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.

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...