This ain’t no cottage

The Cottages on Salt Spring Island. Courtesy, Steve MacNaull

Case No. 823, titled “The year-long investment,” has Mr. Bill Granite, aka “Crusher” to his buddies – due in part to Granite’s profession of pounding stones into gravel, and being capable of reducing an expired beer can into a pancake by firmly pressing it against his forehead – looking to spend his weekends by the water.

As a result, a “Cottage for sale” sign, located about 2.5 hours from his Toronto home, has garnered his attention.

First, I think we need to have the Webster Dictionary people either eliminate the term cottage from our vocabulary, or come up with a better word to define what exactly people are getting themselves into.

As I recall, our cottage on Stanley Island was essentially a four-wall, one-roof, 20’ x 30’ structure, supported by concrete blocks about two feet off the ground. By today’s standards, it would be like building a residence on top of a standard backyard deck.

We had electricity, and indoor plumbing, with the water pumped into the cottage directly from the river.

Water purification system? None that I can recall, other than a piece of metal screening loosely fitted at the submerged end of the flexible pipe. The screen basically prevented small stones and sea shells from entering the system, with river bacteria and most other components allowed to flow in freely. But hey, we were always healthy, and rarely missed a day of work or play.

Upon arriving at this residence for the first time, it was clearly evident that this structure was not a cottage, at least by my definition.

What stood before us was a nice, but still modest, 1,600-square-foot bungalow, equipped with all the heating, cooling, multiple bath and shower conveniences of any regular home. The house also had a full basement, which spanned most of the home’s square footage, with the exception of the crawl space found under a most recent addition.

Essentially, this was a home, and would have been called such in any other environment, except for the fact there was a great big expanse of water in front of it, thereby earning its classification as a cottage.

Besides having country experienced friends on board to offer advice, Crusher also engaged the help of a professional home inspector, which is a good idea, and something I would definitely recommend all potential home buyers do before signing on the dotted line.

Friends will usually tell you all the good things about the home, while a home inspector will do a thorough inspection (which should take about two-to-three hours) then give you the straight facts about the joint.

After walking through the home and inspecting the grounds, there were minor issues here and there that were certainly noteworthy, however, the big issue from my perspective, and the one undeniable factor regarding this purchase, was the fact this was an investment in a second home, not a cottage.

Prepping our cottage for the winter months meant disconnecting the water pump, pulling the line out of the river, boarding up a few windows and doors, then motioning to the summer homestead with a final “see ya in six months” salute.

You can’t do that with a modern home, unless of course it’s located in Arizona, where the humidity varies from dry, to very dry.

However, this residence faces the winds of Lake Ontario 365 days per year— winds that’ll not only be pelting this home with rain, snow, and sleet every other weekend, but will be enveloping this house with sufficient humidity to effectively grow mushrooms on the ceilings. The battle to keep this “cottage” viable is going to be, like any other home, a full-time job.

So, does a person move forward with such a purchase? As long as you realize you’ll be caring for and paying expenses on two homes, instead of one and a half, like you might have expected, it’s all good.

Next week, the cottage inspection.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Here are some more wish list tips

Postmedia Network

As you contemplate your next renovation or upcoming new home build over the winter months, let’s review some of the various home “wish list” features you should be discussing with your architect or home builder while this whole process is still in the drawing stage.

Having to scrap a few blueprint drawings will only draw the ire of your contractor, or minimally throw them into a pout.

Conversely, waiting to make a change or voicing your opinion only after the concrete in the foundation has dried will certainly have your builder self-medicating.

So, if there are changes to be made in your future home or addition, be sure to speak up before the heavy equipment arrives. Plus, avoid the, “all I want out of this new home is a kitchen with an island, and a soaker type tub in the master bathroom, and nothing else matters,” type of thinking.

Submerging yourself in a bubble bath is indeed pleasurable, while kitchens with islands are great— although in my experience during general gatherings, they tend to attract storytellers so full of the drink you will indeed feel like you’re trapped on some secluded isle.

If you’re splitting the reno between rooms, be sure to divide your energy and attention over the entire project. If not, you may get the kitchen you want, but you risk bumping your head on the furnace ductwork in the basement for the next 20 years because you failed to follow up on the mechanical portion of the project.

Last week we talked about the added value of a walk-out basement, second-story balcony, and what the natural light bonus of a few skylights can provide to a new home. Today, we’ll be adding to our wish list of home features, which essentially means getting things right the first time, starting with the aforementioned full-ceiling height basement.

Built in the 1970s, the construction of our present home unfortunately corresponded with the making of the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, whereby our furnace ductwork was evidently installed by a team of Oompa Loompas on furlough.

Mechanically we’re good. Everything works. The only issue is with some of the ductwork and heating vents strategically installed slightly below the six-foot level at various intervals, only my wife and our cats can safely navigate the basement. As a result, our basement area serves the home well enough as a storage space, but due to a lack of foresight on behalf of the original builder, the chance of this relatively large area providing comfortable living space has basically been forfeited.

So, be sure to discuss the basement’s ceiling height with your contractor. Basically, the supporting beams, joists, and everything mechanical (furnace ductwork, electrical, and plumbing) should be at least 8’6” to nine feet off your finished concrete floor. This way, a drop ceiling and any future lighting or electrical work can be comfortably installed below the existing floor joists and beams.

You may never finish your basement, but maybe the next homebuyer will, making a full-height basement ceiling nothing but engineering dollars well spent.

Next item on the wish list, keeping your washer and dryer on the same level as your bedrooms— or your best bet, one-level living. Basically, we’re trying to eliminate having to climb stairs, especially while having to carry a hamper full of clothes, or even a vacuum.

This step-saving, more efficient type of living not only will make things easier for young people, with young families, but will of course serve you better in your senior years.

Next, and staying on the home efficiency theme, eliminate a few walls, especially those between kitchen and dining room, or kitchen and living room.

Segregating people at gatherings involving friends and family is passé. Have your living space as open and free flowing as possible. This will allow the home to handle the crowds better, with the rooms being better and more evenly used as a result.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Why buy local?

Local businesses help support local people, events, and fundraising initiatives. So, when donations from local retailers are based on a percentage of profits, the amount of support local retailers get from their local community, directly affects how many funding dollars will be tossed back into the community pot.

The more people support local businesses, the greater the amount of money available to those local persons and charities in need. As a result, by spending your money locally, you’re not only encouraging a local business, but you’re also helping support the local sports teams, theatre, community events, and the many charitable fundraisers. When local businesses make more money, they give more back. When sales are down, we inevitably have less to give. And that’s it. That’s all you’ve got to remember. Buying local helps your neighbors as well as the retail store or local tradesperson you just completed business with. That’s all the incentive anybody should require in order to shop locally.

How do you know when a salesperson isn’t local? Some clues are more evident, such as the fellow who knocks on your front door, introduces himself as Biff or Jett, let’s you know he’s in the neighborhood for the balance of the afternoon and would require only 15 minutes of your time, all while his unmarked, white paneled van is parked road side, still running, with only a silhouette of somebody at the wheel. For all intents and purposes, this guy’s about as local as the red poison-dart frog (more commonly found in the tropical forests of New Guinea).

Why buy local? Because in most cases, the local retailer or professional is going to care more. Not only is it our job to serve people well, and because that’s inherently what local business people strive to do, but we’re also part of the community. So, we live and interact with our customers every day. As a result, it’s in our best interest to be as good as we can.

Why buy local? For the after-sales service. Sometimes, a sale doesn’t go quite as smoothly as expected. Either a part is missing, or the product arrives in the wrong color, is the wrong size, or is damaged. When the customer has purchased a product locally, they’ll find themselves face to face with the person responsible for this misfortune, who by following up with the manufacturer, will hopefully be able to resolve the issue in a timely manner. Regardless of the problem, the key factor here is that you’re “face to face” with the salesperson. When a product is purchased from an out of town retailer, and there’s a problem, you’ll find yourself at the mercy of either a sales representative on line, or on the phone. So, should an issue arise after a product is purchased, what scenario, in your estimation, would present a customer with the best chance of success in resolving an issue, face to face, or over the phone?

Unfortunately, discussions regarding the after-sales service policy are often forgotten, or dismissed as irrelevant when making a purchase, when in fact it should be an element of priority.

Next, if you’ve allowed this travelling salesperson into your home, either because you’re lonely, have day-old baked cookies that need to be eaten, or are actually interested in what this salesperson has to say, please, DON’T SIGN ANYTHING. No matter what the deal, the one-time save 20 per cent today only type offer, or even if it’s a don’t pay for two years if you sign up right now, DON’T SIGN ANYTHING.

This darling salesperson may remind you of your grandson, but your signature gets sent directly to the head office, whereby any second thoughts regarding your purchase will be met with a not so darling pre-suit notice letter from their lawyer. In most cases, you’d have to be a really bad boy to get a lawyer’s letter from a local retailer. That’s why you buy local.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Making a house wish list

Nothing like the view from a balcony, though most aren’t as high as this one. Postmedia Network

Building a home this spring? Or, looking to gain a little more living space by putting on an addition?

If this is the case, let’s examine the wish list of home features you and your spouse, if there’s a bit of wiggle room in the budget, and if the landscape permits, should be discussing with your architect.

Please note that the following suggestions are a wish list, as opposed to a dream list of home features. Dream lists are like dream homes, very costly. Wish lists, on the other hand, are far from free, with the following suggestions, or recommendations, no doubt costing you more money than had you stuck with a standard eight ft. deep, rectangular foundation. However, these upgrades are game changers, with the added value of these great home features further differentiating your home from the masses, unless of course everybody starts modifying their homes in the same manner.

Wish list modification #1, the walk out basement. Basically, you’re replacing about six-eight feet of poured concrete with a sliding patio door. The benefit to a walkout basement is of course the fact you’ve now linked the buried portion of your home to the exterior. With an abundance of natural light, and a straight out access to the back yard, you’ll be effectively turning what was traditionally a dungeon, into comfortable living space.

A key factor in making a walkout basement a reality will be the landscaping. How your property manages the rain and snow melt will be essential construction details. Structurally, the walkout basement is a very doable, and feasible adaptation to most regular foundations.

The challenge will lie in preventing the water runoff from pooling at what will be the lowest point of the above grade portion of the home, which will be where the basement’s patio door meets your concrete or interlocking stone platform. So, once the walkout basement has been engineered and drawn up on paper, hand the plans over to a landscape designer. Don’t move forward on your walkout basement project until a landscape designer or engineer, can figure out where to divert the rain water.

Next, if your home or addition is going to have a second story, consider having a balcony extending off the master bedroom. If a walkout basement is going to be a reality, then a balcony overtop makes for the perfect house accompaniment. Basically, balconies are like backyard decks, there’s no mistake to be made with having one, other than going too small. So, whether a balcony is designed to serve a specific room, or extend the entire width of the home, you’re always going to enjoy time spent on a balcony. Similar to a walkout basement, a balcony added to a home after the fact will incur plenty of engineering and construction costs, while making it part of the original plans basically requires the contractor extending the floor joists and pouring a few cement footings in order to accept the supporting pillars. So, if there’s room in the budget, do the balcony now.

Reasons for a balcony? Better sun, better breeze, better view, if it’s a choice between deck or balcony, the balcony is always a better experience. Plus, the security, tranquility, and peace of mind to being on a balcony simply makes it superior to ground level living. When you’re on your balcony, enjoying an early morning coffee, or late night tea, the odds of you being interrupted by the neighbor’s cat, or the neighbor’s dog, or the neighbor, drop to zero.

Next, consider installing skylights. General work areas such as your kitchen, bathroom, or exercise room, will benefit greatly from the supplementary, natural light offered by a couple of skylights. Now, you may ask, don’t skylights leak? Like everything else, they leak eventually. So, and like everything else, some maintenance is required. Regardless, skylights are a terrific modification.

Next week, more wish list tips. Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Potentially ours

If you have the time, and the funds, a house with potential can be a good idea. Postmedia Network

Case #527, titled “temporarily cramped”, finds homebuyer Fred Frigozia, aka ‘Freddy the Fridge’ due to his rather large 6 ft. 10 inch, 400 pound frame, and unwise habit of dressing completely in white, which on occasion has created some awkwardness as unassuming shoppers check out his body for the optional ice dispenser should he locate himself in the appliance department of the local mall, somewhat undecided.

Fred just married Freda, a petite lady, and their plans are to have children, with these offspring likely having careers as either ballerinas, or starting linemen for the Dallas Cowboys. Fred and Freda are at a turning point in their lives. What’s at stake? Fred’s a big guy. Big guys require space, and with the family about to grow, Fred and Freda are concerned that their possible purchase of a 1000 square foot bungalow that’s most recently come up for sale, won’t suit their needs in the long term.

Now, why not just bypass this rather smallish home and continue the search for something else? Although the home is small, and in need of repair, the yard is huge, with the home beautifully located in an older community close to schools, the hospital, and various other resources. So, even though this existing home would receive a poor grade if judged on its own merit, the fact that the location is terrific, boosts this home’s grade up to one of great potential.

If money isn’t an issue, then the strategy regarding such an investment would be a no-brainer. Buy the property, tear down the home, or attempt to sell it to somebody looking for a pre-built hunting cabin, then erect a two story home on either the existing, or modified foundation walls.

In Fred and Freda’s case, the money would be available to purchase the property, with another 20-30 thousand left to put towards renovations. So, the existing needs of the home, including minor siding, kitchen, bathroom, and back deck repairs, could be accomplished well within their budget, but as far as tearing down and rebuilding, well, that’s a dream that would only be years away.

So, what to do? In Fred and Freda’s case, the answer’s as plain as the heel on Freddy’s size 15 boot. If you’re old, you base your purchases on necessity. If you’re Fred and Freda’s age, you probably have the energy, and hopefully a lot of years ahead of you, to make a purchase based on potential.

My suggestion: Buy the little home with the great lot and establish a five-year plan. In the interim, accept the cramped conditions, and slowly start making this place a little more comfortable.

The good thing about owning a home with potential is that it forever holds its value, with generally every penny put into the home recouped in the event of a sale.

Where to start? Well, the four exterior walls are the only untouchables. Other than that, and with the OK of a local engineering firm, you could possibly eliminate the wall that often separates a small kitchen from small living room. With a little ingenuity, two small rooms can add up to one big space. The same goes for the bedrooms. Three bedrooms can be reduced to two, with the master bedroom possibly gaining its own bathroom in the transition.

Next, look to the outdoors. Your new acquisition may not be able to handle you hosting the entire clan for Christmas dinner, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t have the folks over for Canada Day. If indoor living space is limited, then create an outdoor living area by replacing the existing back door and 4’x6’ laundry hanging platform, with a patio door and deck that spans the width of the home. Cover this deck area with a pergola to help shade the sun, or leave a portion of the space available to accommodate a screened in gazebo.

With potential comes greatness.

Case #527 closed. Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Stay off the grass

Just because you cut it, doesn’t mean you own it. Postmedia Network

Case #572 titled ‘The Barber on a Kubota’ has our Alonzo Andretti, aka “Scizzors” Andretti, due to his ability to cut an average man’s hair in under five minutes, including shaving of the back of the neck, and necessary eyebrow and ear trimmings, drawing the ire of his neighbors.

Alonzo has two passions, cutting hair, and cutting lawn, doing both at excessive speed, while maintaining an exquisite quality. What’s at issue is that Scizzors tends to not only cut his neighbor’s head, but his neighbor’s lawn as well, often crossing what’s regarded as the relative property line between homes. And, as everybody knows, you don’t cut your neighbor’s lawn, unless of course there’s 50 bucks in it for you.

Regardless, because Alonzo regularly trims his lawn down to almost putting green height, while his neighbors aren’t near as meticulous in their cutting, basically encouraging dandelion growth, Alonzo’s habit of overcutting has his property looking quite larger than it is. Which legally, isn’t an issue. Having your neighbor mowing two feet over into your property for 25 years won’t automatically transfer that piece of land over to them, simply because they’ve theoretically maintained it for that length of time. However, if through the years Alonzo continues his habit of overcutting, all while the properties next to him get sold and purchased a number of times, without one of these new homeowners bothering to have a survey done, then the relative property line will certainly begin to differ from the actual property line.

In most cases, homeowners assume, and generally accept, that the property line between properties is approximately the halfway point between the two homes. However, if one neighbor has in the past built an addition, or garage, which further widened their home to the very edge of their property line, then the midway rule would no longer apply. When this widened home comes up for sale, with the home next to it being sold a few years later, without a survey being completed by either party, then these new homeowners will simply assume the line is again, running somewhere down the middle of the properties.

In most cases, neighbors get along. They may not like that Alonzo is cutting into their property, and may have even mentioned this to him in the past. But, in order to keep the peace, because in most cases it isn’t a big deal, people tend to leave the Alonzos of this world to enjoy their riding mowers. There’s never an issue, of course, until one homeowner decides to have a survey done on their property, and discovers that their neighbor’s driveway crosses their property line, or the drainage pipe running the length of their neighbor’s property, and installed by the former owner of this adjacent property 20 years before, actually belongs to them, or the just completed deck by their neighbor, stretches two feet onto their property. Then what do you do? Well, decks can be cut back, and driveways can be modified, but if a drainage pipe is serving the best interests of the homes in the immediate area, then removing such a structure may get you into a legal tussle with the local township.

It’s certainly strange that people will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home, yet forgo the thousand bucks it cost sto have a survey completed. So, if you’re about to purchase a new home in an area where the properties are not so well defined, request that the property be surveyed. If you own a home where the property line is a best guess scenario, due to the steel pins being no longer visible, or their location buried and long forgotten, pay to have a survey completed.
When the property lines between neighbors are clear, things tend to go along a lot more smoothly. And Alonzo, well, he’ll have to live with a few survey stakes guiding him back onto his property. Case #572 closed.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard