Tag Archives: Home Renovation

What you should know before digging in

What you should know before digging in

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What you should know before digging in

I have many prospective clients reaching out to me at this time of year, with lofty renovation goals and big dreams that their efforts will pay off. A home renovation can indeed offer a great return on investment – unless it’s not done correctly from the get-go.

The most important piece of advice I can offer is that this isn’t the time to start skimping. If you can’t do it right, don’t do it. Maybe put it off until your budget meets your needs. Cutting corners to save a few bucks will end up costing you more in the long run, because you’ll likely end up having to pay again to repair or redo the work.

Renovations can be daunting territory for many, and there is no doubt that this process can be overwhelming. Selecting materials, sourcing products (and making the right decisions!) and executing the project is a dance best left to a professional. A designer will perfectly choreograph your renovation project without missing a beat, and you can bet that there will be many beats in this process. When the renovation is complete, most of my clients agree that the result is worth the effort and temporary inconvenience of it all.

Now, before you get too excited about what will undoubtedly become Instagram-worthy interiors, let me give you another important renovation tip: Be realistic. Be realistic about the project (is your plan even possible?), the process (how long will it take, and what will it all entail?) and the price. Here are some things to keep in mind before you dig in.

1. There will be dust

Prepare yourself for the general feeling that you and everything you own will be a little dirty. All. The. Time. This also lasts months after the renovation wraps, as the dust quite literally settles. Cover your vents with plastic and turn off the furnace and air-conditioning systems in advance, to avoid circulating dust throughout your home.

2. There will be disagreements and compromises

Inevitably, you and your housemate/renovation partner will have different priorities. I ask my clients to prepare separate lists, each noting their own needs and personal preferences. Then we can put them side-by-side and find the commonalities. Compromise on the small stuff is easier when we feel like we agree on something big – usually, a functional and fabulous space.

3. There will be (costly) issues

Especially in residential construction projects, you need to plan ahead and budget for any number of wonderments that may be found lurking behind the walls. Set aside 20 per cent of your budget as a buffer zone. I typically keep this amount “in the bank,” and when the project is nearing completion and I can see that we’re in the clear, I can reallocate the remaining amount for splurges appearing on my clients’ wish list.

One or two less-than-ideal byproducts accompany most renovations, whether they come in the form of construction dust or budget-busting “surprises.” However, by enlisting the right professional and planning well in advance, you can minimize the negative impacts of a renovation and maximize the positive.

Andrea Colman is Principal of Fine Finishes Design Inc..

With almost two decades of reno and design experience, her full service firm serves clientele throughout the GTA.


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Home Improvements: Renos that boost your R.O.I.

Renos that boost your R.O.I.

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Renos that boost your R.O.I.

Illustration by Rachel Joanis

So, you’ve decided to sell your home. That means you’ve also likely tossed around the idea of a home renovation to yield the best possible profit. Here are four home renovations that yield the highest payoff.


It’s the beating heart of the home. This is the most-significant and most-expensive room to renovate, but it also gives you the highest return on your investment. There are a few reasons for this. Kitchens are a pain to renovate, from the inconvenience of functioning without a kitchen for weeks (or months) and the effort required to coordinate or complete the work. That means buyers are often willing to pay a premium for a home with a brand-new kitchen. Always choose quality over quantity – a cheap or poorly done renovation can decrease your home’s value.


Much like the kitchen, bathrooms are difficult to renovate, and many homebuyers will pay extra for the convenience of having it done for them. Spa-inspired bathrooms are a common upgrade in older homes when the bath was considered a utilitarian room versus a feature space. A bigger, brighter bathroom with custom elements, such as vanity and countertops, unique tile work, fabulous lighting and extras like a steam shower, make-up area or a meditation zone can bring in the bucks on resale.

Income suite

An income suite is a biggie – especially in pricey urban housing markets such as Toronto and Vancouver. Young homebuyers often look to tenants to help them pay off their hefty mortgage, and multi-generational households can reside together with greater cost-efficiency and privacy. Look at secondary suites for rent in the area to get a feel for what those units look like, and how much they rent for. This will be a great selling point for your home.

In the current sellers’ market, a fairly-priced home shouldn’t stay on the market for too long. Every homeowner is looking to get the biggest bang for their buck, and the quickest possible sale – which translates to even more money in your pocket. Work with your realtor to determine what renovations make sense in the current marketplace, and for some tried-and-true advice on how to get everything done.


Here are some more tips to help sellers keep their eyes on the prize:

  1. Renovate for your target buyer, not for yourself. Your realtor can advise you on the types of renovations that will resonate with buyers in your area, and of the kind of home you’re selling.
  2. Work with an experienced contractor who’s familiar with the type of work you’re planning. Check out their portfolio, ask for references and contact them.
  3. Before any work begins, ensure your contract stipulates precisely what work is being done, what materials and products are being used, the budget and the timeline for completion.
  4. Do it by the book. Don’t try to save on costs by skipping the permits or taking shortcuts in the work. This will only end up hurting your bottom line, not helping.

Heather Hadden, Principal at Hadden Homes, notable top real-estate professional in GTA is focused on providing comprehensive full-service real-estate support for all new and existing homeowners.

Making you love where you live once again.


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From ravaged to renaissance is a tale of one East York home's transformation

East York home’s transformation a tale of ravaged to renaissance

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East York home’s transformation a tale of ravaged to renaissance


Once upon a time, on a quiet crescent in east Toronto, a “For Sale” sign sat on the front yard of a post-war 1950s home. The house was in tragic condition. A pie-shaped lot presented some trying limitations, but it was well situated in an excellent neighbourhood, and had a private driveway with an attached garage. Buyers without construction or design knowledge might not see the opportunity to develop a great family home on this property, but luckily, the new homeowners did. The young couple came to us with excitement, a great attitude, and willing to let our team design and build a house that could meet their growing family’s needs.

Master plan and permits

However, this project was no small undertaking. Designing and getting approval of the plans proved to be more challenging than the construction itself. We explored several preliminary plan options, researched the zoning restrictions for the property, and visited the Committee of Adjustments for zoning variances. The final decision was to do a whole interior and exterior renovation project. This included raising the ground-floor ceiling height and rebuilding the second floor; creating a new third-floor study in the attic space; adding a two-storey rear addition with finished basement below; renovating and finishing the existing basement space; and completely remodelling the existing ground floor.

Ground floor greatness

The homeowners had a strong preference to gain more ceiling height on the ground floor, which led to the decision to destroy and rebuild the existing second floor entirely. With new 10-ft. ceilings, we wanted to optimize the space for better living and entertaining, so we decided to remove the walls between the living room and dining room to allow for a better connection to the new, contemporary kitchen. After enlarging the existing garage, we then converted the existing kitchen into a new mudroom and powder room. Overall, the design of the ground floor was intended to be functional for a family to grow and entertain in.

Privacy matters

On the newly rebuilt second floor, we constructed four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a laundry room. The master bedroom features a walk-in closet and a four-piece ensuite with double vanity. Two of the three remaining bedrooms have private access to their own full bathroom. The second floor is spacious enough to accommodate the entire family, and laid out in a way that provides the master bedroom with privacy.

Light and bright attic

To keep the overall height of the house feeling reasonably scaled, we arrived at the design of a unique roof shape that allowed for a generous third floor, which is minimally visible from the street. The third floor addition in the attic is a great feature to the house, as it is open-concept, light-filled and has a walk-out balcony.

Room to spare

Finally, the existing basement and addition were designed as an extension to the family’s living and entertaining space. A spacious recreation/movie room takes up a sizable portion at the front of the basement, while a guest bedroom and washroom add yet another sleeping arrangement to the overall house. There is plenty of designated storage in the basement, and a small home gym as well. The project in East York is one that our team is very proud of. We managed to deliver one family’s dream home, on a property in which they took a sizable risk on purchasing. With the meaning of home taking on a whole new meaning this year, our city, and world, is reminded just how important it is to love the physical space – from function, comfort and design – to make your home the safe haven we all crave.

Photos: Valerie Wilcox

Jessica Millard joined Men At Work Design Build in 2017 while studying at Ryerson University.

The Toronto-based firm offers integrated engineering, design and professional construction services for addition and major renovation projects on old Toronto homes.

Jessica has been involved in various internal departments within the firm, and is currently the company’s Project Coordinator.


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7 home renovation mistakes to avoid

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7 home renovation mistakes to avoid

A home renovation is a tough project. If you have ever done it before, you probably know its pitfalls. Even then, the project can still challenge you and result in renovation mistakes that cost you money. With a good plan, however, kitchen or bathroom renovation mistakes will not challenge you.

Below are simple home renovation mistakes that homeowners might overlook but are costly.

DIY with little or no experience

You can DIY through a home renovation project, especially if you are experienced in some projects. However, you cannot be a jack of all trades; some projects might require a professional. In most cases, a designer is needed to avoid bathroom or kitchen renovation projects. Even if you can install countertops, having the wrong design will make you regret for many years after the project.

Electrical projects, plumbing, installation of large electrical equipment, and removing a wall, among others are best done by professionals. You need to hire a contractor and a designer early into the project.


If you want your project to go to completion without any hitches, the only way to do that is to ensure that you have budgeted for everything. If your home has many old parts with mold, leaks, corrosion, damages by pests, and outdated fixtures, you might need to replace most of the parts.

When you have to tear through parts such as ceilings, the more likely it is that you will find more damages that need repairs. Even contractors are not able to identify these hidden damages before the work begins. As such, you need a slightly higher budget than your estimate. On top of your budget estimate, have at least 10 per cent more to ensure the project does not stall due to unexpected damages and costs.

Ignoring building codes and regulations

Are you handling any renovation project that requires a permit? If you do, avoid working around the codes as it will come to haunt you if you ever need to sell your home.

Permits are offered as a show that your project complies with safety and zoning laws. You might need drawings from an architect or designer when applying for a permit. Even for a DIY project, you will still need a permit.

Projects that need a permit are those that might compromise the structural integrity of your home. These projects include adding a room and removing a wall. In some areas, you might need a permit for small projects such as replacing a window and landscaping. If you ignore a permit and an inspector catches you with a sledgehammer demolishing a wall, you will be fined, have the sale of your home blocked, and probably have everything you have built brought down.

Hiring the wrong contractor 

A good contractor should be licensed and insured. They also need to have a surety bond. Before you hire a contractor, you need to ask for references and call the clients to ensure that the contractor did an excellent job.

When calling the clients, ask how cooperative the contractor is, the quality of their work, whether they stick to schedules and budget, and how they handle unexpected problems. Do not pick a contractor because they charge the lowest price; other factors such as experience, speed, and attention to detail matter. See more on how the right contractors can help you avoid safety mistakes.

Doing your designs

Have you ever designed? Design involves creating a space that matches your lifestyle. It is not only about the appearance of a room but also its functions. If you throw parties regularly, you have children, or you have pets, a designer will factor everything into the design.

A designer is also able to fix the unappealing aspects of your space and making the best features more attractive. Just like watching numerous movies doesn’t make you a good actor, looking at many interior design photos does not make you a designer. By going it alone, you risk making many of the home renovation mistakes to avoid in this list. Again, you might end up spending a lot of money and not being impressed by the results.

Failure to create detailed specs

What do you want for your home renovation project? One way to avoid kitchen or bathroom renovation mistakes is to create details project specs that will allow you to compare bids from contractors accurately.

The specification list should include a project summary, architect plans, designer plans, time schedules, plans for each part to be renovated, and special parameters such as the limit on work times.

Lack of a plan and a contract

Choosing a good contractor is the first step to create a project without renovation mistakes. However, you need to create a detailed contract that you and the contractor sign.

The contract should describe the scope of the work to be carried out, materials to be used, debris removal, the total cost of the project, and the payment schedule. The contract should also describe the order in which the work is to be done. For instance, the hardwood floors should be installed after the wall is painted and the cabinets should be hung after removing and replacing plumbing.

If you plan changes, update your contract to capture the changes. Go through the contract every day to ensure that the work is going according to plan.

Bottom line

Everything might not go according to plan. Even when you read these home renovation mistakes to avoid, unexpected problems occur and you may not know how to handle them. You need to be ready to handle kitchen renovation mistakes if they occur. You should not have very high expectations especially when you are working on a budget as you may not get everything that you have seen online.

Most of the mistakes will occur if you try to cut costs by hiring the contractor with the lowest bid, buy cheap materials, and trying to cut corners on some projects. You can also try to cut down the budget by doing your projects instead of hiring a professional.


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Home reno

Home construction and renovation the largest contributor to Canada’s underground economy

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Home construction and renovation the largest contributor to Canada’s underground economy

Home reno

Looking to custom-build a home or do your dream renovation – and save a few bucks by using unlicensed contractors? One, you’re not alone. And two, it could be a huge, costly mistake. Indeed, residential construction is by far the largest contributor to Canada’s underground economy, according to Statistics Canada. In 2016, this sector was responsible for 26.6 per cent – or $13.7 billion – of this activity, compared to 13.5 per cent for the retail trade, and 12.1 per cent for accommodation and food services.

The underground economy is defined as consisting of market-based economic activities, whether legal or illegal, that escape measurement because of their hidden, illegal or informal nature.

And the numbers are huge – totaling $51.6 billion in Canada for 2016, or 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product, and up 3.5 per cent from 2015.

The underground economy in Canada is even outperforming the total economy – increasing 3.5 per cent from 2015 to 2016, compared to the 2.0 per cent growth in total economy GDP.

Underground economy by province and territory

Ontario was responsible for the largest contribution in 2016 – $19.7 billion, compared to $11.9 million in Quebec, $7.6 billion in BC and $5.8 billion in Alberta.


As a percentage of GDP

PEI 3.1
Quebec 3.0
BC 2.9
Manitoba 2.6
Nova Scotia 2.6
Yukon 2.6
New Brunswick 2.5
Ontario 2.5
Saskatchewan 2.5
Nfld. 2.1
Alberta 1.9
NWT 1.1
Nunavut 0.8


Why you should care

Why should you care about this issue?

On a more global scale, underground economic activity means taxes are not collected – topay for programs and services such as healthcare, education, parks, child benefits, Old Age Security and Employment Insurance.

More directly for you, however, is that an “under the table” home reno or custom-build puts you at risk. Not only do you have limited recourse if the project is not done to your liking, or is over time and budget, but you could also could be liable if a worker is injured on-site during a home renovation or if you unknowingly purchase damaged goods or shoddy service with no receipt.

Always get a contract or receipt

Cash deals with no paperwork may mean a business isn’t paying its taxes. You may be liable if something goes wrong.

RenoMark protection

In the Greater Toronto Area, the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) helps homeowners make informed decisions about renovation projects through a program called RenoMark. The program was established in 2001 and is now delivered in partnership with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) and local home builders’ associations across Canada.

RenoMark identifies professional contractors who have agreed to abide by a renovation-specific Code of Conduct. The Renovators Mark of Excellence makes it easy for homeowners to identify participating professional renovators who have agreed to provide a superior level of service.

Get it in writing

Make sure to get the details of any reno project in writing and signed by both you and your contractor. RenoMark Renovators provide a two-year warranty.

Do your research

Ask for at least three references and always check them

By dealing with reputable businesses that follow the rules, you’re also helping workers. Honest businesses follow health, safety and other employment standards.

The Canadian Home Builder’s Association also offers free and unbiased information on how to hire a contractor the smart and safe way, at getitinwriting.ca


Getting Started with Home Renovation

Reno Expert: Good Help Wanted

What you need to consider before renovating your home



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Tips on how to survive a home renovation

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Tips on how to survive a home renovation

By Jo Alcorn

As you may or may not know from my constant social media updates, I have been living through a massive kitchen renovation since September. That means three months without water, counters, floors and more.

Did I move out? No. How did I cope? Here I share a few tips and tricks on how to live in a home that is under construction and not go crazy in the process (okay, maybe just a bit crazy but that’s acceptable).


The inspiration collage is what kept me sane and helped me to keep the end product in mind when the going got tough. I would look at that gorgeous inspiration and know that — one day — it would all be mine. No pain, no gain right?


Compare that beautiful inspiration image to this, which was my reality for three months. To stay sane, and functional, and still live there, I had to find ways to make things work for all of us.


I have two sweet dogs that live with me, so I desperately needed to keep the space clean and tidy – not only for my own health but for their health and safety as well. I can’t tell you how many Swiffer pads I went through each day. I was constantly whipping that magic tool around, day in and day out. I’d start with the Swiffer Sweeper to trap and lock in all the dirt (and let me tell you there was a lot of dirt). Next, I’d use the Swiffer WetJet on the finished hardwood floors to clean up any remaining dirt and grime and make it a safe haven at the end of the night … until the dirt and dust appeared the next day and then I’d repeat.


I’m not sure if you can tell but I am a bit obsessed about cleanliness. It’s pretty hard for someone like me who lives in a tidy home to live through a reno. I turned to tools and products that would give me peace of mind, knowing they’d help keep my space as clean as it could be, for all of us. I tried Scrub Daddy for the first time during my renovation and it was life changing. This little sponge doesn’t scratch delicate surfaces and doesn’t require harsh chemicals, which I am totally against for my own health but also the health of my furry friends. The power of this little scrubber is amazing.

On top of cleaning the floors, it’s so important to clean surfaces, windows, tops of furniture and anything the might be mingled with dust. Because I am so against toxins and chemicals, I was thrilled when I found out about Thieves. This is an all-natural, 100 per cent pure, plant-based, essential oil cleaner from Young Living. Half a capful makes a full bottle of this cleaning goodness. One single Thieves bottle will make 26 full bottles of cleaner, and at $27.50, that is a steal. In addition to being all plant and essential oils based, it kills 99.96 per cent of airborne bacteria and germs, it’s safe around kids, and I don’t need to worry when my sweet pups come into contact with it. You can get Thieves from The Oil Girls Canada.

Speaking of cleaning, people often overlook cleaning the inside of their appliances. After, or even during a reno, if you still have appliances up and running it’s important to take care of them. Did you know that only 27 per cent of Canadians have cleaned the inside of their dishwasher in the past 12 months? Ewww! There are specially formulated tablets that actually clean the inside of dishwashers called Affresh. They clean the hard water and mineral deposits that accumulate in your dishwasher over time. During and after a reno is possibly the most important time to tackle this task.


Living without a kitchen is hard. I don’t mean kinda hard, I mean really hard. To stay sane I had to make sure I had access to appliances and alternate items so I was not breaking the bank every night eating out. My KitchenAid six-quarter slow cooker was my saviour. All you have to do is throw in your ingredients, let them simmer and have a meal at the end of the day. It also automatically goes into keep warm mode for up to four hours so you know you’ll have a hot meal to look forward to. The KitchenAid compact oven is also great if you are going to have to go longer periods of time without a kitchen (and mine was pretty long). It takes up a very small footprint, you can plug it in just about anywhere to make anything from roasted meats, fish and vegetables, to quiche, pizza, muffins and more.


Clean air is so importance to me because I have severe allergies. If you are living through a reno, or you have kids or pets, clean air should be a top priority. The Philips Air Purifier is proven to reduce allergens, odours, volatile organic compound emissions and even certain bacteria. The filter removes 99.97 per cent of allergens and pollutants while the active carbon filter reduces gases and odours from the air.


This might seem like an odd recommendation but another key to surviving a reno is to decrease your stress (and trust me I had a lot of it when there were hiccups in the delivery times, delays and changes that needed to be made, all which inevitably slowed down the process). Make sure you have a safe, clean retreat to get away to where you can rest and restore before conquering an entirely new set of challenges the next day. Soft pillows and a comfortable mattress (my new Bills Bed mattress sure came in handy these past few months) are absolute musts. You might also want to try out my new washable, hypoallergenic, cruelty-free, Canadian-made sleeping pillows and duvets — a good night’s sleep is just the blink of an eye away.

All in all, I think I am surviving just fine! My pups and I still live at home, eat at home and enjoy the rest of the house – no easy feat in these conditions! But these are sure to help you through the long weeks of a reno. Keep looking at your inspiration photos — it will all be worth it in the end.



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