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2007 March » Our Sustainable Home
Archive for: March, 2007

Earth-friendly homes and preventative measures

March 31st, 2007

Time has a posted parallel articles on creating earth-friendly homes and changes you can make in your lifestyle to reduce CO2 emmissions and consume less power.

Posted by Colin
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Project Tendered!

March 26th, 2007

Of our four candidate contractors, we have decided to proceed with two of them to the bidding stage. The architect has provided each contractor with a detailed set of plans and they will take the next two weeks to review those plans and come up with a fixed cost for construction.

This is probably going to be the most critical juncture in the entire project. The numbers returned by the contractors will tell us definitively (for the first time) if building this house is financially possible for us.

Posted by Colin
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A zero energy home

March 17th, 2007

The solar-hydrogen home energy system designed by Mike Strizki (with half of the $USD 500,000 price tag covered by government grants) is a great first step, even if mainstream version of the system are at least a decade away.

Posted by Colin
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Trees near the construction site

March 15th, 2007

Growing out of the front of the foundation of our house, at an angle of 45 degrees, is a tree. We always knew that tree could not be saved when the new house was built, but we have plans to plant a new tree further to the front of the property when the house is completed.

But it turns out, you can’t just take down a tree if it’s in the way. Any tree with a diameter of more than 30cm (measured 1.4m from the ground) is protected by Toronto’s Urban Forestry Service whether it is on public or private property. In our case this tree is just shy of 30cm, but if it weren’t we would have to apply to the city for a review (at a cost of $200) to decide whether it can be removed.

As with property demolition, there is a 14-day public notice period where the public can object to the removal of a tree. In some cases that can be followed up by a 90-day review period while city council decides the matter (but my impression is this doesn’t apply to most situations).

There is a second tree that is next door to us and it’s close enough that the city has asked for a formal Arborist’s report to determine what impact construction will have on it. There are many things that may need to be done, including erecting a fence around it for protection (though in our case there is a fence between the properties and the canopy is so high as to be pointless).

The city of Toronto requires that the Arborist who prepares the report be certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) or registered with the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA).

We’re hoping to have the report back from the Arborist as soon as possible so it does not interfere with our permit application. If you have any trees within 6m of your construction site, you would be well advised to find out if they will be at risk and start planning around them early.

Posted by Colin
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Four Builders Interviewed

March 13th, 2007

We finished interviewing 4 prospective builders/general-contractors today.

These were just preliminary interviews to allow us to meet each other and give them a first look at the building plans, find out what their qualifications were, check their availability for the build dates, etc.

Alex (one of our architects) had developed a list of questions he thought were relevant and we were free to add our own, of course. Alex intentionally did not provide detailed blueprints to the builders at this stage as it seems only fair to only ask people to invest time costing our project if we feel there is a good chance we could move ahead with them as the builder.

Unfortunately all were really great folks who would be fine to work with. This will make it very difficult to proceed to the next step of selecting only 1 or 2 builders to ask for a more in-depth estimate of the cost and time-line required for the project.

We need to consult with Joanne McCallum (the lead architect on our project) before we get to the next stage, and this won’t happen until early late next week.

Posted by Colin
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Results of PAL Review

March 6th, 2007

The results of our PAL review arrived in the mail today and had a few surprises for us.

We were already expecting we were going to need to get a variance (at a cost of — cough! — $1400) if we didn’t want to have a garage in our house. It sounds crazy, I know but a city by-law says houses that want to have parking must provide that parking in a space 5.9m x 2.9m 2.6m behind the front wall of the house.

This means that to be by-law compliant, either one has to have a garage in their house, or they need to have a laneway beside their house so they can park behind it. Given the proximity of most houses to their neighbour in the city, one really has to go for the garage option or seek a variance, and neither option is straightforward.

If we were to opt for putting a garage in the house, that would mean we’d need to alter the foundation so it would not run under the garage. This means we’d not only lose a huge amount of ground floor space for the garage, we’d also lose the basement under the garage. (One can have a basement under a garage but it’s wildly expensive because of all the reinforcement needed to support a vehicle.) And because the garage traps (to some degree) carbon monoxide from the car’s exhaust, it’s not recommended to have the rest of the house directly over the garage so we’d have to cut back on the 2nd floor space as well.

Opting for no garage comes with a whole new set of problems. If there is no ‘legal parking space’ on the property, then we aren’t allowed having a driveway. If we have have no driveway, then 75% of the area in front of the house must be ‘soft opened landscape.’

This was the only item we expected to hear about (and we did), but it came with its own plausible escape clause: By-law 65-81 allows a homeowner to request a permit for a ‘parking pad’ in the front of the house, which just might make this whole issue go away (more research into this to follow).

What we weren’t expecting to hear is that the house is both a smidge too tall and has a smidge too much floor area. Alex thinks that we’re going to be able to work with the city on both these items to get the plans approved.

And that’s all there was; by and large our building plans are in generally good standing with the city, with just a few items to clarify for them.

One of the interesting items that came up during this process was with regards to the by-law which states the ‘gross floor area’ (the total area of all floors other than the basement) of a home can’t be more than 60% of the area of the lot (for our particular zone).

Apparently the real cap is at 100%, but starting at 60% they like to review the plans in more detail (i.e., you need a variance) to make sure the house is appropriate to its lot and surroundings. Generally, going a little over the 60% limit won’t be a show-stopper for your project.

As things are looking very positive on this front, we will soon be ready to start interviewing prospective builders to make these plans a reality!

Posted by Colin
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