The design plans require adjustments out of the gate, to work within the budget, accommodate engineering requirements, and to enable the Burdens to live in the basement. Can this project be realized?
Here's the Full Transcript of this Episode
Welcome back to Measure Twice, Cut Once. I’m Jennifer Lee Gunson, your host for Season 4. This season we’re going to follow a Vancouver family in real time through their home renovation. This is not just a weekend makeover like you might see on reality TV. We’re talking real life; a real renovation. The entire main and upper floors of their heritage home in East Vancouver will be gutted and the family will be living in the basement with two small kids for the duration of the project, estimated to take five to six months. For each episode this season, we will bring in the family, builder and designer in at key points in the project to share their experiences and lessons learned to help shed light on the real renovation process. And as always, all episodes, transcripts and resources are available at HAVAN.ca/measuretwicecutonce, including photos of the project.
Okay, so last episode, we got to know you, Skyla, and Justin, and your family, and hear all about your dreams for your heritage home renovation. So, we are ready to demo the home. Are we worried about demolition process for budget? Like, are we scared we might find anything? Or do you think right now it’s going to be like, okay, you guys are going to stick to the demo.
Budget any time you’re opening up an older home, there’s always going to be some surprises that you can’t always foresee. Thankfully, we had a chance to I mean, we’ve been working on this project for a long time, pre planning wise with Skyla and Justin. So, we were able to try to anticipate and gather as much costing and as much information as we can so we can get as accurate as a budget as possible. But unfortunately, sometimes we can’t see through walls and there’s always going to be some sort of surprise whether it’s both good and bad.
And how do you prepare the clients for that, Alex? Because obviously we’ve never been through this process before. How do you say. Hey. Guys. We’re going to demo the home. But be aware there could be some unexpected challenges once we open up the walls.
We have a final budget meeting and we kind of walk through or Skyla and Justin have questions about things that might come up. But it’s just one of those things where once we open it up. It’s just about that communication and just being clear about what sort of things have come up and what potential cost implications are to that point.
Justin and I have been talking about it, so once the demo starts and things come up, then is the time to do things. The house is going to be gutted. We’re not going to want to do this five years down the road if there’s an issue with piping or whatever. It was important for us to kind of have that conversation around like other things might come up in this process and are we prepared to deal with them now versus waiting and going through a bunch of tiny rentals in the near future potentially to upgrade things from the whenever budget is never unlimited.
So, I mean, it’s our responsibility to advise and say, hey, you need to do this now because it’s going to cost you X amount more later. Whereas opposed to what we had originally in the budget to do shiplap on the ceiling. That’s something that it’s a nice to have, but that’s something that you can do later as opposed to replacing your copper piping behind your walls. Like that’s not something you can do later. It’s those kind of conversations and dialogue that you have after you open up the demo and see kind of where things are at, what are the extras that we’re dealing with and then we have that conversation from there. Do we have to change things from the scope of work? Are we good with the way things are going? It’s just that open dialogue to add to that too.
This reno is really phase one of two parts that we haven’t spoken about. But in the future, we do want to reno the basement. And so, it’s thinking about how do the top two floors impact a potential future renovation. And being mindful of that, which we did plan the floor plan for the basement as we were going through the planning stage, just so they had that, and we could make sure that whatever we wanted to do in the basement wasn’t going to be impacted by the upstairs like say the engineering or anything. So, we have a floor plan for that so when they’re ready to go that they can move forward with that. With older homes, and especially one that has the original part of the house was built in the early 1009 hundreds, there’s probably going to be a few surprises that you would expect. So, the older the home, most likely the more surprises you’ll get during demolition.
Unfortunately, I mean, thankfully for them, their older part was 1987 or 1990 as opposed to in most older houses. The last run it might be from the so obviously a lot more issues to address. There was that evolution during the planning stage in terms of Cara, you had an original plan to move walls upstairs and move a wall over in the kitchen and then as part of the pre planning process, we found that it was pretty costly to do that impacting downstairs with footings and all that. So, we had to scale back and kind of go with a more revised version that would still kind of tick all the boxes in terms of what you wanted to achieve in the space.
The heritage element is also important for us to maintain. And to that point, some of the windows are original from 1912. And we had discussions about what do we do with these? They’re not efficient in terms of heating up the building, but they really add a lot of character and that’s important for us. So those are things that we wanted to maintain that heritage characteristics throughout this process.
Weren’t you saying with Heritage B Cara, you had to keep the windows?
Well, you can upgrade them, but have to maintain the look. But also, with part of the heritage status is the city of Vancouver gives you a little bit more leeway with energy requirements because they want you to maintain windows, but windows are where you lose a lot of heat, so they know that you’re not going to be up to the same energy levels as a new build.
And it actually leads into my next question, Alex, which is how long was the pre planning process?
We started this sometime in late spring, early summer. I think there was an undefined start date. We want to get a sense from the clients, like, when do you guys want to do this right? Is this an immediate project or what’s your guys’ plan so I think there was an undefined start date in a sense of I think it was going to be at some point in 2022. We just didn’t know really when. So, we kind of worked through the design process and pre planning process with that in mind, you know, kind of staggering meetings because if you do everything too fast, probably forget it before you start. So, it was just that evolution of working through the process, submitting permits, kind of taking that time, really to think things through and also let some important design decisions kind of marinate and sink in. And you guys can talk together as a family, both from a design perspective and a budget perspective about whether you want to do this or not.
But the other thing I find curious is because I’m from a building family and we always tell people, don’t live in your renovation. You guys are living proof of this. You guys are actually living in your home. But I should preface this with the fact that you guys do have a sealed off basement suite, so you’re not actually living upstairs while they got it. But what made you make this decision and are there any regrets at the moment?
So, we’ve done it before. We lived through two other Renaults at our old place. One, when I was pregnant, we were sleeping on an air mattress in the basement, which was horrible, eating only cereal and bagels because we didn’t have much of a kitchen set up. So, we’ve evolved greatly from there. We have a hot plate now in the basement. So, we do have a basement suite, but it doesn’t have a full kitchen. It has a kitchenette, so we’ve had to borrow a few items. We’re getting really creative with the instant pot in the air fryer. And, yeah, it’s okay, it’s doable. So far, it’s doable. Maybe ask us in eight weeks that we’re doing, but, yeah, so far, it’s fine.
If you’re at the beginning, there’s no demo yet. We’ll ask you back when you start hearing things fall from the ceiling.
And we couldn’t do this without the support of Skylar’s parents who live close to us. So, it gives us kind of a safe place to retreat to if things get too hairy and a place for me to set up and work during the day. So, without that, I don’t know if basement living would have been an option. We probably would have had to source out a temporary rental. But I think everyone can appreciate in Vancouver that would be another budget consideration, a short-term rental, trying to find somewhere that’s convenient in terms of getting Riley to school, getting Vivian to her preschool. We’d have to pack up all of our personal belongings and move them, our beds and everything. So, we really wanted to avoid that at all costs. And luckily, I think it’s going to work out for people. It’s a relatively tight quarter down there. Luckily, we do have two bedrooms. Me and Kyle have had some conversations. We understand there’s going to be challenges and everyone’s going to have to keep their cool and try and remain as levelheaded as possible. But I imagine there are going to be evenings, especially when everyone’s been working long days, come home tired, faced with dishes. There’s no dishwasher, we don’t have a proper stove. We’re going to try and get by with induction cooktop and an air fryer in an instant pot. And I can foresee there being some longer nights. There were kind of people are losing patience, but it is short term. It’s five to six months. Keep the dream in mind and the focus that this isn’t forever and I’m sure we can persevere and get through it.
You guys can do it, I know you can. I don’t have a stove; I have an instant pot. I also don’t have children, though, and.
That is the main difference. Yeah. I mean, they’re so resilient and they’re happy. They see it as kind of an exciting adventure. Everyone’s living down in a small space. They’re still at the age where they like to be around mum and dad as much as possible. They take no issue with it. It’s more mum and dad who need to learn to be patient.
No, they’re happy, they just want to eat macaroni and cheese.
They’re living the dream 100%.
Yeah, quesadillas and macaroni and cheese.
But you guys living in the basement had some big impacts in what we did upstairs because we couldn’t have any engineering point loads or footings done in the basement because that would have made the basement unlivable for you. So, I think someone mentioned it earlier, we did have a bigger, grander plan, but the engineer came in and threw a curveball at us and wanted all these footings more than we had predicted, which just made it impossible to live in the basement. The engineering and Alex can jump in if I’m off base here. But when the engineer needs to support the house and it needs to have a point load that comes that the load is carried right down to the basement. And so, then they need to have like a concrete footing that kind of disperses that weight to help keep the stability of the house. So, to put in a footing would have meant we would have to cut up the foundation or the slab downstairs, dig down to hard pan and then pour. Say it’s like a four foot by four footing down there. So, there would’ve been dirt and digging and a lot of disturbance if we had to do footings. And I think he wanted how many, Alex?
Like three or four. And the main challenge was one of the footings that he wanted us to upgrade was right smack dev and where the existing mechanical room was. So having to disconnect the existing boiler and upgrade that footing and then reinstall the boiler, it just really changed the direction of the project.
Really not only implications on living in the basement, but major budget implications at that point. Because that no longer were we in a position where we could phase out a renovation. It would be a full house renovation. With footings placed significant engineering requirements. The need for us to move out, we were really presented with kind of a cost benefit. What are we getting from going this route? With the additional engineering and some of these things, it comes down to moving a post, a foot or 2ft, and the engineering implications of that are significant. And having to redirect point loads, place footings, we just decided that wasn’t the route that was going to work for us.
Definitely lots of conversation about design after that and being like, okay, how can we achieve the overall functionality and stuff that we wanted? I think the biggest impact may be was the bathroom. We have a lot of kind of inverted peaks on that ceiling because it was gabled at one point in the upstairs bathroom. So, the ceilings are very low. And so, this bathroom change that we wanted to do with the biggest negative impact on the engineering because we were trying to get the shower head high enough that Justin could stand under it because he’s a tall guy and the ceiling is not very high. So, we’re trying to move things so that we had a higher ceiling height. But the engineering quickly shot that down.
And the claw foot tub Cara, that’s the biggest disappointment.
We lost our claw foot tub.
We had grand plans and the kitchen island. We’re bummed about that.
Which I think to Justin’s point, we were just moving one corner of the dining room over maybe 15 inches, and it just was a huge domino effect. So, we had to keep that corner where it was. And that just meant we couldn’t have our small kitchen island because there just wasn’t enough clearance to walk by. We had to say goodbye to the island. But we were able to maintain or redesign the rest of the area. So, it wasn’t hugely impacted in the kitchen, like dining room area.
The picture was going to be, well, is one bathroom for four people upstairs. And we were going to have a lovely shower and a lovely black closet tub. And that’s okay. Maybe another project will be able to do that. So anyway, we’re getting a nice new bathroom.
The engineer also wanted to put a post right where we wanted the bathroom door because we really had to be strategic in placing the bathroom door because of the ceiling heights. We needed enough room for that door to actually be able to open and clear the ceiling heights. But then the engineer came in and was like, we have to have a poster. So, we had to redesign the bathroom. I think we had like three renditions of it. And in the summer, we kind of had a little bit of a slower pace in the design. We didn’t do too much because we’re trying to figure out, could we move this toilet? How expensive would moving the toilet be to achieve a double vanity with the door moved? To appease the engineer, and I think.
In fairness to the engineer, he’s also trying to create a house that is structurally sound and safe by making assumptions with how things were framed. So, there’s challenges with that, right? He’s saying, like, oh, you have to put a post where this bathroom is. But I mean, once you open up, you don’t really know that could completely change. Right? So, it’s that balance of trying to plan and be like, okay, great, this is what we’re doing. But there’s always things that are going to happen and change once you demo.
Could that change the layout of the home or is it pretty like, no, this is the way that we’re going to do the design process, or could there be something that might affect it?
So, one of the areas that so in the dining room, we wanted to have like an open archway, or not archway, but an open walkway through to the hallway. But we had to get rid of that during the engineering phase when we pivoted because that was causing some point load. So, we’re like, let’s open it up, see what’s behind the wall, and see if we actually can open it after all the drywalls off. Because we figured we might be able to so that was always a point like, let’s reassess after demolition. And then the bathroom was always kind of an area where like, let’s see if anything can be changed after we open up everything to see if there’s little tweaks, we can make or not based on what’s behind the walls.
So, after we open everything up, do you have to have the engineer back on site?
Yes. Then he goes through basically once he sees everything and he’s going to make recommendations about what needs to happen to achieve certain things on the plan that might have not been anticipated before.
Great, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I like this. It feels like a cliffhanger. Like, what are we going to be able to do? Awesome. Okay, let’s talk a little bit more about the planning process. I know we mentioned a little bit, but did you guys have any challenges with permits? Because I know sometimes working in the City of Vancouver, my family does as well, it can take a little bit longer than some of the other municipalities, I would say.
There was really no issues with permits. What’s kind of important is choosing somebody that’s worked at the City of Vancouver for a long time? And I mean, both Karen and I have worked with City of Vancouver for seven years, and honestly, sometimes it’s still a learning process with requirements and how things are changing. There’s really no issues in regards to certain additions to the scope or things that might have to be removed. All those kind of scares that people have when doing a project with permits.
Yeah, the permitting process actually went really smoothly.
As a homeowner, that was a major highlight for us because I felt like we were completely hands off during the permit process. That was Alex and Cara. You guys completely directed that. And without working with professionals, if we had to be involved with that, I can’t even imagine.
Yeah, because permits are one of those things too. As homeowners, some people are aware of them, some people are not sure exactly what ones they need. And it can kind of be a scary topic when you talk to the people like, you’re going to need a permit. So, I’m glad that Cara and Alex were able to help you walk you through that. So, anything else with the permit process that maybe you didn’t understand or kind of had an aha moment?
I think one of the important things during the permit process was as part of the Vancouver building code, all your exterior walls have to be two by six. And obviously in an old home, it’s two by four. So that’s part of that energy audit in that process where you have to go to the city and propose alternate solutions to make the home more energy efficient without basically increasing your installation by fringe your walls out. If we have to fill out the walls and other two inches that completely changes everything in regards to the home. And that even goes with upstairs with the low ceiling height, how are we able to achieve our maximum insulation without losing that ceiling height? So that was just that process. We were able to work with the city, provide our suggestions, what we’re doing. They accepted everything as is and we’re ready to get started.
So, two inches might not sound like a lot, but when you’re working in a space that’s not huge, like our kitchen is not a giant kitchen, two inches on both your exterior walls could make or break your kitchen. That could mean you have like a corner unit that makes your base cabinet corner more functional versus if we heard it out, you might not have that space in your cabinet for that now, or it might mean now you actually don’t have room for your dishwasher size that you want. So, it actually has some huge impacts on your design and especially in a smaller kitchen, to lose those two inches is usually not ideal unless you’re working in a really large footprint.
So, it relates back to, again, make sure you hire an experienced builder and designer to help you, so you don’t have to worry about that. I just want to talk about covet for a second, because this is something that a lot of people don’t think about when building a home, is that it can impact, of course, if anybody gets sick on the job site. So maybe that will slow down the process. Not even that. Labor, materials, deliveries, do you foresee any of that coming down the pipeline? Alex?
Absolutely. I’m not going to say that it’s not going to have an impact for materials wise, the project is long enough whereas part of our process, I order everything as soon as they sign the contract. As soon as stuff arrives, we bring it in our warehouse, and we store it. We don’t know what the appliances are going to show up on time, those sorts of things. In terms of labor, I think we had this conversation a bit before Justin and Skylar, but I think when cold first happened, it wasn’t really an effect in terms of our business and our day-to-day operations. It was more of the inspectors going to be shut down and all our projects are going to become to a halt. But really, nobody got covered and we were able to kind of keep things moving and keep projects going. I think now with the new variant, I think there’s just that expectation of someone’s going to get it. I’ve gotten it personally and I don’t know if our guys are going to be showing up to site on Monday. It’s just that reality of if they get it, then they have to follow the protocol in quarantine and stay home for a week or whatever. It obviously affects people differently, but we just keep going through the process. There’s going to be some points where there’s critical paths that we have to hit, and if things happen, then it will push the end date. But yeah, we’re trying to do our best to manage that, and I think it’s definitely going to have an impact, for sure.
And one more thing I want to ask about the design is talking about energy efficiency. I know we mentioned a little bit before that Heritage B does not have the same requirements but is there anything in this project that you guys are trying to do to stick with energy efficiency and try to make it updated.
A little bit more?
Yeah, we’ll be upgrading the installation throughout the entire home. We’re also going to be upgrading their existing boiler to a more efficient model and a more efficient unit. And then as part of any rental that we do, energy efficient lighting, energy efficient appliances, those sorts of things will be incorporated in this project.
And is gas part of the plan?
Yes, we have a gas range as well as the gas fireplace. And I know the City of Vancouver is trying to phase out gas, but we had our permits in before the end of 2021, so we didn’t have to follow those same requirements.
I have a question. Why did you guys have that conversation of gas versus induction, or were you guys gas all the way?
Gas is already existing in the house, and we like gas cooking on gas.
The energy audit was really interesting when we did that and really highlighted where the inefficiencies are in the house. And as expected, it is mainly the Heritage 1912 windows that cause a lot of heat loss in the house. So, I think that’s something we’ve earmarked for a future date to investigate how we can upgrade those components of the house while still maintaining that Heritage character. I’ve had some conversations even with the Heritage Foundation in Vancouver, so they have resources, and I think we’ll work with them.
That’s really cool that you contacted them, and you went the extra step.
Yeah, we’re planning to paint actually this summer too. And going through the Heritage Foundation is an added bonus. Yes, you have to stay within their palette, but there are some options there and hoping Cara can lend her expertise.
I’m sure she can. Okay, let’s ask the big question, because we’re going to head into the demolition stage where we’re going to find out more about it in the next episode. But how long is it going to take for demolition?
Two weeks? Okay. I can’t wait to hear more about that. I’m excited to know what we find. How are you guys feeling about the process so far? Skyla and Justin, I know we haven’t demoed yet, but obviously you’ve been working with these people for the last few months. How do you guys feel about this whole process of renovating your home?
It’s been really a good experience so far. A bit of a whirlwind over Christmas. The scheduled demolition start is January 10, so we’ve been busy packing up all of our belongings from the upper two floors and trying to find either storage for them downstairs for the critical things we need or luckily, we have some garage space. So, we’ve called on family and friends to come help us pack boxes and moving things through the snow into the garage, trying to get rid of some bigger pieces of furniture that probably aren’t in our future plans. So, it’s been busy between Christmas and packing up and getting ready for things to kick off.
I’m just excited to see things start to come together. I think some people find it really hard to visualize or conceptualize something and I need to see it. So, Cara does a great job of showing plans and CAD, but that doesn’t mean much to me. I’m super excited to see it all come together.
You’re just trusting that my vision is.
Going to work out.
I mean, it just is what it is at this point. The gas pedal is applied, so we’re going.
It’s going to be so good. I’m so excited for it.
I know it’s a little early to kind of ask this question because you guys have only been living in the basement for a little bit. You haven’t started the demo yet, but how are you feeling physically and emotionally about this project and how it’s going to impact your lives in the next few months and how are the kids feeling about this?
Yeah, so we started packing toys up, which was an emotional experience, although they’re only in the garage. But it’s a little stressful trying to anticipate what you’re going to need when you’re used to having all your things and trying to be clear in your own mind how you can live on a smaller scale for medium to long term amount of time. Six months feels like a long time to sort of be camping, like Alex said earlier. But moving is stressful and we’ve done it in the recent past, moving from our duplex to this place, and it’s really stressful. It’s a lot of sleepless nights trying to organize and plan. So, yeah, we’re excited just to have it done and just start living again normally in the basement. See what that looks like.
Yeah. And everything’s going to kick off. Return to work for me and Skyla, return to normal schedule and then start the demo. So, we’ll see how the first few weeks play out. We’ve done some emotional preparation for it. We know there’s going to be challenges. We’ve had some moments where we’ve naturally second guessed some of the decisions we’ve made. Is this the right thing that we’ve decided to do? Is this the right way to dedicate our savings? And we’ve gone through that process, and we are fully committed and excited for. The result.
And the girls probably can’t wait for the day that you get to take some of those toys out of the garage.
Yeah, definitely. I’ve already found a few hidden under beds and stuff.
They were trying to hide them. So, you didn’t take them away.
Yeah, things will get easier as the weather improves as we move into spring and we’ll have more opportunities to be outside and it’s those rainy nights and rainy weekends where, you know, especially during the pandemic, if you’re not out trying to do activities, you find yourself maybe hunkered down in the basement and wondering, what have we done?
Well, I know in the next few months once you guys get to move into your newly renovated home, you’ll be being like, yes, we’re glad we did this, but hey, those are all human emotions. We’re all normal. And I thank you guys so much for doing this. We’ve discussed so much this episode. We’ve talked about the planning process. We talked about budget, which sometimes can be scary, but if you have the right contractor and the right team behind you, then maybe it’s not so bad. And of course, we talked about timing because things can come up. So, we are buckled in for this ride. We’re ready to go. We’re moving into the basement suite. We’re waiting for the demo, and I’m really excited to do this journey with you guys. Before we go, anything that you’re nervous about for the demo? We’re going to ask this question to everybody because I want to know. Anything that you’re nervous about for the demo, who wants to go first?
Dealing with a heritage home, a 1912 home and those unknowns, my concern is, is there a deal breaker in here somewhere, something that we have not anticipated whatsoever, that’s going to have a huge impact on the path forward. So, fingers crossed that nothing of that sort comes up. But, I mean, being an optimist, maybe there’s some upside potential, too. Who knows? It’s the great unknown.
Dustiness, I don’t know. We’ve lived through like our previous renovations and drywall dust, dirt constantly in your space, I’m hoping is not going to be your experience.
I guess what I’m being optimistic about through demolition is that we can open up the hallway wall like we wanted to or to some extent and I’m hoping for some good surprises, but that’s always my super optimistic point of view. I’m hoping you get your arch, our little walkway through the dining room.
That would be great.
Fingers crossed. Well, awesome. Thank you, guys. It’s been great kind of leaving on a cliffhanger because next episode we’re going to find out what happened in the demolition, which I’m really excited about. It’s like watching a TV show. Thanks again. Chat with you guys, guys, next time. Thank you.
Measure Twice, Cut Once is grateful to our podcast partners FortisBC and Ethical Flooring. Their support helps us share expert knowledge and resources with families looking to build, design and renovate the home right for you. Ethical Flooring is located in North Vancouver and specializes in the supply and installation of brand-named flooring for residential renovations and custom-built homes. And the BC Energy Step Code Program is a provincial standard, moving the entire homebuilding industry forward to build homes to better energy efficiency standards, which means better health, comfort and safety. Be sure to check out www.Betterhomesbc.ca or talk to your renovator or builder for the latest energy rebates and resources. If you’ve enjoyed this episode or have a friend or family member looking to renovate, be sure to share this podcast. Simply by following and sharing the podcast, you will be entered in to win a Napoleon Prestige P 500 stainless steel natural gas barbecue valued at $1,549, compliments of Fortis BC. Season 4’s real-time reno has real resources we can all learn from. See you next time.