Monday, December 14, 2015

Roof and such

I missed a couple of updates, but the big event two weeks ago was getting the roof trusses on. Today we had a look at last weeks progress. It basically amounted to getting the roof shingled, which happened last Monday, and some interior framing. On the logistics side there was a bit of running around figuring out what to do about two windows which were looking too big. Thankfully the builder's project manager caught it and got everything sorted out. She's really on the ball when it comes to organizing all the details.

The plumber bailed out so no plumbing got done last week as planned. It is planned for this week instead.

Here are a few of the latest pics!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

More walls

Not much to report this week, except most of the interior walls are built on the second level. Now we can start to see the real shape and scale of things. My one concern after seeing it is the ofuro (Japanese bath) area. It seems smaller than expected, although still hard to tell with lumber laying around. I need to check the dimensions with the architect. 

Last week we found out the ensuing bathroom was in the wrong place by about a foot, so some new parts were ordered and that's being remedied this week as well, apparently.

Here are a couple photos of the second level.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Weekly update - upward!

It was neat to arrive Monday to see second story walls up! Visible progress has been slow, despite the fact that work was being done on the floor joists, which turned out to be rather complicated. The complicated floor structure is due partly to the 6" overhang at the back of the house. This means very few of the upstairs walls rest firmly upon the lower walls. To support overhangs on four sides, the joists must run in two different directions. Had we known this earlier we would have tried to avoid the 6" overhang at the back, which hardly seems necessary given the added complexity. I guess the benefit of the doubt must be given to the architect. Fitting the rooms in the footprint of a 1950's tiny bungalow was not easy.

Our excitement at seeing the second story walls framed in was dampened when we saw that only the front walls had been done, and then learning that the trusses needed to be re measured and due for delivery 10 days later than originally planned. Then, it was discovered today that a section of the new floor under the rear bathroom had been measured and built in the wrong place - off by a foot. Thankfully our builder realized the problem and has set about to correct it. He estimated a delay of about two days, and considering the trusses were delayed also, hopefully the timing will all come together next week for getting all the framing completed.

Last week it was also revealed that the design and construction of the stairs is not owned by the architect and his engineer. When stairs and railings are made of wood and typical framed walls, the building code covers them. For anything involving non standard materials and techniques, the city inspector may require an engineers stamp. And it's a good idea to have one, since we certainly want things to be sturdy and safe. There's a fair bit of figuring out to do though, regarding stairs, so I'll post more on that later.

Nobody said renovation was going to be easy. Quite the opposite!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Steel is up

In the last two days there's been some great progress, with the steel flush beam installed in the main floor, and two steel beams for the second floor in place. With the steel flush beam installed, the dip in the old floor is gone and we have the extra headroom in the basement. The steel on the second level is needed to support the stairwell area and the small indoor garden area beside it.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Weekly check-in: Materials update

November is here, and thankfully so are some of our materials. The steel beams for the house are in the yard and ready to go in today! The crew is making final preparations to the walls and prepping the basement. A 24' long steel "flush beam" is going into the basement, replacing the large spruce beam and metal jack posts of the original house. This will create a level ceiling with consistent height and no support posts in the middle of the room, making the basement a much nicer space.

Joists should be delivered tomorrow and framing of the second level should be underway within a few days. It's exciting to finally see some of the major structural pieces starting to happen.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Last week work was halted while the electricity got disconnected. In spite of the delay we began to see some progress on framing. The process is complicated by the fact that the height of the one remaining concrete block wall must be heightened and reinforced with rebar. At this point the rebar has been added and a good part of the first floor framing done. The plan for the week is to add three new rows of concrete block on the east wall and bring in the rest of the materials needed for framing the second level. Due to one of the joist suppliers shutting down, there have been delays in getting these materials as well.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Walls come tumbling down

The week got off to a pretty good start. With the roof gone, work started on enlarging window openings. It was soon discovered that after cutting openings in the concrete block walls, very little block was left over and it hardly made sense to keep. So the decision was made to simple remove the majority of the concrete block.

This was the view on Monday.

And on Tuesday.

The framing work started. Unfortunately on Wednsday the City came by and issued a stop work order due to concerns about the electrical connection still being hooked up. 

Seems like our neighbor called in to complain and try to make things difficult. Its silly because when this same individual began his own construction project next door and destroyed half our driveway, I didn't complain at all. Some people are just ignorant. Oh well, we should be back on track next week hopefully.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pop the Top

Today the roof got removed! Nice weather for it, clear and cool. Hopefully it doesn't rain for a while now.

Next we have to raise the level of the walls, which are made out of concrete block, pour a "bond beam" with concrete and rebar around the top perimeter, and enlarge openings for the new windows.

Evidently rebar is in short supply in Ottawa right now. Hopefully it won't cause too many delays because the block work and bond beam needs to be done before the framing for the second storey and new roof can start.

With the new foundation poured, the backfill in, and the roof off, it looks like things are finally starting to progress in the upwards direction on our renovation.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Weekly check-in: waiting sucks

Things are somewhat in a holding pattern. We're waiting for financing to be finalized and for details from the soil engineer about how much underpinning may be required. Another factor has been the discovery that our walls are made entirely of concrete block, so while everything else is dragging along, there has also been a fair bit of back-and-forth between the architect, the builder and the engineer to figure out the best approach for building the second-story addition on top of all that concrete block. It's unclear at the moment whether we should try to remove all the concrete block simply build on top of it.

In the meantime, there has been incremental progress on gutting the basement. Most of the flooring, ceiling and walls have been removed at this point, but for the most part there is not visible evidence of significant progress.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Weekly check-in: Slow demo

More demolition has happened on the interior. The kitchen and bathroom are still mostly intact - they wanted a functional bathroom for as long as possible - but the rest of the main floor is gutted, including the flooring. A good bit of the basement is demolished as well. Demolition progress has been quite slow. I'm not sure who our builder has subcontracted to do it, but unlike other crews I've seen who come in with an army and demo an entire house in two days, this outfit showed up with three guys, two of whom did nothing but get drunk, break a bunch of lights and windows, and then get fired. Leaving one wiry guy who appears to be doing all the work himself, armed with a crowbar, a blue recycle bin that he uses to tip one load of rubbish at a time into the dumpster, and a full-face dust mask. I was informed he had paid $200 for it. I've been by the house a few times and found work boots, clothes and tools left out in the rain. Everything is left lying around, and it appears that a cat took a shit in his fancy dust mask.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Moving Rocks

Working outside is a good way to use up nervous energy, and I've had more than enough of that lately. We have been hit with a number of delays.

The demolition work has been going very slowly. The crew has been reduced to one guy working at it with some hand tools and a bucket. The main reason for the delay, however, is that we found out the foundation will require some underpinning. Tests from the soil engineer are being done, so there's a lot of back and forth between them and the builder.

We're also waiting for some of the financing details to be finalized as we have applied for a much better loan arrangement with a prime lender. Our builder says excavation will begin soon. But understandably, he can't begin digging until financing is finalized. The plus side is that by applying and waiting for this better financing arrangement, we will save quite a bit of money in fees and interest.

Its frustrating to have unexpected delays, but in the meantime, I decided to put my anxious energy to work and moved a bunch of rocks away from the house. They're lovely river rocks and flagstones, and I'm hoping that we can use the material for landscaping later. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Books: Making Shoji & Japanese Houses

I got a couple of books from Amazon this week. Two of them are about making Shoji, and one is called "Measure and Construction of the Japanese House".

Shoji are a typical and very characteristic feature of a Japanese house. They're essentially a sliding wooden door frame covered with translucent white paper. It's hard to get good shoji in North America. Most of the ones available are from Taiwan, and the construction is for the mass market. The shoji in Japan are of a much higher quality. The really good ones are hand crafted with incredible attention to detail. There are factory produced shoji screens in Japan as well, but even the less expensive ones in Japan are really very nice. I know of at least one local wood worker who produces shoji screens. Unfortunately they're pretty expensive and they seem to be more westernized in appearance than the authentic Japanese shoji screens.

Real Japanese shoji screens are made by carpenters who specialize in the shoji craft and have many years of training. Using simple hand tools and traditional techniques, they hand-craft the shoji screens with incredible precision and beauty. They really are works of art. Yet they appear to be deceptively simple; a wooden frame and a paper covering. While I could never make an authentic shoji screen, I got these books on making shoji and took a couple of wood working courses with the though that I could probably construct a simpler version of shoji screens for our house. The book pictured here, "Making Shoji", discusses the traditional Japanese method of shoji construction, but also provides some tips on using simpler western tools and techniques that are within the reach of a hobbyist woodworker.

Regardless of whether or not I actually attempt to build some shoji screens, these books are fun to read and full of interesting diagrams. I enjoy owning them, and I'm sure they'll provide inspiration for various projects in the future, and help us make decisions about how we want to decorate the interior of our house.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Permit Received

We finally got our building permit from the City of Ottawa. It was a complete fiasco getting this thing done and took nearly two months while we waiting for the churn of bureaucracy and poured money down the drain of monthly rental fees. The main reason for the delay was the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. They were really quick when it came to calling and getting my credit card to pay for their review and application process. But after paying for the application, it seems the person on staff who's responsible for the review went on vacation for four weeks and left us waiting.

In hindsight, even though we were told by the architect "You should have the permit in a couple of weeks", it wasn't a good idea to take their word for it. It turned out to be months. It would have been better to wait until we actually had the building permit in hand before looking for a rental apartment, moving and spending all that money. People go on vacation, reviews get held up, and the churn of bureaucracy can be very slow. So just a word of caution for anyone who is planning to renovate: don't count on the permit till you have it in hand, especially if the RVCA or other institutions are involved in any way.

It turns out the permit arrived just in time, because our neighbour called the city to complain and the bylaw officer came by and asked to see it. No real reason for the complaint, just trying to stir the pot, apparently. Technically the permit wasn't needed to do interior demolition - particularly if you're only doing interior renovations - but in any case, the builder was on site with the permit in hand, and the bylaw officer was satisfied. Our street is notorious for people calling the city to complain about construction, but for the most part people know we're a couple with a new baby who're renovating our family home, not just some property developer looking to swoop in and build a massive thing for maximum profit. So for that reason I think most people have been pretty supportive even though the site has gotten messy at times.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Weekly check-in: Interior Demolition

We started gutting the inside of the house. Even though the City has signed off on the permit we need a sign-off from the RVCA before we can get the permit, and it seems their main reviewer guy has gone on vacation for a month.  In the meantime we can only do some interior demolition. We're also breaking the concrete slab in the basement to dig a couple of test pits for soil engineering. Hopefully the soil samples are good and the footings wide enough to support the weight of the new addition, otherwise there will be more delays and expenses to fortify the foundation.

Sunday, April 5, 2015


There was a lot of snow this winter. Over about a month from March 8th to April 7th I took one picture every week to see how much the snow was melting.  This is what it looked like.

The images aren't lined up so the effect is a bit wobbly, but you get the idea what it was like watching that huge snow pile melt away week by week. Hopefully by this time next year we'll be setting into our newly renovated place.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Here's the main reason why we decided to make a second-storey addition on our house: a new addition to our family.  Her name is Leah, but I usually call her "Bean".

Bean is pretty happy most of the time, because she doesn't have to worry about renovating a house, or work, and stuff like that.

Bean got off to a pretty rough start in her little life but we're super fortunate to have the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) here in Ottawa, and a world-class team of neonatal intensive care, cardiology and surgical specialists. Bonus that we live only 5 minutes away.

This picture is in the house while we wait for final permit drawings and approvals. Once they're done we'll have to move out to a rented apartment. Bean is doing just fine now.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Japanese / Canadian Renovation

Hi, this is my blog about a Japanese / Canadian renovation of a small 1950's era "storey and a half" bungalow in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. This whole process started over three years ago when I reached out to a few local architects to see what it would take to design a second-storey addition for the house.

The original house is about 24' x 28', minus one set-back corner, with less than 700 square feet on the main floor. The basement level features a nice walk-out that lets in lots of natural light.

There were a bunch of objectives you might expect of a renovation:
  • more space, obviously
  • a functional kitchen to replace the tiny, awkward layout f the exiting one
  • improved insulation and damp-proofing
  • plumbing and electrical rough-ins in the basement to enable it to be used as an in-law suite
  • improving drainage in the basement walk-out area
But the real reason I started looking for architects is because of the Japanese features I wanted:
  • a Japanese-style "ofuro" bathing room.
  • a tatami room with real tatami mats
  • a design that blended western and Japanese aesthetics (something Frank Lloyd Wright did).

After selecting an architectural firm, the design process itself took a long time, but we eventually got a design that we were fairly happy with. There were things we'd have wished to be different but couldn't do, because of the shape of the original house, the narrow lot, proximity to the flood plain and other issues that came up during the whole design process.

This shows the final design as of April 2015. Overall this is a pretty good interpretation of the Japanese / Canadian idea and will be really nice when it's finished.

The Top of the Slope

After a year-long hiatus I've been wanting to get back to this blog because a lot has happened in the meantime, and a lot of interesting...