June 6, 2012

See How the Pros Renovate These Homes

Event opens up professionally renovated dwellings to the public for scrutiny

BY PETER SIMPSON

There’s something quite decadent about strolling down the street at twilight, then pausing on the sidewalk for a moment to sneak a peek through the window of a neighbour’s newly renovated home. If you have done that at some point — and I know you have — you won’t want to miss a one-day event that will allow folks to walk right across the thresholds of eight strangers’ homes to view their inspiring home makeovers.

The Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association and presenting sponsor FortisBC extend to home-renovation junkies an invitation to visit eight professionally renovated homes in Burnaby, North Vancouver, Surrey and Vancouver on Sunday, June 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Included are careful restorations of homes built in the 1900s, 1920s, 1930s and 1950s, the creation of a basement rental suite, and contemporary transformation of an entire house. Be prepared to ooh and aah over dream kitchens, lavish bathrooms, luxurious master suites and inviting outdoor spaces.

The award-winning renovators and their teams — perhaps even the proud homeowners – will be on site to discuss their craftsmanship and how the renovation process proceeded from start to finish. Project values range from $135,000 to more than $800,000, offering attendees an abundance of ideas they can incorporate in their own homes. I always head home with a notepad full of great ideas. Admission to this 19th annual event is by passport — $10 per person (children 17 and under are free). The passports can be purchased at any home, then used for entry to the remaining seven homes.

Part of the proceeds from passport sales help fund the purchase of tools, building materials and safety gear for students enrolled in an innovative carpentry-training program at Guildford Park and Frank Hurt secondary schools in Surrey. Each year, I meet the students and view their exceptional work. They enjoy learning new skills, and their efforts are acknowledged by their proud teachers and parents.

Wendy Wazny is the owner of a 2,400-square-foot bungalow that she and her husband built in Burnaby 27 years ago. In the mid-1990s, a bedroom was added and the master bedroom enlarged. The rest of the house was largely untouched, until January, when Wazny hired renovation contractor Shawn Stewart of RJR Construction Management to give her digs a major makeover.

“The home had sunken living and family rooms, outdated kitchen, little natural light and a wall-bound interior. We relocated the kitchen to take advantage of the backyard views, took down some walls, raised the family-room floor to the same level as the other rooms, added skylights and installed hardwood floors,” Stewart said. “The exterior is the same, but the interior has changed dramatically.”

Wazny said an open-concept interior was not a standard design feature when she built the house. Her living and dining rooms were seldom used, except for Christmas and Easter. With one daughter still at home, she wanted to take advantage of that unused space for gatherings of family and friends. “Everything went smoothly. After the design details were finalized, I didn’t have to make changes or compromises. From the moment the walls came down, I knew I had made the right decision,” Wazny said. “Visually, the difference is unbelievable. The house always had lots of space but the rooms felt isolated. Now when I walk in the house, it looks open and inviting. I couldn’t be happier.”

During the renovations, which were completed on April 1, two weeks ahead of schedule, the Wazny family lived in the basement. “It was not a problem. We had a fridge, hot plate and microwave. We ate lots of sandwiches, salads and microwave dinners, but it was worth it in the end,” Wazny said. “I can’t say enough about Shawn, his workers and his tradespeople. They cleaned up every night, followed the rules of the house, and did a great job,” Wazny said. “I am glad to be at the end of the renovation, but I’m loving our new space, and I’m flattered our home was chosen for the parade.”

As a member of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson’s task force on housing affordability, I am privy to discussions around what housing forms should be encouraged. Although members don’t always agree, a consensus was reached on two key forms – basement suites and laneway houses. One of the properties included on the parade offers both housing forms. Steve Kemp of Kemp Construction Management said the astute owner of a 1,600-square-foot westside arts-and-crafts home wanted to generate rental income from a renovated basement suite and newly built laneway house.

A strong foundation is paramount, so Kemp’s crew punched a hole in the basement wall and built a ramp, allowing a bobcat and mechanical digger to access the basement. The floor was lowered two feet to provide eight feet of headroom, then a new concrete foundation was reinforced with engineered footings and heavy-duty rebar, wrapped with waterproofing membrane, and insulated. “The architect who helped us with the basement waterproofing won an award for his work on the waterproofing details on the tunnels linking the islands in Japan,” Kemp said.

Before construction commenced, Kemp’s crew caulked and insulated the basement ceiling to mitigate noise transfer upstairs, ensuring there was minimal disruption to the owners’ daily routine. The seven-month project produced a roomy 900-square-foot rental suite with two bedrooms, 1½ baths, living and dining rooms, kitchen, laundry room and separate entry. The suite rented immediately.

“The owners knew what they wanted from the start, yet they were open to new ideas throughout the renovation process. The result was better than they originally planned,” Kemp said. “A huge side benefit is that my clients are now living in a house that is picking up far less moisture. When moisture evaporates to the inside of the house, it creates a higher demand on the heating system to keep the house dry. The amount of heat the owner now needs for his upstairs living space is substantially lower because he has a dry, heated and insulated basement below him.”

The 500-square-foot laneway house is nearly complete and will be open for viewing during parade hours. Visit www.gvhba.org to review the eight participating homes, including project descriptions, locations and before-and-after photographs. The event is limited to six hours, so plan your route to ensure sufficient time to visit specific homes that capture your interest. I look forward to seeing you on June 10.

Peter Simpson is the president and chief executive of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association. Email peter@gvhba.org

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