those looking to move into a new home or apartment, the one thing that can get easily overlooked is the orientation of the home. But it is one that you want to pay close attention to.

Orientation is the positioning of a home on a lot, or the direction the home faces. The orientation of a home can affect many things including your energy bills, who would potentially buy your home due to cultural demands, and whether you can capture a view from your windows. All of these factors can affect the market value of your home, and therefore it’s important to be aware of what you consider to be an important asset to your new home purchase.

It’s important to say that there is no right and wrong orientation. It’s a personal decision to which clients determine what is important to them and the way they live. One example would be homes that sit on the south side of the street facing north. This would mean that the back yard of this property has more sun in the summer, which is a benefit for gardeners and those wanting a pool. Conversely, homes situated across the street whose back yards face north might be perfect for those looking for some shade in hot summer afternoons.

In our cold snowy climate, some people look for a south or westerly facing backyard to allow the sun’s rays to help warm up their home during the winter. This can help lower the cost of heating during those colder months. Trees also play an important role, as some deciduous trees loose their leaves in the winter allowing sunlight to help warm the house. In the summer, leafy trees can help shade the home helping lower your air conditioning costs.

We have clients come in all the time who choose their new building lot based upon cultural preferences. Some Asian cultures prefer homes that face east and won’t consider a home that faces any other direction. For them Feng Shui often plays a prominent role. Other cultures want their front doors facing south, and we will work to design our homes to accommodate as best as we can.

Apartment living has a different priority when it comes to direction. The overall view would probably be the most important criteria. Following that, the direction of the sun can have different impacts as well. If you are a shift worker that works nights, perhaps you don’t want an east facing bedroom window that would have direct sunlight flowing in while you are trying to sleep.

Depending on your home’s orientation and your preferences, window coverings can become your best friend. If it’s a hot August day and your large west facing windows are heating up your room like an oven, a proper window treatment can help to block out some of that heat.

Finally, if you are considering installing a solar panel system on your roof, it is important to involve a professional installer in your decision of house orientation. They would be able to make sure the panels are installed to maintain proper airflow to help them keep cool, which helps them produce more power.   Ideally, they should be installed on the southwest side of a roof, but a quality solar design can compensate for roofs oriented in another direction.

There’s no exact right or wrong way for your home’s orientation. It depends only on your preference. But it is a good factor to consider whether you’re a first time homeowner, or an experienced buyer.

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

 

Keep home safe from burglars while on vacation

  • Written by Sue Wastell

As summer is quickly approaching many homeowners are busy packing a suitcase and planning a vacation. To be sure you can fully relax and enjoy your time away it’s important to consider protecting your home while you’re gone and luckily there are some simple steps you can take to help ensure you return to your home just the way you left it.

Outdoor lighting is a great place to start. Not only will the right lighting make your home look good, but also a well-lit house will deter anyone from breaking in and risk being seen. Motion detector lights can be retrofitted easily and with a low cost.

Setting timers for your main window areas to go on and off periodically will give the appearance you’re at home. You can now control lighting digitally from your cellphone anywhere in the world. It’s a good idea to change the timing of those so a thief doesn’t see that the lights are consistently coming on and off everyday at the same time.

Motion detector cameras are now easily installed on homes, which can alert the homeowner when they detect movement. You can see on your cellphone an instant picture of who is activating the camera, and some devices allow you to talk directly into your phone to the person in view. Recording this video is another feature found on many devices and costs have declined to make these devices more cost effective.

Technology in door locks is changing. There are digital locks on the market that can lock and unlock from your phone without a key. Some can even connect directly to your alarm system, alerting you in case of suspicious activity. This type of smart lock will allow the cat sitter or cleaners to still gain access while you are away. Continuing these types of services will also help with the illusion that someone is home.

Prevent power surges by installing a surge protector. There are thousands of dollars in your home with electrical components installed, especially with today’s appliances, which could be affected by a power surge or electrical strike. A surge protector installed at your electrical panel will ensure your whole home is protected – better then yesteryears when you would just protect your TV or computer.

Setting your HVAC with a programmable thermostat to lower your air conditioning usage while you are away is a good cost and energy saving method. Having control on your phone to turn on your air conditioner prior to you arriving back home will let you return to an enjoyable temperature when you’re tired and looking forward to sleeping in your own bed.

In today’s world of social media, it’s best not to promote that you are away from home. The more that word gets out that you’re not around; the more likely thieves will hear about it and use that information as an opportunity.

Make sure all your doors are locked, including your garage doors. Once a thief is inside the garage, they have lots of time to get into your home and not be seen. I remember a model home of ours where the garage was broken into, and the thieves had all night to load everything from the house into the garage. Then one with a truck pulled into the driveway and within 20 minutes had the entire house loaded into their cube van.

Finally some easy items available to all travellers is to secure your valuables, collect any hidden spare keys from around the exterior of your home. Burglars know the most popular hiding places like beneath mats and in potted plants. The most powerful resources to safeguard your home are your neighbours. Letting them know you will be away allows for another set of eyes to be on watch for suspicious activity.

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

Location mantra never loses value

  • Written by Peder Madsen

Hasn’t everyone heard the mantra – Location Location Location? It might have been around for a long time but are people still paying attention to the old wisdom?

As a renovator I am totally in agreement with putting a higher priority on the location versus the house. You still want to make sure there are no hidden problems within the house by getting a comprehensive assessment before you buy, but realistically, you can pretty-well change anything in a home – from the layout to the finishes, it is all possible. Of course, budget may also be a consideration.

The location, however, is fixed. The impact that location has on the price is as much about what is undesirable as it is desirable. While you can put up an attractive fence and landscaping to try and camouflage the look of an industrial area close by, there’s no denying that people will not want to pay the same price for that home versus a similar home that is sitting beside a luscious green park. I’m sure everyone instinctively understands this comparison.

But what are some other considerations?

Desirable:

  • In addition to parks, ravines, golf courses, high locations overlooking populated or unpopulated areas and any matter of water views are prized, from rivers, lakes or even man-made storm water management ponds
  • Near, meaning within walking distance or a short car ride to shopping, entertainment, hospitals and education (schools, college or university), just not within eyesight.
  • Convenience of being serviced by local transit for a short ride to downtown, a college or university or to major employment areas.

Undesirable:

  • Closeness to areas perceived as having higher crime rates
  • Noise – think trains, air or highway traffic or even slower road traffic created by local business or schools.
  • Visibility of industrial or commercial buildings.

These same considerations apply when you’re looking to build or buy a new home. In addition, it is wise to do your homework to learn about a new community that is being built, so you can make a well-informed decision on what best fits with your lifestyle and life stage. Builders or their new home salespeople can advise about the mixture of homes or units being planned – their size, price range and a profile of people who are already living there or that the development has been designed for.

A downtown high-rise condo might be perfect for young professionals who work or socialize downtown, or for empty-nesters who are happy to trade home maintenance for enjoying the delights of local restaurants and festivals. Young families, however, typically want more room for outside play, whether it’s in their own backyard or an adjacent park or green space.

New communities can often include many different amenities and facilities – from park-like common areas to community centres outfitted with party rooms, guest suites, health-clubs, or pools (indoor or outdoor). If security is a concern, then a security-controlled entrance in a high-rise or a gated community might be appealing. Energy efficiency levels also vary.

For example, the creative West 5 community currently under development by Sifton is designed to be Ontario’s most sustainable community – maximizing the potential of natural elements to minimize the draw on resources needed for everyday life. The plan includes solar panels that generate electricity while looking like shingles; solar parkades to shelter and keep cars dry and cool, while powering the community; high performance road surfaces to melt snow and ice faster along with a vibrant Central Park, walkway, open green spaces for play, electric vehicle chargers and shopping, restaurants and services. Plus, every residence is designed to be 100% energy efficient for a healthy lifestyle.

Location Location Location – it really does matter!

Peder Madsen is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Vice President of CCR Building and Remodeling in London.     

New products make kitchen, bath options infinite

  • Written by Peder Madsen

Trying to keep on top of what’s new in the housing industry can sometimes feel like a state of perpetual motion. From building code changes, advancements in construction science, upgraded building materials, considerations for energy-efficiency and sustainability, to the latest finish products, builders and renovators have to work hard to stay informed. Thankfully we have abundant educational resources at trade shows, seminars, trusted manufacturers, suppliers and trades and of course of our fellow association members.

Kitchens and bathrooms were once quite simple rooms with variety added by customizable cabinets and lighting. But not now, with all the high-tech gadgetry, spa and restaurant-style fixtures and other smart features, the possibilities are endless.

Here’s a few new and noteworthy products that can save precious time, by adding convenience along with a generous flourish of style:

  • A showerhead that quickly changes between four different spray patterns by simply touching it. And if you can’t reach it, there’s a handy mountable remote.
  • Underfloor heating that comes with its own wifi thermostat that is easily controlled via an app, website or the thermostat itself. No worry about how much energy you are consuming because you can view it over 24 hours, a week, month or a year. It also allows you to calculate your monthly heating costs.
  • Stylish stand-alone bathtubs made from organic solid surface composite – a mix of vegetable resin and natural stone which deliver a robust, non-slip surface with a thermo-insulated base for the ultimate luxurious bath that stays warm.
  • Water-resistant speakers that masquerade as tiles. Turn your morning shower into a spa with relaxing tones or wake yourself up with an energy pumping beat.
  • Who doesn’t want a self-cleaning toilet? There are even choices of features – from a quick clean refresh to a deep cleaning 10 minute scrub. Available in traditional floor mount or space saving wall-hung models, they boast an antimicrobial finish.
  • Also saving on cleaning time, are new self-cleaning kitchen sinks and a smudge-proof black stainless steel finish that makes fingerprints on your refrigerator a thing of the past.
  • The new motto for tile and ceramic is ‘the bigger the better’. Eliminate all the grout lines and cleaning time required by using full slabs in the shower. Garner the clean minimalist aesthetic by using the same material for the kitchen or countertop as the backsplash. Using large format material (so large they really can’t be called tiles anymore) will maximize the impact in your foyer giving it a ‘grand entrance look’. If you can’t afford marble or granite, there are porcelain-rated products that mimic the look and offer water-resistance and durability.
  • Colour preferences are moving away from dark to lighter tones of greys and even whites with light veins reminiscent of prized marbles. Finishes being requested are honed and polished for natural materials and matte for manmade materials.
  • Open concept layouts provide relaxed living spaces, but do require more thought to design specific task zones while maintaining a visual flow. One of the best ways is to keep flooring consistent throughout. While solid hardwoods have a charm of their own, they can be unpredictable around humidity and vulnerable to wear in high traffic zones. Manufacturers have responded with engineered hardwoods, that are durable, water-resistant, available in wide widths, and come in an incredible range of colours. Advancements have also been made in vinyl technology opening a new range of flooring choices from modern wood-plastic composites that come in plank or tiles to textured or embossed finishes that mimic natural wood or stone.

Just to name a few!

Peder Madsen is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Vice President of CCR Building and Remodeling in London.     

London research helps identify best energy upgrades

  • Written by Peder Madsen

New homes and renovations are bound to many rules.  Most notably, the building code.  In 1941, the government of Canada published the first National Building Code which was adopted by provinces over the following 20 years.  In Ontario, we abide by the Ontario Building Code or OBC.  This is a big part of what guides home designs and allows municipalities to ensure homes are built to similar standards across Ontario.

Since its inception, the NBC has undergone significant changes. New editions are published approximately every five years to ensure use of the latest innovations and applications in evolving building technologies and techniques. 

In December 2016, First Ministers released the https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/weather/climatechange/pan-canadian-framework.html%26amp;sa%3DD%26amp;ust%3D1524837336578000&sa=D&ust=1524837336585000&usg=AFQjCNHdf2n1yLEc231HSAEIaIH4TWLE_A">Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Among other measures, it calls for improving the energy efficiency of new construction through increasingly stringent model building codes, starting in 2020, with the goal that provinces and territories adopt a 'net zero energy ready' building code by 2030. Similarly, federal, provincial and territorial governments will work to develop a model code for existing buildings by 2022.

Before we know it, our homes will be required to be "ready" to create all of the energy that we use on a daily basis.  It is a tall order given the constant changes in the economy and availability of skilled labour and modern materials across the country.  Collaboration and ingenuity are going to be crucial attributes for contractors and manufacturers in order to keep up with future code changes in an affordable way.  Luckily for London, we have a very forward-thinking residential construction industry.  The London Home Builders' Association in partnership with the City of London lead the very first Local Energy Efficiency Project (LEEP) for new homes, coordinated by Natural Resources Canada.  This initiative paired builders with manufacturers to develop systems for energy efficiency with mass adoption and affordability top of mind. Significant advancements resulted.

I am proud to say that NRC has again chosen LHBA for the next generation LEEP project, this time with a focus on retrofitting existing homes. The goal is to identify ideal systems for exterior insulation retrofit projects.

In November, LHBA renovators and representatives from the City (who are again partnering) and the NRC LEEP team met to evaluate different wall insulation systems that could be integrated with exterior renovation projects. Four wall assemblies were selected which were then presented to manufacturers in an effort to enhance available products or develop new integrated systems, that could be widely adopted and installed in the most affordable way.  

The four walls consisted mainly of additional insulation board material being added to the exterior of the home while upgrading the exterior cladding.  One also included removing the existing (if any) insulation in the stud cavity and installing new spray foam insulation to effectively incorporate a deep energy retrofit.  This method also conveniently allows for updating wiring or framing issues while the exterior of the home is exposed.  I actually implemented this in my first home here in London and it was a great success for energy use reduction.

The next step for LEEP, this summer, is an educational forum for the industry where manufacturers will present updated / improved systems.  

The main notion behind LEEP Retrofit, is to provide homeowners who are already planning to update their home’s curb appeal, with ways to maximize their investment by cleverly adding in an energy update at the same time. Stay tuned for more on these innovative systems!

Peder Madsen is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Vice President of CCR Building and Remodeling in London.     

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