When winter departs, it’s time to check for damage and prepare for hot weather ahead
With the days lengthening and weather warming, spring is a good time to get outdoors and tackle some larger home projects. With the threat of winter storms past, you can look for damage and make any needed repairs, as well as prep your home and garden for summer. We spoke with an expert to get some tips on what to watch for this season, from proper irrigation to mosquitoes and termites (oh my!).
Inspect driveways and paths. Freezing and thawing are rough on concrete, asphalt and other hardscape materials. Take a walk around your property to look for damage to walkways, paths and driveways, then schedule repairs as needed. Asphalt can often be patched, but damaged concrete may need to be replaced entirely.
Keep an eye out for termites. Beginning in March and going through May or June, be on the lookout for these winged insects. “Termites swarm in the spring,” says Victor Sedinger, certified home inspector and owner of House Exam Inspection and Consulting. “If there’s a bunch of winged insects flying out of a hole in the woodwork, that’s probably termites. Call a licensed professional pest-control company. You’ll save money and trouble in the long run.”
Prevent mosquitoes. In recent years, we’ve become more aware of the potential danger mosquitos can pose to our health. “West Nile virus and Zika virus are just the latest diseases caused by these winged pests,” Sedinger says.
The best way to prevent mosquitos around your home is simply to get rid of any standing water. “Walk around your property [and peek at your neighbors’]. If you see anything or any area where water stands, fix it, tip it, get rid of it or maintain it regularly,” Sedinger says.
Tackle These To-Dos Over a Weekend
Wash windows. Clean the grime off glass inside and out for a lighter, brighter home indoors and increased curb appeal outdoors. Wash the exterior windows yourself by using a hose attachment, or hire a pro to get the job done.
Clean gutters and downspouts. After the last frost has passed, it’s important to have your gutters and downspouts cleaned and repaired. “Clogged gutters and downspouts can cause the wood trim at the eaves to rot, and that can invite all kinds of critters into your attic space,” Sedinger says.
Having your gutters and downspouts cleaned early in the season can also help prevent damage from spring rains. “Gutters and downspouts should be clean and running free,” Sedinger says. “If your downspouts are installed properly, water is diverted away from the house so that no water collects around your foundation.”
Clean your fireplace. If your home has a working wood-burning fireplace, the end of winter is a good time to give it a fresh start. Protect your hands with gloves and cover the area around the fireplace with a tarp. Carefully remove the (completely cool) remains of any charred logs and ash using fireplace tools. Then gently clean the fireplace surround. Do not attempt to clean inside the chimney — that job should be left to a professional chimney sweep.
Check screen doors and windows. Screens are designed to let the breeze flow in and keep the bugs out, but they can only do their job if they’re free from holes and tears.
Before setting up your screens for the warm months ahead, be sure to carefully check each one and repair any holes or tears, no matter how small. You can find repair kits at most hardware and home-improvement stores.
Inspect the roof. Winter storms can take quite a toll on a roof. When spring arrives, start by making a simple visual inspection of yours. “It doesn’t require a ladder, and you certainly don’t have to get on a roof to look,” Sedinger says. “Use binoculars or a camera or smartphone with a telephoto feature if you need to.” Look for missing shingles, metal pipes that are damaged or missing or anything that simply doesn’t look right. If you notice anything that needs closer inspection or repair, call a roofer.
Paint exterior. If you’re planning to repaint your home’s exterior this year, spring is a good time to set it up. Want to paint but can’t decide on a color? Explore your town and snap pictures of house colors you like, browse photos on Houzz or work with a color consultant to get that just-right hue.
A complete schedule of when to do what … and how much it costs
When I bought my dream home two years ago, I wasn’t imagining myself standing in my basement, holding an umbrella, watching my husband chase streams of water with a flashlight. But that’s where I ended up. It was the first spring thaw and he was trying to figure out where the leaks were coming from.
Clad in his work boots and a rain jacket he would alternate between stepping outside our basement door, where the rain came down in big sheets of cold wetness, and ducking into our basement to inspect various parts of our foundation. It would take three more rainstorms, the installation of a sump pump and a complete overhaul of our plumbing before we were able to correct the problem.
That was a rough introduction to the world of home ownership, but I don’t regret buying the place. It’s a great century-old row house in downtown Toronto in an eclectic and vibrant west-end neighbourhood. Still, as I watched the balance on our line of credit creep up to the $40,000 mark, I started to wonder: How much does it cost to maintain a home anyway?
After a bit of research, I found out that the general rule of thumb is that you should expect to spend 3% to 5% of the value of your home every year, on average. For a 40- year-old home worth $500,000 that means you’ll need to set aside up to $25,000 every year. I ran that figure by my husband, who is—as it happens—a commercial and residential general contractor, and he said that sounded high. But is it? We were savvier home buyers than many, but we still underestimated the cost of fixing our drainage issues and the expense of tearing down the garage (“Give it a year and you won’t have to,” one broker told us when were out shopping for insurance).
So, to get a handle on the real cost of maintaining a home, I decided to price out all of the major maintenance and repairs you can expect to perform on a typical 2,000-square-foot detached house in Canada myself.
To do this I looked at two different kinds of upkeep. The first is the regular annual maintenance that every homeowner should do to keep his or her home running smoothly. Things like changing the furnace filters and patching the driveway. The second kind of upkeep includes those once-a-decade expenses that tend to result in migraines. Here I’m talking about things like replacing your hot water heater because it rusted through, or replacing all of your outdated electrical wiring.
To get an accurate figure, I divided up the typical home into its seven major components and tallied up the costs for both large and small jobs over 25 years. I then annualized that amount, so you can make sure that you’re contributing enough to your household maintenance budget every year. I also include tips on regular maintenance you can do to keep those little problems from turning into expensive headaches. But I didn’t include jobs such as interior painting, or upgrading your kitchen cabinets. I focussed on the bare bones maintenance you need to do to protect your home and keep it from deteriorating. In short, if you’re wondering why your car came with a maintenance guide, but your home didn’t—problem solved. Because here it is: A complete maintenance guide for your home.
When Steve Bedernjak bought his detached fixer-upper bungalow in one of Toronto’s up-and-coming neighbourhoods four years ago, he didn’t bother getting it inspected. Why bother? He already knew the place needed a lot of work, and he had a plan. He’d renovate one of the bathrooms and update the very outdated kitchen. He had $15,000 saved up for the job and a great deal of handyman know-how. But his first winter brought with it a slew of plumbing problems that threw a soggy blanket on his renovation strategy.
After a particularly cold spell, the pipes in the main floor bathroom froze. Swamped with work, Steve plugged a heater into the bathroom, turned on the bathtub faucet and left. Hours later he returned to the sound of running water—but the bathtub was dry. To his dismay, while the heater had helped thaw the frozen plumbing, the extreme temperature change had caused a rupture in the copper joints in the basement. “There was water everywhere.” Worse yet: Steve had to take a sledgehammer to the bathroom’s shower, since the previous homeowner had tiled over the main shut-off valve.
A few simple steps can go a long way towards making sure the same thing doesn’t happen to you. Consider insulating all of your exposed pipes for starters—especially if they run through an unheated garage or unfinished basement. Uninsulated pipes are susceptible to temperature changes and start to sweat. This condensation starts to corrode the pipes, decreasing the life of your plumbing.
Another good habit to develop is to test all the faucets regularly and swap out old washers when taps begin to drip. Once a year top up floor drains with water to prevent sewer gases from entering your home. (A properly installed drain should have a trap—a U-shaped pipe that holds water and prevents sewer gas, such as methane, from seeping into your home.) A trick is to pour a quarter cup of mineral oil down the drain. The mineral oil sits on the water barrier and slows down the rate of evaporation.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to make sure you know where the main shut off valve for your home is located. Test it every year to make sure it’s working—and that you can get at it if you need to.
The outside structure
While curb appeal is important, remember that the primary job of your home’s exterior is to protect your home. Not easy given fluctuating temperatures, changing seasons, and the various protrusions, sharp angles and different materials used in home construction. Your job is to keep that exterior as seamless as possible—a task even Canada’s worst handyman can accomplish.
Every year start by power washing your property. (Don’t do this if you have a brick home as the force of the spray can damage the brick. Instead, consider getting the brick professionally cleaned every few decades.) By cleaning off the dirt and grime—and taking the time to just stare at your home—you’ll get a pretty good idea of necessary repairs and replacements.
For instance if you notice the outside tap (known as a bib) froze during the winter, replace it with an antifreeze model—this $30 do-it-yourself fix could save you thousands in the long run. Consider replacing the weather stripping around windows and doors, as well as the door sweep, that rubber thingie at the bottom of the door that creates an airtight seal. Simple and cheap, these maintenance steps will help increase the energy efficiency in your home and will also prolong the life of the exterior shell.
Many of these jobs can be completed in a few hours or in a weekend, and they don’t require the skills of a professional.
When all the routine maintenance is complete, turn your attention to strategic updates. Replacing old wooden windows with vinyl models will cost between $3,000 and $12,000, but it will eliminate the annual sanding, priming and painting required of old wooden frame windows while increasing the energy efficiency of your home. You’ll enjoy lower electricity bills in the summer, and lower gas bills in the winter. Also, consider replacing old doors, just make sure the door fits the frame snugly or air will seep out.
The roof is an integral part of your home’s defence system. It’s also one of the most expensive components to replace, as my husband Mark and I found out. Swamped with his own contracts, my husband had originally planned to hire a company to re-shingle a small section of our roof. But the quotes he got were shocking: up to $7,000 to replace the plywood and re-shingle just 200 square feet. No joke.
The good news is you can prolong the life of your roof, and reduce the number of cheques you write to Johnny-No-Thumbs Roofing Co., by implementing a few ongoing maintenance routines.
First, pull out a ladder and climb on up there to visually inspect your roof. The best indication of a deteriorating roof is curled and separating shingles. Also examine the amount of grit and gravel that collects in your eaves and gutters. That grit is actually bits of asphalt rolling off the roof during high winds and rainstorms. If you find more than a quarter-inch of sediment, then it’s time to look at a new roof. Finally, look for waves or dips, which are early indicators of rot. If caught early enough, rot can be eliminated with the addition of more roof vents.
Every year you should secure or replace any loose shingles, inspect the chimney and verify the chimney cap is securely fastened. You should also inspect your flashing seals. Flashing is the thin, continuous piece of metal (or other impervious material) that’s installed at every angle or roof joint to prevent water from seeping under the asphalt tiles. Sealant is used to strengthen this barrier and must be re-touched on a regular basis.
Of course, if the thought of standing on a sloped surface 40-feet above the ground terrifies you, then you can always hire a handyman or roofer to do the annual inspection for you.
Have you ever seen a house that leans to one side? Typically this is caused by a damaged foundation. And more often than not, problematic foundations are caused by homeowner neglect.
Maintaining your foundation is an easy way to avoid very costly repairs. For example, you could spend $500 to repair the crack that develops where your driveway meets your home, or you could wait and pay $9,000 to excavate and waterproof a damaged foundation.
The best way to stay on top of foundation issues is to visually inspect your home at the start of each season, explains Bryan Baeumler, a contractor and the host of HGTV’s House of Bryan. Look for signs of settling, such as small hairline cracks. Keep a special lookout for cracks that widen over time, cracks that follow your concrete block foundation in a step pattern, or cracks above windows. These may be an indication of a larger foundation problem.
Also be diligent about snow and debris removal. Snow can melt and cause water damming, while debris can invite pests.
Finally, inspect the base of your home and your basement for mold and mildew. Use your nose and a flashlight to look inside closets, behind stored contents and around fixtures, such as the hot water tank. If you find mold, remove it using one part rubbing alcohol (90% or more) and two parts water. Don’t use bleach. (According to the U.S.-based Environmental Protection Agency, bleach isn’t able to penetrate porous material so it can’t kill mold spores at the root.)
Then look for the cause of the mold: where is the moisture coming from? Ignoring the problem and hoping it will just go away is not a great idea, as a friend of mind discovered when she neglected to address occasional sewer back-ups in her basement. To rectify the cause, she would have had to re-grade the soil outside her basement window and install a sump pump, at a cost of approximately $2,300. Instead, she left it.
A year later those spots of mold grew into a disgusting carpet of spores over a foot high. She ending up paying for pre- and post-air quality tests, professional mold remediation, debris removal, re-grading and a sump pump, at a total cost of $22,000.
Homeowners and unlicensed contractors are legally allowed to do their own electrical work, but you run a big risk if you don’t know what you’re doing, says HGTV’s Bryan Baeumler. “The worst I ever saw was a basement that was built for children and framed with steel studs.” The unlicensed contractors used an electrical wire without grommets, which enabled uninsulated wires to touch the studs. “The walls were actually live,” recalls Baeumler—if someone had touched the walls, they would have been electrocuted.
As with heating and air conditioning, consider hiring professionals when it comes to electrical work. But even if professionals do the bulk of the electrical repairs around your home, there are still steps you can take to ensure things are in proper working order.
For instance, you can make sure each light fixture is fitted with the proper bulb wattage. If you use a 150 watt bulb in a fixture that’s only designed for 100 watts, it can shorten the life of the bulb and the light fixture. You can also check your ground fault outlets by pushing the test/reset buttons. While you’re at it, check outdoor outlets and cords to make sure they aren’t damaged, and replace or repair frayed wires and plug heads.
Finally, schedule annual alarm tests and routine battery replacements in every detector and replace every fire, carbon monoxide and radon detector every 10 years, when the alarms begin to degrade.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning
Some do-it-yourselfers are comfortable tackling furnace or central air conditioning repairs, but most of us will want to call in the professionals.
That means scheduling an annual inspection and cleaning of your furnace for the early fall. That way, you’re making sure that any potential problems with your furnace are caught well before the bitter cold season. The same diligence doesn’t have to apply to central A/C though, as long as you clean out leaves and debris before turning on the unit in the spring.
There are a few other practical maintenance steps you can do yourself to help your home’s heating and cooling system. Vacuum air grates or electrical baseboard heaters to remove dirt, and cover your A/C unit with a breathable, flexible cover to keep out debris and leaves. (Don’t tightly wrap the unit, as you could create a cozy den for critters or damage the unit’s coils.)
Also, try to change your furnace filter regularly. Not doing so is like forcing your furnace to breathe through a straw. By replacing the filter every three months, you improve both your air quality and the efficiency of your furnace.
You likely don’t have to bother having your ducts professionally cleaned though. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation studied the impact of duct cleaning and found no difference pre- and post-cleaning. They did, however, recommend duct cleaning if you’ve just moved into a brand new home or just underwent major renovations.
Drainage and landscaping
A well-appointed garden can add as much as 20% to the value of your house, but landscaping also has a hidden purpose that’s much more important: to drain water away from your foundation.
To prevent water from seeping into your basement you should pay particular attention to the underside of the eaves (known as the soffits), the material that caps your gutters (known as the fascia), as well as downspouts and drains. Keep these clear of debris, such as leaves and twigs, and check for blockages. Expect to re-attach or fix these components on an annual basis. Remember: the easier it is for water to flow away from your home, the less likelihood of damage.
Now, visually inspect the grade of your foundation and driveway. Examine the ground abutting your home, or, if you’re like me and dimensionally impaired, pour a glass of water on the ground close to your foundation walls. Watch what the water does: Does it roll away from the home? Does it pool in one area? Worse yet, does it roll towards the home and then sit, waiting to be absorbed? The minimum standard for grading is an inch for every foot, with at least eight feet of grade starting at your foundation wall. Any grade that doesn’t move water away from your home should be corrected. If not, you could end up paying for expensive waterproofing remediation—one of the most avoidable, yet costliest repairs to any home.
Also consider removing boxed planters built against your foundation. While these landscaping features can add a splash of colour and enhance curb appeal they can also cause problems, since water has nowhere else to go but into your foundation.
Finally, pay attention to paths and driveways on your property. If they split they can allow water to seep into the earth, which can oversaturate your lawn, promote soil erosion and prevent the garden from keeping water away from your home. Small repairs to such hardscaping features can mean big savings later on.
The final tally
So what’s the total cost of transforming your home into an efficient, water-repelling system that never causes you any sleepless nights? When I tallied up the annual cost of all of the regular maintenance, I found that you could expect to spend somewhere between $900 and $1,000 a year. If you hire professionals, you may spend upwards of $3,000 a year.
But that doesn’t take into consideration the expense of major repairs, replacements and remediation. Those expenses tend to arise much less frequently, but they hit your wallet hard. To make sure you’re prepared, you should set up a “big stuff” home maintenance account, to which you should contribute an extra $3,500 to $7,500 a year, depending on the size and age of your home.
Total annual maintenance cost: $930 – $2,600
Total annual replacement cost: $3,500 – $7,300
The total amount you should budget for home maintenance: $4,500 – $10,000 per year
To double-check my figures, my husband Mark and I went back through our own reno and repair expenses, and we found that the numbers above are accurate. Of course, they don’t reflect the hours and hours of work that you do yourself (not the mention the help from friends and family).
Looking after your home properly is a lot of work—and, yes, it can be expensive. But it’s worth it to have a place you love that’s truly yours. Despite four years of ongoing repairs and renovations, Steve Bedernjak agrees. “At one point I seriously considered only dating people with construction knowledge—because I spent all my time at my house.” But now that Steve can actually see an end to all the construction turmoil, he says it was all worthwhile. “Despite the problems that are inherent of a 100-year-old home I’m glad I became a homeowner. Every night I sit on my back porch and listen to muted bustle of the city, and I’m comforted with the knowledge that it was in my hands that my house became my home.”
As many have said, renovations can be a lot like giving birth: They’re painful, they make you want to scream, and cause you to ask yourself why you’re bearing the brunt of all the work. And yet, you love the result and often end up repeating the whole thing.
Houzz.com’s Remodeling & Relationships Survey of Canadian users, conducted online this past December and January, found a number of issues that caused pain, including the fact that:
18% made a significant design decision without telling their partner
8% snuck away to catch a break
9% neglected to mention the price of something.
Those are the little white lies of the fixer-upper set, but in a number of cases, things got even worse:
5% admitted to secretly throwing out something of their partner’s. That little bit of nastiness might happen when you refuse to compromise on your own tastes, as was the case with 17% of respondents.
While 63% said they did compromise, 6% threw up their hands and let their partner’s will prevail. That’s an unfortunate way to spend the following long years, staring at a design feature you abhor.
That failure to stand up for themselves might have been a result of poor communication (31%) throughout the project. This may have resulted in the stats that show
33% could not agree on products or finishes specifically
or 30% on style and design generally
32% of respondents felt they took on more work than their partner — already a source of tension in real life, let alone in reno life.
So, your partner buys something and doesn’t tell you (or lies about its price); says they really, really have to go to the office on Sunday; “accidentally” breaks that stained-glass window you wanted installed; and hates your choice of backsplash. It’s no wonder the survey showed
40% found the time remodelling with their partner frustrating
25% found it difficult,
9% found it painful.
All those design decisions, looming deadlines and financial stress do take their toll. During the process, the worst experiences caused
9% of respondents to think they needed couples counselling
6% to ask “How did I end up with this person?” and
3% to consider a breakup or divorce.
However, 63% thought they made a great couple on the job, and once the labour pains were over, 97% said it was all worth it. The results included:
70% reported feeling more comfortable in their home thanks to the project
66% felt happier
60% felt more organized
50% relax at home more often
45% entertain more frequently
36% do more cooking and dining at home
28% spend more time together at home.
What did they learn from it? It goes back to communication and compromise.
46% said compromise is the key to both the relationship and the remodel
34% said it was agreeing on what you both want before you start the project
30% said it was making a realistic budget (and of course sticking to it; note that secret purchase in the first point, above).
by Alexandra Posadzki, The Canadian Press May 8th, 2015
TORONTO – When Corinne McDermott’s mortgage came up for renewal, she and her husband considered moving.
“We always thought this house would be our middle house,” McDermott said of the east-end Toronto abode she shares with her husband and two kids.
But sky-high home prices, hefty realtor fees and land-transfer taxes deterred her. Instead she’s opted for a large-scale renovation — including building on a three-storey addition with an ensuite master bathroom and a walk-in closet — to the tune of roughly $150,000.
“We’re creating our dream home, that we plan on never leaving,” McDermott said.
Renovation contractors say soaring home prices in Toronto and Vancouver are encouraging many homeowners to pursue renovations instead of shopping for new homes.
“They can’t afford to buy new, so what they’re doing is they’re improving the living spaces that they’re in now,” said Jon-Carlos Tsilfidis, the renovators council chair at the Building Industry and Land Development Association.
According to a poll released by CIBC (TSX:CM) on Thursday, Canadian homeowners plan to spend an average of $17,142 on renovations this year, with basic maintenance such as painting, flooring and replacing appliances coming in as the top category for planned repairs.
However, that’s down 13 per cent from last year, when homeowners planned to spend $19,754 fixing up their houses.
The telephone poll of 1,020 Canadians conducted by Nielsen Consumer Insights is considered reliable within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
In Toronto, however, contractors say demand for renovations shows no signs of waning.
“I can attest to the fact that we’ve never been busier,” said Brendan Charters, development manager at Eurodale Developments.
Charters attributes the renovation boom to rock-bottom interest rates and soaring home prices, which mean that many people who bought properties years ago, when they were cheaper, now have excess equity in their homes.
In addition, many professionals who work downtown are migrating towards the city core, where many of the homes were built between the 1930s and 1950s.
“We have a very aging housing stock in Toronto that is ripe for renovation,” Charters said.
Some contractors say weakening demand in western provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan, where housing markets have been hurt by the declining oil price, are likely dragging down the national average.
“Canada is so diverse from coast to coast,” Charters said, noting that piping-hot real estate markets in the Greater Toronto Area and Vancouver are quite different from the remainder of the country.
Brent Ballash, owner and managing director of Calgary-based Amorea Designs, says consumers are certainly spending more conservatively as a result of massive layoffs in the oilpatch.
However, that could also end up boosting renovation spending since many homeowners would rather fix up their homes than purchase new ones during such uncertain times, he said.
“Our experience is that people feel safer staying put and reinvesting in their current home when things are uncertain,” he said.