Don’t let unheeded dangers ruin your holiday season

With the festive season set to start, including a school break for our children, I’d like to remind fellow parents that construction sites are not playgrounds. Snow might make a site look like a sparkling winter wonderland, but don’t be fooled, the dangers there are all too real.

Workers on construction sites are trained to recognize dangers in accordance with stringent rules set by the province. They also wear protective gear such as hard hats, steel-lined work boots, vests, harnesses, safety goggles and ear plugs.

Provincial legislation also provides that if you are not 16 years of age or older and wearing the appropriate gear, then you are considered a trespasser breaking the law if you enter a construction site.

The legislation is also explicit that builders and renovators post signs such as “No Trespassing! Danger – Keep Out!”

We all go to great lengths to dissuade entry by unauthorized people including fencing and taping off areas. Even new home buyers who want to view the construction of their own home require supervision by the builder and must be properly attired when they are on site.

Sadly though, tragic mishaps do occur, forever impacting the lives of the young person, their family and friends and members of the construction industry.

Whether you are visiting sites as you consider a new home purchase, you live in a new development that is still under construction, or are visiting with family or friends who live nearby a construction site, there is a good chance your child will come in contact with a construction site.

Please take the time to warn your children. Explain the dangers such as nails, rough materials and potential falls that could result in broken bones but could also be life-threatening. Perhaps explaining the safety gear required for workers and that it is against the law to enter a site might resonate with them.

Lastly, make sure you know where your children are going, and when they will be back and encourage them to take advantage of all the beautiful parks and playgrounds in London.

I also want to encourage everyone to pay special attention to their smoke detectors. Our London Home Builders’ Association renovators work with the London fire services to blitz London neighbourhoods, testing smoke detectors and replacing batteries or the detector where necessary.

It is surprising and disheartening to learn how many homes have expired smoke detectors or no detectors at all.

Results for our second blitz weren’t as bleak as they were for the first neighbourhood, but it was still well worth the time and effort for the renovators and firefighters.

Of the 256 homes canvassed, 124 homes were not available to be checked as no one was home. Surprisingly, entry was refused at an additional 16 homes.

That left 116 homes of which 3.5 per cent had no smoke alarm, 15.5 per cent of the smoke alarms that were not working and an amazing 19 per cent had an insufficient number of smoke alarms for the size and layout of the home.

The renovators and firefighters were happy to be able to supply 17 homes with new batteries and replace and install an additional 30 smoke alarms.

When you realize that all these numbers mean that in one small neighbourhood in London, that at least one in five homes were without adequate protection, it is unsettling to think of how many lives might be at risk across our city.

With the holidays fast approaching, why not take this as your opportunity to start a new family tradition: checking the expiry date and the batteries in your smoke detector. When you’re thinking stocking stuffers, don’t forget batteries.

Have a happy holiday season by putting an emphasis on staying safe.

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

Wood an alternative to concrete in mid-rise construction

Among the four- to six-storey mid-rise buildings under construction in London and area, you can see two different types of construction being used.

The traditional, most widely used construction material is concrete. According to the Ready Mixed Concrete Association, concrete has many benefits.

  • Concrete structures are designed to last for centuries. Concrete, unlike some other materials, gets stronger the longer it sits. It won’t rot, mold or rust, which makes maintenance minimal.
  • Concrete can be shaped into any design to achieve unique looks.
  • Insulated concrete forms (ICF) create walls that are reinforced with rebar which creates a strong, durable structure that stands up to fire, floods, and wind. ICF creates a solid wall with continuous insulation that provides increased energy efficiency.
  • Fire resistance is one of the most important considerations when building. Concrete’s fire resistance can even exceed building requirements.

Another option for mid-rise construction is wood construction.

In 2009, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to allow five- and six-storey mid-rise buildings to be made from wood. After years of study by technical experts with support from research organizations such as the National Research Council and FPInnovations, changes were made to the 2015 National Building Code of Canada.

Most people think of two-by-four framing, panels or flooring on single family homes when they think of wood construction, but with recent advances in wood science and building technology, there is now stronger, more robust and sophisticated product options for wood construction which allows for more choice for builders and architects.

According to Canadian Wood Products Ltd., there are many benefits of wood construction.

  • Mid-rise buildings made of wood are a less expensive construction option. With land prices rising, the changes to the building code allow safe, compliant buildings that would not otherwise be possible. The benefit of reduced construction costs can be passed on to home buyers or tenants.
  • With new economic opportunity, the construction of these units creates new construction jobs as well as supporting employment in forestry communities. Exports of wood products also could increase as other countries begin similar types of construction.
  • This new standard of engineering fully meets the same requirements of the building code as any other type of construction from the perspective of health, safety and accessibility. With growing pressure for building designers to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment, wood product based construction is a great choice, as it is a renewable building.

Researchers are continuously working on new innovations for both wood and concrete construction.

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

Watch out for counterfeit and other substandard products

Familiar with the saying “you get what you pay for”? Or “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is”?

When you begin planning your new home purchase or home renovation, you quickly discover the marketplace offers an astounding array of products with an even more astounding array of prices.

With so much to choose from, how do you get the best value for your money and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you have made wise, informed decisions?

Product selection often begins with appearance and price: how will it look in your home and how much are you willing to pay? Beyond that, other aspects need careful thought: overall quality, reliability, durability, ease of installation, warranty and after-sales service.

Not all products are the same, and in some cases, they may not be what they seem. The majority of building products and materials meet standards for safety, health, performance etc. Some standards are mandatory according to building codes; others are used by manufacturers as a benchmark for quality.

However, recent years have seen an increase in counterfeit and nonconforming consumer products of all kinds, especially with today’s access to purchases online. While there is no evidence of a large-scale problem with building products, it is still prudent for consumers to be on guard against unsafe or substandard products, which can show up as:

  • counterfeit or fake brand name products
  • products with fake certification symbols, that is, fraudulent use of marks belonging to standards organizations such as Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Underwriters Laboratories Canada (ULC) and Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB)
  • nonconforming products, that is, those that do not meet accepted industry standards
  • no-name or knock-off products without any indication of performance, durability or warranty. Untested and uncertified, these products can, in the extreme, pose a serious safety risk. Less dramatically, they may simply be substandard — not dangerous, but not performing as they should.

As a homebuyer or renovating homeowner, what can you do to safeguard against counterfeit and nonconforming products?

One of the most effective ways is to work with an experienced and respectable industry professional. Reputable new home builders and renovators:

  • give careful thought to the best products based on cost, installation, quality, performance, durability, warranty and compliance with codes and standards
  • rely on brand-name products and suppliers and sub-trades they can trust
  • depend on approval marks or listing numbers by standards and evaluation organizations, for example, CSA, ULC and CGSB, to identify products that have been tested against required criteria for safety and performance
  • offer a warranty on their work, and many of the products they use are covered by manufacturers’ warranties, which are transferred to you, the homeowner
  • take a firm stance on not allowing products to be brought in that have not come through their network of trusted suppliers.

However, if you are doing your own work, here are a few pointers to help avoid disappointment and problems from the purchase of a counterfeit product:

  • Buy brands by reputable manufacturers
  • Shop in dependable building supply stores where you can exchange or replace a defective product
  • With Internet purchases, make sure you understand what you are getting, for example, check country of origin and distributor, installation and performance data, maintenance information, warranty and access to service
  • Be skeptical if a price is too good to be true or if you are asked to pay cash with no receipt
  • Be careful if you can’t find information about the manufacturer on the packaging or product. Manufacturers normally want you to know who they are, including name, address and website.
  • Check the product and packaging for a shoddy appearance or approval mark or misspelled words, which may be evidence of a fake
  • Visit the websites of standards organizations such as CSA, ULC and CGSB to check the legitimacy of approval or for product recalls and warnings
  • Report suspicions right away to the appropriate standards organization, the retailer or the supplier.

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

Be counter productive by choosing material wisely

There are plenty of options to choose from for countertops in kitchens and bathrooms.

It is important to decide which material will hold up to your kitchen activities, and has a price your budget can handle.

And remember, your counters influence the palette for your room and can dictate other choices such as cabinets, backsplash, paint and even flooring.

Budget friendly

Plastic laminate: Although it’s sometimes looked down on by stone lovers, plastic laminate still has a serious fan base. The wide range of customizable edges and finishes means it can work in any design. Its affordable price makes it a winner for many. However, it’s not the most durable of countertop materials, and so it may not be best for heavy-duty cooks.

Tile: Also one of the more affordable counter choices, ceramic or stone tile is durable, and one of the few do-it-yourself countertop options. Maintenance can be difficult, though, with all that grout, but choosing a durable, dark-coloured grout can make things easier.

Wood: For some, wood and countertops just don’t seem to mix. But a high-quality wood with the right kind of sealant can make for a beautiful, warm and long-lasting countertop. The price varies substantially depending on the type of wood you choose.

Mid range

Granite: There are plenty of reasons granite counters are so popular — this natural stone has plenty of character, with unique grains, colors and customizable finishes. When properly sealed, it’s one of the most durable options out there. Prices can go up quickly with more exotic slabs and difficult installations.

Stainless steel: Professional chefs love stainless steel because it’s non-staining, heat-resistant and easy to clean. While it certainly makes fingerprints and scratches stand out, it’s a great choice for hardworking kitchens that don’t need a perfect look.

Zinc: Although not overly popular, this metal has warmth that has made it popular for centuries. Zinc’s tone darkens with time, adding patina. Its antimicrobial properties make it a smart choice.

Copper: While uncommon, a copper countertop is surprisingly easy to clean and maintain. However, it’s not for perfectionists — since it’s a “living” surface, it reacts to different substances, creating a blend of matte reds, browns and greens. But for those who love the look, the mid-range cost is worth it.

High end

Engineered quartz: Perfect for those wanting a custom look, engineered quartz comes in just about every shade imaginable. This product combines ground quartz, resin and pigments for a tough, non-porous material. Ecofriendly attributes makes it a safe bet for green homes.

Soapstone: Often used in laboratories for its resistance to stains, chemicals and bacteria, soapstone is a durable and natural choice for a kitchen. It might be expensive, but it can be a lifetime investment.

Marble: A a beautiful, classic look, marble always seems to be in style. For lovers of white kitchens in particular, a marble counter offers more variety than almost any other material. Marble is known more for the patina it develops with use than for its durability, as it’s a softer stone than granite, and can scratch and stain easily.

Concrete: Pigments, stains and dyes can create concrete counters with colour and visual texture. With the right sealant, a concrete counter can be well worth its cost.

Recycled glass and cement: Although itexpensive, this unique combination is a great way to add character to your kitchen. Ecofriendly, durable and customizable, this material is a top choice for featured areas, such as serveries or bar areas.

Whatever you choose, my last recommendation is to make your choice early in your decor planning as it will influence many other choices — from cabinets to flooring.

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

Reno misconceptions can be costly

Our recommended steps for a successful renovation include tips on planning, selecting the right renovator and details that should be in a written contract.

It’s also important to address common misconceptions:

  • I can do it myself;  I don’t need a professional renovator; anyone can do it. If the work is simple and involves things you have done before successfully, you may well be right. But ask yourself: Do I know the current building code requirements? Can I protect my family against potential law suits because I understand current government safety regulations? Biting off more than you can chew is a major cause of renovation stress, not to mention the extra costs to have work redone.
  • I can save a lot of money by acting as my own contractor. If you’re an experienced construction manager, and you have the time, during the day, this may be the case. But remember, the contractor is responsible for managing everyone else involved in the project. Knowing the order of work to be performed and setting the standards for quality are essential, which means you have to a have a working knowledge of all components in the renovation.
  • It’s a small project, so it shouldn’t take long. It’s not necessarily the size of the job that dictates its length, but the number of steps and sub-trades involved. A quality job requires a realistic job schedule.
  • A professional renovator should be able to give me a good idea of price right away. For a simple project, a renovator may well be able to provide a rough  estimate. But for anything more complex, or where structural issues may crop up, or where costs depend on material or finishing choices you have yet to make, a more detailed plan is needed before costs can be estimated accurately.
  • I should get at least three bids (and more is better). Getting a large number of bids provides no assurance they are based on the comparable specifications or that the renovation companies are equal in skills. From whom you get bids is  more important than how many you collect. Focus on interviewing professional renovators, and look for the experience and qualifications that best match your project, as well as the personal fit between you and the renovator. Then, you can decide who to ask for detailed quotes, one, two or more renovators.
  • I am the best person to design my own renovation. True, you know your own house and what you want. But a professional renovator or designer draws on a wealth of experience and knowledge (about building code, structural restrictions and more), and can offer you ideas and suggestions, large and small, that you may never have thought about, adding extra value and living enjoyment to your home.
  • Cost overruns are usually the renovator’s fault. Extra costs almost always are due to extra work not included in the original plan, like having to replace old wiring in the walls. Often, homeowners add to the work: “While we’re at it, we may as well …” It’s best to add a 10 to 15 per cent contingency fund to the budget.
  • I don’t need a permit. Perhaps, but depending on your project, that may be illegal. Structural changes usually require a permit. A professional always will recommend getting all the necessary permits and inspections. Insurance companies usually require proof of permits as an indication work has passed inspection and is worthy of being insured. Also on resale, potential buyers may want to know about the renovations on your house, including whether you got permits.

A renovation isn’t a good place for on-the-job learning. Using a professional RenoMark renovator is always the top recommendation for bringing your dreams to reality.

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

Amenities constantly change with high-rises

The main reasons for a move to high-rise homeownership are usually convenience and location. But amenities also play a major role in choice and could be the deciding factor between different buildings.

Understanding the importance of amenities keeps builders and developers constantly researching wish lists of features.

Thirty years ago it was card rooms for bridge tournaments and poker games. In the early days of the internet, business centres with computers that could go online were the hot ticket.

Those areas have now made way for many new features to try to stay relevant with the changing needs and desires of residents, including the following:

  • Yoga studios:Sometimes with pre-arranged weekly sessions.
  • Pet areas:Considerable thought and planning have gone into understanding the needs of not only pet owners but also pets. No time to go to the local park? No worries — some buildings feature outdoor dog runs, including fountains for pets to drink from. Indoor pet washing areas can be a major convenience rather than having to use a bathtub in a unit. All manner of accommodations are being made.
  • Fitness and aquatic centres:Along with an outdoor terrace and a gym, a desired amenity has always been a pool. The pool space might now also include men’s and women’s changing rooms, steam rooms and sauna.
  • Holistic wellness areas:These might accommodate physical or massage therapists who come directly to residents.
  • Covered porte cochere:No one wants to get out of their car in the rain or snow and have to make a run for the front door. Some building designs now include covered areas where residents can load or unload a car.
  • Underground parking:Security and convenience are factors here, especially in poor weather. We’re seeing garages include electric car charging stations for residents.
  • Food delivery:Toronto’s new Line 5 condo building has incorporated a dedicated lane out front for Uber and food delivery vehicles. If you’re running a few minutes late getting home, the building also provides a hot and cold storage area where the building concierge will accept pre-paid grocery and takeout orders.
  • Social spaces:Apartment living can sometimes feel like a lonely place where you don’t have many opportunities to interact with your neighbours. Today you can work from home, have food and shopping delivered and never need to leave the house. But people are now realizing the value of social interaction and we’re seeing spaces such as group kitchens, where you can have a large group over for dinner or hire in a chef and have a cooking class. Theatre rooms, games rooms, craft and hobby rooms and children’s playrooms are all popular.
  • Ceiling heights:Natural light, increased ceiling heights and oversized windows continue to be a must-have amenity for many.
  • Technology:It’s gone beyond having advanced fibre optics in the building. Condo developers are incorporating smart-home technologies that allow their homeowners to control lighting, temperature and electronics using their tablet or smartphone, even if they’re not home.
  • Guest suite:Can’t fit your overnight guests into your own apartment? Guest suites available for rent by residents are great at allowing your guests to stay close by in a hotel-type setting. They can also be an income-generator, which can help the condo association keep condo fees in check.

So it seems high-rise living can provide more than just a view.

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

Lots of decisions to make with paint: type, colour, finish

Whether you’re building a new home or renovating a room, choosing paint can become a larger task than one might think.

Not all paints are created equal. Price usually is an indication of the quality. Good quality paint contains less water, more solids and a finer quality of titanium oxide and resin. These attributes mean more colour ends up on the wall, it maintains its look longer and provides a more durable surface. This can also mean less labour and less coats of paint to get a solid look.

The two most common types of paint are water borne and oil based. Water borne include latex, or acrylic-based paint. Oil based paints were thought to wear better, however, modern latex and acrylic paints have become almost as durable with less fumes, less yellowing and easier clean up with water instead of solvents.

More environmentally friendly paints with fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are available from all manufacturers. VOC content regulations were developed to help reduce emissions that produce smog and the formation of ground ozone. VOCs can cause skin and eye irritation, headaches, and respiratory distress in some people. If you want to tint the paint, ask about the VOCs in the colourant. Many colourants contain VOCs, which will defeat having chosen a low-VOC or no-VOC paint.

Sheen is something to consider when looking at finishes. In high traffic areas, you want a finish which can be wiped clean and is easy to touch up without repainting the entire wall. Eggshell finishes are a good choice in high traffic areas, as they have almost no sheen and are easier to clean than a flat finish.

Re-painting a white ceiling can be tricky, because it is difficult to see where you have painted or where you might have missed painting. Some ceiling paints appear to have a colour, such as pink, when they go on, but lose the colour when they dry.

If you are struggling to decide what colour to choose, there are tools on paint manufacturers’ websites that can help. They post their colour trends for the year, highlighting the top colour pallets their designers have put together.

There also is a colour quiz, where you answer a few questions about your personality and how you live and you will get a personalized palette for all design elements of your room.

You can upload a picture of the room you want to paint and many programs will show you what that room will look like in any colour you choose.

These tools and others help take the guesswork out of painting.

My final tip comes from Paul Guenette, owner of London CertaPro Painters franchise, who says “it is still important to see how paint swatches look in your home before making the final decision. The same colour applied to all of the walls in the same room may appear very different during daylight or with interior lighting at night.”

New paint can change the mood and look of any room in an instant.

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

Garage door options wide open

When it is time to replace your old garage door or to select one for your new home, you will be amazed at the choices. The variety has exploded during the last few years with doors to meet your needs, your price point, and your exterior elevation, all consideration when shopping for a new door.

The most common type of residential garage door is a sectional door, which has horizontal panels hinged together and fitted with rollers. The rollers ride on two parallel tracks. Lifting the door is achieved using a chain, belt, screw or direct drive system. Most door styles operate manually, where you can lift the door or a garage door opener can be wired to include an outdoor keypad, which mounts to allow access from outside. A new feature we are seeing on many garage door openers is one that will alert you if you leave your garage door open.

There also are options to include glass panels in the door in styles from traditional to contemporary. There are even carriage house style doors available in a sectional door made to look like they are swing style doors.

Construction materials vary including steel, aluminum, wood, wood composites, fiberglass, vinyl and glass, all with different durability and price points.

Steel doors: The best steel garage doors are made of two layers of galvanized steel, the surface of which is either primed and painted with a tough topcoat finish or clad with a composite material. Steel doors can be painted to match your home and are available with or without insulation. Insulated doors have cores of rigid polystyrene or polyurethane foam insulation, which helps keep the garage warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The downside of steel doors is that they can be dented.

Vinyl doors: Vinyl garage doors are promoted as being kid-proof, because they are difficult to dent or break. Typically built on steel frames, these too are filled with polyurethane insulation. Vinyl doors look similar to fiberglass doors but are available in fewer colours. They are durable and require little maintenance.

Fiberglass doors: Doors made from fiberglass are less prone to denting or cracking. They do not rust, but can break upon impact so you don’t want to be shooting a hockey puck at these doors. Two layers of fiberglass are typically bonded to a steel frame and filled with polyurethane insulation. Steel end caps help improve rigidity.

Aluminum frame doors: New modern home elevations are booming with aluminum frame garage doors fitted with aluminum panels that eliminate the problem of rust, but are easier to dent. They are available in contemporary brushed finishes, as well as in many colours. Translucent glass panels may be used in place of aluminum panels, which allow light in without compromising privacy or security.

Wood composite doors: In our climate a solid wood door is not a great choice due to expansion and contraction of solid wood. Composite garage doors are a better choice and typically have a wood frame covered with sheets of fiberboard. Better models offer higher-density fiberboard skins and include realistic details, such as overlays and grooves to simulate a real wood door.

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

Preventative maintenance cheaper than repairs

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'

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

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

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

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.

Soundproofing can go both ways

When a homeowner wants to talk about soundproofing, it usually is in response to a desire to keep noise out.

We can all relate to wanting a quiet space when you return home and want to unplug from technology and social interaction. Sometimes, it is  surprising what true silence is like because we have become immune to the electronic sounds of today’s lifestyles.

Of course, there are many ways to do this, starting with the exterior shell of the home. Increased insulation, use of brick or stone and triple glazed windows are effective barriers to typical sources of noise such as trains, highways or neighbours.

Within a home, there also are numerous methods and materials to mitigate or soften sound transmission, including:

  • Resilient channel (metal strips that separate drywall from wood studs)
  • Mineral wool sound insulation
  • Acoustic foam panels
  • Light-density spray foam
  • Sound dampening drywall
  • Solid versus hollow-core doors
  • Soft surfaces such as drapes, fabric wall hangings, rugs, carpet and plush furniture

Sound abatement has become a priority for manufacturers of refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers. Appliances now include a noise rating among their specifications. Replacing old appliances with new ones can make a big difference in the noise level within your home.

But what if the objective is to not to keep sound out? What if a family wants a media or theatre room for relaxed private viewing? Or what if the family includes one or more budding artists and what they need is a dual space to nurture and show off those talents?

While the same construction methods and materials could be used, there also would be other considerations specific to the location within the home. Decor elements, lighting and design all need to work together to support the artist and create an atmosphere that lets his or her performance shine.

Acoustics becomes the first element of importance on which the size and configuration of the space are a big influence. The more space or physical volume, the better. Vaulted ceilings in an attic or garage or other room are preferable to one with a consistent flat ceiling. Choosing a basement might seem convenient, but it will provide much more of a challenge to prevent sound from bouncing off the walls and ceiling and creating an echo. Specialized acoustic panels will need to be carefully positioned.

Lighting also plays a critical role in creating the right atmosphere. Placement of a combination of pot and spot lights needs to be compiled into a fully designed system. The choice of light bulb, exterior light from windows or skylights, and the use of blinds or drapes all need to be considered as well as dimmers to be able to take the space from lower light for viewing to higher energy for performances.

Draping the sides ends of a stage can make for a more intimate performance. Placing the stage in front of the movie wall can allow for special effects with backgrounds aligned to the type of performance.

Lastly, the audience needs to be comfortable. Typically this means padded reclining theatre-style chairs or couches, either set in rows or groupings. But since we are talking about artists and a creative pursuit, this is where a little more thought could stretch the use of the space and its atmosphere. What about putting casters on the chairs to allow them to be moved to a more casual arrangement. Or what about a combination of bistro tables and chairs with a bar behind, for a full cabaret experience?

Use your imagination to enhance the enjoyment of your home.

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

Functionality found in the details

Builders invest considerable energy and funds into constructing and furnishing model homes, knowing that home buyers need to be able to see the size of rooms and traffic flow. Visualizing a home from a blueprint can be challenging even for experienced builders, let alone for people looking to build their dream home.

A model home with an open concept floor plan will allow you to stand at the stove and the sink, both common standing spots in real life, and see a true picture of how much you will be able to oversee behaviour in the family room — or the line of sight to the TV for your own viewing pleasure while you are busy creating gastronomic masterpieces in the kitchen.

It will also show the pattern of movement required to clean up the table afterward and load the dishwasher and even the path from the dishwasher to the appropriate cabinet.

A colleague recently confided that she missed this last point in a home she had built. She didn’t realize until too late, that the dishwasher was at the wrong end of the island; resulting in her trying to lessen trips back and forth by carrying bigger piles of heavy dishes in each trip. Functionality is truly in the details and models give you the opportunity to test drive a layout!

Model homes are also used to display a variety of finishing and decor options. Where better to see of line of pot lights in the ceiling, or types of flooring and cabinets, shelving and pull-outs, sinks, faucets and showers or countertop and backsplash options etc.

When you’re starting your search for a home, make it one of your first steps to see as many model homes as you can — not just those in the area where you want to live and not just ones that are the size you think you want or in the price range that want to spend. Checking all manner of model homes will help you to really get a sense of the size of home you need or want, layout of rooms that will best fit your family’s lifestyle, and a vast array of features that you can consider. And if you haven’t already selected your builder, checking model homes will give you a visual of the level and quality of finish you could expect in your own home if you choose that builder.

A quick check of the LHBA website – will help you plan your route. The builders’ map provides a summary of the model homes of various builders throughout the city and area as well as links to their websites.

It is also a good idea to do a little preparation:

Take measurements of your existing rooms so that you can make meaningful comparisons and consider the design strengths and weaknesses of each model Make a list of your current home’s room sizes or layout that need changes as well as areas or features that work well and you would like to have again.

When visiting multiple model homes there is a great deal of information to digest. Taking notes is wise — model prices, features, layout, colours and finishes and what you liked and didn’t like.

Use your time in a model to actually walk through your normal day — from the ring of your morning alarm to when your family have finally retired and you get to relax on the sofa. Doing this will either highlight the benefits of that model home layout or let you know how it doesn’t work.

Touring model homes is definitely a fun way to check out the latest colour palettes and decor trends, but there’s much more to be gained. The reward for being well prepared and informed will be a new home that is a perfect fit for your family. Think of it as fun homework!

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

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