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i got the home reno blues…

April 15, 2008

zora naki

here is my cute small house.

we have 2 large people and 3 small people living in about 1000 square feet on the main floor. i know that this is a lot of room for some parts of the world, but we could use more space. i love my neighbourhood and house prices are still skyrocketing around here, just like in most parts of the city. but our house, such as it is, doesn’t accommodate us terribly well.

the plan for the last two years has been to reno the basement (a concrete shell filled with crap), adding a bathroom, more bedrooms, an office (we both work from home), a laundry room, and some storage. the basement (currently unfinished) measures about 7′ at its highest point. there are beams and ducts and things that drop lower than this in certain areas.

the house was built in 1940 for a lady for lived in it for the next 62 years. isn’t that something? it passed through the hands of an older couple who fixed it up a bit and then to us when we closed our eyes and spent an obscene amount of money to jump into the insane real estate market in these parts.

the house is pretty solid and the foundation is in decent shape. the first year, we replaced the old knob-and-tube wiring and the 30-year-old roof (actually roofs – the original one was still there underneath the top layer).

the second year, we were on the verge of starting the basement reno, and then ended up having to replace the drainage tile. a necessary job pre-reno, given the stream flowing through the basement, but depressing. all the money down the drain (snerk). we also added a baby.

so here it is, year three and i’m back at the drawing board. every time i open up this can of worms, i like to ponder all of the possibilities. ahem.

here are the reno options:

  1. knock down the house and build a new one. my friend S keeps telling me that new construction costs less per square foot than renovation does. pros: brand new house built to order. cons: massive amount of overall money and i like the flava of my existing house. plus, more environmentally friendly to reuse/repurpose/rehabilitate existing building.
  2. add a second floor. i would much rather live above ground than below. who wouldn’t? but, again, adding another floor would be very expensive, and we just replaced the roof – i’d hate to waste it. with the city’s zoning by-laws, our basement is counted as part of our allowable square footage, so we would only be able to add an additional 200 square feet. hardly worth it for the expense. the other option, according the helpful folks at the planning desk, is to fill in part or all of my basement so that the height of it is 4′ or less, thus designating it a crawlspace, and gaining back the square footage to build with. this seems insane to me.
  3. finish the basement as is. this is the most practical solution. the basement is in decent shape, it could be done fairly quickly, we could upgrade the electrical panel at the same time, add insulation, etc., etc. the downside (from my perspective) is that the ceiling is low. once we finish the space into the fabulous modern expanse of my dreams, it will be even lower. have i mentioned that my husband is 6’3″? i’m not exactly a shrimp myself. if we’re going to spend all of this money to finish the basement nicely, that we should make it a space that people (as opposed to hobbits) actually want to spend time in, i.e., as un-basement like as possible.
  4. dig down, lowering the basement floor. this is a hell of a job. it involves breaking up the concrete pad, underpinning the existing foundation, excavating and then reno-ing. it would increase ceiling height but would mean that we would need to re-lay the drainage tile around the house, several feet lower. it might mean that we would need to invest in a sump pump for a downstairs bathroom. it would increase ceiling height, but would not mitigate the dark, closed-in basement-y feel of the place (our basement windows already sit in window wells). expensive, and doesn’t seem worth the return.
  5. raise the house. i’m all gung-ho for this at the moment. a company comes in, jacks your house up 2.5′ in a day, you build a new pony wall between the top of the foundation and the bottom of the main floor, and away you go! the upside is increased ceiling height, more and better light (bigger windows), and working within the existing footprint of the house. it ain’t cheap though. i’m still trying to figure out just how much it would cost. The lifting (up, hold and lower back down) seems relatively straightforward. it’s all the other parts that concern me. most companies will not lift a house with chimneys attached. we have two – one for the woodburning fireplace, one for the furnace. removing and rebuilding these could run into the tens of thousands. we could switch furnaces to a high-efficiency model and then get rid of that chimney altogether, gaining back some space in the process. we could change the fireplace to a gas model (fire at the flick of a switch!) and get rid of that chimney as well. the major downside is that we would need to move out for months while the work was being done and we have a plaster/lathe house which means that we would probably have significant cracking inside and out (stucco and plaster repair). other thoughts: since the walls will be damaged anyways, this might be a good time to punch some holes and insulate with spray foam. lifting the house 2 feet would change the look of the place, and i’m not sure it would be for the better. some houses look very strange when they’re perched up in the air above where they were meant to be situated. plus (and most importantly), what impact is all of this going to have on my gardening?

i wish there was a polite way to ask people just how much their renovations really cost…

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