House Renovation 2016

Where to begin?

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

The origins of this project stretch back 18 months. Already I could write a book about what has transpired, hence my first entry’s title: Where to begin?

Actually it’s a longer stretch than that. Julie & I started to think about ‘life after the B&B’ several years ago. What would it look like? What would we be doing? Where would we live? We struggled mightily with these questions. After all, we love what we do and we love where we live. Why make changes?

When in November 2014 the District of North Vancouver passed a Bylaw allowing the construction of laneway houses, we thought our answer had been delivered. Our plan was to build a laneway house which Blake, Lauren & Ellie would occupy. We would continue to operate the B&B as long as we felt able. At some point in the undefined future, when Julie & I were ready to ‘downsize’, we could do a flip flop – We move into the laneway house and Blake, Lauren and family (which by now has grown??) would move into the big house.

We really liked this plan as it had the added benefit of providing Blake and Lauren with the opportunity of affordable long term accommodation on Vancouver’s North Shore. Oh, and the chance for us to be to closer to our little sweetie, Ellie.

It seemed perfect, only it wasn’t, and had to be abandoned. This part is a long story that I’m going to save for later. In any event, a plan B, a home renovation, emerged from the ashes in early 2016.

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Contractual arrangements

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Today we signed a contract with our builder. A big step. After all, we are now depending on Warren and his crew to construct the addition that we, with the help of our architect, have envisioned. Furthermore, we really hope that by the time the construction debris is hauled away we will have spent no more than what the estimated costs are. Ya, Right! you say. Do you have a sister named Dorothy? The process of choosing a builder was challenging to say the least. You really put your (financial) life in their hands, given the ‘cost plus’ nature of the contract. Sure, a fixed fee arrangement is possible, however, with renovations the uncertainty of what surprises are hiding behind existing walls is apparently daunting enough that the hedging of bets makes this option significantly more expensive.



In any event a deposit has been paid and as of June 6th, our building permit has been issued and we are ready to go! Well not quite ready as our (new) line of credit will not be available to us until June 24th. What? This project has been in the works for months and you still don’t have financing in place? To answer this question we must step back in time a year or more. As a long time employee and now pensioner of TD Bank I naturally asked ‘my bank’ to arrange the necessary financing. At the beginning, 18 months or so ago, our plan was (and still is) to borrow the funds to build and then essentially have Blake repay the resulting loan over time. In retrospect it seems I overestimated my creditworthiness when it comes to current bank lending practices. After all, I am just a poor pensioner with very little income. No wonder no bank is keen on lending me much money. BMO, not TD eventually agreed to lend the amount we thought we needed and so we happily carried on borrowing little bits from them here and there as the various professionals – architects, surveyors, engineers, municipalities, submitted their invoices. As the total project costs started to come more into focus during the contractor bid process last month, we realized we needed a higher ceiling on our loan arrangements – just in case. However, BMO was not interested in increasing the existing line of credit as my income was deficient to justify any increase. They were ‘as far as they could go’ without setting up some form of construction financing. Blake suggested we talk to his bank, Vancity Credit Union, to see if they could offer a suitable alternative. Sure enough, a higher mortgage secured line of credit has been arranged. However, it wasn’t the value of the security that allowed for a higher limit, it was Blake’s co-signature on the loan. Without it, we are just a couple of house-rich pensioners. With it, we are still a couple of house rich pensioners, but ones with a line of credit sufficient to make the changes we want. How ironic that it is the son co-signing for the parents and not the other way around. Regardless, it seems a fitting borrowing arrangement given our plan all along has been for Blake and Lauren to take responsibility for the loan. And so a happy ending for financing.

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Day 1

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

June 15th has become construction Day 1.  Here is what the backyard looked like at the end of the day.

Day 1

Our daughter Kim, home temporarily from Australia, has fashioned a holster for the camera.  It’s mounted on the fence and so what I plan to do is include a photo, fixed from this angle, each post.  Over time our new housing reality will reveal itself.  We have been assured that the back corner of the back yard is ‘safe’ from the ravages of construction, but judging by the way the piles of dirt seem to be shifting around and spreading out, I’m not so sure.  It’s tempting to say I’m going to do a daily photo, but then, why set myself up to fail?

It was pretty exciting when Tara the digger arrived with her machine, signifying an important turning point in the project – either the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end – never sure which.  The beginning, the 18 months of planning leading up to this day, had many highs and lows.   No doubt these ups and downs will continue as events reveal themselves.  Like Day 1, where the excitement of the first few shovelfuls taken was tempered by the fact that our neighbour’s garage foundation (the white wall on the left) needs some shoring up lest it collapse into the pit along with our good neighbourly relations.

Just about the only thing that won’t be measured on an up and down scale is the construction costs.  They only move one way – up!  Actually that’s not true as our first architect, the negligent one, refunded several thousands of dollars of fees when his errors were revealed.  Not all of his fees, mind you, just enough to avoid death and dismemberment at the hands of his incredulous clients.




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In the pits

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016


June 27

Our first week of construction involved clearing the site and excavating in order to pour footings for the new structure.   Knowing we were finally underway helped us cope with the noise and seeming chaos in the backyard.  Why do construction vehicles always seem to be travelling in reverse with their incessant beep beep beep warning?  Seems to me they are noisy enough and big enough that everyone in the vicinity knows where they are.  You know where the guy operating the jackhammer is, but you are surprised that there is only one given the wall of sound they create.

Less than a week in and we have come to a standstill.  Why?  Our natural gas distributer, the sole arbiter of where the gas line and meter will be relocated, has yet to appear to make a decision.  Phone calls from pissed-off customers – even good ones like us – have no effect.

Meanwhile, the crack in the wall of our neighbours garage seems to have stopped widening.  Right now it’s being help up by piles of dirt until the retaining wall, which you can see formed, is poured.  This can’t be done until some temporary drainage is sorted out, the fear being another downpour too close to pouring concrete could cause problems.  We had several lovely pools in the backyard for a while.  (Sigh)

Still, we are underway.



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Upward and Onward

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

I am surprised to see that it has been two months since my last post.  We are behind schedule.  Twelve weeks have passed since construction began but we are only on week seven according to our construction timeline.  Yes indeed, cracks began to appear early.  And I do mean literally.  As in the crack in our neighbour’s garage wall that threatened collapse.  This state of affairs created not only project delay and unexpected extra costs but also elevated stress and anxiety.   For me personally, there was already a high level of stress and anxiety, largely due to the cost uncertainty involved in a project like this so we really didn’t need any more.

Months ago we had planned a camping trip to southern Washington.  We decided to go because a) we really wanted to, b) we were really ready for a break, and  c) it’s not like we had to stand there to hold up the garage wall.  As it turned out, we didn’t actually camp, (our friends did) we booked into a hotel, but that’s a different story for a different time.  What I wanted to relate was one of the project low points to date, namely a phone call from our daughter Kim while we were enjoying a lovely Sunday morning, asking us to imagine a geyser of water shooting up out of the ground fairly close to our garage with a torrent of water heading towards the neighbour’s (on the other side) and running down the walkway next to his house.  There’s a David Bowie song – Panic in Detroit – that instantly invaded my head, even though I haven’t listened to that tune for perhaps decades.  Just what we needed.  More water.  More happy neighbours.  Now in those first moments, time did not slow down but I do believe my pulse rate quickened a bit and Julie said later that my breathing was a little ragged.  However rather than total brain freeze, I did manage to recall that our neighbour Charles (he of the collapsed wall) had the tool required to shut the water off above the break and with his help they managed to shut the water off to stop the fountainous flow.  Blake came over shortly thereafter and took up a shovel to dig and reveal the waterline split.  The municipal worker who arrived to shut the water off, seeing that we had managed to do it ourselves, advised that they would not charge us for the emergency call that would normally apply.  Our other neighbour Henry came by to offer to help.  The water cause no damage to his property.   And so we learned that not every bad event turns out badly and that the ground can absorb water more easily than the brain can absorb panic.

The neighbour’s garage is not going to collapse.   We can manage the stress.  We aren’t really that far behind schedule.  Cinderella doesn’t need to be home before midnight so we can live with the delays.  We can spend more money if we have to.   There!  Now I feel better.



And so, at last, the framing has begun.  Our crew now want to get the roof in place as soon as they can.  Tarps are wonderful things but I think we all know their limitations and besides, none of the plumbing or electrical can begin until the interior space is going to stay dry.  In Vancouver.  In October and November.  I feel we are not done with water just yet.  Yikes!

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I’m Roofing in the Rain

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

stuffLast night just before midnight as we frantically emptied our kitchen cupboards to prevent the contents from becoming soaked from the rainwater cascading from above,  a passage from a book I just finished: The Aviator’s Wife – a novel based on the lives of Charles Lindberg and his (long suffering) wife Anne – came to mind.  He may have been a great aviator, but in his domestic life, among a variety of cruelties,  he required Anne to perform a complete inventory of household items on a quarterly basis.  Looking at the hundreds of items stretched out across our dining room, and this from maybe 25% of our kitchen cupboards, made me realize what a dastardly man he was to put his wife through such a tedious and essentially useless task.  But Man!  I had no idea how much stuff we had on these shelves.  Yes, the spice cupboard is extensive and we can probably prep a dozen pies with the stored pie plates, but it is somehow dismaying to see it all out there at once.

Trying to replace a roof in Vancouver in the rainy season seems like such a foolish thing to do, yet here we are, one of the wettest falls on record, trying to put a new roof on the house.  Had we been able to adhere to the initial schedule the roofing would have been completed mid-September.  tarped-roofHowever, here we are, mid November and at a point where the developing structure needs to become watertight.  Don’t get me wrong, roofs are replaced in the lousy weather all the time and roofers are experts at covering up.  Just like your dentist needs to be an expert at administering the needle to freeze your mouth.  One small error and you are in a world of pain.  OK, I exaggerate, it’s not that bad to have rainwater pouring through your ceiling at 11 PM Remembrance Day because the roofers goofed a bit.  Last night those floorboards were not swelling with pride as the dish and the spoon floated off together.

The roofer’s midnight fix wasn’t really a fix as Julie discovered around 2:30.  And thus the bailing continued through the wee hours until daylight and a huge blue tarp provided our reprieve.  wet-kitchenThe blower and dehumidifier are now working away hoping to dry things out quickly.  The towels are still tumbling in the dryer.  How much damage has been done remains to be seen.

The huge blue tarp – I’m sure we all think the same thing anytime we see one draped atop or around a structure in this city – Leaky condo!  The rain gods have not been kind to our project.  We’re flattered that somehow we have attracted their attention but are thinking that perhaps its time for them to move on.

And indeed it is time to move on.  After all, good progress is being made now and while I can’t really say the end is in sight, I often have trouble speculating too far beyond tomorrow.

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Of Mice and Men

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

While it might have seemed so at times the past few months our house is not guarded by a moat and so I suppose it is not surprising that the latest invasion is mammalian in nature.  I suppose it was only a matter of time given that the west side of the house is largely gone.  There are more holes in it than the Swiss cheese these rodents so adore.

Fortunately I have some experience in these matters.  For twelve Alberta years we lived in a house where our back-yard neighbour was a prairie grain elevator.  Every fall when the weather turned cold and the elevators filled up, the hoards of mice, having feasted on the just harvested wheat, sought anyplace warm and dry to cozy up and produce the next generation (or two).  The warm glow from our kitchen window enticed more than just a few over the years.  We became experts at detecting that almost inaudible gnawing sound and one by one, would slowly reclaim our space.  Laying traps help push aside our invasion despair.  I’m a bit worried that our hearing is not what it used to be, but at least we are doing something to try to remedy the situation.  So unlike our kitchen, invaded by water (see previous rant), where there is nothing we can do to remedy the situation except try not to despair.

The good news is that the re-roofing is now complete.  Inshalla, we shall not see water cascading from the pot lights again.  Pot lights are supposed sources of light, not darkness.  With all the blue tarps removed we can finally see the overall shape of the addition and how it fits with the rest of the house.  Seamlessly is the word that comes to mind.  We are most grateful to our architects, Brian & Kelly at Living Radius, for coming up with a design that has not only integrated the new space with the existing but done it such that the whole seems to exceed the sum of the parts.


With the shingling complete the electricians and plumbers have begun their work.  Before the floor slab can be poured the tubing necessary for the infloor heating system needs to be put in place.  And so it goes, one thing leading to the next.

When will it be finished?  Right now the only thing we know for sure is that Blake & Lauren’s lease ends on December 31st.   Yes, they are moving in by year end regardless.  Talk about pressure!  Our contractor will have their bedroom renovation (the former Roslyn Suite of B&B fame) complete mid-December.  We will have to share the same kitchen for awhile but we’ve lived together before, so this will be something to celebrate.

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Light in the Tunnel

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

My last post is more than seven months ago, late November.  At that point our kitchen had sustained some water damage and a couple of rats had decided to taunt us by roaming the halls at night.  In the evening, while guests were visiting, their sleek bodies scuttled by (rats, not guests) causing more than whispers.  Blake & Lauren had just given notice and were moving in before the end of December.   I must confess that all the headwinds we were encountering got the better of me and I found it hard to blog about it.  Nobody wants to hear stress and negativity and writing about it is no therapy for me.  Thus the recent void.

I am happy to report that the rats seem to be gone but Blake, Lauren & Ellie still roam the halls.  Our kitchen repairs are finished and the project overall is in the ‘home stretch’.   Yes, our four month project is almost complete over a year later.  Sounds about right?  We are all excited about this next phase.  We will still be living closely together, just not quite so close.  Except for Ellie who still roams free, unaware of such triflings.

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