Jan 302018

We fell in love with the idea of making a floor out of pennies while planning our renovation. This week, I have been laying the pennies on the floor.

Like many things we planned, it feels good to finally be following through.

There are many videos and blogs about doing this and I’d like to share how we did it in detail, but today I’m going to give you a quick overview.


The floor in question is the floor of the new bathroom on the top floor. Just like the master bath downstairs, I embedded water heating pipes in a concrete and sand mixture, coated that with a thin layer of “thin-set” mortar and painted on the Red Guard water-proofing membrane. The result of these steps will be a heated and waterproof copper floor which will be warm to the feet.


I was not near done.

Our neighbour Ron lent me his tile-saw while he was away and I laid tile up the shower wall, behind the toilet, under the sink cabinet and in a border around the perimeter of the floor. I bought this tile at the Habitat for Humanity Restore. It has subtle veins of copper that will compliment the pennies. I’ll share more details about installing the shower and fixtures another time.


Ron looked at my tiling job and said, “Nice job!” and I nearly fell over.

Then Ron pointed out the challenge of laying pennies inside the perimeter I had created. Pennies are not nearly as thick as the tile, so I would have to raise the level of the floor to a penny-thickness below the level of the tile. Then I would have to make a perfectly level surface to lay the pennies on.

Suffice to say, with his suggestions and using thin-set concrete, I more-or-less accomplished that. I can feel a slight wave or two, but the clear surface I will lay on top of the pennies should level that out.

I started laying pennies about a week ago, but haven’t been able to work on it every day. So far I have worked about 8 hours just laying pennies.

Our approach

There are different approaches to this task and we decided on the following:

-washing, but not polishing or attempting to brighten the pennies. I haven’t seen a method of “restoring” pennies that didn’t seem to change the colour or shine of the penny to something not entirely natural. Part of the appeal of a penny floor to me is the story that each coin brings. Each one tells of its journey, but together they make something beautiful.


-we radiated the pattern out from the center of the space. Leanne chose special pennies with significant dates to lay in the center.

-Leanne settled on a diamond pattern. On the floor, I have laid the diamond points to indicate the points of the compass and remind us we are standing on a globe and orient us in the world. I drew a wide cross on the floor in pencil to guide me.

-I used a small drop of silicone sealant on each penny to stick it down. It will only have to hold the pennies in position until the floor is sealed.

-It is just as time-consuming as everyone said.

Working Fast

As I did with certain other moments in the construction, I set up my iPhone with a time-lapse app called iMotion taking a photo every 5 seconds. (By that measure, I spent 4 hours laying pennies on Sunday!)

Here is the mercifully-short two-minute version of the time-lapse showing where I am as of tonight. I had some fun speeding it up and slowing it down when the cat came in the room, etc. Enjoy!

What’s next?

After I finish laying the pennies, it will be time to grout. I will push the same colour grout that I used between the tiles into the spaces between the pennies. After that, I must choose a clear surface coating. I’m considering an epoxy or a “Marine-grade gel coat“. Any suggestions?


Jan 142018

I’m so excited about my new (used) computer and ability to shoot a video and share it immediately that I took my clothes off!

The bathing room January 14th, 2018

To give us a conditional occupancy permit just before Christmas 2016, the City of Maple Ridge required us to have somewhere to bathe. We installed the Master Bath, but not the Master Shower. They inspected the shower pan to make sure it was water proof and I assisted our Master-mason neighbour, Ron, installed the floor tile.

The bathing area has not changed much since then. No shower. Red walls (sealed with Red Guard roll-on sealant). No curtain or barrier between the bathing area and the rest of the bathroom.

How can we possibly live?

This is a video Leanne shot with me last night to answer that question. In it we talk about the where we are, how we got there and where we’re going with the bathroom. I also demonstrate how we bathed when we lived in Japan and how that colours how we bathe now. You can tell I’ve forgotten how to talk publicly at the beginning of the video because I can’t seem to finish a sentence.

**WARNING!!! The following video contains middle-aged semi-nudity. Viewer discretion is advised.**

After we moved into this house in 2007, we updated the kitchen and bedrooms. The bathroom then became the focus of our discussions. It was the reason we started looking at a more ambitious renovation.

It was in this room, when it looked like this:that Leanne inspired me to dream bigger. We were talking about what changes we would like to make while standing between the old sink and the old bathtub.

I said something like, “wouldn’t it be amazing to have a Japanese-style bathroom where you can get the floor wet, bathe outside the tub and then have a nice soak in clean water?”

Leanne said something like, “Why can’t we?”

I said, “Wha-huh? Whaddaya mean?”

“There is no reason we can’t have the bathroom we want.”

I’m paraphrasing, but that conversation led us to ask Annabel the Architect to draw the generous bathing space we have today.

Even though it is not finished, I remind myself every day that we have achieved that dream.

Credits and Thank-yous for the bathroom:

Ron the awesome neighbour for donating his time and expertise. He taught me how to use his tile saw, advised me on everything from framing the tub surround structure to how to create a slope for the shower drain and how to mix sand and cement to pour over the heating pipes in the floor. He lent me his big tub o’ Red Guard, tools, and so much more.

Pro-fix Drywall for putting the drywall and Densshield boards up, mudding, taping and priming the whole room. Great job!

Meadowridge Plumbing and Gas for all the plumbing.

Splashes Bath & Kitchen Center who supplied the shower fixtures.

-Ron’s friend Andy who custom-made the new window sills for all the new windows in the house.

-Our neighbour Sue who supplied tonnes of storage advice as well as furnishings like the shelving unit in the bathroom.

Craigslist for helping me find the toilet, sinks, taps and the dresser I turned into a bathroom counter.

-Our friends who gave us their old bath tub.

-Leanne for giving me inspiration and partnering with me on this crazy journey.

Renovating a home is not easy, but by telling our story, I hope it becomes easier for you.

Feb 212017

When I finally have time to clear Leanne’s computer enough to download all the photos and videos I’ve been taking for the last six months, half of the posts are going to be gratitude posts.

There are so many individuals, companies and tradespeople who have been so generous with their time, labour and expertise that it is overwhelming, but I want to do them justice and give each of them a gorgeous, sloppy thank you post full of photos and video of their awesomeness.

While we wait for that day to arrive, here is a short time-lapse video that I took on my iPhone.

That is the brand new Master Bathroom and I am stapling down radiant heating pipes to the subfloor. The space on the right side with no pipe is where the bathroom vanity and sinks are now. We don’t need heat there. At the bottom of the screen is the border where the floor starts to slope down toward the shower drain.

The next step was to cover the pipes with sand mixed with cement and then tile it.

The result is a heavenly warm floor underfoot in the bathroom. The thermostat calls for heat, and hot water circulates through the pipes. The concrete and tile serves as a thermal mass, spreading the heat out evenly and retaining it for hours.

These days, if you can’t find the cat, she is probably lolling on this floor like a rug.

On the topic of gratitude, there is a lot to pack into this 17-second video.

Thank you to Richard of Meadow Ridge Plumbing and Gas who let me borrow his modified nail-gun, supplied the radiant pipe and staples and taught me what to do. He and his company have done all our plumbing and heating, but also helped us save money by showing us how to do some of the most tedious tasks ourselves.

Thank you also to Ron, our neighbour and tile expert. He convinced me to put the pipes into the floor, (“I can’t see why you wouldn’t”) and we are so glad we did. He also helped us with the next steps, including installing the beautiful tile floor.

There will be more sloppy blog kisses for Ron and Richard in the future.

Thank you to everyone else who has pitched in, too! You are not forgotten. Do not worry. You will get your kisses.

Jul 152016

To my own amazement, I am now the owner of a 1996 Ford Ranger pick-up truck.

DSC04160I thought my next car would be electric!

It seems that new auto sales are stronger than ever even in the face of the fact that the second largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the internal combustion engine used for transportation. The first is the energy sector.

We ask consumers to reduce their carbon footprint, but it is difficult for most of us, squeezed as we are, to resist the short-term temptation of a low-priced car or truck with a financing package featuring extremely low monthly payments we can absorb into our monthly expenses and forget about.

The fact that the sellers of these vehicles are making their money from financing interest and the inevitable maintenance that goes with gasoline vehicles, is still not causing a much of a dent in our consumer mindset. The sticker-shock of higher-priced electric vehicles has a strong effect even though their minimal fuel costs and minimal maintenance costs result in a much cheaper vehicle over the years.

Combine the cost-effectiveness of electrics with what you can do to integrate your electric car into the electrical system of your home, and the arguments for eliminating fossil-fuel powered vehicles from your life become even stronger.

However, the fact remains it is a mental shift that most of us just don’t have time for. My wife and I talk about not having the “brain space” to focus on making changes to our routines, even if it benefits us. We know we “should” do something, but we’re having enough trouble just getting through the days.

All this to say that saving the world is a long-term project and feeling guilty about day-to-day choices we make is not particularly helpful. You’re reading this blog right now and thinking about this stuff, and that might be enough environmental work for today. Good job!

So how did I end up with a truck?

The best way possible.

Friends we met via our kids moved to Alberta last week and needed to find a home for their truck. They had asked around, but none of the offers to purchase it had come through, so they handed it off to me.DSC04161

It’s a 1996 Ford Ranger. It has a four-cylinder engine so it doesn’t guzzle gas as much as a larger truck and it runs just fine. Three months of insurance cost me $413 and when I put $20 of gas into it, the gas gauge needle actually moved significantly, which is a good sign. (In our Prius, $20 is at least half a tank.)

On the down side, the car had been broken into before our friends bought it for $750 so the doors don’t lock anymore. This will mean we keep nothing in the cab and use a club. We’re used to that. We used to own a VW Rabbit Convertible with a cloth roof and we did the same thing with that car to stop people from slashing open the roof.

The nice thing is that I’m going to be able to pick up construction supplies much more easily now. I have been relying on contractors, family members and neighbours to deliver stuff or lend me trucks until now. That takes a level of planning which is a little taxing.

Environmentally speaking, keeping an older vehicle on the road is a good thing. Throwing away a vehicle and buying a new one is like knocking down a house to build a new one–an incredible waste.

Here’s hoping that in three months I can find a buyer who will fix this little beauty up and keep it running for a long time to come!

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!

Oct 092015

Mum, before you send that e-mail correcting my grammar to “Randy and I” let me explain that it is a reference to the documentary film, “Roger and Me” by Michael Moore. My story is a little different, however. I didn’t have much trouble meeting my Member of Parliament, Randy Kamp, and I encourage everyone to reach out and introduce themselves to their representatives.


Randy Kamp, my Conservative Member of Parliament, visited Hammond Forever House with his wife in July, 2015

I hope you won’t be too disappointed if I devote a post to politics. Unfortunately, politics has hampered the ability of Maple Ridge homeowners to afford to reduce their energy bills and carbon footprints.

The City of Maple Ridge did all they could (my post about that here).


Maple Ridge Councillor Bob Masse joined a public tour in June

The Province of British Columbia is supportive as far as their commitment to Liquified Natural Gas will seem to let them be (my post about that here).

BC Liberal MLAs Mark Dalton and Doug Bing took a look around, too.

BC Liberal MLAs Mark Dalton and Doug Bing took a look around, too.

The Government of Canada, however, in spite of the fact that the Climate Change buck stops with them (the signatories of international climate agreements, etc.) has moved steadily backwards.

It is more difficult to reduce an older home’s efficiency now than it was 10 years ago and local companies have disappeared as a result, taking good local jobs with them.

James Rowley, Politician

I ran for School Trustee of School District 42 (Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge) last October.

The central theme of my campaign was long-term thinking. Sensible funding for education now leads to smart, resilient people later and avoids future costs of youth who fall through the cracks and shortages of skilled labour, etc.

Continue reading »

Oct 042015

[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.]

There is a missing piece to the house-lift story.

Chimneys are an integral part of the heritage look of older homes. However, in any house, they are a source of heat loss. We were prepared to remove our chimney and replace it later, but the fireplace would have been destroyed if we did that and the fireplace is precious.

We decided to remove as much of the chimney as we reasonably could without damaging the fireplace. That meant lifting the chimney and the fireplace with it. We will then be able to insulate the wall behind the chimney and reconstruct it with the original bricks to look the same as it did in 1923.

How did we lift the chimney so that it didn’t fall apart? Nickel Bros. needed to run two steel beams into the chimney to hold it up so we needed two holes of just the right size. Daryl of Ridgewater Homes, our contractor, has done house lifts before, but each time the chimneys have all been removed. “This will be a first for me.” he said.
I was glad to have the expertise of our neighbour Ron-who-knows-about-bricks-and-also-looks-like-Santa.

Ron began his career fixing the holes in chimneys left by house lifters. He told me that a house lifting company, not being masons, would typically bash the holes with a sledge hammer, damaging surrounding bricks in the process and making it difficult to repair. He offered to remove just the right bricks.

Ron is a true artist craftsman in the old-fashioned sense. Don’t mess around with substandard materials. Do it right the first time. Don’t waste perfectly good bricks.

Continue reading »