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Save money green your home

Written by: Bilal Khan

As a sub-urban resident of greater Toronto area, I enjoyed the house that my partner and I bought a couple years ago. Moving from our small downtown apartment to a spacious detached house gave us the opportunity to break away from the “newly graduate and freshly employed” lifestyle. We had ample space to host and entertain people, and space where I could slip into a study area to concentrate on a private project. All this freedom was about to come to a staggering halt the moment we found out that we were expecting our first child. The study room that I had fallen in love with so much now began to feel distant as the thought of it being converted into a nursery haunted my nights. We were forced to ask our selves the question, where do we see our family in 5 – 10 years? Do we relocate to a larger house, or renovate our existing place?

Should we go or should we stay?

Relocating would give us room to expand our lives to accommodate our growing family. But it would also mean adding more transit time to work, relocating to a new and uncharted neighbourhood, moving away from friends and family. As I saw our priorities change from entertaining and hosting friends to more family time, relocating would completely isolate us from our friends, our support system that we had grown to rely on so much. Renovating became the logical choice.

Of course, anyone who has had the experience of renovating their house would tell you that it can be a costly venture, especially when you are aiming to live in that house for a very long time. We knew that in thinking of longevity, it meant buying quality materials that are durable, sustainable, and maintainable as the house is passed on from one generation to the next.

Greening your home? Don’t do it alone!

Luckily, the government of Ontario has recently introduced rebates and grants for homeowners opting for sustainable material choices for their renovation projects. These incentives can be used to upgrade your home to be more durable and energy efficient, to save money on your utility bills and household maintenance long-term; in other words, to make your home more sustainable. The program includes rebates for heating and air conditioning systems, windows, insulation, and electrical applications to name a few.   

So say if you live in a old house and often wonder why its cold in the living spaces even though the heating is really cranked up, that’s because it is mostly likely that the exterior walls and windows are leaky and/or uninsulated, allowing, allowing heat in the house to rapidly escape. This is not sustainable!   

Since this was going to be our forever home, at least for the foreseeable future, I realized that these government rebates and grants would take away some financial burden upfront, but in the long run also affect the colossal energy bills that we as a household were paying annually.

Find your incentive

Rebates can be assessed through the Green Ontario Fund, which is a not-for-profit provincial agency tasked with reducing greenhouse gas pollution in buildings and industry to help meet Ontario’s emission reduction targets. So by making a conscious decision of insulating my home and replacing the old windows with high performance one’s, I was not only having a positive impact on my energy bill but also helping to meet Ontario’s emission reduction targets and helping us work toward a low-carbon future – something we all need to participate in.

I don’t have a little private study anymore. In fact, my privacy has totally been breached by a 2 month old, yet I feel fulfilled. I guess they are right when they say that a child brings a positive change in your life. I can certainly see that change on my energy bills.

 

Bilal Khan: Architectural Designer

Bilal is currently working at SUSTAINABLE.TO through an internship as part of the degree requirements for his Master of Architecture at Dalhousie University. His experience in the biomass industry and clean transportation has shaped his career towards thinking about sustainability as a system. Bilal is passionate about Urban Systems Design through architectural exploration and believes that the true value of design lies in improving individual and community lives through sustainable urban interventions.

 

The value of a home

My husband and I bought a monster house 12 years ago. It was an old Victorian style, double brick with good bones, but in need of repair. In the 60s it was divided into four apartments and no one had renovated it since. The yellowed shag carpeting had seen better days, and the white stucco walls and arched doorways had gone grey over time. It still had all the old plumbing and knob and tube wiring so needed desperately to be gutted and restored.

A house has a personality, and ours seemed to be like an old oak tree that had been made to look like a Christmas pine. It had a solid soul, but the renovations were horrendous. Our goal was to restore it to the solid home it once was. It was the perfect project for a newly married couple!

We decided to live in it and tackle one floor at a time. Both of us were working full time, so it meant spending our evenings and weekends toiling away on the house.  After gutting out all the apartments, we found signs of the original stairs that were located right where we planned to put in the main stairwell. We repaired all the old fireplaces, putting new liners in all and using old bricks from the original construction that we found hidden away to repair the chimneys. We managed to save all the original leaded glass windows, and searched salvage yards for old six panel solid wood interior doors to match the original doors in the house.

Between electrical, plumbing, tiling and carpentry, we found that only a few of the trades people we hired could deliver the quality that we wanted and so did much of the work ourselves. There were months when we were too busy with our jobs to do anything on the house, and with the demands of toddlers, there was a year or two when very little was done. Our 10-month renovation project took us 12 years! And now that it is finally done, it feels like we’ve reached the top of the mountain. We’re looking around and enjoying the view, thinking cool we did it… but now what?

I don’t think I can sit quietly in a huge house, sipping tea and eating bon-bons, or give up the confidence I get from building with my own hands. What many think of as menial work —painting, sanding, tiling — is my way of keeping grounded and in shape! Being able to see the work that you have done take shape doesn’t happen often in politics, and there is nothing like taking down a wall to let out a little frustration!

Although we have built many terrific memories in our house, it was the journey, not the asset, that created them. And so we decided to put our house up for sale and continue our journey.

I feel that we have lucked out when it comes to our real estate agent. We have listed with Cheenee Foster. She is with Slavens and Associates and is one of the hardest working agents I have ever met. Cheenee spent years staging houses and has an eye for design. But what I admire most about her is her drive. She isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and help, although she is always dressed to perfection. Watching her in an elegant summer dress and high heels as she set up my living room furniture, moving couches and chairs without hesitation, reminded me that women can do anything men can do — and we can do it in heels!

Cheenee spent a week helping me stage the house. From moving furniture to picking paint colour, she walked me through the process of preparing our house to sell. Few agents would invest the time that Cheenee gave to making sure our house looked terrific.  But, what truly makes her a top agent is her integrity. She knows that we aren’t in any rush to sell and has suggested that if we don’t get what we want, she’d recommend taking it off the market and trying again in the fall. I’ve bought and sold a lot of homes, and where most agents would try to coerce us down in price to make a quick commission, Cheenee sees the value in our property and in holding on for a better market if need be. What makes Cheenee Foster one of Toronto’s best real estate agents is that she puts her customers before her commission. So, if you are looking for a good agent to help you through the stressful process of selling your home, I highly recommend Cheenee Foster.

She’ll be hosting an open house at our home this weekend. Come out and meet her!