Emotions are waning and the dishes are piling up in the basement. Getting to the rough-in stage and pass permitting takes some muscle and perseverance. Do the Burdens have what it takes to see this through?
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.
We kind of left on a cliffhanger in the last episode because we know when we opened everything up in your renovation, which is a Heritage B home, that we found out that the roof needed some love. So, we kind of left on that and we had some more engineering reports come up, so we’re going to talk to Alex first to kind of see what are the updates. How it’s going? And Skyla and Justin, are you still glad that you’re renovating your home? So, let’s get started. Hey, Alex, let’s start with you. How are you doing? How is everything going since we found out about the roof and the recent engineer reports?
Yeah, things are going okay. Anytime you’re planning a schedule for the project, you can only try to anticipate so much in advance. And unfortunately, after demo, we had a few surprises. One being, yeah, the roof definitely needing to be replaced and some structural changes that needed to be done so that the engineer could sign off on the work.
How are you guys feeling about all that? What Alex said, and obviously you guys are living it and it affects the budget and your timeline of when you guys get to move back into your home.
Yeah, I think we all anticipated that there might be some surprises that came up during the demolition process once we started opening the walls. And sure enough, I don’t think the roof was on our radar initially and especially considering how poor of condition it actually was in when we opened it up and were able to see the level of rot and deterioration. So, part of me feels lucky that we were able to catch it and we didn’t complete a full interior renovation only to discover later that we were going to have we were at the point where there was puddles on the floor over the weekends that it was raining. It was quite advanced in terms of its deterioration, so I’m glad we found out. But it is a significant expense that we had to undertake, and it took some time to come to terms with that.
And the other thing I wanted to know about this was because obviously the roof is a necessity, did you guys have to take away anything out of your budget to make this work? Is there something that you might not be getting in the home as a result of this?
Pretty much everything has already been purchased to a certain degree, so the ship has sailed. So, we’re adding a roof, like over and above our existing budget.
I think we’ll maybe try and make up some ground in terms of getting creative and maybe some of our furniture selection, those kinds of areas. But in terms of having to give up anything on the actual renovation side, we haven’t done that.
Did you guys have a contingency set aside from your original build budget? They kind of anticipated because it’s an older home that there might be problems.
We certainly have some contingency. So, it’s not like I mean, it’s there, it’s our safety net to be used and luckily, we do have it and we’ve had to dip into it a little bit. It is money that we’ve kind of been earmarked for different projects, so it may have an impact on some other things we’d like to take care of with the property moving forward, just in terms of timelines.
And I think a contingency is a really good thing to be asking about in renovations because sometimes people have their budget for X amount of dollars but don’t have anything set aside for when you open up the walls. And it’s really important in a renovation in an older home, is there’s going to be surprises and there’ll probably be some kind of additional costs that you’re going to have to be incurring. So, to have a separate contingency for those emergencies so you’re really not caught with your paths down is really smart.
And then maybe double that too.
It’s interesting to think, like, this obviously wouldn’t be a situation that you would encounter during a new build. Right? There wouldn’t be unforeseen circumstances. So yeah, I think it does really highlight the importance of having contingency. And especially when you’re dealing with an older home, like a heritage type home there’s, the opportunities for things to go sideways are there.
I wonder if people are encountering situations like this more because of the housing markets so hot that a lot of people have to, forgo home inspection, able to actually purchase the house or their bid get chosen. So, I wonder if this is happening to people more than it used to because of just how hot the housing market is.
Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t realize that when they’re purchasing something older that there can be a lot of problems because I know with us, one of the big ones, when people renovate, we always make sure there’s a cushion for asbestos. Asbestos is big in Vancouver, in older homes, and it can be very costly if you don’t account for it. So, like you were saying before, Cara, it’s great to have a cushion if you’re thinking of building. And you were so honest, Skyla. And thank you. No, double it. You guys are living this. You’re realizing that it’s not as easy as they make it look on TV. And it’s better to have that if you’re serious about doing a renovation and.
If you want to be somewhere for a long time, like, we aren’t flipping this house. This is our home and we wanted to make sure it was done the right way one time. We don’t want to be repeating this in five to six years because we didn’t do the roof, or we cut corners to save costs. That’s our rationale, too, behind some of our decision making.
I think the unforeseen on this project probably would have been a lot more if there wasn’t a major rental done in the late eighty s. Ninety s, which is the normal of the time, right. Where usually an older house, the last rental might have been in the 60s or seventy s, and people are still holding on to their oil furnaces. So, I mean, I think we would have approached the project a little bit differently if that was the case. But yeah, if this was a real for the last round, it was long ago, then those cost increases would have been a lot more, for sure.
So, besides the roof, where are we with the budget right now? Is there anything else that we’re going to be expecting down the road so far, Alex, or so far? We’re rolling with the budget now. We’ve added the new roof on there and that’s where we’re at.
I mean, once you open things up, I think we can only focus on so many things at a time. So, I think we’ve obviously addressed and discussed with Kyle and Justin the framing and the roofing, but now we’re kind of at another important impact, which is plumbing. So, a lot of the water lines are old copper, which we wanted to discuss with Skyla and Justin, to upgrade that to PEX, just because while everything is open and in terms of the budget for that, it’s always kind of hard to anticipate what needs to be replaced, what doesn’t, and how much. So, we include in our budget to replace where the renovation work is happening, all the water lines in the bathroom, but a lot of those water lines are running in other parts of the house, which you can’t always anticipate. We’ll discuss with skyline just in those options to replace those, and also at the same time replacing the existing baseboard heaters to new ones. And that’s just something that you probably should have done, given that everything is open and is a lot more cost effective to do now as opposed to later on when everything is finished, and people are living in the home. So, I think aside from the roof, the framing, electrically, there’s really no issues. There just might be an opportunity to add some things that sometimes can always be discussed in the planning stages. So normally at that time, if there’s additional thermostats or if there’s additional plugs and all that kind of stuff, it’s usually a good opportunity to add. But electrically, I think there’s really no surprises.
We did have a walkthrough during electrical with Skyla, Justin, and the electrician to kind of pinpoint those areas that we maybe wanted to add things or upgrade the thermostat. We definitely made a couple of little tweaks just to make things more functional while we can, and the walls are open. So, we added a couple of closet lights, added a couple of plugs for your stick vacuum. What else did we add, guys?
We added a motion light, we added wiring for smart thermostats, data box, pulled some data wires to essentially all the bedrooms and the location of the media on the main floor so you guys have hardwired internet as opposed to Wi-Fi, so those things are super easy to add when everything is opened up. And sometimes it’s hard to discuss that on paper beforehand and give you guys some time to think about what your actual needs are for the space. I remember, Justin, we had that conversation when I did the walk through with Lucas and I was like, do you have any data requirements? And you looked at me like, well, why are you asking that type of thing? So, it just gives you the opportunity to start thinking about it and start adding it in now when it’s fairly easy. But in the budgeting stage and planning stage in terms of running all the electrical wires, we knew it was going to be a full gut. We didn’t really anticipate any engineering work happening. So, I mean, there was some extra say, like electrical labor work to reroute all the wiring around the beams and working within that, but we were able to include that in the budget so they wouldn’t have any cost extras on that end.
We originally planned for two dining room lights before we could open up that wall, but then once we found out during the demo stage that we could open up the wall in the dining room, we decided to go down to one dining room chandelier so that was just reflected in that electrical walkthrough to make sure that those changes did get noted.
And I think those are super important because I’ve learned you get to the end of the project; the client moves in, and they start thinking about maybe we wanted a plug here or maybe we wanted data here. So, I think we kind of learn the hard way. And now we kind of have that walk through with everyone. It gives you guys the opportunity to bring things up because we’re not mind readers, so it kind of eliminates that.
Another on site decision we made was we changed the size of the headboard and the principal bedroom would be on. And this was important to know because we had switches and made sure we had plugs for your nightstands. But as you’re in the space, we realized it would have felt like you were walking into the bed too much. So, we flipped that and made sure that the electrical accommodated that change. And we had made, during the framing a little bit of a change to the closet and made it slightly smaller to give the room a more open look. So just going through those kinds of things during those walkthroughs to make sure that what we plan on paper is really what we love in real life.
When I was there with the Alex’s, they had framed out that closet in the master bedroom to what you had on the plans, and it was massive. It’s like, this isn’t going to work. So obviously you’re a phone call away right, to make those adjustments, but it goes back to the sometimes things don’t work on the plan, and you just have to adjust on the fly.
And that closet change was actually to a benefit once we had to put the ridge beam in that principal bedroom. So, we moved the closet, so it was in line with the ridge beam. So, it accomplished success from an engineering standpoint and open up the bedroom without sacrificing a lot of closet space. So, it’s kind of a win win all around.
Yeah. And I was just going to ask about the ridge beam and why is it there? Just so we can recap everybody if they didn’t listen to the last episode. But it’s something that’s important, obviously. And how do you handle that with discussing the clients? Like, yeah, this is going to affect maybe your closet or other parts of the spatial design.
When we opened up the walls, we found that the roof was being held up by, I think, a one x four. So that’s a very small piece of lumber that’s holding up the whole peak of the roof. So that had to obviously be beefed up because it’s supporting the load. And when you have an engineered beam, it needs to have somewhere to terminate into or carry that load down. So, moving a structural wall underneath that ridge beam made the actual span of the beam smaller. Right.
More of a concern with the ridge beam, too, was if we had to make it deeper, in essence, of reducing the ceiling height in that area as well. But those are details we usually just go back and forth with the engineer to try to make a house also structurally sound, but not give away too much of the design intent. So, we were able to, I think, fasten three by four onto that existing reaching to keep that ceiling height as opposed to getting something that’s much deeper, which in essence, affects the ceiling height and affects your closet sizes as well, and bedroom sizes.
We have very low ceiling heights on the top floor. So, a big, deep beam, you would have been bumping your head on it because that’s our tallest point, but it’s not very tall.
Has the ridge beam affected the bathroom at all, or is it still as planned?
I think the last episode we discussed, we had to have an engineering beam to make our kitchen a little bit bigger. And this was potentially going to have an impact with our drain for our job. And so, there was one day going back and forth with level one, and we’re trying to see if we could switch the drain to a left-hand drain and just switch the wall that the plumbing was on. But because of COVID and the lead times right now, it was going to be 1214 weeks to get a left-hand drain tub. And we had a right-hand drain tub on site, so we eventually were able to make it work with the existing drain. But there was a little bit, maybe an hour for one day, we were like, oh, no, this is going to delay the project. What do we do? Because it would have been a really long lead time.
I don’t think we would have delayed the project because of a tub. We were sourcing alternate options. We don’t go to people with problems. We come with solutions. Right, Cara? But it would have meant resulting in, I think, a tub that you originally didn’t want. And there would have to be some sacrifices with that because we need to have our tub for the rough inspection. So, it’s not something that’s easy to add in down the line, like changing a faucet or something that’s installed near the end of a project. So, it would have made for some interesting conversation of trying to change to a tub that one is in stock, and two might not be what you want.
We moved past the closet tub situation, so I’m glad there wasn’t another tub issue.
And we wanted a tub with armrest, which also posed more of a challenge because there’s not that many nice tubs with armrest, and we just have an alcove tub.
Like, where do you put your arms if you don’t have an armrest?
So much to think about. Of course, when you guys are building a home and some things work for some people and some don’t. And just the fact, too, like Alex, that tub, you can’t wait for it. You need it for plumbing rough. And so, it’s just things that going back to what we’ve said throughout the series, is making sure you have the right contractor that works for you and is going to kind of think of these things. So, you’re not waiting now installing the project while you’re waiting for that tub so you can do the plumbing rough. And so that’s great information for our listeners. Let’s move downstairs to the kitchen and let’s talk about gas in the house. Have you guys accounted for gas, like gas stove, gas fireplace?
Yeah, there’s an existing gas fireplace, and we move the gas line to accommodate the new gas range and the new kitchen design. So, the house is existing gas. So, some minor work involved with gas on this project.
We were able to keep our gas fireplace and fixtures because our permits were issued before the beginning of 2022, where the city changed their requirements. But a gas fireplace is always nice. It gives off a lot of heat. There’s always a great gas stove debate of whether people like gas versus induction, but because we had gas existing, we went with gas range. And I’m sure Skyla and Justin can elaborate.
We really like gas. So that was our preference. Yeah, it was great we didn’t have to add it.
And is your guys’ furnace gas?
Yeah, the boiler, the combination boiler, hot water heater.
Yeah, it’s run by gas.
And was that updated?
Yes, we upgraded to a newer, more efficient model.
I think that’s been one of the big highlights so far, that upgrade from the old 1980s boiler and hot water tank to something new and efficient and on demand unit. We can already tell just the temperature in the basement is much more consistent. It’s a lot less noisy, and I’m anticipating seeing some benefit on the gas bill as well.
Nice. Good to see you guys are already benefiting from those changes.
And I love a gas fireplace. It just makes it feel so cozy, especially at Christmas time. It’s just nice. Moving on to mechanics. What did you guys do for mechanical upgrades? And did you have to do anything to do with the step code in this department?
Yeah, the main kind of energy efficiencies we had to do on this project, aside from insulating the roof, there are other areas such as energy efficient appliances, upgrading their service to 200-amp service as well. So those were some of the things that we were able to do on this project to kind of meet those requirements.
Let’s jump into design schedule. Are we on track, Cara? So far, I know I’ve heard that a lot of things are taking a lot longer because, of course, shipping issues and everything like that and ordering issues. Are you on track for design?
We kind of do all the design ahead of time before construction even starts. So, Skyla mentioned, like, everything was ordered already. So, the lovely thing about working with level one is they order everything as soon as that contract is signed, which has helped a lot with lead times during COVID. We’ve had a few little things come up during the renovation that we’ve had to reselect or kind of rethink because of onsite conditions, one of them being the fireplace. We originally wanted to expose the fireplace brick. It just wasn’t possible with the conditions. So, we had to kind of pivot and redesign that space, so it’s still fit with our concept. And we’re going to go with kind of a cast concrete mantle instead of having the exposed brick. And then another area we had to redesign was the wall space between the dining room and living room. Originally, we wanted to have pocket doors with a transom window. There’s a very large beam there that had to be kind of fixed up because it actually was Boeing. And by the time we had the framing everything for the transom window, it would have only allowed about four inches of glass and so that aesthetically wouldn’t be pleasing. So, we kind of had to pivot there. We actually got rid of the pocket doors and are just creating kind of a transom with sidelights of glass to keep the area open but still have some separation. And then is there any other design decisions? I think those are the big ones, so not too much stuff, but obviously ones that would kind of visually impact mostly the dining area. So, we still wanted to make sure that that space felt really nice.
And you were saying for a dining room, I mean, that’s the one that you’ve got a chandelier in or no. Is it a different room?
Yeah, so we have a chandelier and basically, we had two before and now we’ve went to one. So, we actually just switched what was the kitchen table light to the dining room and one of the dining lights into the kitchen. It was a simple switch and didn’t really require any extraordinary in that sense. So, we just kind of move things around there.
And Justin, I know you were talking about a little bit before, but that you might have to redecide on your furniture choices after looking at the budget for the roof. Are you guys taking any of your existing furniture? And do you think you’ll just use a lot of your existing stuff currently.
Skyla can probably speak better to the furniture, but we have kept just a handful of small pieces that we had. We liquidated a lot of our furniture when we moved. I just think we’re just spending more time looking around, being fairly budget conscious when we’re selecting some of our furniture choices moving forward.
Now, we have ordered the couch because those have several month lead time. We picked a local supplier that had a better lead time, luckily, versus some other ones have months, like over six-month lead time. And we wanted to make sure that you guys had a couch when you moved in, so you had somewhere to at least sit and then we’ve just been taking our time, Justin said. Kind of working through everything else to make sure we’re finding things that we like but are still budget friendly.
The reason we got rid of most of our stuff before is because the stuff we had when we were younger, like living in our condo before kids and Ikea and not a lot of more disposable furniture. So, we kind of want to move away from that and hopefully pick a few pieces that are going to last a while.
And furniture is always a little more fluid. We can always add pieces or upgrade on things, whereas spending some of that additional budget or some of that contingency on the actual renovation. Some of these issues that came up when the walls are open and we have an opportunity to deal with it, figured that was a better use of the funds.
And I think that’s a really good point that a lot of people in Vancouver, when they renovate their funds, get pretty sucked dry during the renovation and there’s not as much left over for the furniture and decor. But it is something that’s easy to kind of just build on slowly as you have the funds available and just make sure you kind of have those basic pieces. As much as everyone wants to move into a house with all their furniture, it’s not always feasible with people’s bank accounts.
Basically, yeah, you could build a house, but maybe you won’t be able to furnish it. What you guys are doing is great and it’s your forever home too. And like you said before, skyline, it’s like maybe you start off some pieces now down the road, you guys can add more in. It’s not like you need it all tomorrow.
As long as we’re not like sitting on Tommy Bahama lawn chairs in our beautiful new home, which we’ve done before for months in other phases of our life, like, there’s a balance to be had. Well, Care is going to help us with that.
Are there any upgrades to walls to improve energy efficiency?
Not on this project, no. Normally that kind of conversation comes in during the permit submission stage. Where in order for us not to upgrade our exterior walls to two x six. Which they’re existing as two x four. We have to come up with those energy efficiencies or alternative solutions to make the house more energy efficient without having to fill out the walls. Which I think in this scenario would have been a bit of a deal breaker because it would have made everything on that main floor and upstairs two inches smaller all around. So, in this scenario, while we were submitting the permit, we were able to propose alternate solutions that the city accepted so that we didn’t have to for other exterior walls. And if that was the case, who knows? Project scope might have completely changed if we had to do that.
And two inches might not sound like a lot, but two inches when you’re dealing with, like, our kitchens, not huge. So, two inches losing on your kitchen, on all your exterior walls can mean that you have the ability to have, like, a magic corner insert in the corners versus not having one or having a drawer that’s usable versus one that is not. I know you have like, a little nine-inch cabinet, so it actually has a really big impact on areas that you have malware. And then especially in our bathroom, like, the two inches mean you have space for a standard five-inch tub, but if you further out, you might lose that standard depth. So, it actually makes a huge impact when you’re thinking in terms of the interior design and the functionality of that space. So, we like to not for our walls if we don’t have to.
And the city does a great job of being understanding of that and knowing that it is a renovation, and you can’t always just tear it down and build new. Right? So, they’re very flexible with that.
I want to know what a magic corner is, but I’m going to save that for when we talk about Millwork in the next episode. So, we’re going to tease you right there. We’re going to talk about Millwork final approvals, inspections, drywall, priming, paint, all the favorite parts of building, because now it looks like it’s going to start being a house. Before we go, I just wanted to discuss a few things that we talked about today. Of course, making sure again, that you have the proper contractor in place, an interior designer to help you make the decisions where your electrical plugs need to go. So later on, when you’re living there, you’re not like, oh, why can’t I plug my bedroom light right beside my bed? Also talking about plumbing rough ins, of course, we talked about that tub, no clawfoot tub, but we wanted to make sure there was a tub with armrest, and we didn’t want to be waiting on the tub for a long time because it needed to be included in the plumbing rough in portion of the bill. Looking ahead for Skyla and Justin, do you expect any more inconveniences as you’re living in your basement? Do you think it’s just going to kind of just continue to be the same?
At the moment, I think the worst is behind us. When the mechanical when the furnace was updated, that displaced us for a couple of days, which was something we could deal with, but that was very much kind of in our small living space. Additionally, the electrical panel upgrade is downstairs in our living space. So, the electrician was spending quite a few hours working down there. And now that that’s complete, I really think that most of the major inconveniences behind us. And now we’re just. Looking forward to seeing the walls go up and actually being able to visualize what the house is going to look like when the updates are complete.
The fun parts coming where we get to see all the planning in real time.
Now sometimes when you’re looking at bare walls for eight weeks, it’s kind of hard to see the progress. Obviously slowly, slowly progress is being made behind those walls. But now that there’s a tangible element of seeing the floor go in and drywall go be boarded, you can kind of really start to see it come together really fast.
A lot of our additional items or these additional costs are going into things that we won’t see. At the end of the day, they’re all behind the walls. So really looking forward to seeing some of the esthetic elements, the design elements start to take shape and really get a feel for how much this space has transformed from the house we knew.
It as before, the exciting part, the sexy part. And Alex, what is the estimated timeframe for the close up of the walls and then inspections?
I think around four weeks is kind of our anticipated timeline. We do need to have that roof on before we get to that drywall part, so a bit of it is going to be why they’re permitting, but things go well, hopefully around four weeks till we can close things up.
Perfect. And Cara, last but not least, are there any major decisions that will be required by Justin Skyline next? What’s coming up?
The biggest one will be our millwork finishes, so we have some kind of colors going on here and so that’s an important one to see in person because a little paint chip does not look the same as seeing it on like a full door sprayed by the millworker. So that will be probably one of the biggest decisions coming up now.
Exciting. I love that part because like you said, to see the colors come to life, either they might be what you want or might not, but it all becomes very real. So, thank you guys so much again. That was another episode of Havens. Podcast. Measure twice, cut once. Season four. Thank you to Justin and Scala for being the best homeowners and letting us dive right into your life. So, 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. Bye.