All posts by Dave Gray


Holiday Gift Guide

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Holiday Gift Guide

Are you that person who totally gets stumped when it comes time for gift giving? Does the person you’re buying for have everything already, making it so hard to think of the perfect gift? Or, maybe you just don’t know them well enough. Well, I’m here to help. Here are a few gift ideas with different price points in mind.

Bows & Bowties

From local vendor, The Printed Bow, hand-crafted bows and bowties make for a great gift this holiday season. Evie wore the bow headbands as a baby and now that she has enough hair, she loves having pretty patterned bows to go with her outfits. Jameson just got his first bowtie, so I’m sure we’ll have plenty of opportunities for him to wear it this holiday season. $12.00 to $25.00

Osmo Genius

Give your little ones the latest innovative entertainment and education tech item. With so much technology already in our children’s lives, The Osmo Genius Starter Kit offers something unique. Instead of just staring at a screen, Osmo gets your kids to think, play and see their creations come to life!. That’s why it’s used in more than 30,000 classrooms. Starter Kit $99.00. Available at Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, Indigo or Mastermind Toys.

The Game of Things

The holidays should really be about experiences and this game will leave you with lots of fun memories. I’ll never forget the time I was introduced to the game on CHCH Morning Live. Watching the video still makes me laugh. Great fun for everyone at $30.


Seriously THE BEST hair treatment on the market right now (in my opinion). Rescue Shots are a deep conditioning treatment that repair damage in just one use, with no weigh-down. My hair has been extremely dry and brittle so I’m thankful this treatment was able to give me soft, shiny, and more resilient, locks again. I thought that I’d just been to a salon to get a professional treatment done. These are great as stocking stuffers, or in a spa-inspired gift basket. Intense Rescue Shots $7.99.

HP Tango Printer

The sleek design of this printer is simply gorgeous. It actually has different wraps that let you customize the look of your printer so that it blends in with any home decor. HP has more 250 printable activities. My daughter, Evie, loved colouring on some printed snowflakes to hang on the tree. The smart capabilities of this printer allow you to print, scan and copy from any device. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. $179.99

White Terry Sheets

The best set of sheets that I’ve ever owned. They are soft, have a nice weight to them and they look beautiful. And they get softer with every wash – buttery soft. So when the receiver of your gift is curled up in bed on Sunday morning in their new organic cotton sheets, they’ll be thinking of you. Plus, they gift a portion of their proceeds to Sleeping Children Around the World. $149.00

SnowProud Toques

The Canadian Ski Council (a not for profit) is selling SnowProud winter hats to help make skiing and snowboarding more accessible to all Canadians.Growing up in Canada, skiing and snowboarding was something we did as a family every year. As a gift idea, the proceeds of these toques go toward helping underprivileged Canadians experience snow sports in Canada. L$25

Clothes Peg Family

Personalized gifts are the best. This year I’m loving Pegs And Polkadots. These adorable hand painted pegs make great gifts for friends, family and for little ones. My daughter Evie was so excited to open up the individual bags to see which family member was next. Mine even go with our Christmas decor on the mantel.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Jaclyn Harper is a TV host, interior stylist and new mom living in Burlington, Ontario. You may recognize her from shows like Tiny Talent Time, Morning Live First Edition and The Shopping Channel. She has also worked behind the scenes for the Property Brothers’ Show, Buying And Selling. When Jaclyn’s not on TV or creating beautiful designs, you’ll find her latest projects on her blog From DIYs, design projects to life as a new mom, her lifestyle blog and YouTube channel give her fans a peek into her family life.


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When bathroom design is a wellness win

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When bathroom design is a wellness win

The idea that the bathroom should also serve as a spa-like sanctuary is reflected in a rise of luxurious finishes, high-end fixtures, and elegant accessories for that space. Now that the language of self-care has become part of the design lexicon, there’s a similar uptick in bath elements that both look good and promote wellness.

There are lots of reasons why bidet seats/toilets are emerging as leaders in the category. Integrated bidet seats can provide a better clean than paper alone, which can cause irritation, spread germs, and exacerbate certain bowel conditions. Conversely, rinsing with water after using the loo is gentle, soothing, and hygienic, and may be especially useful for, says, new moms and those with limited mobility.

Bidets can also reduce by up to 75 per cent the use of toilet paper, each roll of which takes about 140 litres of water to manufacture, and may be bleached with chemicals that release back into the water table. Use of wet wipes, which can clog drains, and may contain polypropylene that ends up in oceans as microplastic, can also be reduced.

American Standard’s Advanced Clean line offers several options, including the 3.0 SpaLet bidet seat. I installed one on an existing elongated American Standard toilet: it was fairly routine DIY job. I like that temperature, strength, and direction of water flow is adjustable with a small, discrete, wall-mounted unit with easy-to-understand graphics.

There’s also a deodorizing feature and a setting to clean the water nozzle. This model has a heated seat — a nice touch on a cold winter morning — and a drying function that can further reduce use of toilet paper.

The Advanced Clean 100 SpaLet shares many features with the seats, and has automatic flush settings, as well as an auto open/close lid and seat, and sells for around $5,100. The 3.0 seat goes for around $1,990.

That may sound pricey. But given the life expectancy of a toilet — and depending on your budget — either may be a worthwhile investment in comfort and well-being. That, after all, is hard to put a price on.

A soft-close seat adds convenience, especially for those with impaired mobility.

A user-friendly wall-mounted control panel makes it easy to customize preferences.

A bidet toilet saves space by eliminating the need for a conventional bidet.

Vicky Sanderson is the editor of Around the House Having written and talked about home décor/improvement, design, and lifestyle for more than two decades, she has tested almost every home-related appliance known to humankind. For more of her scathingly brilliant insights, go to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and her column in Reno & Decor.


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4 best places to buy a can light conversion kit

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4 best places to buy a can light conversion kit

If your home has recessed can lights built into the roof, you’ve probably entertained the idea of converting them into another kind of light that hangs lower or provides better illumination. If you’ve decided you’re going to be converting your recessed lights to a different style of lighting, but you don’t know where to buy a can light conversion kit, you’re in luck. Here are the four best places to buy one.

1. TheCanConverter

When it comes to finding an online shop that’s fully dedicated to recessed can light conversions, there’s really only one place worth mentioning. Regardless of what kind of renovation you have in mind, TheCanConverter (The ORIGINAL Recessed Can Light Conversion Kit) has the right can light conversion kit to help you get the project done with minimal hassle. They offer color finished designer medallions in satin, oil rubbed bronze, polished nickel, aged bark, bark, chrome, tortoise shell and polished brass. They’ve even been featured on authoritative blogs and online magazines such as This Old House. The Can Converter’s kits can hold up to 50 pounds, which is about as heavy as most light bulbs and fixtures are going to get.

2. Home Depot

The Home Depot offers recessed can light conversion kits and therefore must be included on any list of the most popular kit providers. The main feature to examine when shopping for can light conversion kits from Home Depot is the size compatibility. Some models will adapt to four-in. recessed can lights while others are made for five- and six-in. cans. Of course, comparing aesthetics is also a worthwhile step in your comparison, especially if you’re aiming for visual appeal. Some of their can light conversion kits include adjustable cord mechanisms that can be set anywhere from eight to 48 inches in length.

3. Lowes

Some can light conversions will only allow you to convert the light into one kind of fixture, but Lowes (like the other brands on this list) offers conversion kits that include everything you need to convert your existing can lights into hanging lights, chandelier lights, flush mounts, pendant lights, and other forms of decorative lighting. These kits come with brackets and other hardware for mounting lights.

4. Lampsplus

Lampsplus is a standard can light conversion kit that is cheap but also very basic. It is compatible with can lights four to six inches in size and supports a 50-pound load. Other related DIY equipment such as bendable light stands, wire cutters, and flashing lights are not included with the kit, but can easily be added to adjust the lighting spectrum or create more flexible and useful fixtures.

Installation is Surprisingly Simple

While installing a new lighting setup in your home might seem like something that will involve complicated steps and wiring, it’s actually a project that most people can complete in a matter of five to 20 minutes. With many different types of lamps and lighting systems that come standard with your home, it can be difficult to figure out which one you need or even what exactly you’re going to do with it. TheCanConverter eliminates that hassle by including all of the components and instructions needed to simplify and streamline the installation process.


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IBS 2020: Register by January 18 to Save!

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IBS 2020: Register by January 18 to Save!

Join us in Las Vegas! Register by January 18 to avoid onsite pricing.


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Renovation Contractor – Dec/Jan2020

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Renovation Contractor – Dec/Jan2020

Renovation Contractor is a trusted trade publication written by and for Canada’s small to medium-sized home renovators


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5 Landscaping ideas and tips to help you reinvent your backyard

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5 Landscaping ideas and tips to help you reinvent your backyard

It’s a beautiful day when the sun is shining and the birds are chirping. You go outside to enjoy the natural setting but your backyard is nothing like a welcoming place where you can reconnect with nature. If this scenario sounds familiar to you, your backyard most likely needs a complete refresh. Here are 5 landscaping ideas and tips to help you reinvent your backyard:

Get to know your property

First things first, before you even start to plan your landscaping project, you need to get to know your property. There are a number of characteristics that you must determine before you start planning the outdoor space of your property.

First of all, you need to determine the size of your backyard. Then, you need to see how much free space you can use in your project. For example, if there is an old huge tree in the middle of your outdoor space, you need to determine whether your landscaping project will be around the tree or whether you want to cut it down.

However, landscaping experts advise homeowners to avoid destroying the natural elements that already exist in their outdoor space. Instead, it is recommended to find a way to integrate them nicely in their landscaping projects.

Secondly, once you have determined the available space you can work with, it is time to decide what can be done about the gardening area. Start by determining what type of soil you have in your garden. For example, not all types of soils are suitable for grass, especially in sand wet areas. So, depending on the type of plants you want to have in your garden and the type of soil you need for them to grow, you need to use a topsoil volume and price calculator to determine how much soil you will need for your gardening project.

Next, another factor that will influence the gardening area of your outdoor space is the climate of your area. So, when choosing the plants for your gardening project, make sure you choose plants that can grow in an environment with your type of climate.

Use borrowed views

This is a pro tip and may sound more complicated than it is in reality. However, all that it takes is to take a look at your immediate surroundings and see if there is any spectacular view that you can include in your landscaping project.

For example, does your neighbor have a spectacular big old tree in their yard that is also visible from your backyard? If yes, you should certainly avoid to cover that view but rather use it in your project.

Using surrounding elements in your landscaping project can make a huge difference in the final results. If your surroundings already offer you such amazing elements, why not include them in your project? So, don’t raise that high brick fence but rather let the view be part of your outdoor experience.

Build pallets furniture

Pallet furniture is one of the newest and most popular trends in the landscaping industry. pallets are not only extremely cheap and easy to use in your outdoor projects, but they can also look extremely fashionable in your yard if you customize them properly. You can find a number of DIY projects on how to build outdoor furniture using pallets.

You can even build a fun swing for your kids and hang it on that large tree you have in your yard. Every garden needs a seating area in order for you to enjoy spending time in nature in your own backyard. So, you can use pallets to build benches and a table where you can have your breakfast or morning coffee.

If you also have a pool in your backyard, you can also use pallets to build a bar which can be extremely useful if you are planning to host a few pool parties this summer.

There is no limit to how many things you can build using pallets for your outdoor area. All you have to do is to use your imagination and create outdoor elements in a cheap and sustainable way.

Create an experience

Go outside in your backyard and close your eyes for a few seconds. Imagine what you would like to hear or what you would like to see when you open your eyes. Would you like to hear the calming sound of water? Then, you should certainly add a water feature in your garden. Would you like to think of your backyard as a corner where you can connect with nature in the concrete jungle? Then, you should plant more trees and flowers. That’s how you manage to make an outdoor space that gives a full experience of senses, not just a visual one.

There are several elements that you can include in your landscaping project such as a swimming pool, fountains, retaining walls, or fire pits that will create a full experience for the senses. There will be nothing more relaxing after a stressful day at work than to sit in your backyard with your family and enjoy the experience of natural elements that you have created.

Use outdoor lighting

Although lighting is hardly your priority in your landscaping project, you should really take this idea seriously. Outdoor lighting can contribute to the experience you create in your backyard more than you would even imagine right now.

Outdoor lighting isn’t only necessary to be able to see the walking path during dark nights. It can also enhance the way your garden looks offering a spectacular experience during the nighttime.

Whether you choose to use LED fairy lights, solar spotlights, or string lights, you need to calculate how much are you want to illuminate. Also, you can choose subtle lighting for the seating area of your outdoor which will create a more private setting for romantic dinners in your backyard.

Landscaping can seem intimidating when you are not a pro and you are just starting your first project. However, with a little bit of research and tips from experts, you can reshape the way your backyard will look.


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Green glossary, The world of energy conservation acronyms

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Green glossary, The world of energy conservation acronyms

The world of energy conservation is filled with acronyms and often confusing titles. Here we break down some of the most common ones to help you talk the talk.

Active House
Active House is the label used for a pilot project where dozens of homes were built in various countries that combine energy efficiency and sustainability with a key focus on occupant comfort. The latter was achieved in large part by using natural light and fresh air.

Energy Star
Energy Star labels are familiar to homeowners seeking out energy efficient windows, electronics, and appliances, but there are hundreds of builders across the country also constructing entire homes under the Energy Star for New Homes label.

FSC Products
Lumber and other products with a Forest Stewardship Council label have been sustainably harvested.

Green Seal
Dating back to 1989, Green Seal is one of the oldest eco-labelling programs for consumer products. Third-party verification reviews each product’s entire lifecycle.

This is the term for companies and products that falsely claim to be environmentally friendly.

HERS Index
The Home Energy Rating System Index rates a home’s energy consumption compared to other buildings. The lower the score the better, with Net Zero homes (see below) rated at zero.

While Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is traditionally thought of as a program for ICI projects, the Canada Green Building Council oversees the LEED Canada for Homes program.

MaP Rating
Short for “maximum performance,” a MaP score tallies how many grams of solid waste a toilet can clear in a single flush. The higher the MaP score, the more waste the unit removes.

Net Zero
Housing Net Zero homes produce at least as much energy as they consume, typically through the use of rooftop solar panels. Net Zero Ready homes are built to Net Zero standards, but don’t produce enough energy to offset usage. The Canadian Home Builders’ Association offers Net Zero training.

Nordic Swan
This eco-labelling project certifies that products made in Nordic countries have undergone rigorous measures to minimize environmental impacts throughout their entire lifecycle.

Passive House
Passive homes use energy efficient materials, layout, and design to minimize a building’s energy footprint. (Editor’s joke: If you build an Active House and a Passive House side-by-side, you end up with a Net Zero Home!)

One of the oldest energy efficiency standards, R-2000 was developed by Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Home Builders’ Association in the early 1980s. Homes built to R-2000 standards are typically 50 percent more energy efficient than conventional homes.

SEER Rating
The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio rating is used to rank air conditioners and heat pumps. The higher the SEER, the more efficiently the unit operates.

Thermal Energy Demand Intensity is a metric used to rate a structure’s heating needs. Insulation, an airtight building envelope, and a heat recovery ventilator work in conjunction to improve a building’s TEDI score. Related metrics include Total Energy Use Intensity (TEUI) and Mechanical Energy Use Intensity (MEUI).

The WaterSense label denotes toilets, faucets, and other plumbing fixtures that use at least 20 percent less water than comparable standard models.


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Easy and affordable soundproofing with Sonopan panels

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Easy and affordable soundproofing with Sonopan panels

Whether you’re building a home theatre, a basement apartment or granny suite, or building a new home in a noisy part of town, Sonopan panels are an affordable, easy to install solution for soundproofing.

Canada’s #1 Soundproofing Panel

In retrofit situations, simply mount Sonopan panels to the existing drywall then cover with a second layer of drywall.

The ¾-in.-thick, four-by-eight foot panels weight just 26 lbs. You can cut the panels to size with standard woodworking tools – a circular or track saw attached to a dust extractor is best – and you can use a multitool to cut out openings for electrical switches and outlets. The manufacturer recommends fastening the panels with drywall screws and washers (particularly in overhead situations), but construction staples are another option.

The made-in-Canada panels are manufactured entirely from recycled wood, and do not contain any VOCs.

This item is a sneak peak, looking ahead to our February/March 2020 Interior Finishing issue.



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Which Canadian bank offers the lowest mortgage rate?

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Which Canadian bank offers the lowest mortgage rate?

The answer, “it depends,” is not of much help here but it is accurate as the bank that offers the lowest rate changes all the time. To complicate matters, the mortgage rates shown on the banks’ websites are not necessarily the lowest ones that they offer and it is difficult to figure out what the lowest rates actually are.

Here are a few pieces of advice that will help you search out the lowest mortgage rates around.


At the moment (November 2019), HSBC is trying to grab market share and customers from the other banks. The HSBC mortgage rate is lower than the advertised rate of the other major banks. Keep a look out for other under-cutting of competitors’ rates that may go on from time to time.


You are in a good position to negotiate with the banks for their lowest mortgage rate if you have a regular income and a very good credit score. The first step is to find out what the lowest rate is and your experienced real estate agent will help you with that. Another way is to ask friends, family and anyone else you know if they know someone who works for the bank and gets the employee mortgage rate – that will be the lowest rate too. With this valuable information in hand, it is time to go to the bank and negotiate with them for that rate.

Widen your search

You are not limited to banks in your search for the lowest mortgage rate – consider credit unions and other lenders as well. As at Nov. 20, 2019, HSBC had the lowest published bank rate of 2.49 per cent (high ratio) for a five-year fixed-rate mortgage. However, brokerages that do buy downs (decreasing the rate by lowering commissions) beat this number: Mortgauge-Wowa advertised a rate of 2.41 per cent. On a $500,000 mortgage, this could save you $2,000 in five-year period.

Down payment

For the best interest rate, your down payment should be less than 20 per cent (high ratio mortgage) or greater than 35 per cent of the selling price. If you put down less than 20 per cent, in Canada you should take out CMHC-insurance so that there is almost no risk for the lender but it would cost you 2.8 to four per cent of the entire mortgage amount and unlike US mortgage insurances could not be cancelled later. Conversely, if you put down more than 35 per cent of the selling price, there is also little risk to the lender if the borrower defaults since this means in the default case, if the property being sold by the lender in the price that is not lower than 70 per cent of the original price, there would be almost no loss for the lender. In both cases, with little risk to the lender they can give you lower rates without jeopardy to themselves.

Terms and conditions

With whatever mortgage you get – lowest rate or not – you should check all the terms and conditions associated with it. Consider especially the termination penalty, the dollar amount that you have to pay if you pay your mortgage off early or if you sell your home within the mortgage term. This may be significant enough for you to consider not taking that particular mortgage.


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Johnathan Schickedanz, General Manager, FarSight Homes

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Johnathan Schickedanz, General Manager, FarSight Homes

In homebuilding, foundations are obviously critical, for if not for solid grounding, homes simply can’t stand the test of time. The same can be said for homebuilders, the very companies that construct the quality homes and condos GTA residents demand.

At FarSight Homes, built by three generations of the Schickedanz family, foundation is everything. We spoke with General Manager Johnathan Schickedanz, incoming president of the Durham Region Home Builders’ Association, for his thoughts on all this and more.

HOMES Magazine: How’s 2019 shaping up for FarSight Homes, and how does 2020 look?

Johnathan Schickedanz: It has been a slow start for FarSight in 2019 on the sales front, but we are not alone. As the market is finding its resting spot from the recent rise, fall and pause in home pricing, consumers are sitting on the sidelines to see where the floor is.

It looks like change is in the air, though. Over the past few months, traffic has picked up at our Alliston sales office, where we are marketing our newly released Beeton Creek at West Country project. Consumer confidence seems to be returning to the north GTA market, and sales numbers are on the rise. FarSight is optimistically looking forward to 2020 as an all-round better year, as we continue to sell and build in Beeton. Also, the hope is that we will be bringing our new Alliston site, an infill site located in the heart of Alliston, to market. It’s a condo project that will offer a more price effective option to the local market.

HM: FarSight Homes has some great communities in areas outside the GTA core, such as Beeton, Alliston, Bowmanville and Pickering. Why these locations?

JS: FarSight is a family owned and operated business that has benefitted from generations of knowledge and expertise on knowing how to select developments that will not only offer value to our customers, but be a great investment for our purchasers.

HM: Where do you see the next opportunities for lowrise homebuyers?

JS: The future is looking good for future homebuyers of lowrise product. The provincial government is committed to seeing growth in the housing market to assist with the ever-increasing demand. It has also placed an emphasis on the industry to look into options on how we can supply more varying housing types and styles. So, future projects will likely be comprised of a greater mix of housing styles and price points to meet the needs of the different byers.

The other interesting policy piece is the ability and support the province is offering for the development of secondary suites. This will bring the opportunity for homebuyers to gain revenue off a portion of their home they wouldn’t otherwise, providing multi-generational housing where families can live together.

HM: You were just honoured by the Durham Region Home Builders’ Association (DRHBA) at the President’s Ball. What does this honour mean to you?

JS: It’s a truly humbling moment to be honored as the 68th president of the DRHBA. This association is rich in history and many presidents who have preceded me are people I look up to in the industry. I look forward to the year ahead and can honestly say that I have little to be worried about. This is due to the support I have from both the board of directors and DRHBA staff. With this much expertise in one place, only great things will be accomplished. Also, I am thankful to be able to give back to an industry that has provided so much for me and my family. I am a third generation builderdeveloper, and I and can say there is no other business that I could imagine being involved in.

Photo: Sabrina Byrnes

HM: In your view, what qualities and characteristics did DRHBA honour you for?

JS: Hard working, and a commitment to the association and industry.

HM: What have you learned from growing up in a family of developers that led you to where you are today?

JS: The market is cyclical and it will go through ups and downs, so be prepared.

The best way to learn about the business is a hands-on approach from the bottom up. I wasn’t handed an office position right out of school, but was challenged to learn as many trades and skills as possible. My family believes that the best leaders lead by example.

HM: What’s next for FarSight Homes?

JS: FarSight has just completed its first “Savings by Design” workshop, sponsored by Enbridge Gas Distribution. In this program, the coordinator brings together the trades, suppliers and the building scientists in one room where we are able to discuss opportunities for FarSight to build better-than-code homes. Through this program, I was made aware of the new developments in insulating products and air barrier systems that will allow us to build next generation homes. Also, this program has provided us the road map on the required steps to take our homes from where they are and to get them to net zero ready. Over the next year, we are looking to implement numerous new practices into our building program and are committed to building better-than-code homes for our purchasers.


HM: Your uncle Bob is the new president of the OHBA. How exciting is that for the family?

JS: It has been an exciting time for our family! Today, we have three generations involved in the development and building business in Toronto. And now that Bob has been elected as the latest OHBA president, it has allowed our family to start to give back to an industry that has given so much to us.

In 1951, my grandfather and his cousins opened Schickedanz Brothers Ltd., with the goal of developing exceptional communities and quality homes. And now three generations later, we are still following the same dreams. Having Bob now meeting with industry leaders around the province gives testament to the dedication our family has to this industry and the betterment of communities and homes for the future generations.

HM: What are you doing when you’re not at the office or on a development site?

JS: I’m an outdoors and cottage kind of person and look forward to time spent with my wife, two daughters and dog.

I have my pilots licence and enjoy time in the air.

I also usually have a number of projects on the go that involve metal fabrication and welding, fibreglass and paint work or mechanical repair and/or restoration.

I’m a true do-it-yourselfer. Never afraid to get my hands dirty and take on a project.

I enjoy travelling to different places to see different types of architecture – preferably warmer places!


  • Beeton Creek at West Country, Beeton, Now open
  • Greenfields, Alliston, Now open
  • Timber Trails, Bowmanville, Coming soon
  • Forest Creek, Pickering, Coming soon


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