Posts filed under ‘Renovation’

Home Renovation: Demolish your waste

Meet my friend, Mr. Rip & Tear

This past November weekend was gorgeous here in Toronto. While we’d had snow by this time last year, I have flowers blooming in the containers on my doorstep (no, I haven’t finished winterizing my garden yet). I didn’t spend a lot of time outside, however, because it was time to replace our back door. What can I say, it’s a great source of fresh air (even when shut).

Like many renovation jobs, however, you can’t just take measurements, swap in the new thing and be finished. Oh no. “What are the brick-to-brick measurements?” the door store would like to know. We have to get a custom-sized door because it’s a small opening size, and we’d like to install the door ourselves, since installation service seems to cost about $400.

To determine the brick-to-brick measurements, we had to strip off all the wall materials and trim around the door. Easy, right? Well, two days later we’d pulled down two small interior walls and all kinds of cladding, dealt with some odd wiring and become pros with a reciprocating saw (aka Mr. Rip & Tear). We could see the mortar and brick around the door to take measurements, and uh oh, we had a lot of waste to deal with.

Here are a few ideas on how to reduce the waste:
– Pull nails from all of the structural wood you’re ripping out. Good straight 2x4s, and even long pieces of 2×4, are certainly worth reusing. If you can’t reuse them, freecycle them.
– If you’re getting material hauled away, look for a company that recycles. Many can recycle wood.
– Freecycle or donate any fixtures, switch plate covers and other materials you remove.
– Keep a box of hazardous materials, such as old smoke detectors, for disposal at a designated municipal site.
– Offer chunks of unpainted wood to someone with a fireplace. Bits of wood can make great kindling!

How have you dealt with your construction waste?

November 23, 2009 at 5:48 PM 1 comment

Quick work for your brickwork

Mauern - build 01After visits by ghouls, princesses and Dracula this Hallowe’en weekend, and with all the candy chased out of the house, it was finally time to to finish some energy-saving projects. Aside from typical fall homeowner stuff – raking leaves and emptying eavestroughs, I finally finished the brick work I talked about a few weeks ago, posted here.

My home is a small brick bungalow. It’s in pretty good shape overall, but a lot of little things need attention. A couple of months ago I hired Mike from Red Robin to come and replace some damaged bricks. We even had a few bricks missing on the bottom of one corner of the house! Others had become soft, likely because water had seeped in. Mike pointed out that the mortar between the brick was set too far back, particularly for the base of a wall, making it easy for water to settle on top of the brick and seep down.

When Mike finished replacing the damaged bricks, I vowed to follow-up with the tuck pointing, since there were a lot of gaps, and yes even some holes between the bricks – obvious points of heat loss. Yesterday I finally got around to it. Here’s what I did, for those of you interested in giving your brickwork a little makeover.

I bought mortar mix that takes about 72 hours to fully dry. It stays wet enough to work with for an hour or so. Using a paint mixer chucked into a drill, I slowly mixed in the water, using the base of a juice jug as a bucket (I cut off the top, but left the handle intact). I donned a pair of thin rubber gloves, and assembled my tools: a ladder, a trowel, an old screwdriver an old toothbrush and a spritz bottle.

As I combed the brickwork all the way around the house, from the top of the wall to its base, every time I found a crack or hole I’d use the screwdriver to break out any loose material, then use the toothbrush to clear out the dust. Next I spritzed the crack with water, since the mortar adheres better to a damp surface. If I had a big gap to fill I’d use the trowel, but most of the time I’d just pick up a small handful of mortar and squeeze it into a cylindrical shape, then use my fingers to squeeze it into the gap, tapping it in as far as it would go. I tried to avoid getting mortar on the brick, since it leaves a whitish haze, but I used the toothbrush to remove the mortar I’d missed. Finally, I’d swipe a finger over the wet mortar to smooth it out. (You could use a jointing tool for this purpose as well.)

That’s it! While I’m sure that adding more insulation will do more to prevent heat loss than sealing tiny cracks in the mortar, surely it will help.

Do you have to do anything to get your home ready for winter?

November 2, 2009 at 11:50 AM Leave a comment

Attic insulation: lessons from above


Gateway to the attic

If you’ve ever done a home renovation project, you know that the project you intend to complete isn’t the one you need to start with.

For example, my partner and I would like to add additional insulation to our attic, so we can make sure we’re using as little energy as possible to heat our home. The attic currently sports a messy mix of fibreglass batts and cellulose. According to our energy audit the level of insulation there only amounts to R 19.9 (R level is a measure of insulation value), whereas the EcoEnergy program recommends R 50.

That project will involve us calling in some help in sealing tops of walls with foam boxes and blowing in more cellulose insulation. But first, before we can do any of that, we have to replace the bathroom vent, and make sure it’s vented it outside. You see, the existing bathroom vent, which is mounted over the bathroom in the attic, isn’t well sealed, and it wasn’t properly vented either, so it spewed warm, moist air into the attic. Yesterday a roofer came by to install a roof vent for the bathroom fan. Excited by the upgrade, my partner decided we should connect our existing bath fan to the roof vent right away. So off to the home centre we went. Half an hour later we had all the insulated ducting, tape and fittings to do the job, and thanks to my partner’s handiwork, the fan is now vented outdoors.

So now we can get on with the business of insulating the attic!

Well, after we have a look at the electrical…

Have you added insulation to your home lately, or are you trying to plan the job?

October 29, 2009 at 10:49 AM Leave a comment

Cities Alive tour showcases green roofs

I just found out about a tour of green roofs on in Toronto this week, part of a program called Cities Alive. The tour is part of a push to show how helpful green roofs can be in reducing resource use.

Green roofs and green walls absorb heat (reducing cooling costs in summer), insulate (reducing heating costs in winter), capture carbon dioxide, emit oxygen, and even create a sense of serenity among the hard surfaces of urban landscapes. While planning a green roof may be easier in creating new buildings, the Cities Alive tour features the YMCA’s green roof retrofit project. Thanks to a $250,000 grant from TD Bank, as well as thousands of hours of volunteer time, the YMCA was able to build a new green roof as part of their running track at the Metro-Central YMCA at 20 Grosvenor Street, Toronto. YMCA members will be able to go for a run or take a yoga class on the green roof, a little green oasis in the city!

To read more on how the YMCA green roof came together, have a look at the project blog.

October 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM 1 comment

Fall renovations: improving energy efficiency

iStock_brickwallFollowing my Eco Energy Retrofit audit from nearly a year ago, my partner and I are trying to figure out the best ways to make our home more energy efficient. Among other recommendations, our auditor suggested we seal drafts. My weekend project (or one of them) involves working from the outside of the house in. I plan to fill in all the little cracks and holes in the mortar between our brickwork (for more reasons than one: did you know that mice can wiggle through a hole the size of a dime?) made over time by temperature changes and by drilling holes for cables, etc.

I’ll also add a crack-filling sealer to joints between asphalt paving and the house. I’ve already filled in larger holes with expanding foam, including around exterior hose pipes.

Next, I’ll move inside and look for open spaces around baseboards and window frames.

Have you found any major air leaks in your home?

October 1, 2009 at 7:55 PM 3 comments

Green home heating option: High-efficiency heat pump

How else to heat the house?

How else to heat the house?

Now that the nights are cooling down here in Toronto, home heating is back on the radar. My 1940s home has radiators powered by gas, which makes for a nice warm feel, but I’d like to move to a greener option.

If we had forced air ductwork, I’d look at a high-efficiency heat pump. There is an air-source option now available from Mitsubishi. The Zuba-Central both heats and cools, and unlike most air-source heat pumps sold in Canada, it’s able to run efficiently when it’s as cold as -30 degrees C outside. (It will work in lower temperatures, just not at the same efficiency level.) The Zuba-Central connects to your existing forced air infrastructure using an internal unit that replaces your furnace and an external unit that collects or sheds heat energy (depending on the season) via a coolant loop. I think it’s a great option – but for my home, I have to wait for a ductless version, since we only have radiators.

Of course, for those of you with suitable property, there are geothermal options. While these are typically $30,000 plus to install, they are very efficient.

To make geothermal or air-source heat pumps even greener, you could change your household electricity provider to Bullfrog Power (or another renewable energy provider). Then you’d be running a super-efficient furnace without burning any fossil fuels at all, effectively heating your home without a carbon impact. Wow!

To address our situation, my partner and I are evaluating on-demand hot-water systems that will power my household hot water and the radiators as well, perhaps fed by a solar hot water heater mounted on the roof. Or perhaps we could have ductwork installed in our attic. It’s not easy to retrofit an older home!

Are you trying to move to a greener home heating option?

September 16, 2009 at 11:01 AM 1 comment

Plumbing renovations: what makes the best pipe?

That was one bad pipe!

That was one bad pipe!

Gazing up at the maze of plumbing between our floor joists, a plumber we invited in to consult on our water system recommended that when replacing copper and galvanized steel pipes, we should use PEX, the flexible plastic tubing now common in plumbing installations. He noted that it was more affordable because it was so much faster and easier for him to install. But then he volunteered that he wouldn’t have it in his home, since his wife was pregnant.

We’ve learned a lot about creating a safe water supply, and I think we shouldn’t be too quick to forget the lessons that lead pipes have taught us. Why go from a bad known to a convenient unknown? The plastic PEX and PVC pipes might be safe, but we’ve learned a lot about small amounts of material leaching from plastic when it’s heated — and our hot-water heaters send hot water to our taps at a fairly hot temperature. Copper pipes have been in use for about 50 years, and though they’re a little harder to install, they are very durable and safe, from a health point of view. I’ve read that a lot of copper tubing and fittings are made with recycled copper. Since it’s a valuable material, it’s worth reclaiming.

My partner tackled a plumbing project last weekend — I was the wrecking crew, pulling away old ceiling material and insulation so that he could easily access the plumbing at hand. (Do not underestimate the value of a shop vacuum as a “green cleaning” tool for sucking up material you don’t want to touch!) Shown above is the nasty, dripping steel pipe we replaced; in its place is a neat network of copper pipes, complete with a couple of shut-off valves so we can easily stop the flow of water to various parts of the house. Sure, plastic might have taken less time, but hey, we’re worth the extra trouble.

Are you tackling any DIY projects around your home? Are you trying to pick healthy / green choices?

August 11, 2009 at 11:59 AM 1 comment

Make painting even greener

Enviro_GroupshotAfter blogging about recycled paint on Tuesday, I found out about some Canadian-made painting accessories made with recycled, recyclable materials. Dynamic Paint Products makes a paint roller made from 100 per cent post-consumer recycled plastic, as well as paint trays made from recycled, recyclable plastic. Their “Enviro-Brush” has a removeable handle, making cleaning easier and allowing you to reuse the handle if the brush component can’t be reused.

I have a bunch of renovations to do in the next year, including gutting the main bathroom as well as the basement, so I’m going to need some good tools like this to keep the waste to a minimum!

Of course, being green is also about not using more than you need. Click here for a helpful article on about estimating your paint requirements.

July 23, 2009 at 10:12 AM 2 comments

Fascinating fact on kitchen cabinets

Dishes In the CabinetIn preparing for an upcoming Homemakers magazine story, I interviewed Christine Lolley of Solares yesterday. Solares is an architectural firm specializing in sustainable design; Christine is a LEED-certified architect and the firm’s co-founder. Among the fascinating facts about homebuilding materials Christine shared was a shocker about kitchen cabinets. Most veneered particleboard cabinets are made with adhesives containing formaldehyde, a volatile organic compound (VOC), toxic irritant and a carcinogen. While some VOCs can off-gas fairly quickly, the formaldehyde in kitchen cabinets can take as long as 15 years to dissipate! Naturally, Lolley recommends solid wood with a VOC-free finish, or an Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, formaldehyde-free compound material.

How have you tried to build a healthy environment in your home?

June 5, 2009 at 11:29 AM 1 comment

Creating a healthy workspace

lightworkspace_BartlettI’m enjoying being on the green committee here at Homemakers’ offices. We just got started, but it’s neat to collaborate on ideas for greening the office. I’m not surprised that there are so many like-minded people here, but I’m intrigued by some of their ideas — things I hadn’t thought of, like moving from sugar packets to diner-style dispensers in the kitchen and hosting clothing swaps. I’ve noticed that there is a lot of overlap between what is better at the office environmentally and what’s better from a health perspective. If we were to move into a new office space, or renovate, I think there are a lot of health and environment-related changes we should try to incorporate.

I asked Inger Bartlett, owner and founder of Bartlett & Associates, a 25-year-old, award-winning commercial interior design firm in Toronto, to share her expertise on creating a healthy office.

1. Access to daylight
-More positive work experience and morale
-Reduces carbon footprint

2. Indirect lighting & lighting sensors:
-Eliminates glare on computer screens
-Energy savings, reduced operating costs

3. Good air quality, HVAC, windows that open
-Improved indoor air environment
-Improved energy levels and overall health/productivity

4. Ergonomic, adjustable furniture:
-Proper computer chairs are critical and lead to increased productivity
-Reduced workplace injuries

5. Non-toxic materials (carpets, paints, etc.):
-No off-gassing from chemicals
-Healthier indoor air environment
-Enhanced productivity

Bartlett says that all elements listed contribute to LEED Green Building criteria, a standard in energy efficiency, durability and other green factors to look for if you’re buying a new home or office space.

Do you feel that your workplace (or home office) is healthy? What would you do to improve it?

May 11, 2009 at 3:19 PM Leave a comment

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