The Big Build

Whether you’re planning a major renovation or a new build, you’ll have lots of decisions to make throughout the process. But you won’t need to make all of them by yourself. Your partners in this undertaking will include bankers, builders, interior designers, landscapers, insurance companies, and many others.

Who to see first?

Craig Bannon, regional manager and mortgage specialist for RBC Royal Bank, says talking to a bank before making any plans at all can help you understand how much you can afford to spend.

“You’ll be talking to your bank at a few stages,” says Bannon, “and the first time will be for a pre-approval.”

Homeowners can borrow up to 40 per cent of their gross income to cover their mortgage payment, property taxes and utilities. Bannon says most clients find spending 32 per cent of their gross, pre-tax, salary on their mortgage payment, property taxes and heat more manageable.

An interior designer may be next on your list of professionals. This person can help you choose a building plan that will meet your lifestyle needs and personal choice.

Pam Tower, owner of Tower Interiors, says interior designers often consult on the plan itself.

“Clients will come to us with a plan that they like certain things about, but want to change several other things,” she says. “Or they may have several plans that they like parts of and we will help them put those parts together into a final plan.”

An interior designer knows building structures, building materials, will draft your working drawings, space plans, electrical layouts and coordinate building materials. They’ll write specifications, design architectural features and prepare your interior finish schedules.

“An interior designer is not selling you anything except design expertise,” says Tower. “Therefore, it is the designer’s goal to make your project successful to you and your family.”

Tower recommends discussing all the areas of your home which you eventually would like to renovate, even if you may not complete these renovations for a number of years. An interior designer will do elevational drawings or perspectives, locate your electrical, lights, switches, phone, cable and computer wiring. They will coordinate your finishes and write detailed specifications of your project to include each stage from demolition to putting the switch plates back on.

“An interior designer will help you think through the entire project before it begins, saving you from costly mistakes,” says Tower. “Now you have an accurate description of what you want a contractor to quote on and you can get several quotes to compare them.”

The next stop will be the builder. Michael Senz, owner of A&H Renovations, says people should know exactly what they want before they come to a renovator unless that renovator has a design portion to his business.

“Once they have that idea, they should have plans drawn up before they go out for pricing,” says Senz. “If they don’t have plans drawn up, the renovators will put their own ideas down and you won’t be comparing apples to apples. The more detail you have and the more precise you can be with what you want the better. Include the windows you want, the paint colour, bathroom fixtures, light fixtures. It all affects the bottom-line cost.”

Senz says homeowners should always plan to spend 10 to 15 per cent more on unforeseen things in renovations and additions.

“It’s impossible to know what you’ll come across until you get into the job and open up walls and roofs,” says Senz.

Choosing the Details

If you’re building your first home or it’s been a long time since you last renovated, you may be surprised at just how much is available to choose from in every aspect of your home.

Tom Hughes, of Craftmade Kitchens, says most people keep a kitchen for approximately 20 to 25 years.

“That’s why it pays to carefully consider your needs and wants before buying,” says Hughes. “After all, the kitchen is also the most frequently used room. It should be looked upon as a fun place where you want to be.”

Hughes says Craftmade designers help homeowners sort the kitchen into five zones: consumables, non-consumables, cleaning, preparation and cooking to specific requirements for both ergonomics and organization that will save time and money.

Michael Pitre, operations manager for Eddy Group, says they are seeing touch faucets, like touch-on lamps, come into popularity in the kitchen.

“The Pascal faucet from Brizo is touch and motion activated,” says Pitre, “and will turn on and off automatically rather than you having to touch the faucet with your dirty hands.”

Pot fillers mounted on the wall next to the stove are also becoming popular.

“It distributes strictly cold water,” says Pitre. “If you have a big pot, you just set the pot under it and the arm swivels out to fill it up. Then it folds back into the wall.”

For the bathroom, Broan’s Sensaire humidity-sensing ceiling fan measures humidity in the bathroom and turns itself on and off.

“It detects moisture levels and prevents structural and cosmetic problems associated with moisture,” says Pitre.

Gary Paul, sales manager and builder associate at Ashley Furniture, says the variety of choices in appliances make deciding on them before a build a must because there are no standard sizes any more.

“One of the more popular appliances in the kitchens these days is the slide-in range with front controls,” says Paul. “They’re also starting to come out with induction ranges that can bring a pot to boil in 90 seconds. The heat transfers that quickly with the new technology.”

In the laundry room, the larger high-efficiency washers and dryers are in demand.

“Some appliances are coming out with steam technology,” says Paul. “They’re coming out mostly now with a glass door on the front and they’re set on pedestals so you have a nice big drawer underneath them for storage. The pedestal raises it up another 20 inches or so.”

The washers and dryers are now available in a wide range of colours including burgundy, black and brown.

Flooring choices are also more varied than ever before, but Mike Gaudet, manager of Wacky’s Floor Design Centre, says classic hardwood is still at the top of the list for most people.

“You see a wide range of flooring in renovations,” says Gaudet, “but I’d say hardwood flooring is still at the top of the list. Laminate and ceramic tiles are also popular and carpet still gets a chunk of the market, but the big renovations are going to hardwood.”

Hardwood’s luxurious look and durability are two reasons it’s remained desirable along with the fact that it’s an environmentally-friendly choice.

Getting your home wired for entertainment is another detail you won’t want to leave until the end.

Shane Wamboldt, owner of uberHome, says, “This does need some pre-planning so your choices aren’t limited.”

Wamboldt recommends that homeowners get their homes wired at least to TechReady standards for structured wiring.

“Being TechReady ensures that they have basic infrastructure through their house for current and future technologies including cabling for video, voice, and data networks,” says Wamboldt. “In future, many of our entertainment services are going to be available through streaming and through the Internet in real time so it’s very important that people have robust and well-installed data networks through their house.”

Wamboldt says those future services will mean renting movies through real time with devices like Apple TV or Netflicks and viewing home pictures and home movies from any television in the house.

“Having the proper wiring in place will help make sure they can take advantage of these technologies in the home,” says Wamboldt.

Planning Your Exterior

Your outdoor living spaces can be renovated more cost-effectively than any other part of the house, says Maurice Meagher, owner of Archadeck.

“You can renovate a lot of space very cost-effectively, but don’t make it an afterthought,” says Meagher. “We design-build and we can start looking at this space as soon as we’re handed a set of plans.”

Homeowners have to decide how much they want to invest in their outdoor living space, how they plan to use it, what kind of materials they want, the level of maintenance and more.

“We ask clients how much entertaining they plan to do, what they want for outdoor lighting, built-in seating, stone or wooden planters, storage, access from the house, outdoor speakers, etc.,” says Meagher. “Your outdoor space will be used for about six months of the year and can be created unique to your situation.”

Landscaping will also play a big part in creating the outdoor space you want.

Robin Godfrey, owner of Lakeland Plant World and co-owner of Atlantic Gardens, says you should plan for the landscaping right from the get-go.

“It should just be an extension of your building plan,” says Godfrey. “Most people should have a landscape plan to follow. Once the design is done, you can pick away at it over months or years, depending on your budget.”

Godfrey says the biggest mistake people make is buying plants and putting them in the wrong area.

“If it doesn’t have the right drainage and sunlight, it won’t work,” says Godfrey. “Plants should be planned out.”

One of the most important things he wants homeowners to remember is to make sure they have at least eight to 12 inches of soil on their property.

“The less soil you have, the quicker the plants and grass will dry out,” says Godfrey. “Never go cheap on soil. After that, it comes down to landscape design.”

Make Sure You’re Covered

Once you’ve decided on a contractor to build your project, make sure he can provide you with proof of liability insurance.

Matthew Upton, insurance broker at Homburg Insurance Company, says the certificate of insurance will protect you in the event the contractor is negligent during renovations causing bodily damage to the homeowner.

Then the homeowner should contact their local, independent insurance broker to let them know they are considering or going through with a renovation.

“Their coverage may have to be tailored to cover this particular job,” says Upton. “Premiums will depend on the company, length of project and many other variables such as whether or not the homeowner will be on the premises or away.”

Another important point is that the homeowners should make sure the renovator has Workers’ Compensation.

“Homeowners don’t want to pick up any disability claim on behalf of the contractor if they don’t have workers’ compensation,” says Upton. “If those steps are taken, the homeowners can have peace of mind knowing that should anything happen during the process they will be properly covered.”

Lee Cluett, of Cluett Insurance Brokers, says, “The homeowners in many cases do not notify insurance companies when a renovation project is taking place, but if there dwelling is left vacant for more than 30 days without notification, this will affect the coverage. During any remodel or construction which will increase the replacement cost of the dwelling by $5000 or more, the insured should contact the broker, especially when the home policy contains the Guaranteed Replacement Cost Building Endorsement.”

The most important thing to remember when working with a contractor, says Paul Pettipas, executive director of the Nova Scotia Home Builders Association, is to get everything in writing.

“We’re finding there’s a burgeoning underground economy and some people still think they can save a few dollars by paying cash,” says Pettipas. “If you don’t have a warranty and something goes wrong, there’s nothing to protect you. Get references from the person doing the work and check them out. Make sure you know their track record. Just because they’ve done one kind of renovation, maybe it’s not the kind of renovation you want.”

Pettipas says homeowners should find out about builders’ lien holdbacks where they can holdback 10 per cent for 60 days after the job is finished to make sure the sub-trades are paid.

One disturbing trend Pettipas has noticed is that some people are choosing equipment that hasn’t been approved for their renovations.

“If it’s a hot tub and the electrical system hasn’t been approved in Canada, you may save a buck, but it might also cause a fire,” says Pettipas. “When your house burns down, that’s not money well spent. When reputable renovators are doing the work, they’re putting quality products in the renovation. A good reputation is a tremendous advantage. If they have a good track record, they’re probably going to continue in that same vein. If they’ve got a bad track record, they’re not going to change overnight.”

Our Editorial Staff

Our Editorial Staff

New Homes & Renovations is a consumer publication dedicated to the home building, renovating and decorating industries of Nova Scotia, Canada. With homeowners and consumers in mind, the publication features articles, tips and stories on local projects and businesses

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