Sep 282017

My back is telling me to stop working on the house, but today was sunny and the rain is a-coming so I figured I’d better work on the porch.

I’m very pleased I was able to get the larger section of the banister up there and fit the shell of the old post over the 6X6 post I bolted to the front of the porch. I used four lag bolts on each post to attach it to the front face. As I mentioned last week, that floor is more or less floating on a bed of XPS styrofoam strips so I feel better now that it is has two good anchor points.

It was way back in the summer of 2015 that I posted photos of the porch deconstruction. If you would like to see a bunch of photos of the day we stripped the house of shingles click here! For photos of the stairs being removed click here. Those photos are coming in handy now as I work to reproduce the same surface appearance with a completely modern structure under it.

So far, the only difference will be that the banister will be slightly further forward, giving us more porch floor space. Hopefully the change won’t be noticeable.

Here is what the porch looked like before it was demolished:

Sep 172017

I know I promised more frequent, less in-depth posts so here is a cat on a post (in a post).

Odette is about 6 years old now and she is probably wondering what she did to deserve the new kitten which we have quarantined in the bathroom. They haven’t officially met, but we are now a two-cat household and she knows it.

So how is the house? Well, I’d like to tell you all about it but the photos and video are still stuck on the camera until I find time to clear the memory of Leanne’s computer. My old MacBook from 2007 is not only full, but also too old to update with current software.

Not to fret; this picture, uploaded from my venerable iPhone 4, tells a thousand words.

Odette is sitting on a post I just bolted to the reconstructed front porch. That post came out of the basement and used to hold the house up. Now I’m using it to anchor the porch posts that I’m about to replace.

Behind the post, lying on the porch, is the old railing attached to the shell of the old post. I’m going to insert the new post into that shell.

Here’s what the porch used to look like:

That’s what I’m trying to reproduce. Wish me luck!

PS. If you look closely in Odette’s photo you can see the complex layers I added on the porch to achieve the original tongue-in-groove top surface but still meet modern standards for a porch which covers a living space.

The “living space” under the porch is a root cellar but it still requires a proper water-proof vented roof. That bottom black layer is a “torch-on” roof surface. The blue blocks are 1″ thick XPS styrofoam to ensure I don’t nail into the roof from above. (More about styrofoam here.) Next is a layer of 1X4 “sleepers” onto which I nailed the tongue-in-groove fir flooring. The final surface is “floating” to a large extent, which is why I want to anchor it with these posts.

All this, by the way, I learned from Ryan at HW Construction. Thank you Ryan!

Seriously, that fir flooring is beautiful. It cost about $900 from Standard Building Supplies. Most people wouldn’t put it on a porch, but that’s what Leanne’s grandfather, Carl, did, so that’s what we did. We swallowed hard at the price tag, but I try to remember how much we’re saving by doing the work ourselves. That only helps until the credit card is maxed out, though.

Incidentally, the three houses across the street have the same flooring on their porches, too–it’s just older. You can see one of those houses in the reflection on the storm door.


Feb 082017

I wish I could show you a photo of the house today. It is buried in snow. Unfortunately, Leanne’s computer is still too full and I can’t download the photos from the camera yet.

This photo from New Year’s 2017 will have to suffice.

January 1st, 2017 at 12:43 am.

We thought this was a lot of snow. (Ha!) Besides less snow, the other thing that is different in this photo is all the lights are on.

Over the past weekend, due to heavy snow breaking branches, we have had 6 separate power outages.

They are not the most relaxing events, but the kids love a good black-out. We light candles and revel in the adventure. “I love Earth-hour!” says my daughter.

Beneath the fun of it lies my worry that the decisions we have made on the house leave us vulnerable to power outages. Specifically, back-up power.

I have this insecurity that there is a silent mass of onlookers waiting for us to fail. “Let’s see how this ‘Forever House’ handles a power outage” they say in my head. “Bet they wish they had a gas generator!”

Well, I must admit it was a bit shaky, but we did okay and I remind myself that we’re not done yet.

Surprising to many, my master plan calls for no fossil fuels and no wood-burning. I want to keep the brick fireplace but insert an electric fire that looks good and gives a little heat. When the power went out, however, it was very comforting to be able to light a fire. It reminded us of the winter of 2014 when we challenged ourselves to live without buying more fuel oil and so we relied on wood and a little electric heat.

Leanne wants to keep the fire, but we don’t have to decide now, because we have a lot of other things to do before we come to that.

The fact is, we moved in before the house was done. I am not finished insulating and sealing the basement and top floor. The root cellar door is not sealed and insulated as well as we plan to. I’d also like to re-apply the weather-stripping to the windows, seal up the stained-glass transom lights in the front rooms, and improve the front door.

All this insulation and sealing is key, because we are counting on it to keep our heating bills down.

At the moment, our heat is supplied by the same water heater that used to heat our tap water before the renovation. Hot water is pumped through pipes stapled to the underside of the main floor and it warms the floor above.

Heating water with electricity is 100% efficient, but it is expensive, so I have been steadily trying to finish insulating wherever I haven’t reached yet.

The first time the power went out for more than an hour, I was anxious that putting our eggs in the electricity basket had been unwise. However, we noticed that the house did not cool very quickly. The insulation we had done so far was having an effect. It was the front rooms with their thinner walls and heritage windows that cooled the fastest and that’s where the fireplace was.

I also noticed that the bathroom floor, where the water heating pipes are embedded in concrete just below the tile, stayed warm for two hours or so. I realized that one great advantage to heating with underfloor hydronic pipes is that once the water is warm, it continues giving off heat for some time.

Once the house is finished, we will be able to last a long time without feeling the chill, but maybe you still think we need a back-up source of heat for longer emergencies. They tell you to be prepared for 72 hours without assistance.

My answer to that is my father-in-law Dave’s idea which he has helped us implement: the Toyota Prius as back-up generator. Read more about how we’re doing that here. When the wiring to the garage is complete, we can use the Prius or any other hybrid or electric car to power important stuff in the house like the fridge.

A more obvious solution is a large storage battery like Tesla’s Wall. Charge it in the daytime with solar panels and charge your car from the battery at night. If there is not enough to completely charge the car, BC Hydro will tip it up.

Incidentally, this is the same principal we hope to implement with the solar hot water panels someone handed down to us: heat a large tank of water in the heat of the day and use it (or simply let it warm the basement) in the evening.

It seems I have to get used to the idea that the house will be completed bit by bit. There will probably not be a ribbon-cutting ceremony. That fantasy of moving back in with all systems working perfectly is just that, a fantasy.

Meanwhile, it looks like it will be sunny tomorrow so the kids will go back to school. Then, later in the day, another winter storm is expected. At least now we know we can handle it.

Oops, we’re a little low on dry firewood…

Anybody got some?




Aug 102016

On the landing of the stairs heading to and from the kids bedrooms on the top floor is a vent. It looks like this.

The landing

The landing

Air vent on the landing

Air vent on the landing

It used to be connected the forced air furnace and it would blow warm air up the staircase. I suppose because there was no cold air return and the air already up there had no easy way to get down, the heat never seemed to reach the bedrooms.

We have pondered what to do with it. Could it be a laundry chute, a ventilation duct, or a cat passage?

Well, it turns out that because we are making the basement walls so thick, it can’t really be used to access the basement.

Looking up from the basement you can see the cupboard.

Looking up from the basement you can see the cupboard.

What about the cupboard under the stairs? Could it be a storage hatch?

No, the cupboard under the landing must be destroyed to make way for greater headroom as people use the staircase below.

It’s a little sad to destroy a hand-made piece of history, but the BC Building code gives us no choice.

The duct is boxed in through the cupboard to reach the basement ceiling. You can see where the spray foam insulation bust through from the outer wall. That’s why they used half-pound insulation instead of 2-pound insulation (which is what is going into our roof this week!); the denser foam would have busted these old walls apart.

The duct traveling through the cupboard

The duct traveling through the cupboard

There was no way to remove the duct intact, so I broke it out.

With the duct gone it looks like this.

With the duct gone it looks like this.

From the basement looking up at the ceiling, it looks like this:
Now we have a square hole in the landing that leads nowhere. What should we do with it?

We haven’t decided yet, but knowing me, it will probably have something to do with insulation!

Jul 042016

Things I found while working in the attic today:



It’s a dirty, dusty place to work, but it’s rewarding when you find…a hammer? No, not the hammer. I’m using the hammer to build stuff. What is that next to the hammer, though?

It’s made of wood and I think it’s some kind of target. Leanne’s Mom, Julie, has an older brother, Uncle Jim, who also grew up in this house. We’re pretty sure all the pellets embedded in the garage door are from his pellet gun. This target looks none the worse for wear so either it was not that kind of target, or Uncle Jim was a terrible shot.

Even more interesting than the hammer or the target is that little piece of paper. Check it out:

Anyone know the restaurant?

Anyone know the restaurant?

That’s right. An old-school fortune from a fortune cookie circa…? And a very wise one, at that. I’m certainly learning a lot, but I’m not feeling particularly young.

So what am I doing in the attic? Making the walls, floor and ceiling thicker to accommodate more insulation of course! Here is the before and after.




Thicker roof rafters, thicker floor...

Thicker roof rafters, thicker floor…

This is the attic space above the front porch, so the more insulation I can add, the better. The roof rafters for this gabled dormer that sticks out majestically over the porch are only 2X4s. I’m adding another set of 2X4s so that we can fill up that 7 inches of space with 5″ of spray-foam insulation and 2″ of something else.

The house on July 4th with its gabled front dormer and diamond window into the attic.

The house on July 4th with its gabled front dormer and diamond window into the attic.

Speaking of insulation, on the floor of the attic is a treat for us energy efficiency geeks: the original bags that the rock wool insulation came in have been used as an underlay.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Apr 082016

James and the rented compactor

Okay, you’ve seen the concrete get poured on top of those pretty red water heating pipes in this post. Now let’s step back a few steps to what went under the concrete.

After the roof was put on, the basement floor was the first significant task that Leanne and I took on ourselves after things fell apart with our contractor, so it was a big deal for us.


Annabel’s 2012 drawing

In a nutshell, the plan has always been to dig deep enough to give us some reasonable ceiling height in the basement. We also wanted to add a lot of insulation under the house which meant digging even further. Continue reading »

Jan 312016

We’re entering a new phase in the renovation and retrofit of Hammond Forever House.

If you would like to visit and learn more, send me an e-mail at and we’ll try to arrange a time for me to show you around. There is lots of work still to be done and if you are willing to pitch in, we will not say no!

The tent.

The tent.

This past week was a difficult one. To make it possible to build the addition and upstairs dormer in the middle of winter, our contractor erected a huge plastic tent over the house. Smart, right?


Unfortunately, it leaks. Leanne and I have been mopping up the floor and setting containers under drips so that not too much water gets through. It’s not too much of a problem if water gets through to the new construction which will all dry out, but we have been noticing signs of water damage on the ceiling of the living and dining rooms which makes it hard to sleep on these rainy nights.

On Thursday evening, January 27th, Leanne and I contributed to a panel discussion after the screening of a film about environmental activism. The film was called Continue reading »

Jan 042016

[UPDATE MARCH 2016: since this post was written, Leanne and I have entered into a contract dispute with Ridgewater Homes. For more details, click here.]

Happy New Year Team!

(Too busy e-mailing to update your blog? Try doing both at once!

I have been working hard on the day-to-day discussions, decisions and actual work of our renovation and retrofit so I haven’t had time to update this blog with all the exciting things going on. Yesterday I asked myself if I can combine these things and post an update that I would normally send by email to the team. Let’s see if it works! This way the team gets more photos and you get more nitty-gritty details.)

Here is an update to get everyone on the same page. I will be teaching two classes¬†(from 9-5) this week from Monday to Thursday, January 4-7, so I will not be on hand on site as much as usual. I’ll be around Friday, though.

To remind you of who everyone is, here is a list:

Contractor–Ridgewater Homes
Daryl, President
Amber, Project Manager
Steve, Site Supervisor

Heritage Professional–Donald Luxton and Associates

Dave, my father-in-law, retired electrician and DIY home-builder
Brian, electrician, Big Mountain Electric
Leanne, my wife and electrician-in-training

Plumbing–Meadowridge Plumbing and Gas
Richard, owner

Chimney and Fireplace
Ron, the neighbour-who-knows-about-masonry

Lighthouse/UBC/BCIT case study
Veronica, Project Lead from Lighthouse Sustainable Building

General update:


The house is more supported than it has been in its entire 92 year history. It is sitting on its new foundation walls, two interior temporary walls and its 3 new permanent steel beams as well as its new steel posts.

If you remember what the front steps looked like, you’ll notice that the ground level has risen a little, so we’ll have to adjust it if we want to replicate the front porch as it was. However, Steve, I don’t think anyone would object if we reduced the number of front steps by one. Would you agree, Don?


This room, which used to be an unheated crawl space under the porch, will now be a root cellar!

The front porch has its joists but we are waiting for clarification on what surface we should put on it assuming we use spray foam insulation on the ceiling of the space below.

Thank you, Steve for suggesting we have the steel beams pre-painted. Thank you also for making them short enough to fit 2″ of foam insulation between the end of the beams and the exterior wall to reduce thermal bridging.


One steel post is missing because I understand its length is being adjusted. Final adjustments to the support system have not been made yet.



The basement ceiling joists around the hole where the central chimney was

I would still appreciate some reinforcement of the joists around the interior stairwell and central chimney hole, especially if it is easier to do now than later.

Sidenote: Leanne and I were grateful that the house was supported better than it has ever been (new foundation, 2 temporary walls plus three new steel beams) by the time the earthquake shook Hammond last week! Whew!


I have removed and preserved some siding from the bathroom walls which will be dismantled. DSC02744The bathroom window will be reused but I did not have time to remove it yet.

I planned to remove the rest of the siding around the window when I could determine exactly where the new exterior wall will attach between the pantry window and the existing bathroom window. I want to make a clean cut up the wall to avoid having to replace any siding on the section of wall that will be under the new porch.

The bathroom has now been gutted in preparation for its rebuild. That involved a lot of insulation falling out of the attic space above the ceiling. You may find some Roxul insulation and also original black rock wool insulation. The latter may look like mold or something worse, but it is harmless. Although it is a dusty space, I don’t believe there are any health concerns.

The East side of the upper floor has also been partially gutted in preparation for the dormer. I am still planning to strip the entire upper floor to the roof joists so that we can thicken the roof joist space and fill it with spray foam.



I have stacked leftover lumber, organized by type and length, in an easily accessible spot to the north of the house. Please use it (even if it’s a little dirty)! I know that nice clean lumber is relatively cheap, but we would like to avoid wasting resources.


Leanne and I are looking forward to watching the addition and dormer being framed.

Construction waste:

I don’t want to slow the work down by demanding special care be taken to reuse and recycle. However, if the crew can simply create piles of similar material, I can take care of it later.

In addition to the containers I left for metal scrap, plastic, organics, paper/cardboard, etc., piles would be useful in the following categories:

  1. reuseable constuction wood (2X4, 2X6 etc.) with no nails or screws
  2. reuseable constuction wood (2X4, 2X6 etc.) containing nails or screws (I can remove them)
  3. firewood (wood is clean, contains nails and pieces are too small or damaged to reuse)
  4. junk wood to landfill (with paint or spay foam stuck to it so it can’t be burned)

There is a pile of waste wood on the North side of the house which I didn’t get time to remove. It is a mix of 1 and 2 above.


The future legal basement suite plumbing and sump have been roughed in by Meadowridge. Thanks guys!
The Maple Ridge plumbing inspector was able to fit in an inspection just before the Christmas break and gave the work a partial pass. I don’t know whether that means we can now back fill over the pipes or not. Richard?



New Connection

Dave, Brian and I are in the process of getting approval from BC Hydro for a new underground 200amp service to the house. (The City of Maple Ridge Engineering Dept. is requiring all services to be underground as part of our Heritage Revitalization Agreement and re-zoning). Hydro has said that if we get the site plan and paperwork they require in to them before January 12th, they estimate their design team will have a design ready by March 7th, at which point we can schedule the connection to be made.

I am not alone in thinking that this lengthy process suggests that Hydro believes this is a larger project than a simple residential connection. It is not the first time that Leanne and I have felt the powers-that-be are treating us like a development corporation. This week will be our first opportunity to find out if there has been a misunderstanding. I hope Brian or Dave can find time to discuss this with BC Hydro.

Construction electrical service

The Ridgewater crew has been using the outside outlets on the Little Yellow House for power. These outlets are on 15amp breakers which has resulted in breakers tripping and interrupted work. The electrical team is working on a solution.

In the meantime, I have provided two extension cords, one red, one green, running out the window of the Little Yellow House (in such a way that the window is still secure) which are plugged into the 20amp outlets in the kitchen. With the two exterior outlets, still available, and another outlet available from the Yellow House garage, I hope that will be enough power for now. We have a few more cords you are welcome to use.

Steve, please let me know if this solution works, or whether we need to try something else. Thanks.


Apologies, Steve, for not doing my homework. I intended to finish back-filling the basement stairwell hole, but the ground was frozen by the time I got around to doing it after Christmas. You can still leave it to us. Let me know if that hole is holding up the work and we’ll put it at the top of our list. Otherwise, I’ll wait for a warmer stretch of weather.

Basement slab preparation:

Once the temporary walls are removed we can start to work toward pouring the basement floor slab. Much of this work can be left to us (Leanne, Dave and I under Steve and Amber’s direction) while the Ridgewater crew works on framing in the addition and dormer. These are the steps as I understand them:

  1. fill in dips left by Nickel Bros’ cribbing (remove that remaining cribbing block on the North side of the basement first)
    1. fill the root cellar with crushed rock only, leaving 4″ for concrete
    2. level the rest of the basement with crushed rock and sand (if it can be compacted enough–please advise), leaving room for 3″ of rigid foam and 4″ of concrete
  2. smooth off any concrete lumps on the forms so that there is enough room for the foam and the concrete
  3. compact the fill as much as possible to avoid settling of the ground under the slab
  4. laying the 3″ of Terrafoam rigid insulation
  5. adding Terrafoam to the perimeter walls up to the level of the slab (4″) and also up the sides of all post and interior wall footings to completely separate the basement slab from the foundation walls
  6. surrounding all roughed in plumbing coming up through the floor with Terrafoam
  7. laying a plastic vapour barrier on top of the foam and part way up the walls and posts
  8. laying wire mesh on top of the vapour barrier and foam to stabilize the concrete and tie the radiant heating pipes to
  9. mapping out and tying the radiant heating pipes to the wire mesh in lengths of 250 feet under the direction of Richard and Meadowridge plumbing.
  10. Pour the concrete!


Ed from Haney Builders should have ordered all the new triple-paned fiberglass windows. However, there was one adjustment we made before the holidays which may mean the order has not gone to Milgard Windows yet. I’ll let you know when we can expect them.

I understand that the key to energy efficiency with windows is the way they are installed, so I want to make sure we use best practices here (whether it is us or Ridgewater who ends up installing them).

Spray Foam Insulation Confusion:

I am hearing different opinions about what is needed for using spray foam insulation in attic spaces. Once we spray, it is very difficult to correct any mistakes, so we have to get this right.

The question is, do we need to ventilate the roof surface (mostly to extend the life of the roofing material) or not?

Right now, the 2X6 roof joists of the main part of the house are strapped with 1X4 boards (3/4″ thick) and sheathed with 1/2″ plywood. The shed addition roof (which will be replaced) has 2X4 joists sheathed with plywood.

I am reading information online which says that if spray foam is installed correctly, it should allow for no air gap between the underside of the roof and the foam and also allow no moisture to escape into that space from inside the house.

The concern seems to be that asphalt shingles get hotter in the sun if there is no airspace beneath them, which reduces their life span. However, there is research which states that the colour of the shingles and other factors has more impact on their temperature than ventilation does.

I have asked Maple Ridge’s Head of Building Inspection about whether the BC Building code has anything to say about this, but I’m looking for the best information available on this question before we proceed. Veronica?

We also need to know if this question affects what we can do with the front and back porch surfaces. Both have living space beneath them. I would like to clear this question up quickly so we can rebuild the front porch.

The Chimney

Finally, a big shout out to our amazing neighbour, Ron, who volunteered his time on the day the house was lowered on to its new foundation and took care of our chimney and fireplace with such skill! Ron has now finished the brickwork to connect the chimney to its new foundation. He says he will work on repairing any damage to the fireplace in his free time in the new year.

When you lift a house with a chimney for any reason, standard practice is to remove the chimney and that means removing the fireplace, too. Without Ron’s expert opinion and confidence that the fireplace could be saved, we would have lost a key heritage feature of the house. Once you remove a brick chimney, the BC Building Code will not let you build a new one.

Thank you, Ron!

And thank you to everyone who has helped us so far in our audacious home energy retrofit project.

That concludes your 2016 update! As you can guess, there is a lot more to most of these items but they will have to wait until more pressing matters are dealt with.

Leanne and I are looking forward to this next stage of the project, together with all the help and support from everyone on the team and the community at large.

Joyously looking to the future, we wish you all a happy and fulfilling 2016!


Dec 182015

[UPDATE MARCH 2016: since this post was written, Leanne and I have entered into a contract dispute with Ridgewater Homes. For more details, click here.]

Last week I showed you a little bit of the day the concrete truck arrived. Here’s a video of what happened afterwards. Much of this is happening on days when I teach in the mornings so I get limited footage, but here’s a taste.

It’s a medley of clips: removing the re-useable forms, Leanne stacking wood for re-use, checking out the new storm sewer, sump and perimeter drain as well as the white styrofoam that went up on the outside of the concrete, and melting off the sealant where the basement stairs are going to go. Nobody likes rubbing black tar when you’re walking down stairs.

“Are you adding a basement?” people ask when they see our house in the air.

Leanne is a highly skilled sorter

Leanne is a highly skilled sorter

That’s when I feel a little extravagant. It’s true, we already had a basement, but it was a cruel one.

The ceiling was high enough to call the space a basement, but too low to spend any length of time down there. It quickly filled up with our crap which we sorted through this past spring.

When it was finally more or less empty on April 30, 2015, it looked like this:

When it was ready to have the holes in the floor jack-hammered, it looked like this:

I guess it seems a little extreme to raise a house only to put it back down at pretty much the same elevation. Most people leave it up there and build a new story without going through the expense of digging. Maybe it looks like we have money to burn or are just not very bright, but what happened was we started to think of keeping this 92 year-old house forever and our Heritage Revitalization Agreement does not allow us to change the exterior look of the house so drastically.

Putting it back down is exactly what is happening tomorrow. Nickel Brothers is coming back to take away their big steel beams and their heavy Jenga-like cribbing.

Continue reading »

Dec 142015

The excavator digs a trench to connect our new perimeter drain to the storm sewer

Yesterday, 195 countries signed an agreement to tackle the costs of climate change. I’m looking forward to seeing what our new Canadian government, in conversation with the Provinces and everybody, comes up with.

I hope it has something to do with helping people like us to do things like we’re doing with our house. As it stands, few people looking at their household budget would conclude that doing what we’re doing makes any sense. That’s because we’re looking farther into the future than most people, but also because we’re looking beyond our own budget to the costs of climate change.

That’s probably the part that stops most people. We’re spending more money on our house so that maybe some island nations won’t disappear under water. What? You may have a couple of questions about that.

  • Question 1: There is no way that the greenhouse gases our house produces, even with its old oil furnace, would be enough to make much of a difference to global warming no matter what we do so what’s the point?

Answer: That’s why I’m not interested in minor reductions–I want that 70% or greater reduction that our first Energy Audit in 2008 said was possible. That’s also why I’m sharing this story–because one house can inspire other houses and going to all this trouble just for one house doesn’t seem worth it.

  • Question 2: Families like ours have enough trouble keeping food on the table without going into debt to combat climate change, so why don’t we let the governments take the lead?

Answer: If our governments had been taking the lead, families like ours wouldn’t have to be sticking our necks out. Everyone seems to be waiting for the price of gas to go up or government incentives to arrive or some other change to happen which will make reducing energy use and switching to renewable energies cost effective for the general public.

Meanwhile, the planet warms, the ice melts and the weather gets crazier.


We can’t wait anymore. Sometimes you have to wag the dog and sometimes that means biting off more than you can chew. Any more dog metaphors I can use?

Here’s a video of what it looked like, through the window of the Little Yellow House next door where we are living, when the concrete arrived right in the middle of that cold snap two weeks ago. I had to go to work, but Leanne had a day off and filmed a bit as the work progressed.

I will always remember the statistic that Lorraine Gauthier of Now House shared with us. In 2011 the home renovation market in Canada was worth $33.8 billion. That’s a lot of people renovating. How much of that was spent on energy efficiency upgrades? Just 7%. Here in the warm Lower Mainland of British Columbia, I expect it was even less and I expect that percentage hasn’t really changed.

People are renovating their homes, but the value they expect to get from their renos is counted in comfort (they will enjoy their new kitchen) or resale value (they expect to sell their home in a few years and their new kitchen will fetch a higher price).

What about the comfort of clean air circulated through a Heat Recovery Ventilator which maintains a nice, even temperature?

What about the comfort of knowing that your new insulation and heat pump mean that your carbon footprint is so much lower?

What about the value of a reduced energy bill that will save you thousands of dollars in the long term as you embrace your house as a forever home and put down roots in your community?

Do I sound like I’m blaming homeowners? I’m not. The barriers to doing what Leanne and I are doing are real. Cost is just one, but let’s look at it first.

On Saturday Leanne asked herself how much we have spent so far on preserving, renovating and retrofitting the two houses which sit on this now protected Heritage Site. My wife is amazing. This is what she came up with.

2010 Maintenance & Upgrades $6,000.99
2011 Heritage Revitalization Costs:
7-14 Annabel Vaughan $350.00 Architectural Services – initial payment ($6625 total)
9-15 Underhill Geomatics Ltd. $3,415.27 Topographical & Legal Survey
10-9 Annabel Vaughan $868.00 Architectural Services for Sept
2011 Maintenance & Upgrades $904.32
2012 Heritage Revitalization Costs:
9-11 Home Depot $24.61 sheets & pads for sander
1-30 Annabel Vaughan $1,120.00 Architectural Services
4-26 Annabel Vaughan $1,279.04 Architectural Services
4-26 Annabel Vaughan $1,260.00 Architectural Services
11-21 Birmingham + Wood $4,144.00 Statement of Significance & Conservation Plan
2012 Maintenance & Upgrades $2,344.26
2013 Heritage Revitalization Costs:
1-9 SpeedPro Signs $336.00 HRA Proposal Sign & Installation
1-9 SpeedPro Signs $44.80 HRA Public Hearing Sticker
1-31 Annabel Vaughan $802.75 Architectural Services – Final Invoice
2-26 Chiu Hippmann Engineering $1,127.73 Structural Engineering
2-27 Red Door Energy Advisors $980.00 Hot 2000 Energy Model
2013 Maintenance & Upgrades $1,442.00
2014 Heritage Revitalization Costs:
2-17 Underhill Geomatics Ltd. $1,575.00  Field work & plan preparation
11-29 Underhill Geomatics Ltd. $679.35 Update plans
11-13 Campbell Burton McMullan Lawyers $907.88 Right of Way Legal documents
2014 Maintenance & Upgrades $326.98
2015 Heritage Revitalization & Construction Costs:
24-Mar Ridgewater Homes $10,000.00 General Contracting
01-Jan Underhill Geometrics $679.35 Surveying
13-Feb City of Maple Ridge $1815.00 New Storm Sewer Connection
27-Mar City of Maple Ridge $50.00 Heritage Alteration Permit
27-Mar City of Maple Ridge $68.00 Land Title Office Registration Fee
26-Jun Ridgewater Homes $20,000.00 General Contracting
26-Aug Ridgewater Homes $20,000.00 General Contracting
24-Sep City of Maple Ridge $1,642.75 Building Permit
30-Jun Chiu Hippman Engineering $142.80 Structural Engineering, structural analysis & design review (Building code change, drawings issued, letters of assurance, 12 blueprints issued for “Revised Building Permit” 6/2
23-Oct Ridgewater Homes $30,000.00 General Contracting
08-Dec Ridgewater Homes $30,000.00 General Contracting
11-Dec MeadowRidge $1,979.25 Plumbing – Permits/Start up
12-Dec Underhill Geometrics $1,680.00 Surveying
27-Sep Staples $2.19 Copies of plans for sketching services, etc.
05-Aug Landfill tipping fee $22.00 Garbage dump
16-Aug RONA $6.71 Bags for storing/moving vermiculite
05-Aug Landfill tipping fee $72.00 Gypsum recycling
05-Aug Husky Gas Station $50.00 Gas for garbage/gypsum dump run
14-Aug HNT Mart $241.05 New grinder for reno work
24-Nov Husky Gas Station $20.00 Gas for garbage dump run

Are you ready for the total? Here it is

Total $148,404.08

Would you spend as much? Maybe, maybe not.

As renovations and retrofits of older homes become more common, costs should come down.

If you merely want to dramatically increase energy efficiency without making additions or other changes, you may not need an architect.

If you’re not interested in protecting your property with a Heritage Revitalization Agreement, you won’t need a Statement of Significance etc.

If your property already conforms to most of the engineering requirements of your municipality, you won’t have to pay for new sewer lines or bury electrical services, etc.

Digging a little deeper, there was another series of costs because there are two houses on this non-conforming double lot. The Little Yellow House, which we normally rent out but which we are now living in, had its own expenses as part of the Heritage Revitalization Agreement including a new sanitary sewer line and electrical service.

Even with us doing a lot of the work, the Little Yellow House upgrades cost $78,056.37 between 2010 and 2015.

Between the two houses, we have spent $226,460.45 on, as Leanne put it, “Maintenance, Upgrades, Heritage and Construction between 2010 and 2015”.

Putting aside the Little Yellow House, Leanne further broke down the Forever House costs by itemizing just the big ticket items like this:

Total paid to Contractor $110,000.00
Total paid to City of MR $3,575.75
Total paid to Underhill (surveyors) $8,028.97
Total paid to Architect $5,679.79
Statement of Significance $4,144.00
Total paid to Engineer $1,270.53
Lawyer Fees $907.88
Total $133,606.92

And that’s not the end of the story. Those are costs to date. Before the work is done we will still have another $60,000 to pay to Ridgewater Homes, our contractor. Then there is the plumbing estimate of $18,000 and the heat pump and HVAC system for which we don’t even have an estimate yet.

Unfortunately, the limits of our financing are fast approaching. After proudly paying down the mortgage on the first townhouse we bought (and still own) in Burnaby to a mere $45K, we are borrowing against that property up to about $160K.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that we’re headed for lean times, and some have pointed out that we didn’t have to be so ambitious with our plans.

I defend our decisions with the title of this blog. Would we be happy here forever had we simply fixed the bathroom without enlarging it or adding a bathroom for the kids upstairs or deepening the basement or shooting for carbon neutral? All of these things will guarantee a long, comfortable and low-carbon life in Hammond Forever House and I think it’s worth stretching for.

A few donations for the Hammond Christmas Hamper 2014

Just a few donations to the Hammond Christmas Hamper in December 2014

Last year our Hammond Neighbours stepped up to help a couple of Hammond families who were struggling have a little less stress and a little more cheer over Christmas. Do I think Leanne and I need a Home Reno Hamper to get us through this challenge? No, we’ll always come out okay, but I will accept any incentives, grants or publicity from any government, organization or neighbour which would like to see more people reduce their home’s carbon footprint because, unless you’re a millionaire (who can afford a higher energy bill anyway), retrofitting, revitalizing and renovating are just way too difficult.

And with house prices the way they are right now, no wonder it seems like the favourite thing to do with older homes in Vancouver is bulldoze them!

I’m very excited that Justin Trudeau has committed us to deep cuts in our carbon emissions; housing is a big source of greenhouse gases. What I want for Christmas, even if it’s too late for us, is a brand new national strategy to help homeowners turn their houses into low energy forever homes!

Dream big!