Bang On: President's Column

Communication key to hiring renovator

  • Written by Peder Madsen

Hiring the ‘right’ renovator is essential to the success of your renovation.  It isn’t complicated, but it does warrant weighing out a number of factors before you make your decision.

The first factor is assessing how much time you have to devote to your project. By that, I don’t just mean whether you have the technical knowledge or skills to perform actual work, but also how much time you have to oversee trades, contracts, scheduling, purchase and supply management, permits etc.  Being honest in how much you can reasonably handle yourself, will help you to determine the type of contractor you need. 

  • Extensive Renovation – For large projects or additions, you may want a professional renovator to serve as your general contractor. In this role, they organize and take responsibility for the total project - design, sourcing and scheduling qualified tradespeople, managing permits and inspections, determining, ordering and scheduling appropriate building products and materials, providing a warranty and ensuring all insurances are in place. 
  • Specific Room Renovations- For renovating specific areas such as the kitchen or bathroom, you may want a renovator who specializes in these areas; who can provide design services and understands the responsibilities of interconnecting with all the required trades (cabinetry, drywall, electrical, plumbing, painters, flooring, heating etc). 
  • Installations- Building product retailers often offer installation services for products they sell (roofing, windows, flooring etc.).  You deal directly with the retailer for the work and payment – the retailer provides the qualified tradespeople, and warrants their work.  Retailers that provide contract installation services should still provide detailed contracts, verified insurance and Workers Compensation coverage to protect you from unnecessary risks – but to be sure, you need to ask about this.  You also need to know if they will handle all aspects of the project – example if they are installing windows, if needed will they provide a carpenter to reinstall any interior trim or painting. 
  • Trades such as electrical, mechanical, heating, plumbing, roofers, masons and carpenters can also be hired directly by you, but you will have to find these people and manage the contracting process yourself.

Face-to-face meetings in your home are next. This gives both parties a good first look and a chance to tour the home and discuss objectives.   Interviewing might be challenging at first, but once you feel secure with your contractor choice, it’s much easier to get underway with the project without added stress and worry. Below are a few helpful tips.

Contracts should detail responsibilities, specify products, include time frames, warranties, insurance, a final price and how changes will be handled during the work.  Anything less than this, should be a serious red flag.

Is their experience appropriate? Even if the pictures of their work is impressive, if their specialty is basement finishing and you’re looking to create an outdoor cooking oasis, you really should consider using someone different. Twenty years of experience and expertise in one area of remodeling does not necessarily translate to success in another.

As a homeowner, you have the responsibility to perform your own due diligence in checking references; including relationships with suppliers and other contractors, not just previous homeowners. Make sure they are sound and solid before signing a contract.

Lastly, does it feel right? Trust your instincts. Your contractor and their crew could be in your home for weeks or months. If there’s something that doesn’t feel quite right, for any reason, then hire someone else. This includes a fit in communication styles.  A contractor should be willing to talk with you when you need information.  Having said that, there are also timeframes that you will need to adher to if the agreed-upon completion date is to be met. It is a balance. 

Once you have chosen your contractor, then the creative work can begin.

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

 

Converted garage could solve cramped space

  • Written by Peder Madsen

I happened to catch a renovation show last week that had an interesting twist to it. Basically there is a competition between a contractor and a designer with each proposing a different renovation solution to the functionality issues being experienced by the homeowner. The interesting twist, is that the solution has to be within the current structure of the home. Meaning there is no opportunity to bump out the back of the house to add a gorgeous family living space or to add a master bedroom and luxury ensuite to the second storey.

I have often faced this same situation and the most likely solutions are to redesign the use of an under-used basement or attic or to completely rearrange the layout of rooms on a full floor or storey. It’s quite easy to change a few door openings and like magic, a seldom-used Dining Room can become a private office space, a family gathering spot or a main floor master bedroom retreat.

But there is another alternative that is often overlooked – that being the potential contained right in your garage.

A typical two car garage is usually about 600 sq. ft., which is a large enough space to make a significant impact on the livability of a home. It could easily provide the dream kitchen-family room you have always wanted; or a cute separate space to bring an aging parent in to live with you.

Using the garage is far more cost effective than having to start with pouring a foundation and building walls and a roof for a similar size addition. In fact the savings could be upwards of half of the cost of the addition. Depending on the features you want to include, the expense to convert a two-car garage could be from $20,000 to $50,000. If your plan includes a bathroom, then you should add another $15,000-$25,000.

At first, it might appear to be an easy task, drop in some flooring and a couple of partition walls, but to do it right there are a number of important considerations:

  • Raising the floor height to allow for insulation over the concrete slab
  • Insulating walls and ceiling
  • Providing heating and cooling for the space, either by tying into the main system or adding an independent one
  • Adding electrical receptacles and overhead lighting and a possible upgrade to the electrical service to accommodate the larger load
  • Opening up the partition wall between your house and the garage to create a better traffic floor or an open floor plan
  • Replacing garage doors with fully insulated stud walls
  • Adding windows and doors
  • Then adding the finishes touches of flooring, trim, doors, cabinets etc.

The point about adding windows is one you really need to take special care with, if you want to maintain your home’s curb appeal and value. A successful conversion should completely eliminate any evidence of the old garage door openings. Adding windows, changing the brick detailing and even adding some detail on the roofline all will help. Consulting with a professional renovator or designer is well worth the money to get the design correct.

There are considerations on the downside as well with giving up your garage:

  • in our snow belt, parking outside means scraping your car windows and it might also make it more difficult to have your driveway plowed;
  • more car washes might be needed and constant summer exposure can lead to premature aging of your vehicle;
  • potential for increased risk of a vehicle break-in or theft;
  • loss of conveniently located storage space for landscape tools, lawn mowers, snow blowers, bicycles and recreation equipment, could require the addition of a shed in the back yard.

Lastly, before you start knocking out any walls, you need to check with a professional renovator or your municipality about any regulations governing off-street parking and the amount of allowable lot coverage in your community. If your community’s bylaws allow it, then a garage could just be your perfect solution.

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

Renovating? Get the details in writing

  • Written by Peder Madsen

Homeowners often ask me whether it is better to renovate their existing home or make the move to build a brand new home. My answer is, it is a personal decision that depends on a lot of factors.

My recommendation is to check out both and when you understand what is required, the costs, effort and time involved, then you can weigh the information and decide which is the best choice for your family.

To garner information on the possibility of renovating, the first step is to contact two or three qualified renovators to discuss your ideas, goals and possible options. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of hiring a Professional RenoMark renovator. The RenoMark designation, ensures that the renovator is a member of a home builders’ association and that they conduct business under a specific code of conduct and adhere to specific requirements. For more information visit www.renomark.ca.

Below are tips on the steps in the renovation process. Next week there will be advice on the process of building a new home.

A renovation can be as simple as a bathroom overhaul or as complex as a major addition or a whole house makeover. Whether large or small, all renovations must be carefully planned so the end result is what you envision and desire.

To start, make your “need to have” and “want to have” lists. If multiple options have been priced or if scaling back the project is necessary, these lists will help you make an informed decision on prioritizing where to best spend your money.

The next step is to decide on a design concept, on which drawings can then be prepared. If you find it difficult to visualize a project from two dimensional plans, ask your renovator about three dimensional which would allow you to view the space from any angle; almost like a virtual walk-through.

At the end of the design phase you will have a set of plans that will allow you to obtain firm pricing for the project. Specifications for products and finishes will have been finalized at this point and will be part of the design documents. Your contractor will prepare a written Contract that will refer to the design plans and specifications and include additional information required such as payment terms, timelines, proof of insurance etc.

I can’t stress enough a caution to avoid the temptation of saving a few dollars by hiring a contractor who wants to work for cash and without a Contract. If you do so, there is a very high risk that work could be substandard or unsafe leaving you with significant financial and liability issues. Without a written contract, you are vulnerable without any recourse.

In some instances decisions on the final interior finishes might not be finalized at the time of Contract signing. Including realistic allowances in the Contract will give you more time to make these important choices and your renovation can get underway sooner.

Inevitably during the renovation process changes are made. At the time of construction many of these changes can be easily made at little or no cost. This is one reason it is important to keep an open dialogue between yourself and your renovator during the construction process.

Understanding the process of renovation will help you now to explore options for building new and ultimately in making the best decision for your future housing needs!

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

Winter stark canvas perfect to redraw yard

  • Written by Peder Madsen

At first you might think that landscaping isn’t a winter topic, but with everything blanketed in fluffy white, you truly have a blank slate to let loose your imagination on. Plus you can never have too much time for planning.


Outdoor living has taken on increased importance in our lives, as we seek out more ways to relax and entertain in our homes. Whether you are building new or renovating, now is the perfect planning time to align your inside and outside living.


When you buy a brand new home, you have a unique opportunity to ensure the locations of windows and doors to maximize view and flow between inside rooms and decks. Walkways and driveways can be designed to enhance important curb appeal and developing your landscaping from the very beginning, allows you to add beauty to your home, street, and community, as well as creating your own personal outdoor living environment.More than ever, builders are paying attention to the natural environment, carefully preserving trees and natural growth whenever possible. Green spaces and attractive landscaping of common areas are integral in larger community developments.


Some builders offer options for patios, built structures and plantings and to work with a landscape specialist, allowing you to complete the full look of your home and enjoy all of the benefits of your purchase immediately. There is a lot to think about when you begin your landscaping from scratch, whether you work with your builder, a landscaping specialist, or do it on your own. Developing a full vision of your entire outdoor space, complete with your wish list of everything you have always wanted, from decks and gardens to waterfalls and an outdoor kitchen is essential. Once you have the complete picture, then you can assess what you want to take on right away, and what you might want to phase in over time. Doing the big plan now also helps to avoid costly re-locations of gardens or decks later or the disappointment of having a door or window in the wrong spot.
Creating a great landscape is a little like magic-you want to enjoy the results and not be aware of how it was done. Outdoor lights should be invisible, but show plants off to their full advantage. A mix of annuals and perennials will provide an ever-changing symphony of colours, textures and ambience. Waterfalls should look and sound natural with hardware hidden from sight.
Maintenance is no longer a big concern for water features, with biological ponds, automatic skimmers and remote controls. But you need to be realistic about the amount of upkeep you want or are able to do. The use of low-maintenance lawns, in-ground edging, native plant species, ground covers and mulch all help to reduce mowing, watering and weeding.

Soil preparation and water control, particularly drainage, are crucial. Ask your builder about the soil type, landfill, foundation height and backfill around the house. Drainage patterns have been approved by the municipality and MUST be maintained to ensure that any runoff doesn’t create problems for neighbours or in other areas of your lot.

Other considerations to be included are:
- electrical cables for lights and transformers
- water lines for ponds or irrigation
- gas lines for a heater, barbecue or outdoor oven
- drainage from eavestroughs and downspouts

Lastly consider where you need shade versus sun. Gazebos can be built in any shape you can dream of, using a variety of low maintenance materials. Colourful awnings or sun-sails can also be used to make connections with decks and patios.


Landscaping is an integral part to maximizing the enjoyment of your home – don’t rush it!


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

Take steps to avoid ice dams and leaks

  • Written by Peder Madsen

While some people welcome our Canadian winter as a wonderland, many dread the effort needed to maintain your car and home and to stay warm and safe. If you haven’t already had the joyful experience an ice dam, then take a few minutes now to learn how to avoid one. It is not an item for anyone’s bucket list.


Have you ever driven by a house where the snow seems to be in panels every 16” or so? This is a clear indication of heat loss into the attic as it melts the snow between the trusses or rafters. If that house, is your house, then you should take special note of the info below. To explain, ice dams are large masses of ice that collect in gutters or on the lower edge of a roof. They usually occur when a significant depth of snow accumulates on the roof. If the attic temperature is above freezing, it warms the roof sheathing, which melts the snow lying on the shingles under the snow. This water runs down the roof to the overhang, which is not warmed by the attic. The water freezes on the roof starting the ice dam. As more melting snow (or rain) runs down the roof, it meets the ice and backs up, sometimes under the shingles and into the attic or the house. Most people don’t realize this is happening until drywall, carpet or furniture are damaged.


What to do? First, inspect the attic to determine the point of penetration. Attics can be tricky to navigate and evidence of water may not be obvious. Water can run along the attic floor a distance before coming through the ceiling, making it very difficult to determine it’s entry point.


Obvious areas such as chimneys, plumbing vents, and attic vents – anything that penetrates the roof sheathing – should be inspected first. If the sheathing (either boards, plywood, or composite board) along the lower edge of the roof is soaked and you can see a corresponding accumulation of ice on top of the roof, ice damming is occurring. This means that water is backing up under the shingles. Shingles are designed only to shed water running down, not up.


Your inspection may find that leakage is not the problem: the whole attic or part of it may be dripping with condensation or covered with frost.
Attic condensation and ice damming are related. Both can be caused by warm, moist air escaping from the house into the attic. You need good air sealing and insulation, to keep the attic cool and dry, and not cause snow to melt on the roof.


Increasing attic insulation is the most obvious fix. Fiberglass batt or blown-in insulation are easily added. Proper ventilation is also critical. Adequately sized vents on the roof and at the soffits with a clear unblocked airway between the two, will allow cool dry air to be drawn into the attic and warm moist air to be expelled.


One further step is needed, to reduce the amount of moist warm air leaking into the attic by ensuring:
- bathroom exhaust fans vent to the exterior and not into the attic
- potlights in the top ceiling are insulated sealed fixtures
- sealing around plumbing stacks, chimneys and electrical wires that pass through the attic floor
- sealing where partition or bearing walls meet the ceiling; around the house perimeter where the attic floor meets the outside walls
- insulating and sealing above pocket doors
- and have a professional ensure heating / air conditioning ducts or equipment in the attic are properly insulated and sealed.


A blower door test can locate less obvious air leaks by pressurizing the house with a big fan that amplifies leakage. Searching the attic at night for lights from below can also be helpful. Holes should be blocked and sealed.


For houses with complicated roofs or cathedral ceilings, electric heating cables, which will melt channels in the ice, can be considered.


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

 

Ode to a career in construction

  • Written by Peder Madsen

After catching up on some popular shows during the holidays, I noticed that many are focusing on aspects of public service as our main local heroes. It made me wonder what a show would be like, that focuses on society’s often unsung heroes…….from construction…

Imagine a girl or boy in school, being encouraged by their parents to use their math and science skills to take on the journey of becoming a lawyer, accountant, or doctor. But they have a different passion and the will to become it, so, they push towards shop class against the pressures of home and school. They luckily find a teacher with a similar passion who embraces the student’s drive and shows them the ropes.

We are fortunate to have such passionate teachers who understand the career opportunities within the trades. These educators are paramount to the success of students interested in the creative nature of construction, as well as the future well-being of our industry and city/country.

The student now takes their new skills and joins the ranks of a local contractor where they further their learning, all while taking extra courses to digest more info on architecture and engineering. They learn the essentials on-site of how to build responsibly, by an entrepreneur who works closely with government to further standard practices on how we construct homes and public buildings in our city and in Canada. They have the opportunity to stick close to the roots of the profession, while also learning the fundamentals within the more studious book work of drafting and material selection.

Along this road, the student (now a trades person) is privileged to meet many building inspectors. Although these officials do not don capes while keeping their city safe, they conduct a most important task of ensuring that all buildings are erected equally in accordance to code, which requires an ever-evolving understanding in a world of continual regulation change.

Although trades and inspectors are not always praised for the durability of their work, they take pride in knowing the buildings and homes they contribute to will remain a testament to great craftsmanship for years to come due to their longevity.

Sometimes, heroes go unnoticed, and often that is because there is no need for action as they have already done the job so well.

Essential though is the role of the homeowner who calls on this team in the first place. Despite the opportunity to hire their cousin to save on tax, in this show, the homeowner understands the value / comfort of hiring true professionals who have a high regard for detail and durability. The value, sound sleep for years after the work is completed, is achieved, all thanks to placing their initial trust in the hard work of the dedicated team of trades and city officials.

Without homeowners and businesses that call on our industry, we wouldn’t have the steam to power through and develop new technologies.

Speaking of technologies, we need to recognize the scientists who craft the tools and materials, that allow our heroes to get the job done. Working closely with regulators and trades people they create great new technologies, products and methods that we may take for granted. Thanks to these efforts, Canada can boast some of the world’s most efficient homes being built on it’s soil.

It's a realistic show, strangely similar to my own journey, along which I have met great people and benefitted from working with intelligent trades. Some entrepreneurs pursue leadership roles within our communities and beyond and many trades, myself included, remain teachers because of the love we have for our chosen craft.

For those who are a part of the construction journey or are thinking of joining, my imagined show isn’t fictional, it’s a path well worth the trek.

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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