Browsing Topic: Architect


April 9th, 2007

Oh phooey. I thought we were going to be getting quotes from the contractors today, but alas today is not THE day.

This is my own fault though: I completely failed to read the part of the schedule provided by our architect where this was detailed (I mostly paid attention to the things we had to do). The detailed plans are, in fact, just being prepared by the architect now and will go out to the contractors this week.

We’ll also be trying to talk to the builder references this next week and visit their work sites.

Posted by Colin

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

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

Building plans submitted to city

February 23rd, 2007

Today (which also happens to be our 1 year anniversary) we submitted our building plans to the city!

When you arrive at the Building Permits Office, you will need to put your name into a book on the counter, with the time you arrive, and why you are there. We had to wait over an hour to be seen because half the staff were on lunch at the time we went.

TIP: Builders send their interns to the Building Permit Office first thing in the morning, so it is very busy between 8am and 10am. Office staff go out for lunch in shifts between 11am and 1pm (we showed up at 11am). You could probably get seen fairly quickly if you came at 10am. Otherwise, some time after 1:30pm (when the backlog of people has started to clear) is probably best.

We weren’t actually applying for the permits today, but instead were just getting a preliminary review of our plans to have the city point out any (hopefully) minor deficiencies before our formal permit application.

There are two types of preliminary reviews one can opt for:

  1. Preliminary Project Review (PPR) at a cost of $250, which is non-refundable.
  2. Preliminary Application of Law (PAL) at a cost of 25% of projected permit fees paid in advance.

This latter review is far more detailed that the PPR but if you are fairly certain you are going ahead with the project it will save you $250 since you are really just paying a portion of your Permit fees now, instead of when you apply for the permit. (At present, permit fees are $13.10 per sq.m.)

We opted for the PAL review. With our application we also included photographs of our property with surrounding houses, and the houses across the street. This gives the Permit Office an idea about what the house will look like in relation to the rest of the neighbourhood. The package also had one set of scale drawings of the new house, and a stamped survey of the property.

Now that our plans have been submitted to the city builders will apparently now take our project much more seriously. We’re hoping to start interviewing builders as soon as we get the results of the preliminary review.

We should hear back from the office within 10 business days.

Posted by Colin

Design Meeting #5

December 19th, 2006

Our fifth design meeting continued to refine the garret and the access to it. It now includes an area which will be open to the ground floor and should act as a large chimney to allow hot air to rise and vent out, in the summer. We decided a curved, narrow but fixed staircase would be the best way to access the garret (instead of a pull-down staircase that would be less stable). The area will also include a narrow walkway through open ‘chimney’ to get to the attic space at the front of the house.

I took this opportunity to discuss my previous ideas about the economics of solar panels with Alex. He had read the article and suggested I’ve messed up the math in a couple of ways:

  1. I didn’t include the usual 5% rise in energy costs (5% is used even though energy costs have actually averaged 7% in recent years).
  2. There was no allowance given for the financial incentives offered by the utilities.

I’ll continue the discussion of these factors in the follow-up to the solar panel post.

Posted by Colin

A river ran through it?

December 18th, 2006

When I was chatting with one of our neighbours yesterday I found out some interesting hearsay history of our property. Apparently he was talking with another neighbour who’s father built the houses a few doors down from us, and her Dad told her that a river used to pass through the area where our house is now, and there is quite possibly still an underground river there.

We’ve passed this information on to Alex, of course, who is now factoring in the possible need for specialized drainage for the property, and extra insulation around the foundation.

No word yet as to whether we’ll need a geotechnical survey to confirm this.

Posted by Colin

Design Meeting #4

December 5th, 2006

Our fourth design meeting was really good.

The plans are quickly becoming solidified, but that didn’t stop us from making significant changes here and there. The small storage room at the top of the house wsa turned sideways, at Alex’s suggestion. It will now allow quite a bit of light into the main stairwell, and the room will not block the light from getting to solar panels on the south roof.

We had also sent Alex a variety of photos from our neighbourhood showing what style of houses we liked, and which we didn’t. This was definitely a big help in shaping the ‘face’ our house would have. Taking photos of interiors and exteriors that capture your interest will be extremely useful as you move through your design process.

I would really like to post some schematics to show everyone, but I’ve promised the architect I wouldn’t show unfinished work (which I can completely understand — I hate doing that, too). As such a lot of the discussion about why we chose to position everything where we did, will have to wait a few more weeks.

Posted by Colin

Third Design Meeting with Architect

November 24th, 2006

Our third design meeting continued to raise my excitement about actually getting to the ‘building’ portion of the project.

We’re now at the stage where we are playing around with finer detail of the rooms, though we did have a major change in the basement. The basement has its own entrance and we want to make sure (as is popular practice in Toronto) that we have the option of renting out the basement as a self-contained apartment. At the moment we don’t expect to do this and would just like to have a guest-suite in the basement for visiting family. But in thinking about possible uses of the space we found our current design had a serious limitation: with the bathroom in one location, the basement would have to either be entirely rented, or not rented. But when we moved it 5 feet, we suddenly had the option of renting out half the basement and keeping the other half for our own use.

Trying to envision all possible (not just intended) uses of each space can lead to some very interesting discoveries.

We also realized that with the elevated ceiling we had intended for the Master Bedroom, we could create a storage loft above the master bathroom (which would have 8′ ceiling). Since we like to travel/hike we thought we’d set up a wall of shelving nooks in the main hallway to store our ‘found objects.’ At the moment I’m thinking this will be a tall curved shelving system so we can have larger, deeper nooks in the middle, and smaller, shallower nooks at the ends.

And we’re trying to figure out if we need to add some more interest to the ‘face’ of our house. While the interior appearance of our house will change significantly over the years, it is far more complicated to change the appearance of the exterior of one’s home. As such, we really want to get this part of it right, from the start. Changes we are pursuing are a change in the peak of the house (to make it off-centre and provide more solar-panel space on the south edge), and bringing half the house forward a couple of feet, to add some varying depth.

So far, this is all great fun!

Posted by Colin

Second ‘Design’ meeting with architect

November 12th, 2006

We had our second meeting with Joanne & Alex today to go over the general design of the house.

Alex has managed to get the square footage of the house down a little (which will help reduce our budget) while retaining the feel of a very comfortable space.

We wound up shifting spaces around to fit with our idea of having a ‘farmhouse kitchen.’ It seems to us that we just don’t have guests over from whom we need to hide the kitchen so our great room, dining room have been positioned to be one share their space with the kitchen.

By the time we meet next Thursday, the floor plan for the house will likely be in its very late, if not final stage.

Posted by Colin