Monday, 15 April 2013

Tips for a low stress renovation experience

Our bathroom renovation feels so much less stressful than our kitchen reno was. We are so much more organized this time. During our kitchen renovation while work was already at full speed we were still frantically looking for a sink, picking out paint colours and tracking down window casings. It made the process very stressful. This time around, we wanted to be more organized. We bought everything we needed for the reno in advance right down to the door stopper and towel hooks. 

We also learned to communicate better with our tradesmen. To give you an example, we purchased a tile ready recessed shower niche from Home Depot that was installed into the wall opening by our builder. Here it is after the installation.

As I wanted to make the niche a feature in our bathroom we picked up 6X6 white tiles to create a design on the niche. I stayed up late the night before the tiling job began and made a simple drawing. Of course, Misha had a different idea so I actually had to make two drawings, one based on my idea and one based on his.

We settled on his idea and showed it to Daniel, our tiler. Daniel made some tweaks to the design, added some of his insights and we were all happy.

Misha also made a little sketch of our bathroom (to scale) to aid the tradesmen in coordinating their jobs and getting everything where we wanted it. Here he is working hard at it.

We neglected to make this type of a plan for our kitchen reno and as a result we ended up having to move one of the electrical boxes after the wall was already closed up. This time, Misha’s bathroom plan was used by all our workers and our builder even hung it up in the bathroom as a reference. It looked like we hired an architect; Misha did a great job!

We have learned a lot just by going through these renovations and definitely the more reno you do the better you get at it. Only a few more days and our bathroom will be done. I can't wait. We already love it!

Below are a few tips that might help you with your renovation planning.



Tips for a low stress renovation experience:

  1. Plan, plan, plan ahead– We spent about three months planning our new bathroom, which I heard is actually a short time.
  2. Buy everything in advance – Even the smallest thing is worth picking up before the renovation starts.  Once the work begins there will be many unexpected decisions that you will have to make.  Being organized will reduce your stress level significantly and you will be able to focus on the process more.
  3. Communicate your wants clearly; no detail is too small – During our kitchen reno we assumed that the tradesmen had the same vision as us and we were disappointed when things didn’t get done the way we wanted. So, never assume and always speak your mind; even if it feels like you are micromanaging.
  4. Review the completed work at the end of each day –We spent about 10 minutes at the end of each day going over the work that got done that day. We kept a piece of paper on our kitchen table where we wrote down daily what needed to be addressed the next day. We caught a couple things that we pointed out right away to our builder and he corrected them easily. If we had waited it would have been a much bigger issue as the reno progressed.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Green Living Show and what we liked about it

Today I was thinking that our house is a mess and the builder is still working on our bathroom so why not get out of the house and check out The Green Living Show . I proposed this idea to Misha and as it was a cold and rainy day, he quickly agreed. We had never been to The Green Living Show and we thought we might get some green project ideas, so there we went.

When we got there we were surprised to see so many people. We could barely get through some of the aisles especially the food ones. We began tracking in Misha's military grid line system, to not miss any booths. We passed by tons of organic food booths giving away free samples.

We briefly considered purchasing a bamboo vegetable brush, but resisted. I am happy about that.

We tried out organic mattresses. We will visit Soma Organic Mattresses at their retail location as they also sell organic couches that I would consider for our living room.

Misha couldn't resist discussing the plans of the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit with a Metrolinx employee. He was pressing him on how likely it is that this project will happen.

We signed an Environmental Defence petition for mandatory ingredient labeling...

...and took a picture with Kevin, from Eco Building Resource. He is our go to person when it comes to green renovation advice and products.

We got briefly tempted by the solar panels. It is a great idea but still very costly.

We checked out the green areas of the Greater Toronto Area...

...and loved the steel roofs on display. We will definitely consider them once the time comes to replace our asphalt shingles.

 We couldn't leave without a gardening idea. Misha might give this slug trap product a try.

And last but not least, I have to mention this buckwheat pillow that Misha was so fascinated by. It is filled with buckwheat husks. I told him that I will make him a buckwheat pillow like this for his birthday. He doesn't believe me.

It was great to see so many people being interested in green living. Hopefully this event will grow each year. If you are in the Toronto area, check it out, it is still on tomorrow.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Bathroom reno - There are always surprises when a wall comes down

Well, the demo has begun, and as usual the walls concealed some interesting surprises. First of all, the wall was made of a thick heavy cement which made the removal of the tub almost impossible. It had to be cut in two. Our builder was not happy; his charge at the transfer station dumping off the heavy cement was higher than expected.

Part of our bathroom wall

Secondly, we did not have  2 x 4 framing on the walls but instead 3/4" x 1 1/4" slats. This meant there was no room for the cotton insulation we had purchased.  We chose not to add 2 x 4 framing because of limited space and we would have had to give up the bathtub.

Bathroom walls opened up

 We briefly considered using 1/2" foam board, as suggested by our builder.  However, when we looked into it we found that it contains many toxic chemicals and if it burns it releases toxic fumes.  Reject!  We also looked at cork board but we only had a day to source it before the walls were closed up so we did not have time to look for it.

Once we realized we could only put 1/2" insulation in our walls and the insulating benefit would be minimal, whatever product we used, we decided to use no insulation.  Since we did not use any insulation we also chose not to use a vapour barrier. The cement board is mold resistant and dries if it gets wet.  There is a school of thought that believes that plastic vapour barriers can cause unwanted condensation.  The bonus is that we don't use any plastic.

This may seem controversial but having a green home is not just about saving energy.  A completely sealed and insulated home keeps the heat in, but also keeps off gassing toxins in your home and fresh air out.  We made the best decision we could in our circumstance to balance energy saving and air quality.  


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Bathroom reno - It's happening!

The demolition of our bathroom has began. Yay! This is always the most exciting part for me; the beginning of the reno. The walls have been removed, the toilet, tub, sink are gone.  Our bathroom is transformed into an empty cavity. There is no return at this point.

We will keep you posted about how things are going. So far we found one unexpected surprise; see next post coming soon.

P. S. I am getting used to (reluctantly), using the basement toilet. I haven't even walked in there since we moved in as it is in a very bad shape. When I say bad I mean REALLY bad. Each time I walk in there I have to tell myself that "it's not that bad, you can do it Mia, just don't look around".


Sunday, 7 April 2013

Bathroom reno update - How we found a storage alternative

Storage space is an issue in our small bathroom.  While we don’t have many toiletries we still need some storage. Our new bathtub will be 3" larger than our old one so we have to give up on having a vanity and will be getting a pedestal sink. The only viable storage option left is a medicine cabinet. 

While they seem to be a thing of the past, I still find them quite charming. I like the ones with large wood trims and large mirrors. Getting one of these wood cabinets was my original idea but I quickly realized that it would look too bulky in our small space. 

We needed to look for a recessed cabinet to avoid adding bulk to the wall. We found a few options at Home Depot and Lowe’s; they were frameless with a more modern look like this Kohler one.

After sitting with the idea for a while, I started liking the thought of pairing up the modern frameless mirror with the more traditional subway tiles. I also thought two medicine cabinets would work better than one, as they would balance out our small space and would provide double storage. I know it’s unusual to have two, but I can see them working out.

To make sure the size and look of the cabinets would work well in our bathroom I did a small experiment; I used painter’s tape to create the exact sized mirrors that are on the medicine cabinets we picked out. It was easy to do as I only needed to tape over our existing mirror.

It worked well and we got a good idea of how they would look. Misha also bought into it and we are ready to move on to the last stage of our planning process; booking the contractors.


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

It's time for indoor seed planting

Whether you have a big backyard vegetable garden or a few planters on your balcony, this is the right time to start your seeds indoors. It is not complicated and you can save a lot of money by starting your favourite plants from seeds. 

I took advantage of today's cold weather and set up my seed planting operation in our basement. I gathered the seed starting containers I had bought; some were made of cardboard and some were made of coconut shells.  It still baffles me why natural biodegradable coconut seed trays would come wrapped in plastic.  We only bought a couple packs to try for that reason.  The cardboard ones did not come in plastic so we bought more of those.    

I used a tray to put them on to contain the mess.

I dumped the seed starter mix in a bucket and added water as recommended to moisten the soil before putting it into the seed trays.  This ensures the seed mix is moistened all the way through.  If you put it into the seed trays dry, it is hard to get the peat moss to absorb water.  Pouring the water in first and stirring it really made planting and watering easier.

I poured the soil into the containers then smoothed it out making sure each container was filled.

 I pressed the seeds in to the recommended depth on the back of the seed package. I put 2 to 5 seeds per container, depending on the type of seed, in case one or more of the seeds does not germinate.  If more than one germinate I will thin them or split them and transplant them into separate containers.  

I used popstickle sticks to write the names of the seeds on and mark their location. 

I gave them a last spray of water...

..and found a sunny window for them. For germination they need lots of warmth.  Once they sprout they will also need the maximum amount of light.

I will keep a close eye on them and keep them moist. These seedlings will be ready to be planted outside in about a month, around the last frost day. Today I planted cabbage, squash, sunflowers, tomatoes, herbs and flowers. I will give you an update on how well they do once we move them to the mud room to harden them off. If you have kids get them involved. They love helping and there is a lot they can do with this simple project.