Friday, September 25, 2009

Peach with Salmon – As ugly as it probably tastes (Kitchen and Basement Reno Part 2)

When we moved in, our house had a legal rental unit in the basement, for which we still get all sorts of strange mail. The upshot was the basement was finished, and there was a bathroom and kitchen down there which we could re-purpose. Unfortunately in order to make the laundry accessible to the owner’s unit, it had been moved to the main floor and it occupied a good chunk of our already too small kitchen. So we decided to reclaim that space back for the kitchen, and to put the laundry room downstairs where the apartment’s kitchen had been.

Some of the features we liked about the basement apartment were the exposed brick wall on the one side, the 3-piece bathroom was a bonus, the fact that it had already been water-proofed, insulated, dry-walled and had pot lights was also great. What we didn’t like was the peach coloured tile throughout and the giant salmon-coloured brick fireplace that dominated the large living area of the basement. So we hired Glen from Castle Rock Masonry to clean up and re-point the exposed brick wall, we also had him demolish and remove the giant brick fireplace. Meanwhile I dismantled and removed the basement kitchen and removed the cheap particle board doors.

On the topic of cheap hollow core particle board doors, I would like to take this opportunity to state emphatically that I hate them, who makes a door out of cardboard anyway? I always have a chuckle when I read real estate listings, bragging about how some builder used Series 200 doors, or some such nonsensical boast. It’s kind of like bragging that your polyester suit has 10% wool content. As far as I’m concerned if you choose a door made of cardboard, you’re a cheapskate. You’re just slightly less cheap than the Series 100 cheapskates. Doors are supposed to provide privacy and security. Cardboard does none of these things. Anyone remember this movie:

If that were a particle board door Jack probably could have left the axe at home and just taken along a pen knife or even a salad fork. Just say NO to particle board doors!

With the kitchen cabinets and fireplace removed, the basement felt so much bigger. But that would be very temporary. To keep the washing machine noises out of the living area, which would eventually become our family room, I framed in some partition walls around the laundry room area.

And to take the chill off the basement floor we laid an insulating underlayment and electric heat pads from Warmly Yours. And over that my wife and I spent a few weekends, gluing together a floating gombeira (Brazilian ebony) hardwood floor that we got at Celebrity Hardwood. Celebrity Hardwood is a great place to shop for hardwood if you have a small area to cover, as they specialize in end of batch runs.

Tip: If you are putting down a floating floor, keep the tip of the glue bottle clean. I stubbornly continued to try to squeeze glue out of the bottle, when the tip was starting to clog instead of cleaning it. My hands were so sore from all the squeezing, i felt like a had milked 20 herds of cattle. And the glue came out much slower, making the whole process much slower, than if i had just stopped to clean the tip. I guess that's what they mean when they say, "sometimes you have to go slow to go fast".

Work in progress:

How my appliance fetish turned into a 6-month renovation marathon. (Kitchen and Basment Reno Part 1)

I will be the first to admit it; I fantasize about appliances, actually more like fantasize about owning a really nice kitchen with really nice appliances. I don’t cook that often, so I don’t know where this crazy obsession comes from, but I have this deep-seated desire to have a really kick-ass kitchen. And nice appliances are definitely a part of that fantasy. To satisfy my appliance fetish I would sometimes drag my wife to go and visit the backroom of Caplan’s Appliances. There I would drool over the 48” Wolf ranges or the 36” Sub-Zero fridges in the clearance center, all the while knowing it could never be. Even though these appliances were drastically reduced, neither our kitchen nor budget were big enough. So one day in January my wife took me to Faulkner’s Appliances, most likely to slap some reality into me. At first it seemed like any other run-of-the-mill appliance store I had been to. They had some nicer brands, but alas no Viking, Thermador, Wolf or Sub-Zero, heck they didn’t even carry Dacor. The appliance snob in me was a little disappointed. That all changed when I followed the stairway leading down to the basement. As much as I yearn for over-the-top, out-of-this-universe appliances, the one thing I love more is getting a great deal. And down in the basement of Faulkner’s Appliances is where great deals live. He had a basement full of Kitchenaid Architect Series II Appliances, with obscenely low hand-written prices taped on to them.

While Kitchenaid may not be quite as drool-worthy as those brands mentioned earlier, I have had Kitchenaid Architect Series appliances in my previous home, and really liked them. The appliances are not NIB (new in box), they are either refurbished, open box, demo, scratch or dent. So you have to inspect them very carefully, as some do have some cosmetic defects. We were able to find ones that were very clean and pristine, so my guess is they were open box or demo models. And due to my sick fascination with appliances, I immediately knew the MSRP’s of each of these models, and recognized that we would be saving at least 50% off of retail. They also came with a full warranty. I went from being disappointed to over-joyed. We hadn’t even planned on starting the kitchen renovation until spring. That wasn’t a problem; Faulkner’s would store the appliances until we needed them and deliver them when we wanted. Before long, Gord Faulkner was walking around his basement taping hand-written signs that said SOLD.

But now that we had paid for the appliances and made a promise to not make Faulkner’s store them for more than a few months we had to start planning our renovation. And so began our 6 month renovation marathon.

Here’s what we ended up buying from Faulkner’s:
20 cu ft counter depth French door refrigerator (KBFS20EVMS)
46 Bottle Architect Series II Wine Cellar (KUWS24RSSS)
30” Gas 5-burner Cooktop (KFGS306VSS)
30” Architect Series II Stainless True Convection Combination Oven (KEMS308SSS)
Fully Integrated Console Dishwasher (KUDS40FVSS)
30” professional Vent a Hood with 600CFM fan and halogen light (PRH9-230)
4.5 Cu ft Samsung Front Load washer (WF428AAL)
7.4 Cu ft Samsung Electric Dryer (DV438AEL)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Handsome transom

After replacing the door, windows and landscaping, we were starting to feel pretty good about how our house was looking. So we decided to add some finishing touches. The gingerbread and old wooden window sills were peeling and cracked, so we hired Gerry (416) 727-9089 to scrape, sand and repaint them. No easy feat, as the top of our house is about 40 feet off the ground. Definitely not a project for me, cause i'm a wuss when it comes to heights. Gerry and his helper did a great job, he was very neat, and careful not to drip. And the price he quoted was so low, we actually felt like we were ripping him off, so we offered to buy the paint. I'd use him again in a heartbeat.

In addition to the painting we decided to pimp up our doorway with a stained glass transom from Artistic Glass. I came up with the design by combining elements from the pattern books they had in store, and they built it to fit our transom opening. A couple of weeks after my first visit they had drawn up the full sized template, and had me come back to choose glass colours. A couple of weeks after that and the finished transom was ready to be picked up.

It took a few hours with a heat gun and putty knife to get all the old putty out, once it was out the transom fit right into the opening. I tacked in some glazier points and nailed in some thin wooden mouldings and voila:

Somethings to keep in mind if you're installing a stained glass transom:

Stained glass isn't very good at keeping the heat in, so if you have an original clear piece of glass in your transom, you might want to keep it in place and put the stained glass on the outside of it.

Do not put clear glass outside of the stained glass. If you do, a little mini greenhouse effect can happen between the glass, and that makes the lead canes soft, and eventually your stained glass begins to sag. And saggy stained glass isn't very pimp!

Cost of the transom was about $490.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Keep Unilock out of our cities campaign

Along with drugs and gun violence, there are a few other things that definitely need to be eliminated from most inner cities. One of them - concrete pavers. Sure if you live in the suburbs and need 900 square feet of a paving material, that's a step up from asphalt, then yeah concrete pavers are the ticket. But downtown where the average lot is narrower than the average suburban driveway, the cost difference between real stone or real pavers becomes much more palatable, especially if you've already spent money improving your home. It would be like wearing an expensive suit with white sports socks, just to save a few bucks on hosiery. Anyhow our house had loads of concrete pavers, and not just any kind...we had the cheesy pink ones. We had them in the front, we had them in the back, even our front steps were made out of the stuff. And what did they use to hold these cheesy pink pavers in?...cheesy rail road tie edging. Man, we couldn't wait to get rid of the stuff, our front landscaping was like cheese-a-pooloza. And to top it all off, we had a barren front garden, that acted as the litter box for all the neighbourhood strays:

So we hired Heritage Stone Facing to take out all the pavers and rail road ties. Once that was done they laid a new flagstone path and built a stone wall around the front and sides of our property.

We then went to Plant World to take advantage of their fall specials and the cool weather to plant some low maintenance perennials. Lastly i spent a weekend, building and staining a simple porch with 2 steps. And here's the finished product:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Our house was like the nerdy girl from all the teen movies

Thanks to HGTV and all the other home/real estate shows, the words "curb appeal" have now been permanently added to our everyday lexicon. While you now hear the term ad nauseum, there really is something powerful about the impression one's home gives. Not only are we all now aware of the "curb appeal" term, i think our society has learned to associate personal characteristics with curb appeal. I've learned the quickest way to change the way your neighbours act towards you is to change the front of your house. They used to say, "it's the clothes that make the man", these days i'd say it's the front of the house that makes the family. As we've done various little projects to improve our curb appeal, it really is amazing how many more people stop to chat with us, especially if they see us working on something out front.

When we first moved in to our house, the front had a lot of potential. There were nice architectural features like the ornamental brick work and the ginger bread gracing the front gable. Unfortunately, for every nice feature there were also areas of neglect and bad design decision-making. Our house was like the nerdy girl from all the teen movies - really pretty underneath all the drab. One of the most egregious signs of bad design decision-making, was a previous home owners decision to install ugly brown aluminum half sliders, with aluminum caps on all the windows. These windows are everywhere in this city. Judging by their popularity, i imagine some salesman must have made a mint in the 80's, convincing people these would improve their home's value -WRONG!

So we decided we needed to change them. We were originally intending to get wood windows, that would be more in keeping with what would have originally been on the house, but we simply couldn't find a contractor who had time to come quote us. So we ended up going with...vinyl. Yup that's right PVC, the same stuff they make drain pipes out of, the same stuff they make those dreadful plastic lawn chairs out of and yes the same stuff they make S&M gear out of. I know PVC does not belong on a house of any age, least of all an historic one. So to disguise our shameful choice, we decided not to get any mullions, because the vinyl mullions often look like thick cheesy tacked on notions. We also opted not to go with the "brand new running shoe" white, that comes standard with PVC windows. Instead we spent a bit more for the "hope you can't tell i'm not painted wood" grey. Cross our fingers, we hope in 20 years some new owner isn't bashing our choices in cyberspace. So far the neighbourhood response has been positive.

Here's the new look:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Like Looking Back At Your Yearbook Pictures...Cringe

What would possess someone to throw away their 100 year old door and replace it with this?

Maybe in one of their Parkdale crackdowns, the original door was mistakenly rammed in by a swat team, unaware of the “Roncesvalles Village” rebranding campaign. And due to mega-city budget cuts the city was forced to replace it with a cast off from one of their recently closed Don Mills offices.

Or maybe after a freak storm sent a large tree limb through the original door the previous owner felt a medieval drawbridge-looking door would stand up better against future encounters with fallen branches.

Or more than likely a previous owner, who was long on lazy and short on taste, just plain got sick of having to paint the original door, and instead decided to “improve his home” or “update” with the cheapest door he could find at the now defunct Beaver Lumber.

Whatever his reasons, it was his door at the time and his prerogative to do with it as he wished. From time to time, we all succumb to the trends and fads of the day. I know I cringe when I look back at my old year book photos (Did anyone else think those pleated, tapered pants, hemmed too high were wicked or what?). Anyhow when I first saw our house with that door, I felt sorry for it. And I was eager to restore some dignity to the front of this century old survivor, but finding an appropriate door in the right size would not be easy.

I carried those door measurements everywhere I went, ready to whip them out just in case I found the perfect match. I scoured Craigslist, Kijiji, and every architectural salvage store from Waterloo to Cobourg, and I saw lots of beautiful doors, and lots of beautiful architectural pieces, but they just weren’t right. I was on a mission to find the right door, but it was also an excuse for me to spend hours browsing and imagining new uses for the great old pieces that I would see at these salvage shops. For those on the look out for architectural salvage I’ve provided a list of places at the bottom. While most of these shops deal in antiquities, they are quite up to date when it comes to technology. Most have websites and will gladly send pictures and measurements by email.

It took a couple of months of regular visits and email correspondences to the shops, but I did finally find a solid wood door at the Door Store in Toronto. It was the right size, age, look and did not have too many large holes and mortises from the previous hardware. When I found the door it was painted white and had no glass. I spent a week stripping the many layers of old paint off. As I stripped, I saw that the door had been painted white, brown, and green and originally it had a faux bois finish, to make the douglas fir look like English Oak. Once I finally had the door stripped on both sides, I patched the mail slot and mortises with dutchmen (wood patches) made of pine. I filled the imperfections, sanded and painted the door a glossy black and ordered a replacement pane of insulated glass.

I bought some putty and glazier points, and some thin moulding and installed the insulated pane. For the hardware, I returned to The Door Store and found some snazzy brass knobs and a lock set that completed the door nicely. My brother and I spent the best part of a weekend, hanging, adjusting, planing and drilling the new door and hardware into the old jamb.

Here’s what our door looks like now:

If you’re considering using a salvaged door, here are some things to think about:

- Make sure your door opening is pretty square, if the opening is really racked you may as well pull off the door casings and replace the door frame too.

- When you’re looking for a door, it doesn’t have to be a perfect fit, but do try to find one slightly wider and definitely taller than your opening. It’s much easier and more stable to cut, shave or plane excess wood off of the door, than it is to fir out the sides of the door to make it fill the hole.

- Old doors have a definite inside and a definite outside. So the only way to change the way the door swings is to flip the hinges and the door knobs, rather than flipping the door inside out. Since you’ll probably have to fill the old holes and lock mortises anyhow, I actually would look for a door that swings opposite to my installation (i.e. new hinges would go on the side where the door knobs used to be, and the door knob would go on the side where the hinges used to be). This way you can be sure your new hardware will be installed into fresh wood.

For those of you who plan to replace an original front door with something made of an unholy combination of steel, glass, fiberglass and/or foam:

- Please don’t throw your original door in the land fill. Ideally find somewhere in your house to store it like a basement, attic, or garage loft. If you do save it, the next owner will be less likely to wish bad things upon you.

- If you don’t have somewhere you can store the door, please contact one of the stores listed below to see if they would be interested in it. Restore provides tax credits for items donated and the other stores may be willing to buy the door from you.

Architectural Salvage Shops Around the G.T.A.:

The Door Store - 1260 Castlefield Avenue, Toronto (416)863.1590
Restore North York - 1120 Caledonia Rd, Toronto (416) 783-0686
Restore East York - 29 Bermondsey Rd, Toronto (416) 755-8023
Restore Etobicoke - 7 Queen Elizabeth Blvd, Toronto (416) 259-9220
Post and Beam - 2869 Dundas Street West, Toronto (416) 913-4243
Smash - 2880 Dundas Street West, Toronto (416) 762-3113
Addison's Inc - 41 Wabash Ave, Toronto (416) 539-0612
The Salvage Shop - 1492 Kingston Rd, Toronto (416) 469-2557
Legacy Vintage Building Materials - 540 Division Street, Cobourg, Ontario (905) 373-0796
Artefacts - 46 Isabella St, St Jacobs, Ontario (519) 664-3760
Builder's Bazaar - 180 Burnhamthorpe Rd, Oakville, Ontario (905) 257-9070
Lucan Architectural Antique Market - 277 Main Street North, Lucan, Ontario (519) 227-0407
The Timeless Materials Co - 305 Northfield Dr. East, Waterloo, Ontario (519) 883-8683
Ballycanoe and Co – 150 Rockfield Rd, Mallorytown, Ontario (613) 659.3874

Total cost of a new custom wood door would have been well over $2000, not including the hardware. The cost of the salvaged door was around $600 and some elbow grease, snazzy hardware was extra.

Not a Fun Way to Spend Money (Impossible! Part 2)

When we bought the house, we realized there were major HVAC deficiencies that we would have to address. In my post entitled “Impossible!” I detailed the joys of finding an HVAC contractor to work on our project. A year later, having completed the HVAC work and having had the second portion of our Energy Audit completed, I wanted to follow up that post with some details on the system we went with and what it’s been like to live with for a year and a half, but before I get to the nitty gritty, let’s recap where we left off. When we moved in, the house did not have natural gas service and was heated with electric baseboards. Hot water was provided by a rental electric hot water tank. We had heard that this would be very expensive. I nearly soiled myself when i saw our first hydro bill. The previous owner claims their total energy cost for the previous year was $3,517.42, however I suspect for this to be true, they must have wore a lot of heavy sweaters in the winter and taken cold showers.

We chose Denise McCormick from Comfort Zone 21 Degrees to arrange to have our gas line installed and to install our new heating and cooling system with a few other goodies.

Here’s what we went with:
- Rinnai 1004 direct vent natural gas wall furnace to heat our main and the back half of our second floor.

- Fujitsu 18CL ductless A/C to cool our main floor

- Rinnai R75LS tankless water heater for household hot water

- Fujitsu 24 RLXQ mini-split A/C heat pump to heat and cool our second and third floor
- Gas line run to the back of the house for a BBQ

Some of the lessons we learned:
1. Enbridge offers through HVAC contractors, a no interest for 3 months loan, which covers the cost of installing any new gas appliances. In our case this cost was quite substantial. Initially we didn’t actually want the loan, but were talked into it by Denise, plus we figured why not earn interest on the cash. After about 2 months of enjoying our sexy new appliances, we called Enbridge to arrange full payment of our outstanding principal. They told us our account had not been set up yet, and that they couldn’t take our money until the account was set up, and to call back later. We called them back about 7 or 8 times over the next month, and went through hours of holding and transferring and re-explaining our case. Until we finally found someone to take our cheque for the full balance and agree that there would be no interest on the amount. Even after taking our cheque, we weren’t receiving any Enbridge bills, so we continued to call to find out why our account had not been set up. After another 7 calls and a full year later, I finally found someone to get our account in order and to send me a bill for the gas we had been using about $900 for the whole year, and our hydro bills for the year are now in the $60 per month range.

2. If you are getting ductless A/C or heat pumps, it only qualifies as a central system, if there are outputs on each floor meeting a minimum BTU at each indoor unit. It probably would have made more financial sense to upsize the A/C heat pump and have it split 3 ways to all our floors, rather than getting an A/C for the main and a split system for the 2nd and 3rd. The difference in energy audit rebate would have been about $1400 and the initial cost would likely have been the same or less.

Unscientific HVAC math:
Unfortunately we only have the previous owners claim that total energy cost was $3,517.42 the year before. Our energy cost for the first year was about $1600. Our payback period will be about 7 years. We also expect to get about $1700 back in energy audit rebates, but this also includes money for changing toilets, windows and doors.

Unfortunately spending money on HVAC is never as much fun as getting a new kitchen or bathroom, but all in all we are quite happy with our new HVAC system. Our new system has proven to be quite comfortable, clean, efficient and very quiet.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

5-Iron, Not Just For Mid Range Approach Shots Anymore

I am convinced that nature hates my wife. Since we’ve been together, I have had more than my fair share of strange encounters with wildlife, including being attacked by monkeys and wild dogs in Bali. So when it came to removing the giant wasp nest under the soffit, I had a great deal of trepidation. It was in early-March, just after we took possession of the house that I decided there was no better time than now to take down the 1 foot in diameter nest hanging from one of our front soffits. From all the reading I had done on the internet, late winter would mean that most of the wasps would either be dead or sleeping.

So from my third floor window, I took my trusty 5-iron and gave the giant mass of paper a good hard poke, exposing the inside of the nest to the cold air. As soon as I exposed a gash, I quickly retreated back inside my window, expecting a cloud of pissed off yellow jackets to come looking for retribution. Fortunately the internet proved to be a reliable source of information, because the nest was pretty much empty. I waited 20 minutes before going back out the window to finish off the nest. After scraping off the last bits of paper, I went downstairs to inspect the nest rubble. There were about 5 groggy yellow jackets still inside, left to the cold winter air, they would soon expire. This round: Husband 1 - Nature 0.