Bang On: President's Column

Home ownership builds equity, sense of community

  • Written by Sue Wastell

When you are looking for a new place to live, one of the questions that is bound to come up is whether you should buy or rent. For some, it’s either one or the other with no room for debate, but if you aren’t sure the choice can be a tough one.

Both buying and renting have many pros and cons, but in the end there is really nothing like having a home of your own. Purchasing a home is a big step. It’s not purely a financial decision; it is an emotional one as well that can affect everyone in your family. It makes sense to feel nervous about taking such a big step. I always remind my staff that our customers have trusted us with probably the biggest purchase they will ever make in their life, and we have to deliver.

So if you think you’re ready, here’s a list featuring 5 benefits of buying a home of your own instead of renting.

1) Building Equity for You - The thing about renting is, in many cases you’re still paying off a mortgage. It just belongs to someone else. Basically, you’re helping to create equity for someone else, instead of yourself. You have to live somewhere and in most cases, you have to pay to live there. Why not pay to live somewhere that creates a valuable asset for you at the same time? Homes have averaged a 10% return year over year in Toronto over the last 10yrs. So on average, if you bought a house for $500,000 in 2004 that same house would be worth at least $1,000,000 today in Toronto. That is an amazing return on investment.

2) Your Inner Designer - If you are a renter, you know how difficult it can be to make any even minor changes to the décor of your rental property. And if you are able to paint or switch light fixtures you usually have to change everything back before you move out. When you buy a home, you can unleash your inner designer / DIY person and change whatever you want. You can put those hours of watching home improvements to good use - change the entire theme of the home, re-route plumbing, take down walls or change the flooring. It’s your choice.

3) Family Stability - When you buy a home and make it uniquely your own, you are setting the stage for decades of childhood memories, grandkids and important family get-togethers. The sense of nostalgia that comes with owning a home and watching your family grow with it is immeasurable. You’ll also create a source of financial security later in life when the mortgage is gone and you have this valuable asset.

4) Payment Stability - Most lease agreements last for one to two years, then it’s time to do it over again, possibly with a rent increase that depending on the landlord, could be as high as the law allows. And while mortgage rates aren’t always rock steady, you can opt for 5-year fixed terms where you’ll know exactly how much you have to pay for that period of time, making it a more stable option. 

5) Sense of Community - When you buy a home instead of renting, there is often a higher likelihood that you’ll take an active interest in the community. This includes ensuring your property looks neat and well-maintained, getting to know your neighbours on a deeper level and working to keep the neighbourhood safe. That’s not to say a renter doesn’t want a safe community. But when you own your home, it also feels like the community belongs to you and your fellow homeowners, taking community pride to another level.

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

Project outlines help you make wise decisions

  • Written by Sue Wastell

Designing a new home or renovation can seem like an easy task, but the challenge is deciding between what you need and what you want — which are not the same thing.

First, create a project outline. More than a wish list, it should describe your design objectives, including all aspects of the project — size, appearance, location, orientation, cost, construction methods and much more. This forms the foundation of your home design, and you will constantly refer back to it. It is a very important task, requiring a lot of thought and consideration.

1. List what you like and then analyze the items.

Establish the sort of house you want to create. Begin by collecting images of all the things you like and that speak to you about the type of home you want to create.

Look closely at the pictures to note exactly what attracts you. Is it specific like a back splash tile or a larger feeling of comfort? It’s important to identify the qualities you want your home to have, rather than simply how you want it to look.

2. Look closely at how you live. No matter whether you own a house, rent an apartment or sleep on your parents’ sofa, ask yourself:

What do you like or dislike about where you live?

Which rooms do you spend time in and which do you rarely use?

What is it specifically that you like or dislike about these spaces?

If you could improve one thing, regardless of cost and practicality, what would it be?

3. Draw up a list of spaces.

Compile a list of the rooms you hope to include in your new home. Consider the entire range of activities (indoor, exterior, storage, etc), including future needs, that you would like your home to incorporate.

4. Analyze the use of each space.

What specific activities normally happen in this space. For a kitchen, for instance, this may be eating or socializing in addition to cooking.

Identify furniture and storage needs, including built-ins.

Can you combine a few rooms into a multifunctional space that serves different purposes at different times?

Revisit the qualities and feelings identified in your list of likes, as well your analysis of the rooms you enjoy spending time in. What qualities do you want the rooms on your list to have? This may include natural light at certain times of the day, or feelings of spaciousness, comfort, warmth, for example.

Think about rooms in your current home that you rarely use and make sure you aren’t replicating them in your new home.

5. Establish big-picture goals and priorities, including:

Environmental goals of energy efficiency or water conservation
Economic goals of maximizing affordability and minimizing maintenance costs
Personal ones, such as flexibility for future lifestyle changes or creating the perfect entertaining space
Consider the relationship between spaces. For quiet and privacy, you might want the bedrooms away from the main living area.

6. Ensure against common mistakes.

Match your completed overview against common mistakes that people often make, such as:

Focusing on esthetics instead of quality, comfort and functionality. Looks comes later.
Thinking purely room by room. Be sure you have real goals and values for your whole project from the outset. A good designer can focus on the little details without forgetting the bigger picture.
Not considering all family members’ thoughts and feelings.
Keeping up with the Joneses. If your neighbours have a hot tub on the roof doesn’t mean you have to have one too.
Not considering the future. If this process is going to be worthwhile, your design is able to grow with you and your family.
This is a working document. The purpose of this exercise is to write things down, think about them and make wise decisions that keep the project on design.

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

Research can shed light on windows

  • Written by Sue Wastell

Summertime is a great time to be looking at items around the house that are better suited to be fixed or replaced while the weather is good. Windows are one of those items.

Energy efficiency requirements in the Ontario Building Code coupled with advances in glass making and glass coating technologies, have made todays windows extremely efficient. You can bid drafts and stuffiness farewell plus reap the benefits of increased comfort and lower utility bills!

Various factors contribute to a window’s efficiency. The U-factor measures its insulation. Basically, the lower the U-factor, the more insulated it is. The U-factor needs to be really high in northern regions, because homeowners need more protection against the harsh outdoor climate. Increased insulation means the windows won’t be fighting the outside air to maintain a comfortable temperature inside. The solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) measures how much solar radiation passes through the window.

Efficient windows will also filter sunlight, which prevents the sun’s rays from fading your furniture, upholstery, wood floors and art. Another important side effect is soundproofing. The thicker the glass, the more sound they’ll block. This can work surprisingly well in homes near an airport or busy traffic areas. 

Here are a few of the more popular styles to consider:

Double and Single Hung – This window is made of two independent sashes that are hung in one frame.  The sashes, one at the bottom and one at the top, can slide up and down within this frame or, as in the case of a single-hung window; only one sash will be movable. This style is mostly used in Traditional styled homes.

Sliding Windows - The sliding or gliding window functions much like a double-hung window. The big difference is that the sash will slide horizontally rather than vertically. It's as if a double-hung is placed on its side. These are ideally used in areas that have horizontal proportions and where you want to maximize the amount of glass for light or a view.

Casement Windows - This window is a single sash that's attached to a frame on one side. Hinges, or a hinge, are used to make the attachment, allowing the window to swing out like a door. These are quite popular in both Traditional and Contemporary homes.

Awning Windows - Sharing many of the design considerations of a casement, this style is suited to both traditional and contemporary designs. They are typically horizontal which maximizes the light or view and makes them appropriate for placing over a counter or vanity or above or below a fixed window. The single sash and glass are all in one plane, the screen is located on the interior and the hardware is an important design element. Unlike the casement, though, an awning window can be open when it's raining. Because an awning pivots up and out, the sash effectively creates a mini awning that prevents the rain from coming through the window opening. 

In addition to these factors, if you’re replacing or adding windows as part of a larger remodelling project or planning the construction of a new home, consideration should be given to location, size, type, style, function, operation, material, interior and exterior finish, hardware and assembly. It can seem overwhelming, but this is where your builder, renovator or window and door expert should help you to work through the choices and determine the best combination for your specific needs and preferences. Working with professionals, will also ensure there are warranties on the windows and on their work.

Taking a few extra minutes to plan is always the best advice!

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

Many ways to divert waste from job sites

  • Written by Sue Wastell

Whether you’re renovating your home, building a new home or living in an existing home, waste is not something that is new but there are new ways we can deal with it.

So often during renovations, cabinetry, plumbing and hardware used to be thrown into a dumpster and driven off to the nearest dump. Luckily over the years, opportunities have risen that have changed this. Despite what you see on TV, demolition can be done carefully to allow still-good cabinets or materials to be repurposed or recycled instead of ending up in the landfill. In the industry we call this waste diversion.

At the start of construction, one of the first things to show up is a large bin. This is where all scraps of non-hazardous building materials (non-pressure treated lumber, scrap metal, drywall, concrete, asphalt and glass) will get collected during construction. Once full, the bin is hauled to a transfer site where it is weighed, charges are paid for by the contractor and contents get sorted by the recycling company:

  • Clean woods (palettes, 2 x 4’s etc) are ground into landscape mulches / products;
  • Mixed woods get ground up to size for use as biofuel for greenhouses or the agriculture industry;
  • Concrete and asphalt are processed into aggregate products for use in local construction projects;
  • Cardboard and metals (removed by magnet or hand) are sent to specialized local recyclers to be further processed into finished products;
  • Drywall is processed into a new product that is used in the agricultural industry as an additive for field application to capture the calcium and sulphur, replacing native gypsum. This product can also be used in the production of cement.
  • Glass is used as an additive to native aggregate as a component for road building material.

Consideration is also given to lifecycle and environmental impact of products and materials included in the construction:

  • LED lighting can last 50 times longer than old incandescent bulbs;
  • Metal roofing, which is becoming popular, has a lifespan far exceeding traditional asphalt shingles;
  • Reclaimed wood is being widely used in todays designs because of the great texture it adds – but also because it is environmentally friendly.
  • Quartz and granite reminants are available for use on vanity counters
  • Floor coverings made from recycled materials are stylish and readily available
  • Foundation concrete is made from 25% recycled content sourced either locally
 or within Ontario.

When it comes to homeowner waste, Home Recycling Stations are becoming more widely asked for in all housing types, from large to small. Pull out cabinetry with multi bins allow for separation of plastic, paper and general garbage.

Trash compactors aren’t yet a mainstream item to install, but are beginning to catch on. Units now are built in under the countertop and look a lot like a dishwasher, but take up less space. They are efficient and noiseless, and can reduce the volume of trash in your garbage by 80%. While odor used to be a concern, most compactors today have odor seals, to keep the compactor and space around it smelling fresh. The effect on the environment is the biggest benefit, as they have been proven to play a role in reducing landfill.

Composting is fairly widespread, but there are new pull-out drawers that seal when closed that are getting more traction in kitchen renovations and new builds.

No matter what we do, our homes and jobs sites will always create some waste. But it’s up to us as contractors and homeowners to make educated decisions in how we build, and what techniques we use, to reduce the materials that go into our landfills every year. Sustainable building needs to be a factor we consider during all stages of construction — even demolition.

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

Have you considered adding an outdoor kitchen to your home?

  • Written by Sue Wastell

If you think the kitchen is the heart of the home, then consider bringing that space for entertaining and relaxating to the outdoors this summer. The options for an outdoor kitchen are endless — sinks, refrigerators, lighting, roofing and the list goes on.

If this sounds appealing, then you are not alone. More than 70% of homeowners who have outdoor space are looking to enhance the patio with the goal of making it more relaxing.

An outdoor kitchen might not be at the top of your list of home renovation or building plans — it isn’t the cheapest project, nor a necessity — but it is sure to boost your summer fun, as well as the value of your property.

Here’s how you can go about bringing the food and festivities outside.

Start planning early: Outdoor work can be done any time of the year, but above-freezing temps are preferred. The timeframe to complete an outdoor kitchen can range from 2-3 weeks to four months, depending on the complexity. Starting the process six months before you want it completed should allow sufficient time to create a functional and stylish kitchen plan.

Set the budget: As with all home renovation projects, it’s better to figure this out in the beginning. And like all home renovation projects, this will be a meeting place of your financial abilities and what you need and want. Being able to start with a patio or deck that is already there may keep costs down.

Draw up the design: Kitchen designers, landscapers and professional renovators can all lay out your outdoor kitchen. Consideration should be given to blending the outdoor kitchen into the overall look of your landscaped outdoor space. This is also the time to check the strength of an existing deck if you are not starting from scratch.

Hire a professional: If you haven’t already hired a professional renovator as part of your design process, now is the time. They can verify your budget and design, requirements for municipal permits, electrical, plumbing and gas requirements, assess existing decks as well as build any structures necessary for your vision.

Research Materials: Your style preference and budget are considerations, but durability is key. Exterior materials will differ greatly from your indoor kitchen as they need to withstand winter cold, including pipes that drain easily for winterizing. Stucco, concrete and stacked stone are commonly used for structures that encompass countertop, storage and appliances.

Understand the appliances: The staple piece of your outdoor kitchen, and likely the most expensive, is the grill. Whether your chosen grill will use a propane tank or rely on gas lines, it will have a big impact on your budget. Decide if you are fine replacing a propane tank or would prefer to run gas lines and hook up your grill directly.

Ironically, not all fridges are designed to withstand the winter. Outdoor fridges must work harder to maintain a constant temperature when the weather fluctuates and a high-grade stainless steel model will reduce rusting.

Keep covered: Shade and shelter from the rain comes in many forms and price points, from a budget-friendly retractable awning to a full gazebo roof wired for sound and TV.

Think lighting: Have a long think about what you will use the area for. Will you be reading or playing games with friends? Then perhaps you need more lighting over the seating area, as well as where you prepare the food. Hosting dinner parties? Then consider more ambient lighting that highlights architecture.

Now, it’s time to let your renovator do their thing and before you know it, you’ll be cooking!

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

Amp up the beauty and drama with tile

  • Written by Sue Wastell

There is one element in a home, which offers hundreds or thousands of options, which are constantly changing – and that element is Tile. Pattern and colour options are now easily altered by new manufacturing methods and printing technologies which allows for endless choices for customers to use throughout their home, not just in the kitchen and bathroom.

Whether it is a bold geometric shape, or soft organic lines, textures allow for clients to use these new products in areas of their home where you have never used them before.

The biggest trend in tile right now is size. 12x24 inch tiles are still popular, but there are tiles as large as 24x48 inches. They are available with realistic types of stone, such as marble, limestone, concrete and travertine.

The thin tile panels/slabs is an extremely fast growing segment in the tile industry. Porcelain tiles are as large as 5x10 feet and can vary in thickness from 1/8” to ¾”. It is a more difficult tile to install, but it sure has the “wow” factor. With ink jet technology we’re seeing beautiful patterns and designs becoming art pieces in the home.

These large-format porcelain products are resistant to heat, scratching, chemical damage and staining, and they can be laid on horizontal and vertical surfaces, which makes them suitable for an incredibly wide range of applications in all wet areas, including kitchens and bathrooms. 

They can be wrapped around kitchen counters and islands, used to create seamless backsplashes or used to clad bathroom walls. Mural tiles are also available to be used to accent living room or hallway walls.

Grout is being used differently now to dress tiles up or down. For a bold, graphic look, a contrasting grout will highlight the form of the tiles and really bring out the pattern. For a subtler effect, finish with a color-matched grout. 

And if you love the look of shaped tiles but you’re unsure if you want to take them across a whole wall, consider using them to pick out key architectural features, such as wall recesses or the area around a vanity. 

We’re seeing designers add flair and interest by creating pattern with tile layouts. Amp up the drama with vertical stacking, diagonal, herringbone, chevron and zigzag layouts, which are coming into play on bathroom floors, walls and kitchen backsplashes.

Reversing the colors — accenting black tile with white grout — packs an even bigger visual punch.

 The advent of 3D tiles has changed the face of tiled surfaces, with embossed or molded patterns that make walls pop. They can add drama to a space and naturally attract attention. Structured or 3D tiles are made using a mold, so the embossing can be quite pronounced. Beautiful patterns abound, including pillowy soft dimples and undulating curves.

Nonporous 3D tiles can be used in the kitchen and the bathroom — like other tiles, they can be wiped clean with a damp cloth. You may find that they catch the dust more than regular flat tiles, though. And remember, use them only on walls and vertical surfaces, since their pronounced texture makes them unsuitable for floors.

The reclaimed barn wood-flooring trend is also growing in popularity. The barn wood look is still a favourite because of its color variation and distressed look. For homeowners who are looking for a warm rustic look, this is something to consider. Technology has become so good that manufacturers can replicate the exact look of real wood onto the tile surfaces. This makes it almost impossible to differentiate the tile from real wood. 

Tiles that look like wood provide homeowners with much more variety when determining their flooring options. No longer do you have to resort to traditional hardwood to achieve that warm and cozy feel to your home. With faux tiles, you get the design benefits of a hardwood floor while also enjoying the functional advantages of tile flooring.

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

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