Monday, July 24, 2017

Our Property....and What Led us to this Project

Oh Where To Begin....I guess right from the start.

Our path to this decision has been a long one. It started 13 years ago when we stumbled upon a very cute, small bungalow for sale in a sought after neighbourhood, in a fast real estate market - just like we currently have in 2016/17.  It was in a neighbourhood we knew very well, and loved very much, but never thought possible we could afford to purchase in. Somehow, in the frenzy of the market, everyone passed over this little bungalow, and our offer after 10 days on the market was accepted without competing bids - we knew it was meant to be ours.

With a modest house footprint of just 1200 sq ft (2-bed/1-bath) on the main, a 700 sq ft suite downstairs (2-bed/1-bath), along with 500 sq ft of storage area, it was by far one of the smallest homes in the area.  Really nothing special in terms of interior design elements, or landscaping. But it was a solid house, and the location was (and still is) exceptional. It was a classic case of buying the smallest house in a great neighbourhood. We also fell in love with it despite it being smaller and less updated than our current (at the time) home. It is true that sometimes a home or property just speaks to you.

The property is fantastic. Sitting on just over a 1/4 acre, with "ocean glimpses", there would be more with some grooming in the front. We have sun on the property from first light, right through to sunset. Which means we can enjoy sun and ocean views in the front until about 4pm in the summer. Then head to the private backyard for afternoon get togethers and play time until sunset.

But I digress....Over the years, as it happens with all homes, we found there were things that needed changing. For instance the kitchen, dining and laundry areas were just too cramped and convoluted for workflow, so we opened them up and put in a very functional Ikea kitchen. But we recently found ourselves in a place where we feel we deserve to have a special master retreat (which we've never had) with a view, and we really do need a larger dining/living area so that we can host get togethers in the winter months when we're inside. Equally importantly, we need a garage. The constant salt air off the ocean is hard on our cars, and there's just no protection for them without a garage. By early last year we finally reached the point of no return - the roof started leaking and tiles fly off every windstorm, the fireplace and it's wiring desperately needs replacing, the dishwasher door is broken, the bathroom ceiling is peeling, the water tank at 13 years old no longer heats consistently, the wind blows through the front door jambs, the side windows are single pane, and I cringed every time we had more than 4 people on the back deck.  The list goes on, but for years we just kept saying "no sense fixing if we're going to re-build".

The dilemma was always "do we gut and renovate or do we start from scratch". And if we start from scratch, "do we retain the foundation or build new"? Because I'm a REALTOR, and have seen many renovations (good and bad!) and new builds (great and not so great), the costs to doing both, and the re-sale values - it started to become clear that to do what we wanted with a reno, we'll reach a very high cost, and we'd still have a 70 year old foundation. We'd not be reaching the best potential for the land, and it also effectively means that you can't call it a new house.

Additionally, with the extent of building code changes, and the passive/net-zero construction requirements, we wouldn't be able to achieve those goals by working with any part of the old house.

In the end, we've truly loved the house. And our family, friends, and neighbours love the house, so it's always been tough to pull the trigger. We are going to have some tears, I admit, when the house comes down, but we will properly honour her somehow before that happens. Part of that will be via story telling in this blog.

Next time - Who and How do we choose to work with?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What the heck is Passive anyway? And what's Net Zero?

As we start down the path of building not only our first home together, but building to Passive and/or Net Zero standards, we thought people might like some information on "just what the heck is this anyway?" And "why all the fuss about this building style?"

Well, we're still learning, but the research has been enlightening and fun! Here's a quick synopsis for starters.

Passive Homes
The Canadian Passive House Institute has extensive information on what goes into a passive house. From building shape, to insulation, to solar exposure - it all comes down to the site and building plans, materials, and insulation and heat exchange.

Net Zero Homes
The Canadian Home Builders Association had a pilot program running recently, and they've posted some great information on their website.  Here's a simple graph to explain.


While both Passive and Net Zero are more expensive styles of construction, they just seem to be the right thing to do when considering a new build. Aligning the home using Passive methodology. Using locally sourced and/or produced materials wherever possible, using products which take lower amounts of non-renewable fossil fuels to manufacture, and using only renewable energy sources to live in and power the home. It's really a matter of thinking past those "granite countertops and walk-in closets" which often seem to make up the lions-share of home design discussions.

Importantly, with the cost of energy continuing to go up (as everything does), the return on investment is an easier pill to swallow. There's really no apples-to-apples comparison in up-front costs. So when we make a choice to build a new home, just like in any business operation, we need to think longer-term about our effect on the planet, not just on what it costs to run a household. Think back to the 70's before littering was against the law - people threw things out their car windows all the time. Then recycling came into the norm, non-plastic grocery bags, then composting, and now buying local unpackaged produce whenever possible; and buying products made with recycled materials. Construction trends have been changing as well. Starting with LEED standards about 10 years ago, and green building initiatives. It's a natural progression to Net-zero and Passive building. One day it will seem as strange to build a non-passive, high energy usage house, as it does to throw composting in with our landfill garbage.

Our construction numbers aren't in yet - in terms of overall cost to build. While our house design is not large by today's standards, we're prepared that we may need to adjust some of our lofty construction and design goals to fit our budget. But we're committed to doing as much as we can to get close to net-zero and passive.

Oh, and those granite countertops?  Not even on our list...

Stay tuned for our next blog - "Our Property - What got us to Here?"

Our Property....and What Led us to this Project

Oh Where To Begin....I guess right from the start. Our path to this decision has been a long one. It started 13 years ago when we stumbled...