Archive for the ‘Renovation Info’ Category

If do-it-yourself is not your way, hire help

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Ask yourself some questions first — for example, do you want a cleaning company’s employees in your home or a self-employed cleaner?

Michelle Hopkins

The last thing many of us want to do with our precious free time is to stay indoors and clean the house — especially when the sun is shining.

For some, it makes sense to call on the services of housecleaning professionals. But how to go about choosing the right company or independent cleaner?

First of all, ask yourself which parts of your house you want cleaned. Write a list of the rooms, objects and any specific areas that need attention. Think about how many hours it takes you to tackle the cleaning, and you will have an idea how long it would take a cleaner to do the job, says Molly Maid franchisee Michele Yonge.

Ask your friends for references, or ask cleaning companies to provide references.

“Also look for someone who is both bonded and insured … a lot of independent cleaners are not bondable,” Yonge says. “With a company, if an employee scratches your hardwood floors or breaks an heirloom object, your possession will be replaced or paid for, and repairs will be done. It’s also important that the company professionally trains its staff.”

Look for a company that brings its own cleaning equipment and products.

If you’re concerned about environmentally friendly cleaning products, ask what type of cleaners are used. Are they biodegradable, environmentally preferable products, ones that are safe for you, your family and your pets?

There are many other considerations. Ron Partaik, a Maids Home Services franchisee, says many homeowners don’t think about how many supplies and buckets the cleaners carry with them.

“It might seem trite, but do you want the bathroom bucket used in your kitchen?” says Partaik. “The same goes for products. Some companies use one cleaner for all, and really you need different products for different cleaning solutions.

“And don’t be shy to ask what products they use. Today, many homes have expensive hardwood floors. You need to know that the product used on them is one that is recommended for hardwood floors.”

What if you want to hire an independent?

“Although hiring an independent is often cheaper, it’s not necessarily the right choice,” says Yonge. “When you hire a professional company, if your home isn’t cleaned the way you want it, a company will guarantee your satisfaction and go back to re-clean.”

On the other hand, self-employed cleaner “Diane C” said in an earlier interview that, as an independent cleaner, she is able to “give a personal touch” to the families she works with.

“Some might say I get too involved with my people,” Diane said. “No one has complained … yet! Any time I’ve been ill, which hasn’t been often, I call my people, and all they say to me is, ‘Get better, not to worry. Take care of yourself and come back when you’re well enough.”’

Partaik notes that there are also time considerations.

“Many people don’t want cleaners who are in their house for four to six hours,” says Partaik. “When you hire a company with teams of three or four, they are typically out in one to two hours.”

Be sure to ask if the company has a backup team that can do the job if your regular cleaner is sick or can’t come for personal reasons.

Also make sure you aren’t required to sign a contract.

“You should never have to sign a contract because residential cleaning is not the type of service where a contract is required,” says Yonge. “Don’t commit to something you don’t have to.”

Partaik agrees. “Is the company flexible, so that if you need to change your date one week, or you are moving, or you are hosting a large party and need extra help, will they accommodate your requests?”

Both also say that if you aren’t happy with the service you’re receiving, you should find out if changes can be made to improve it.

“We leave a suggestion and comments card each time, and we ask our customers to rate their cleaning and offer any suggestions to make it better,” says Partaik. “That way, we can stay on top of any problems as they arise and ensure they are looked after promptly.

“On the other hand, positive feedback about a team or team member does get rewarded.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Tips on home reno credit

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

If you run a business, you may lose exemption

Tony Gioventu

Dear Condo Smarts: Do strata corporations have to file tax returns? We are a 24-unit townhouse complex. Our budget is limited to insurance, landscaping and building maintenance. Our strata fees are $250 a month and we always break even on the year. An accounting office told us not to bother as we don’t pay taxes. We’re also confused about how to give owners receipts for the home renovation tax credit.

Marjorie Simpson, Qualicum

Dear Marjorie: Strata corporations are mostly classed as non-taxable corporations under tax laws, but not all strata corporations are tax exempt.

Industrial, commercial, retail, food and hotel strata aren’t necessarily tax-exempt. Even a residential one isn’t tax exempt if it’s running a commercial enterprise. Any profits must be included in its income and it will not be considered non-profit.

The following from CRA FORM IT-304R2 is very clear: “Paragraph 150(1)(a) of the Income Tax Act, requires all corporations, including condominium corporations, to file an income tax return each year, even if they are exempt from paying tax under Part I. A residential condominium corporation that qualifies as a non-profit organization under paragraph 149(1)(l) is exempt from Part I tax on its taxable income, but is required to file Form T1044, Non-Profit Organization (NPO) Information Return, with its T2 tax return. Although it is a question of fact whether a particular condominium corporation qualifies for an exemption under paragraph 149(1)(l), most residential condominium corporations qualify as non-profit organizations within the meaning of this paragraph.”

A home renovation tax credit statement from the strata corporation must contain:

the vendor/contractor’s name, business address and GST/HST registration number

a description of the work and when it was performed.

In addition to giving owners the above, the strata corporation should keep the following:

the vendor/contractor’s name, business address and GST/HST registration number

description of the goods, purchase and delivery date (keep your delivery slip as proof ) and/or when the work or services were performed

– work description, including the address where it was done

amount of the invoice

– proof of payment — invoices must indicate “paid” or be accompanied by other proof of payment, such as a credit card slip or cancelled cheque.

Visit the CRA at or CHOA @ Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners’ Association. Send questions to him at [email protected]

© Copyright (c) The Province

If your project requires permits, hire a general contractor

Friday, February 5th, 2010

If it doesn

Lead, asbestos and formaldehyde are trouble you don’t want to live with …

Friday, January 29th, 2010


Take a look around your home to find things that need a tune-up

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Furnaces, appliances, fireplaces need regular inspections

Mike Holmes

We all get our cars serviced on a regular basis — oil and filter change, tire rotation, tune-up. We know that some moving parts in our cars require constant service and some parts will eventually wear out and need replacing. It’s just what you have to do when you own a car. But what about regularly servicing our homes?

With most homeowners, it seems they don’t think about anything unless it breaks. Or they don’t even know where to begin to kick the tires or look under the hood of their homes. But just as with a car, there are a few basic areas inside a typical house that need periodic service, or at least regular checks, to make sure they haven’t worn out.

Cars have an continuous required maintenance schedule. Our homes need a similar kind of schedule — for all the parts that wear out over time, such as rubber belts and hoses, plastic flexible ducts and various filters.

Your furnace is the one item that requires an annual maintenance schedule, preferably by a licensed professional. When a furnace starts to make noises it didn’t make before, the first thing you do is call a licensed HVAC technician. Chances are, the belt has slipped or loosened or something has gone wrong with the blower. In any case, this is strictly the domain of a professional contractor. Because your furnace runs a marathon all winter, it’s a wise investment to have a tuneup and cleaning before each heating season.

Some furnace maintenance you can do yourself: Furnace filters, humidifier screen and electronic air filter should be checked periodically through the winter. Some are washable, or replaceable, and this can be done by the homeowner or as part of an annual service call.

One big reason for flooding inside the home is caused by poor maintenance due to rubber hoses in appliances getting brittle and finally cracking. Most homeowners don’t even know where these are located in their homes — because they’re hidden behind the dishwasher, and behind the laundry machine. But just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean you can ignore them.

With new appliances, the flexible hoses are made from materials that should last as long as the machine does. But in older machines, hoses are made primarily out of rubber. Hot water constantly running through them will eventually cause them to fail. When this happens, rooms positioned below the appliance can be ruined. If you have an older appliance and have no immediate plans to upgrade it, it might be wise to have an appliance repair person inspect the hoses and replace them as a precaution.

Flexible and rigid ductwork in your home also needs inspection from time to time. Bathroom ceiling fans use flex hoses through the attic to roof or wall vents. These should be insulated to prevent condensation buildup inside the ductwork. But even still, some amount of water will gather there, and as the thin plastic sides of the flexible ducts get brittle, eventually the collected water will leak out and cause damage to the ceilings below. Inspecting and, if necessary, replacing this ductwork should be done from the autumn through to the spring, when the temperature in the attic is still tolerable for the person doing the repair.

Similar ductwork can be found behind the laundry dryer. In this case, the main reason for inspection is the buildup of dryer lint inside the hose, which can cause blockage and a potentially unsafe situation — one that can lead to a house fire. Because of the hot exhaust that gets passed through this duct, if you have the old-school plastic flexible duct, it is a wise idea to upgrade to at least the foil flexible duct. I prefer the rigid metal type.

Another forgotten area is found above the stove, in the hood vent. Whether it’s a charcoal filter that recycles air back into the kitchen, or a metal filter that vents to the outside, these need to be checked for grease buildup that will block the vent hood from doing its job, and in the event of a stovetop fire, clean hood-range filters and ducts free from grease gunk helps prevent the flames from quickly spreading.

Pretty much every part of your home could use at least an annual check: If you have a wood-burning fireplace, you need to have the chimney cleaned and checked every year. Clean your downspouts and gutters to help prevent floods and ice dams. Have your HVAC ducting cleaned to help maintain good indoor air quality. If you have big trees near you home, you might want to have the weeping tile scoped with a camera every few years, to make sure the tree roots haven’t infiltrated.

Keeping on top up of basic home repairs will help prevent more expensive repairs down the road. As that saying goes: You can pay now, or later, or, as I like to put it, after you “make it right,” you need to maintain it right.

Suspended ceilings work better than most people think

Friday, January 15th, 2010

There are a lot of advantages to using these systems and they don

Home inspection remains a buyer-beware environment

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

Many homeowners confused by standards, unaware of potential conflicts of interest

Derrick Penner

Darcy Zallen holds an inspection report for her newly purchased home as she stands in her master bedroom, while contractor Jeff Bain removes rotten wood from the outside walls. The report did not note the home needed major repairs. Photograph by: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun

Darcy Zallen liked the spacious half-acre Maple Ridge property she purchased a lot more than the little bungalow on it, but thought as long as the home was structurally sound, she could live with it.

She needed the outdoor space for her dogs and the work she does for an animal rescue society.

However, despite a property inspector’s report that indicated some minor problems and noted a roof needed to be replaced within five years, Zallen faces spending up to an estimated $40,000 to make major repairs before she can move in.

She purchased the home for $405,000.

“I think I did what I could, I hired an inspector,” Zallen, a civilian employee of the RCMP, said in an interview.

The trouble is, she didn’t know what standards the inspector would be working under, what things he would look at and what things he wouldn’t.

In April, the provincial government implemented a requirement for home and property inspectors to be licensed with Consumer Protection B.C. to bring a measure of order to a previously unregulated industry.

Licensing requires inspectors to be members of one of three organizations that administer training and sets ethical standards and standards of practice for inspections.

However, it remains a buyer-beware environment in which consumers need to know what to expect from home inspections.

Zallen selected her inspector from a list provided to her by the relocation service that handled her move from the Sunshine Coast.

Zallen said she told the inspector that if any major repairs needed to be done, she couldn’t afford them.

“My main concern was the roof, because it was tar and gravel, but it had this weird metal covering,” she said.

The inspector’s report said the roof should be replaced within five years and that interim maintenance would be required. However, he couldn’t determine how many layers there were to the roof or their condition, noting that a core sample would be needed to make the assessment.

However, when Zallen brought in roofing contractors to do maintenance, they told her the roof was beyond repair.

And when other contractors started what she thought were cosmetic renovations, they uncovered a wall that was rotting away.

“You could stick your finger right into the roof where the ceiling meets the east wall,” Zallen said.

For a second opinion, she brought in an independent inspector, who called the initial assessment “one of the worst inspections he’d ever seen.”

That inspector, Bruce Hunter, said consumers need to read and understand the standards of practice, which spell out what inspectors will look at, and what they won’t.

The standards used by the British Columbia Institute of Property Inspectors and the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors (B. C.) say inspections are visual only and do not serve as a warranty for any building components inspected.

“If people knew what wouldn’t be checked, they would have an opportunity to bring someone in [for more detailed examination],” Hunter said.

He added that while the provincial licensing requirement did succeed in pushing inspectors without credentials out of the industry, it did not adequately address a problem he sees with realtors referring clients to certain inspectors.

Hunter said inspectors wind up in a potential conflict of interest if they depend on referrals from realtors for work, or let realtors pay the fees for inspections.


Associations whose members are authorized to be licensed as property inspectors in B.C.

– Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors (B. C.)

– Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of B.C., through the B.C. Institute of Property Inspectors

– The National Certification Program Recommendations for selecting inspectors

– Consult widely when looking for an inspector, including asking friends and family members who are happy in their homes about their property inspectors.

– Compile a list of at least three inspectors, interview them and ask them questions so you understand what they can and can’t do for you.

– Read the codes of ethics and standards of practice of the association your inspector is licensed under. They all have information available on their websites.

“We’ve still got a lot of guys, their first client is the realtor,” Hunter said.

While the provincial law that governs realtors doesn’t specifically say they cannot point clients to specific home inspectors, Tyler Davis, communications and privacy officer for the Real Estate Council of B.C., said doing so would be a violation of professional standards.

The Real Estate Council, which is the disciplinary body for realtors in B.C., states in its professional standards manual that when it comes to home inspections, the “safest way” of directing clients is to provide them with a list of at least three inspectors they can interview and choose from.

After that, Davis said, the realtor needs to bow out of the inspection process.

“The [realtor] should not get involved with the relationship between a buyer and a property inspector,” he said, and doing so could set an agent up for discipline by the council.

Scott Russell, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, said the Canadian Real Estate Association also has rules about disclosing realtors’ relationships with all service providers.

“It’s in our best interest to make sure the client is protected,” Russell said. “Because if something comes along, if a defect or problem is discovered after the fact, the buyer doesn’t just get upset at the inspector, they get upset at the realtor, too.”

Owen Dickie, president of the Canadian



Association of Home and Property Inspectors (B. C.) said that while there might be realtors who refer clients to inspectors who are less stringent, agents also come to know which inspectors are more qualified than others.

Dickie added that consumers should follow up any recommendation with their own due diligence by asking questions of the inspector or seeking second opinions.

“I think certain people have false expectations of what a home inspection can do for them,” Dickie said.

“It’s important to recognize that a home inspection isn’t a warranty. It is a visual screening of a home for signs and symptoms of major problems. If an inspector can’t see it, he can’t be responsible for it.”

Peter Link, manager of house and property inspection services for the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of B.C., said his organization’s code of ethics has always made it clear that the inspector’s loyalty always remains with the client who is paying them: the homebuyer.

Link added that his organization’s advice to realtors is that when clients ask about home inspectors, they should refer them to the government website that lists inspectors and let them choose their own.

In the meantime, Zallen remains disillusioned.

She is following up a complaint with the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors, the organization to which her first inspector belongs.

She also consulted a lawyer who recommended pursuing the mater in small claims court. She said she will probably do that once her repairs are finished and she has moved in.

“What can you do? I’ve got to move in and probably accept it was a bad choice,” Zallen said.

“If I had known [the inspector] was going to do such a cursory job, I would have inspected it myself.”


It’s important to recognize that a home inspection isn’t a warranty. What it is a visual screening of a home for signs and symptoms of major problems. If an inspector can’t see it, he can’t be responsible for it.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Former growing operations should be fixed by the pros

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Average homeowner needs to ensure that cost of fixing up house doesn

Contractors’ jobs take longer than clients estimate

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Think you know how long a basic home repair should take? As a general rule, multiply that by four


The time spent on a basic task such as fixing a broken stair railing spindle can be broken down into four main steps — preparation, transportation, installation and finishing. And that doesn’t even include cleanup.

All throughout my career as a contractor, I’ve had to explain to the client, in detail, the time breakdown of the job. And that’s a good thing — your contractor should be able to account for how long a job takes and how much it’s going to cost. And for some strange reason, it always seems homeowners question the price of a small job more than they do a big renovation. Maybe because they think the small job is something they could do themselves if they had the time.

Homeowners often have a hard time understanding how long it takes to do a job because they aren’t professionals with experience. And as a result, they’re surprised when the contractor gives them a quote. They think it’s way too high. “Are you kidding? I’ve priced X at the building supply store! It doesn’t take that long to install X!” (And, often they end up deciding to do it themselves, for better or for worse.)

If you’re going to hire a contractor for a basic home repair and you think you know how long the job should take, as a general rule, multiply that by four. Your initial estimate for the actual work might be in the ballpark, but almost everyone underestimates all the other steps in the process that add to the actual billable hours.

Wrapping your head around how all the time is spent on a basic task can be broken down into four main steps. To understand these steps, let’s use an example of replacing a broken stair railing spindle — a “small job” that shouldn’t take too much time. The average homeowner may think that it will probably take an hour to replace. Let’s look at the job step by step and see. Step 1: Preparation The broken spindle needs to be removed carefully without damaging the surrounding wood finish, carpet or rest of the railing. If the spindle isn’t a stock item, a second undamaged spindle may also need to be removed, in order to use as an example to duplicate a new piece. Let’s say the spindle is a stock item (the best-case scenario) and the least expensive. The contractor has to still source the right piece at the building supply store. We’re already at the homeowner’s original estimate of one hour. Step 2: Transportation The contractor has to go to the building supply store, pick up the part and return. Hopefully, the local supplier has the part. If it is something more specialized, they may have to travel across town. Even if the spindle can be picked up around the block at a big-box lumber store, you will still need to spend time finding the part and standing in line with everyone else while more time is ticking away. Add another hour. Step 3: Installation Finally some “real work” is getting done — the spindle gets replaced. It might be an easy operation, or there may be complications due to the original construction method. Either way, it is precision work to make sure the new piece sits in perfect alignment and that it is strong and safe. That brings us to the end of hour 3.

And we are finished, right? Wrong. The most time-consuming step is still to come, and it’s the one that the client is going to scrutinize more than anything else — the finishing. Step 4: Finishing The new spindle has to match all the others, and direct from the store it comes as just a piece of unfinished wood. The contractor has to match the stain or primer and paint and may have to add a coat of Varathane or other wood finish to make sure that not only the colour is right, but the sheen matches the sheen of the existing woodwork. If this step is rushed, the replacement piece will stick out like a sore thumb, and the homeowner will not be happy. All the small parts of this step — such as detail sanding, taping off surrounding areas and preparing paints or stains — take up precious time. There, you’ve spent another hour, and we didn’t even account for drying time between the various coatings.

There you have it, a grand total of four hours, as a best-case scenario. In the end, the homeowner doesn’t notice any difference between the repaired spindle and the others around it, and that is exactly the desired result. The repair blends into the rest of the staircase railing as close as humanly possible. All the time needed to achieve this seamless look will never be fully understood by the client or anyone who wasn’t there to witness it moment by moment. Tasks requiring skill and effort always take longer than imagined.

There’s one other step that I haven’t mentioned because is doesn’t contribute to the actual job, but it’s still important and it still takes time on the contractor’s part: Keeping the job site clean. It might require drop cloths, or if there’s going to be an excessive amount of dust created in the sanding process, then plastic sheets may need to be draped around the area and taped off. Afterward, a good vacuuming may be in order to leave the job site just as the contractor found it. This is the invisible step and an essential part of making it right, but this also adds more time to the job.

We all know it takes longer to do a job if you don’t know what you are doing, just like it costs more to do it again when it’s not done right the first time. Hiring a contractor with experience will shave some time off a project, but in the end, time does add up. That’s the reality of a good renovation or repair.

Brick has classic look, but is vulnerable to elements

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Using it for windowsills sets the stage for moisture to infiltrate behind the exterior sheathing of your home


I understand the appeal of a “traditional” brick home. For a lot of people, it’s a classic look they appreciate and want to have in their new homes.

But people should understand a “brick” house isn’t solid brick: it isn’t the double brick construction of the past. The brick is just an exterior sheathing, used in pretty much the same way that siding or stucco is — to cover the frame structure.

The brick is vulnerable to the elements when exposed over time to rain, snow, freeze and thaw cycles. It can spall and crumble and, in a surprisingly short time, need repair or replacement. This is especially true if the brick is used too close to grade or, in the case of one of my pet peeves, for brick windowsills.

I don’t like brick windowsills. Period.

I don’t know why home builders use brick exterior sills, or why homeowners don’t insist on a different product being used. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen houses with brick sills that are a crumbling mess.

If you think about what a windowsill is supposed to do, it makes very little sense to have them made of brick. An exterior windowsill is partly decorative — it helps set off the window — but its purpose is to divert water away from the window and keep it from flowing back into your house.

It provides a drainage plane; water will flow off it and drip to the ground. A window has precipitation hitting it and, since it’s glass, all the moisture will sheet off. None is absorbed; it all ends up on the windowsill.

A windowsill is supposed to be pitched to a degree to allow the water to drip off, away from the exterior walls of your house. That’s why the sill projects out — and, ideally, it’s a few inches out.

Brick is porous. And the mortar that bricks are set in is even more porous. When water sits on either of them, it will soak in. Period. And, since the sill is pretty much horizontal, water will sit there before it drains.

There’s a perfect spot for water to gather in every one of the mortar joints between the bricks. Brick sills are a perfect way for moisture to infiltrate behind the exterior sheathing of your home.

That, in itself, is dangerous, because water penetration — if it gets inside your wall to the framing or interior — will lead to mould. But, in a climate with a freeze-thaw cycle, the brick and mortar is very vulnerable to rapid expansion and contraction, which will cause it to crumble in a surprisingly short period of time.

Brick sills are one of the most vulnerable masonry areas of your home.

I prefer windowsills made from precast concrete, especially if it’s in one solid piece, rather than two shorter ones with a joint between. The mortar joint is always where the problem will start. Mortar is the standard product to use when filling joints, but I prefer to use caulk on the top surface of the mortar. Fill the top section of the joint with a high-quality rubberized caulking. That will protect against any water entering the sill and infiltrating behind the sheathing.

Precast sills also have a drip groove chiselled in on the underside of the sill. This groove stops water from travelling back into your walls along the bottom surface; when it reaches the channel, it drips off.

There are other materials that are used for windowsills, depending on the style of home, budget and homeowner’s taste. Apart from brick or concrete, natural stone-like slate, limestone or granite can be used. The best part about a stone sill is that it usually has no joints, so water is less likely to penetrate.

Make sure your windowsills are properly caulked and flashed, regardless of what they are made of. It’s also essential to make sure they are sloped — at around 15 degrees — away from the window to make sure water drains away from your house.