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The truth about living through a major reno

The truth about living through a major reno

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The truth about living through a major reno

If the heart of the home is the kitchen, then disrupting it can only lead to chaos, right? Yes and no (but mostly yes). When moving into our new house last April, we decided right away to tackle the kitchen first, but we also put in new hardwood floors, new entryway tiles and new exterior doors – all in six months! Maybe you’re considering a big renovation and want to know what it’s like to live through it. It’s definitely doable, but there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind.

Expect delays

COVID-19 has created some real issues around supply chain, specifically with raw materials and overall demand for goods. This means manufacturers, suppliers and retailers aren’t able to get items in as fast as they normally would, creating a frustrating trickle-down effect. This could mean not being able to find a simple part at the hardware store, or having to wait an extra month to get an appliance delivered.

I can’t count the number of delays we’ve had (due to things out of our control), and it’s probably been the most frustrating part of the entire process. Eight weeks into our kitchen reno and we were a little behind schedule. The latest being not enough backsplash tile, so depending on what our contractor can find, we may have to wait longer as more gets ordered in. Delays are an inevitable part of any reno process, especially now.

Be patient and persistent

The second part to that first challenge is – if you plan to live through your renovation, you need to be patient. It can be frustrating to be at home and have to listen to hammering all day or be told the lighting fixture you wanted is on back-order. Remind yourself it’s all part of the process.

You also might need to be persistent when it comes to dealing with various trades or contractors. Ask questions. Keep clarifying details. Don’t settle with something if you’re not happy. At the end of the day, it’s your home and your money, so it needs to be done right.

Plan to order in more meals

In preparing for the kitchen reno, I had heard you should budget for eating out the entire duration, which would obviously get very costly and something we didn’t want to do. Instead, we were able to keep our old appliances, set up a temporary kitchen in our living room, and used a sink in the basement to clean dishes. By week three, we were over carrying a bucket of dirty dishes downstairs into our dark and unorganized, cellar basement.

Since the takeout options in our area are limited, we tried to keep up with our home cooked meals, keeping them as simple as possible. Originally, we planned to freeze meals ahead of time, but that didn’t happen. Cooking fatigue definitely set in (partially thanks to quarantine life), so we ended up ordering in once or twice a week. Personally, I think if you have the space, a temp kitchen isn’t a bad idea. You’ll thank yourself, especially if your reno goes longer than planned.

Keep the lines of communication open

The amount of people you need to communicate with for a reno is extensive. So far, we’ve worked with an interior designer, flooring company and installers, a contractor, plumber, electrician, cabinet designers and carpenters, a window and door carpenter… the list goes on. Even with a contractor helping to manage our kitchen, there were times we needed to connect directly with a trade to clarify details or add another task. There are so many small decisions and questions that come up with every project, so being in close touch with everyone means you know exactly what’s going on and can make sure nothing is missed.

Your stuff is going to be in the way

The one good thing about upsizing when you want to reno, is there’s less stuff you have to move out of the way. We put a lot of our furniture into our garage and we didn’t unpack all of the kitchen, keeping only the essentials, knowing we’d have to repack them for the demo. I also ended up selling a bunch of items that I didn’t love or have the need for anymore. If we had more things, I think we definitely would have had to get a storage pod. My only tip: Resist the temptation to buy too many new, large decor or furniture pieces early on.

Moving out might be the only option

There were a few months where we had no daycare for our toddler, my husband and I were both working from home and we had renos happening. It was extremely chaotic. During the hardwood floor installation, I ended up spending a week at my mom’s house in Ottawa because it was going to be too disruptive for my daughter’s sleep schedule and we didn’t want to keep her upstairs all day while the work went on downstairs. Based on how loud and dusty it ended up being, it was a smart move.

We also had to spend a night in a hotel when our entryway tiles were installed, since they needed a full 12 hours to set and are literally in front of our staircase to go upstairs – and the location of our bedrooms and both washrooms (the washroom really being the critical room we needed access to!). Depending on what type of renos you’re doing, moving out may be the only option, so it’s something you need to consider during your planning stage.

Celebrate every step of the way

There have been many times during the process where I feel… “I want this renovation over,” or “Ugh, this and that still needs to be done.” Then I remember how many things we’ve already completed and improved.

When you’re living through a renovation, you’re living through the parts they fast-forward on TV – the days when nothing gets completed or the un-sexy stuff that gets you to the Pinterest inspo pic. On the days I get frustrated, I focus on what has been done and remind myself that it will all be worth the wait once the project is completed.

A writer and editor for more than a decade, Stephanie Gray has covered everything from luxury travel to modern parenting challenges.

Her work has been featured in publications including Glamour, Elle Canada and Best Health.

She recently bought a century-old home north of Toronto, in need of updates, which she’s taking on with her husband (and toddler in tow).


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First impressions - From curb appeal to security, your front door matters

First impressions – From curb appeal to security, your front door matters

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First impressions – From curb appeal to security, your front door matters

Before owning a house, I didn’t think much about a home’s front door. But, during our home inspection, there were some slight concerns about the quality of the door. As renovations always seem to hurl you down a slippery slope and since we were planning on replacing our front tile, we decided we might as well simultaneously replace our front door.

The main reasons we chose to replace our front door:

  1. SECURITY. Due to it not being correctly installed, the latches were coming out from the frame, making it easier to be opened by a potential intruder.
  2. AESTHETICS. We didn’t like one significant non-changeable aspect of the door, specifically the oval glass with a decorative motif.
  3. EFFICIENCY. Because of the poor installation, it also meant it wasn’t efficient at keeping the cold air out (and who wants higher bills?). Not to mention it even let in rainwater!

BEFORE
BEFORE

AFTER
AFTER

Like any home decision that involves both function and style, this choice wasn’t so simple. The siding of our home is board and batten in a blue-grey shade (a colour we aren’t sure we’re keeping). With this in mind, we wanted to select a door that would work with the current colour, but also with our long term vision. Then there was the security and efficiency aspect. We both liked the look of a wood door, but during our research, we learned wood doors are not the most energy-efficient, are harder to maintain and tend to be quite expensive. The good news was a fibreglass door with a wood-grain effect would check off all our boxes in terms of efficiency and style.

Schlage | Schlage.com
Schlage | Schlage.com

To fully complete the transformation, we also decided to replace the door’s casing and needed to select a new handle. Thanks to Pinterest, we found a door we loved and a casing to match. Our pick? A craftsman-style door with a six-lite window pane and modern craftsman casing. This was a project we knew required a professional, so we asked for recommendations and went with Mario’s Windows & Doors.

Before we could get a quote, owner and installer Mario Lambert needed to come by to measure and assess. The bad news was the door wasn’t just poorly installed in the frame, it was set too far forward by a foot, causing the door to scrape along the side every time it opened and closed. Such a major change in positioning was another reason why the door needed to be installed before the tiles.

Mastergrain | Mastergrain.com
Mastergrain | Mastergrain.com

We shared our visual references from Pinterest, and he came back with pricing, wood-grain colours and handle options. In the end, we selected a fibreglass door from MasterGrain, with a Douglas Fir grain effect in the shade called Early American. For the handles, we went more transitional (traditional/contemporary) with Addison on the exterior and Pemberly on the interior, both in matte black and by Schlage. The casing also went from wood (that happened to be rotting) to durable PVC.

Overall we can’t believe what an impact the door makes on our home’s exterior. It not only looks much better, but it opens and closes smoothly. There are still a lot of things we want to do with our exterior (including take out the second-floor door and do a wrap-around balcony), but for now, we think we’ve boosted our home’s first impression in the neighbourhood.

A writer and editor for more than a decade, Stephanie Gray has covered everything from luxury travel to modern parenting challenges.

Her work has been featured in publications including Glamour, Elle Canada and Best Health.

She recently bought a century-old home north of Toronto, in need of updates, which she’s taking on with her husband (and toddler in tow).


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To replace or refinish hardwood floors is a major decision balancing budget with aesthetics

To replace or refinish hardwood floors is a major decision balancing budget with aesthetics

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To replace or refinish hardwood floors is a major decision balancing budget with aesthetics

Photos by Melanie Rees

When my husband and I finally decided we were ready to trade our condo for a house, we knew we wanted something with charm. One adjective realtors often use that translates to “needs renovations” or “old and dated.” We wanted something that wasn’t cookie cutter, and we loved the idea of updating a space to make it our own. After a lot of online searching and a handful of open houses, we ended up putting a bid on a three-bed, two-bath, single-family home north of Toronto. It’s charm: It was built in 1895. Original staircase. Window casings with Victorian-style rosettes. A basement cellar.

We saved money by removing the hardwood ourselves.
We saved money by removing the hardwood ourselves.

Nothing was in critical shape, but there was a long list of renovations we wanted to complete. First on our list was the room every homeowner obsesses over – the kitchen. Problem was we also wanted to redo the floors, and there was hardwood throughout the kitchen. What we quickly discovered is, the order you do your renovations in is critical.

Because we were going to gut the kitchen, if we wanted to do the floors we’d need to do them prior to our renovation. The house had the bonus of already having solid hardwood floors. Our initial plan was to refinish it, since it was solid hardwood and half the cost of installing new. I went back to my Pinterest board to reference the hardwood I was dreaming of, which was a light shade of wood, Scandi-style. It was a sharp contrast to the dark, red-tinged floors we currently had.

Little details such as stylish air vents really add a custom look to any home.
Little details such as stylish air vents really add a custom look to any home.

Before I could see if I could get the shade I was dreaming of, I had to identify what species of hardwood we had. Luckily, there were some scraps in the basement and I could see the unstained board. Bad news – we had red oak. I went online to discover that red oak could never become the white oak I was envisioning for our home. People do bleach it, but it’s impossible to truly get the red out and often you’re left with a subtle pink hue. That’s when we decided to look into replacing our floors.

We ended up going with Grand Floors because of its transparent pricing, huge selection of flooring and decades of experience. Another plus was that the company offered refinishing, too. After a thorough phone consultation, owner Gregory Olszewski could identify quite a bit from the photos I sent him, including the spaces in the wood (which indicated it wasn’t laid by a professional), the short planks and uneven colouring (again a possible indicator a mix of cheaper hardwood was selected). Still debating between both refinishing and replacing, I booked an appointment to the showroom to get the full scope of what new hardwood floors would look like (and cost).

Upon arrival, Olszewski suggested not to look at the brand of hardwood but its thickness (the thicker the actual hardwood, the more times you can refinish it) and the colour. Price wise, you will pay more for solid hardwood versus engineered hardwood, so that was a consideration when we looked at options.

Our new light and modern floors are a welcome change from the dark hardwood.
Our new light and modern floors are a welcome change from the dark hardwood.

With my soon-to-be sister-in-law Jessica with me, who also happens to be an interior designer, she helped me narrow it down to a handful of samples that would complement the plans for the kitchen.

We also decided to look at the hardwood staining samples, too, selecting a mid-toned hue that would also work with the designs.

Eventually, I settled on a shade called Pickled Oak from the Miller’s Reserve Collection by Fuzion Flooring. A beautiful white oak in an almost muted natural tone. It’s a touch distressed with contrasting wide and narrow planks. Being engineered hardwood meant it wouldn’t be as pricey as a solid option, but with enough hardwood on top to have one refinish done in its lifetime.

A week later, Olszewski came by to examine the condition of our floors in person and also complete the measurements to provide an accurate quote for both options. What he thought was true was confirmed: Our floors hadn’t been installed professionally and there were a lot of gaps between boards (plus tons of creaking and unevenness).

After discussing the two options, we decided to have the job done correctly and replace our hardwood. It would impact the overall reno budget for our home, meaning some things we wanted to do sooner would need to be put off, but it would mean the floor would be installed correctly (goodbye creaks, uneven colour and strange bulges) and be the exact shade we had envisioned.

TIPS

  • BRING SAMPLES HOME. You need to see the colours in your own space and with your lighting (not under the fluorescent store bulbs).
  • DIY TASKS THAT DON’T REQUIRE A PROFESSIONAL. Removing hardwood can save you hundreds of dollars and doesn’t require any skill.
  • SHOP AROUND. Don’t be afraid to get quotes from multiple businesses. Reputable places should be transparent about the cost of materials and installation.
  • BUY WHAT FITS YOUR BUDGET. Solid hardwood has a long life, but it can be double the cost of engineered. Plus, hardwood floors need to be refinished only every seven to 10 years at the minimum, so unless it’s your forever house, you can easily go with engineered and enjoy it for years to come.

One way we were able to save about $1,500 right off the bat was to do all of the hardwood removal ourselves. It’s not hard, but requires a few tools (including protective eye gear, gloves, crowbar and hammer), and a bin to dispose of the debris. The work was completed in an afternoon, but one major issue was exposed. There was very old vinyl tile uncovered upstairs. The concern? The majority of vinyl tile created prior to 1986 contained asbestos. The only way we could tell for certain was to have it tested. We rushed a sample to a nearby lab and got the news the next day we were asbestos-free. Massive relief.

Once the tile was removed, we were ready for the install. One extra we decided to splurge on was really stylish vents. We found a Canadian company called Aria Vent, which designs sleek, modular air vents and drywall returns. The company has a few models, including a professional model that must be mounted prior to the surface install. We ensured these were purchased prior to our hardwood installation and our floor installer could do it (they charged us a small installation fee per vent).

Due to the kitchen install date not until the fall and the front tile install date still unknown, we were only able to have only 40 per cent of the hardwood complete in Phase 1. The rest has to wait until our kitchen is demoed.

That’s the thing about renos I’ve quickly learned. Don’t be surprised when nothing goes according to plan, and expect to live in chaos. What has been completed I’m beyond happy with, so I’ll just have to be patient and let it all come together.

A writer and editor for more than a decade, Stephanie Gray has covered everything from luxury travel to modern parenting challenges.

Her work has been featured in publications including Glamour, Elle Canada and Best Health.

She recently bought a century-old home north of Toronto, in need of updates, which she’s taking on with her husband (and toddler in tow).


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