Six key decisions to shape your new kitchen

Some of the questions you ask when planning a new kitchen are obvious, such as, “Do I want white cabinets or wood?” and “Do I want stainless steel appliances?” But there are many design decisions that you might not even know to consider until the project is well underway. To help you avoid surprises and unfortunate mistakes, here are six questions you should ask yourself before you begin your kitchen design.

1.What rules do I have to follow? I’m not talking about design rules for what colours will match or what wood goes with what stone. I’m talking about the actual rules that are laid out by your local building code, which can affect many decisions or none at all, depending on your area and project conditions. For example, many building codes dictate what type of hood fan you must use to ensure proper ventilation. These rules are especially important to know during a major renovation or new construction, as a surprise inspection that finds violations will leave you with a serious headache.

2. How should my cabinet drawers and doors open? Designers often point out that changing out the knobs on existing cabinets can make a kitchen look new in a snap. Putting knobs and hardware on new cabinets for the first time, however, can take a surprising amount of thought to get right. One of the trickiest parts of designing a kitchen well is making the cabinet door and drawer fronts look elegant and consistent while the cabinets themselves serve different practical functions in a variety of shapes.

You might find a single handle that works for all your cabinets, but you may need two or even three co-ordinating styles to address all your different sizes of fronts. Once you’ve chosen hardware, you should give careful consideration to where to install it to best achieve a sense of visual consistency. Or you can skip the issue altogether and use knob-free touch-latch cabinets.

3. What profile should I use for my countertops? The shape of the edge of the countertop may seem like a mundane detail, but it can make a world of difference to the look and function of your counters, and the kitchen as a whole. An eased edge is currently a popular choice for contemporary kitchens because it gives a simple, modern appeal. More ornate profiles usually carry a traditional air and a sense of warmth and personality.

One of the most popular choices for a counter profile is the “bullnose” or “demi-bullnose” option, which means essentially a half circle or quarter circle. The look is less “sharp” than a minimalist eased edge, but so is the experience of bumping into it by accident. Ultimately it’s a decision that comes down to personal priorities.

4. What finish should my fixtures be? Selecting the material for your kitchen fixtures isn’t all about trends and pretty colour palettes. Metals come in various finishes, and there can be major practical considerations as well.

For instance, brushed finishes tend to hide fingerprints and light water spotting much better than polished ones. Brass and gold-tone finishes tend to be warmer and more dramatic, while stainless steel and silvery-tone finishes tend to blend into the colour palette more but add more sparkle.

5. How will I mount my sink? Choosing an undermount sink or a drop-in model, affects more than just the look of the sink itself, so it’s a decision that should be thought through early.

Undermount sinks, are generally easier for keeping the surrounding countertop area clean because the neater edge of the counter allows you to sweep crumbs and debris directly into the sink without getting caught on a high lip. However, undermounts can’t always be installed in a laminate counter because the counter cutout would leave a raw unfinished edge in the core material.

6. What finish should my stone be? Besides choosing what material you want for your counters, backsplash and flooring, you also need to decide the finish of the material itself. Popular stone materials such as granite and quartz can take on a polished finish, which gives a hard face and an almost reflective look. A honed finish appears much more soft and organic.

It also has the advantage of hiding scratches that can stick out in a gleaming polished stone. However, they can be more easily stained if not well-sealed, as the material tends to be more receptive to absorbing oils. When looking at stone samples, be sure to ask what finishes are available and look at each individually, as the finish can greatly affect the appearance, even radically changing the apparent color. Applying sealant can also darken the appearance to a degree, so you should ask to see a sealed sample — it may be extra work for the supplier, but it will save you a potential surprise on installation day.

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

Consider long-term maintenance when picking colours, finishes

Creating a home of lasting value is top of mind for those building a new house. For most of us, our home is our largest investment, so of course we want to see our hard-earned dollars protected. Homeowners building a modern house want an innovative design, but not at the cost of it looking dated in a few years.

Esthetics and initial cost must be balanced with maintenance. When researching the materials and finishes for your new home, understand the level of maintenance that different materials require, and the time and expense entailed. Choose materials that don’t require more upkeep than you want to undertake.

Be climate and region-specific. Find homes in your area with the exterior finishes you are considering, and see if you are comfortable with how they have stood the test of time. One example is stucco. Usually mixed from a combination of sand, cement, lime, and water, stucco — when done right — can look great on a modern home. What you want to avoid is having stucco right next to a buildup of snow. It has been known to not handle a lot of moisture well, which is why you’re more likely to see stucco homes in a warm, dry climate.

Use clear-finished natural wood sparingly. Many clients start the design process with the idea of having a clear-finished natural wood exterior that will shine like a polished hardwood floor. Keeping an exterior like this looking fresh is challenging to even the most maintenance-savvy homeowner. Think of wood with a clear finish as precious mill work that needs to be maintained regularly.

A smarter approach is to use such wood for focal points, like the front door and related trim and use a pre-finished steel siding product that is offered in various colours that replicates the variations in real wood.

Protect natural wood finishes from weather and direct sun. Natural wood finishes can deteriorate quickly with exposure to the sun. Keep natural wood to interior ceilings, which may extend to the underside of the overhangs, creating a continuity from indoors to out. Located on the underside of a soffit, the wood maintains its fresh appearance because it’s never exposed to direct sun.

Paint exposed wood. In some modern homes, structural beams may extend from inside to out. Instead of having a clear finish, they are painted. This not only contrasts nicely with the natural wood, but it also protects the beams where they are exposed to weathering beyond the overhang.

Tips for Choosing Your House Colour

Consider your neighbours: Before you even begin looking at the endless array of paint swatches at your local paint or home improvement store, look around your neighbourhood to see if there is a common palette. That’s not to say you should paint your house the exact same colour as your neighbour. In fact, don’t do that. Nothing looks more cookie cutter than row after row of houses painted the same or very similar colors. But if you find that most of the houses on your street are painted very neutral shades of white, gray and brown, you may not want to paint your house, say, lavender.

Consider the style of your home: Some architectural styles have intricate details that look fantastic painted in a standout hue. Others like modern styles, tend to look best with a more restrained paint palette. Do some research and see what colours a house like yours traditionally has been painted.

Consider going bold: Having said all that, you should not feel obligated to paint your house in accordance with everyone else’s in your neighbourhood or use colours considered trendy for the style of your home. If you are itching to incorporate more unusual, eye-catching colours, I say go for it! But perhaps limit the bold hues to accents — like your front door.

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

Know what you are paying for

It’s always important to know what you’re buying.

When you buy something at a store, you get the hands-on experience of seeing its size and how it looks, feels and works.

You leave the store knowing what you’ve bought.

When you agree to pay for renovation work, though, it’s up to you, your architect and your contractor to agree on what will be built.

This can be difficult because the “product” you’re talking about is something that’s never been built and doesn’t even exist yet except in everyone’s minds – and in documents.

And it’s the latter that will make all the difference in understanding what you’re paying for.

Typically, when you contract for residential construction work, the documents for plans, scope of work and specifications can help define the work to be done so that you can be sure what the finished project will look like and include.

Understanding these documents will help you feel confident that you know what you’re buying.

Contract
This protects all involved parties.

Just because you had a great conversation during the first meeting, and even though the work is only supposed to take two days, you’ll regret not having a contract if one of you forgets half of that great conversation.

Insurance
Injuries can occur on a construction site. If the location is your home and your contractor does not have the proper insurance, you may be held liable.

Make sure the contractor carries the appropriate worker’s compensation insurance and check with your insurer for the proper amount of liability insurance.

Scope of work
There are many details to get right in a renovation. Write everything down before work begins.

For example, if your designer has drawn up detailed plans, make sure the contract references the designer and the date on the plans.

Duration of work
Though projects can take longer than predicted for many legitimate reasons – some caused by the homeowner and some outside the contractor’s control – the expected project duration should be in writing.

The important thing is not that your contractor shows up every day, but that he finishes the project on time.

Having a timeline will help calm your nerves if progress hits a slow spot.

Exclusions
A good contract should include a list of exclusions.

These might be related to areas that will not be visible until the walls are opened up, or the level of cleaning you should expect after work is complete.

It’s impossible to know whether asbestos might be found, so talk to your contractor about a potential contingency budget.

Payment schedule
These can vary by job, but should always be agreeable to both parties. In my opinion, payments tied to milestones in the project are better than those tied to percentages of completion.

As long as you are confident that you’re not paying for significantly more than what’s been completed, you should be OK.

Other basic information that should be included:

  • What the contractor is responsible for doing, what work you will do yourself or have another contractor do
  • If sub-contractors are used, who is responsible for hiring, paying and ensuring work is done properly
  • Who obtains building permits and inspections
  • Amount to be paid to the contractor for the work
  • What warranty the contractor provides for the work

The contract sets out basic business requirements the contractor must meet in order to protect in the event of an accident and to comply with the laws in your province.

To do this, the contract should specify that your contractor:

  • Has adequate business liability insurance
  • Is enrolled in the provincial workers compensation program
  • Has a Business or HST Number
  • Has a license number if your municipality requires contractors to be licensed

The contractor should also warrant that any sub-contractor they engage to work on your project also meets these business requirements.

Making sure you have a comprehensive construction contract and reading it before signing the contract is the most effective way to ensure that you will get what you think you are paying for.

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

User-friendly homes fit changing needs

When young families go house hunting, the biggest priorities at the top of their list of must have’s are usually good schools, a modern kitchen and a large walk in closet. Homes that are environmentally safe, that reduces the chance of injury and can accommodate all different types of interests are not features that are generally investigated or asked about. But we’re seeing a change where the ‘question of accessibility’ conversation has started happening.

When you think of “accessibility” does an institutional setting come to mind? How about substituting the term “user-friendly”? Accessibility is about fitting the home to the real requirements of those who live and visit there—whether they use a wheelchair, a cane, bifocals or hearing aids.

According to the Canadian Census, one in seven persons have some kind of disability—mobility and dexterity problems, hearing or vision loss, intellectual limitations and other so-called “invisible” disabilities such as cardio-pulmonary disorders, to name just a few. By age 65, disabilities affect one out of every three persons. Whether one has a sports injury or an older relative, a progressive illness or simply the wish to “stay put” in one’s golden years, homeowners are warming up to the idea of home accessibility.

The Canadians With Disabilities Act changed the ways public buildings are designed, and these changes are making their way into the home. A generation of architects and builders, as well as disability-rights advocates and policy planners, are awakening to the possibilities created by an accessible environment—greater participation in community life, at all levels. Provincial and local building codes now mandate accessible public spaces, but for single-family houses, it is usually the unique requirements of those who live there that set the standards.

Private homes are the test sites for residential accessibility, as people with disabilities collaborate with medical and design professionals to find ways to make everyday life easier.

For a parent who is hard of hearing, removing walls and adding glass doors can help in keeping track of children in the next room. For someone who is blind, including storage cabinets throughout the house (entrance, stair landings, toilet) means that essential items are readily accessed when needed.

Accessible design is creative design, tailored to the unique needs of those who live there.

Trademarks of accessible design are wider doorways and zero-step entrances—useful features, whether using a mobility device or pushing a baby stroller. Also lever-type handles are replacing knobs at sinks and doors—making it functional for a person with weak upper body strength or an armload of laundry. These are the kinds of details that have come to be known as “universal design” (or “inclusive design”).

Universal design represents an approach to creating things that can be used by everyone, everywhere. It is a movement as well as a philosophy of design, one that homeowners, realtors, builders, architects and designers are starting to embrace.

Big sunny rooms with generous vistas to the outdoors and between activity centers are features that are appealing to everyone, as well as essential to people with a variety of disabilities, hearing loss and low vision included.

Universal design is commonsense design.

The idea of “adaptability” addresses a valuable middle ground in the design of homes, somewhere between full accessibility and the typical barrier-filled residence. Non-slip floors in the front entrance and bathrooms, combined with good lighting, and light switches and electrical outlets that are not too high or too low are easy and inexpensive adaptations. Installing solid wood blocking behind a shower wall means sturdy grab-bars can be mounted there later without requiring costly re-tiling. Adaptable design saves money over the long run, as well as providing options to allow you stay in your home longer.

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

Home ownership builds equity, sense of community

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 lives, and we have to deliver.

So if you think you’re ready, here’s a list featuring five 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 per cent return year over year in Toronto over the last years. 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 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, reroute 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, grandds 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 five-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

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

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 today’s 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.  An 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.  In a double hung window, the sash at the bottom and the sash at the top can slide up and down within this frame. In the case of a single-hung window, only one sash will be movable. This style is mostly used in traditional-style homes.

Sliding windows: The sliding or gliding window functions much like a double-hung window. The big difference is that the sash moves horizontally rather than vertically. It’s as if a double-hung were 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 as the attachment, allowing the window to swing out like a door. These are 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

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 to 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. 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 today’s designs because of the great texture it adds – but also because it is environmentally friendly;
  • Quartz and granite remnants 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. Pulling 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 odour used to be a concern, most compactors today have odour 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?

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

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 that allow 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. 12 by 24 inch tiles are still popular, but there are tiles as large as 24 by 48 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 5 by 10 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.

As you can see there is a lot going on in the tile flooring industry. The possibilities are endless.

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

Ventilation key to healthy homes

When I was growing up, we spent most of our free time outside playing. Today, a new generation of Canadians are spending up to 90 per cent of their time indoors, which can be unhealthy, both for the body and the mind.

Surveys today have found a growing number of people, especially children, spend too much time indoors and even more time in their rooms than ever before. This is concerning as on average, there can be two-to-five times more pollutants found inside a home than outdoors. As well bedrooms can be found to have poorer air quality than other areas of the home due to insufficient ventilation (even furniture covering vents) and a lack of sunlight from smaller windows. Many people have also increased the energy efficiency of their homes by sealing its air tightness to block the winter cold. This lessens energy costs, but without proper ventilation, it can trap in moisture and pollutants.

Indoor air can be polluted by everything from excess CO2 to food particles from cooking, pet hairs, and moisture from baths, showers and washing machines. The average family produces approximately ten litres of liquid everyday. As well, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are chemical byproducts found in furniture, paint, carpeting, treated wood, building materials and insulation can emit off-gases that can linger in your home.

When such moisture or VOCs aren’t managed, it affects the quality of air you’re breathing. Symptoms can be persistent sneezing, runny nose, red eyes and headaches, which seem to lessen when you’re not at home. Also asthma, allergies and depression can be exacerbated.

What can be done?

A dehumidifier is a good start to combat the moisture. In summer months especially, it’s important to limit your home to approximately 40 per cent humidity.

We also tend to keep our windows shut tight during the summer to prevent the entry of humidity, but that means old, stale air doesn’t get replaced with new, fresh air. Opening the windows can help but the best way is to invest in a good HVAC system (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). This system acts like the lungs of your home, regulating the air by replacing the bad air with good. Most new homes include a HVAC, but they can also be easily added to an existing home. There’s also a new drywall product that we have started using that absorbs VOC’s from the air for up to 75 years and 25 coats of paint.

Proper ventilation truly is the key, throughout your home, but especially in a traditionally damp area like your basement. Your basement needs to be properly constructed with a thermal break to stop warm and cool air from creating condensation. If you’re finishing your basement, a closed cell spray-foam will stop the warm and cool air from meeting, as well as provide insulating power.

Your furnace filter also plays an important role in looking after your health. A clean furnace filter will let your furnace work more efficiently, and prevent it from circulating dust. Not all filters are created equally. Some do a better job at removing toxins and allergens. Certain filters help catch up to 93 per cent of large airborne particles, which includes dust, pollen, and mould spores and some grab four times more microscopic particles like smoke, smog and pet dander.

Installing a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter (accessory unit installed next to your furnace) can capture more particles than the average furnace air filter and most are also washable. People with allergies and asthma notice a difference when in use.

Finally think about how you can “bring the outside in.” As most of us live in urban environments, to some extent we have alienated ourselves from nature. Whether you open the windows, invest in an HRV, or add potted plants that are known to purify air, refreshing your indoor air will benefit your family.

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

Pet friendly trends coming to new homes

It would have been considered laughable at one time to consider building a pet-friendly home. However, pets are now considered members of the family and their needs are taken into account when building and renovating.

If you are looking for ways to make your pet more comfortable in their new space, there are many options.

Would you like to have pet food hidden sometimes? Many cabinet designers can incorporate food and water dishes into the bottom of base cabinets in a kitchen or mudroom. This keeps food bowls off the floor and prevents a tripping hazard. The dish compartment pulls out like a drawer and, when not in use, recesses into the cabinet. Also popular is converting a large lower cabinet to hold pet food in its own pullout sealed container.

If your pet is a messy eater, a dustpan built into your baseboard or cabinet that connects to your central vac system is a convenient way to sweep spills away.

When it’s time to wash your pet, the mess of water and hair in the house can be overwhelming. But in our climate, the cold water of an outdoor hose isn’t practical. So many homeowners are incorporating simple to elaborate grooming features into their home.

Adding a hot and cold water tap in your garage allows you to keep water warm all year round. For the deluxe washing station, a stainless steel sink with a plank for your pet to walk up eliminates the need to lift a nervous pet and keeps them safe in one spot while they undergo their spa treatment.

The days of putting child gates across doorways can also be a thing of the past. You can install Dutch doors so that a pet does not to feel they’ve been locked into a room, or a pocket door that has one compartment with a door and a second one with a gate.

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

Moving into a new home without landscaping in the backyard can be difficult when you have a pet that needs to go outside. Having a pet run installed for when you take possession of your home provides a safe space for your dog to spend time outside while keeping your new floors clean inside. A pet run generally includes crushed rock with wire fencing around it so your pet can be outside but not wander off. That should tide them over until grass is laid in the spring.

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

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

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

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

Orientation worth considering when moving or building

With the many things on the minds of people buying or building a home, or moving into a different home or apartment, one thing that easily can get overlooked is the orientation of the home. But it’s worth paying attention to.

Orientation is the positioning of a home on a lot, or the direction a home or unit faces. The orientation can affect many things including your energy bills, who would potentially buy your home due to cultural demands, and whether you can capture a view from your windows. All of these factors can affect the market value of your home.

There is no right and wrong orientation. It’s a personal decision in which homebuyers determine what is important to them and the way they live. For example, homes on the south side of the street face north and generally get more backyard sun in the summer, which is a benefit for gardeners and those wanting a pool. Conversely, homes across the street whose back yards face north might be perfect for those looking for some shade in hot summer afternoons.

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

Some people choose their new building lot based upon cultural preferences. Some Asian cultures prefer homes that face east and won’t consider a home that faces any other direction.

Other cultures want their front doors facing south.

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

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

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

There’s no right or wrong way to orientate a house, but it is good to consider which orientation best fits your lifestyle.

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

Keep home safe from burglars while on vacation

As summer approaches, many homeowners are busy packing a suitcase and planning a vacation. To be sure you can fully relax and enjoy your time away, it’s important to consider protecting your home while you’re gone.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to help ensure you return to your home just the way you left it.

  • Outdoor lighting is a great place to start. Not only will the right lighting make your home look good, but also a well-lit house will deter anyone from breaking in and risk being seen. Motion detector lights can be retrofitted easily and with a low cost.
  • Setting timers for your main window areas to go on and off periodically will give the appearance you’re at home. You can now control lighting digitally from your cellphone anywhere in the world. It’s a good idea to change the timing of those so a thief doesn’t see that the lights are consistently coming on and off everyday at the same time.
  • Motion detector cameras are now easily installed on homes, which can alert the homeowner when they detect movement. You can see on your cellphone an instant picture of who is activating the camera, and some devices allow you to talk directly into your phone to the person in view. Recording this video is another feature found on many devices and costs have declined to make these devices more cost effective.
  • Technology in door locks is changing. There are digital locks on the market that can lock and unlock from your phone without a key. Some can even connect directly to your alarm system, alerting you in case of suspicious activity. This type of smart lock will allow the cat sitter or cleaners to still gain access while you are away. Continuing these types of services will also help with the illusion that someone is home.
  • Prevent power surges by installing a surge protector. There are thousands of dollars in your home with electrical components installed, especially with today’s appliances, which could be affected by a power surge or electrical strike. A surge protector installed at your electrical panel will ensure your whole home is protected.
  • Setting your HVAC with a programmable thermostat to lower your air conditioning usage while you are away is a good cost- and energy-saving method. Having control on your phone to turn on your air conditioner prior to you arriving back home will let you return to an enjoyable temperature when you’re tired and looking forward to sleeping in your own bed.
  • In today’s world of social media, it’s best not to promote that you are away from home. The more that word gets out that you’re not around,  the more likely thieves will hear about it and use that information as an opportunity.
  • Make sure all your doors are locked, including your garage doors. Once thieves are inside the garage, they have lots of time to get into your home and not be seen. I remember a model home of ours where the garage was broken into, and the thieves had all night to load everything from the house into the garage. Then one with a truck pulled into the driveway and within 20 minutes had the entire house loaded into their cube van.

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

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

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