Planning your home’s potential

Renovations, from the smallest to the largest projects, are a big deal for homeowners.
Here are some of the latest trends and advice from professionals on renovation projects for your home.

Kitchen Central

The kitchen is often the centre of the house. But while its basic function in a home may not change, the look often does. According to Peter Stoddart, sales manager at Crave Cabinets and Appliances in Halifax, home-owners are choosing more contemporary looks and concepts.

“Kitchen designs today are mostly open concept, using a breakfast bar or island as a convenient working and eating area to accommodate the needs of today’s busy family life,” Stoddart says. “This differs from the past when many homes were designed with more rooms, including a dining room. The open concept now incorporates more into the kitchen including cooking, eating, entertaining and so on.”

For colour, Stoddart says the trend over the past few years has been medium to darker tones for the cabinetry, compared to the lighter tones that were popular 10 years ago. While more traditional raised or flat panel doors are popular in the single-family home market, Stoddart notes that Crave has seen a bigger demand for more modern finishes, such as white high gloss, often complemented with darker countertops or islands.

As for appliances, stainless steel is still king. According to Stoddart, about 90 per cent of appliance purchases at Crave are stainless steel. Other popular trends are induction cooktops, top-mount fridges with larger drawers for produce, or fridges and dishwashers with panels that match the cabinetry so it blends in with the overall design. Energy efficiency rules, too, with Sub Zero appliances leading the charge in new technology.

Stoddart points out that while home-owners should plan their kitchen based on their current needs, they should also think how they will use it in five to 10 years, especially if they plan on staying in their home into their golden years.

“As we age, we must consider what could help us to better access all items in the cabinets, such as storage accessories that swing out or roll out of the cabinets to allow for easy access.”

Nina Boulanger, a designer with Cabinetworks, says there is one kitchen trend she’s noticed over the past year: more men getting involved in the design process. She finds a large percentage of their male customers are more interested in kitchen design this year, as opposed to about one quarter from previous years.

“It’s like a sports car to them,” Boulanger says of men’s recent fascination with kitchen design. “They want better than what their buddies have.”

She says the fact that more men are cooking is another factor behind their enthusiasm.

“Men, too, want a kitchen to function for them while they are cooking.”

The number of gadgets on the market, too, could be another attractive factor for men. Gadgets and organization, Boulanger says, are a big trend in kitchen design this year. Kitchens now have space for everything: a spice rack, cutlery inserts, pull-outs for other accessories and cooking utensils.

But whoever is deciding upon the details of a kitchen design, Boulanger feels the most important part is finding a cabinet company to design and carry out your plan for your dream kitchen.

“It’s 90 per cent planning and 10 per cent execution when design/planning a kitchen,” she says.

Homeowners should search magazines and home renovation websites for ideas. Then work with a professional to measure their kitchen space and create a footprint first, including the basic layout. Together pick the details such as colour, countertops, doors, styles and gadgets. It will take five to six weeks to get cabinetry on order.

“You should always take it to a pro,” adds Boulanger, “if you want it done right and in a timely manner.”

Best Bathrooms

Bathrooms are an important part of a home, so much so they are second in line only to kitchens when homeowners consider a renovation project. That’s according to Natasha Keeler, manager of The Ensuite Bath and Kitchen Showroom in Halifax, who says most homeowners are looking for ways to upgrade their bathroom and make it more stylish.

“Clients are more aware of the bathroom as a key room in their home and understand the need for updates to allow for water
efficiency, function and style,” Keeler says.

Still people are being more cautious and practical with their choices, especially colour. Keeler says clients continue to choose white or biscuit for the main colour in a bathroom. But she advises clients to often ease into new ideas by introducing a splash of colour into the powder room.

As for the fixtures, freestanding bathtubs in various styles and sizes and custom showers are popular choices. For faucets, polished chrome with clean lines lead the trend. And for vanities, modern wall hung pieces or those with an antique look are a hit with homeowners.

There are also lots of little extras on the market that can turn your bathroom into a spa-like space. Keeler suggests that homeowners try coordinating accessories, mirrored cabinets that add storage space in a powder room, heated towel racks or chromatherapy lights.

When thinking about a bathroom reno, a homeowner should consider the timeline for both materials and construction. And do their homework.

“Plan your project,” notes Keeler. “Create a needs and wants list, establish a budget, timeline and consult with a contractor.”


Getting Organized

A home works best if it’s organized properly. Creating great storage and organization runs the gamut from simple solutions to making bigger changes in the layout of the house. But to properly organize their home, Michelle Reid of Rooftight – Homes for Real Life, says homeowners have to plan and think things through.

“Solutions are different for each family, but everyone ultimately wants the same thing; to save steps and time,” she says. “They also underestimate the value of leaving an unfinished storage room on the basement level. Instead of finishing every room to have an activity function, dedicating a 12 x 12 room for seasonal storage is a great idea.”

Other ways to get organized are quite simple. For example, Reid suggests using hooks instead of a towel bar in the bathroom. Use a linen tower if you don’t have a linen closet nearby. Hang jewelry on push pins on closet walls. Make your laundry room larger, allowing it to be useful for other chores. A window seat offers a great view and a place for storing lots of items out of view.

Some rooms in the home do need more organization than others, including garages and kitchens in open-concept homes. Reid says building storage in the great room for kids’ toys, electronics or hobby supplies is a must. And in many cases, function can also be stylish.

“We build a lot of cabinets that flank the fireplace for stylish but functional storage of those items that integrate seamlessly with kitchen cabinetry,” Reid says.

In the case of new homes, organization and storage is part of the package. Reid says they ensure their new homes designs are carefully planned to keep families organized. Many homes include lockers with hooks for jackets and backpacks, a seat for removing shoes, cubbies with baskets for storage of winter clothes, and a drop zone for mail and keys.

Older homes are trickier because they often have smaller closets.

“Building a wardrobe wall in an existing bedroom takes up very little square footage, yet is highly functional if planned correctly,” Reid says.

But for many homeowners, staying organized is key to making it work.

“You need to be organized and you need to be methodical,” suggests Reid. “Live by the mantra of clear spaces, clear space of mind! And at the end of the day, if you haven’t used something in the last 12 to 18 months, chances are you can probably live without it.”

Aging in Place

Many homeowners are choosing to stay in their home well into retirement and beyond. But many homes, especially older ones, may need to be adapted to the changing needs of a homeowner.

Ron Swan with Home Safe Living says homeowners and their families need to have a plan and complete an assessment to find out the particular needs. It takes a team of health professionals and medical equipment to assess what needs to be done.

“They need to understand where their health is now,” Swan says. “And what their health is likely to look like in five to 10 years.”

In most cases, the solutions are unique to the client. Swan recalls one client who didn’t want to use a walker, so he installed grab bars and hallway rails in her home, giving her back her mobility.

Some aging-in-place solutions are larger such as elevators or wheelchair ramps.
Others are as simple as the swing of a door.

For example, a bathroom door that swings inward may prevent medical professionals or family from getting into a bathroom where an elderly homeowner has fallen. A simple change of the swing of the door is all that’s needed. Another example is throw rugs; make sure they are secured to the floor to avoid a tripping hazard. Or remove them entirely.

Swan says residential elevators in particular are growing in popularity.

“It should be considered an appliance, the same as a furnace,” he says. Stairlifts, too, accomplish the same goal of getting a home-owner to the other levels of the house.

Newer homes often include many
accessibility options for homeowners and it is usually less expensive to build them in from the start. Still, Swan adds, considering aging-in-place options is an education process for most homeowners.

“Most people wait until an accident happens to respond to it,” Swan says. “We’re getting better at it, but we still have to be more conscious.”


Energy Ideas

Saving energy is often a primary concern for homeowners and the ways to accomplish this are always evolving and improving. Contrary to this, Steve Bartlett, president of Kel-Greg Homes Inc., says oftentimes homeowners are distracted from making the best energy-efficiency upgrades.

“Homeowners tend to worry about the upfront cost and do not realize the payback after the renovation is complete,” Bartlett says. “Some homeowners would prefer to improve the esthetics versus spend the
extra money on the energy upgrade. There are many upgrades that you will instantly see your dollars returned, whereas some of the higher cost upgrades that are supported by great marketing are at times blown out of proportion. Education and research versus hearsay is critical.”

Bartlett says there are changes home-owners, especially those who are handy, can do on their own. Upgrading plumbing fixtures to low-flow fixtures, for example, or adding programmable thermostats, wrapping hot water heaters and pipes or using energy-efficient light bulbs. Other upgrades, such as those for insulation,
windows and heating systems, are must-have basics for improving energy efficiency.

“It is important to focus on changes that will allow you to upgrade both the esthetics and energy savings, rather than just covering up a sub-par envelope with new siding and nice paint,” Bartlett says.

But he explains that in many cases a professional will need to be hired to complete the job, especially when the goal is to improve the overall efficiency, or where structural changes are being considered. The first steps to making your home more energy efficient, Bartlett adds, are to consult a professional renovator or designer and have an energy audit completed.

While some rooms, such as those with plumbing or heating lines, might be tougher to upgrade, Bartlett says any home should be upgraded for how it works as a unit, not by individual rooms.

“The idea is for the home to use less water and less power. This can be achieved by making the house more air-tight, upgrading heating systems, increasing insulation values and upgrading plumbing fixtures and appliances,” Bartlett says.

He also notes that, in addition to upgrading for efficiency, keep in mind to use building products that would leave a smaller foot print on the earth. For example, carpets made from recycled fibres, recycled glass countertops, and so on.

Money Matters

So how will you pay for all of these renovations? Fortunately for homeowners there are plenty of options from credit cards, credit lines, loans for small projects or home equity lines of credit for larger projects.

RBC offers the MyProject MasterCard, which is a great option for those larger projects.

“It combines the use of a credit card with the security and repayment schedule of a fixed or variable rate loan,” says Craig Bannon, regional manager, mortgage specialists with Royal Bank of Canada. “It’s a unique and practical solution for anyone who wants a cost-effective and flexible way to finance a big project.”

But like with the project itself, the financing requires planning ahead.

“The biggest mistakes homeowners make when it comes to financing renovations include not planning ahead, not getting preapproved to borrow the amount of money they will need for the renovation, underestimating the cost of the renovation and not working with a professional renovator who belongs to the industry association,” Bannon says.

Meet with a banker first, he says, and talk about the money long before any changes are made to your home.

“Home renovations can be exciting, but also a little stressful,” cautions Bannon. “By properly planning out the financial side of your renovation, you’ll have one less thing to worry about. Instead, you can focus your efforts on say, choosing the right countertop.”

Homeowners also need to financially plan for those unexpected surprises that often occur during renovations.

“Set up your budget to include a reserve fund of at least 20 per cent for unexpected costs,” Bannon says. “Even the most thorough budget can get derailed by hidden damages, plumbing issues or electrical surprises. A good tip is to keep this amount separate from the budget you share with your contractor. That way, it truly remains an emergency reserve.”


Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent has been working as a freelance writer for the past 12 years. Her work has appeared in The Chronicle Herald, The Coast, the Daily News, National Review of Medicine and Lawyers Weekly. She also works as the editor of Ocean Resources/Earth Resources and Atlantic Boating News