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Leslieville attic reno gives growing family a bigger, cleaner home

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Luke and Marianne Windisch are pretty typical Toronto homeowners. As young newlyweds in 2012, they purchased a drafty, 1920s-era, semi-detached home in Leslieville, renovated it enough to live in, and had a baby.

They began considering at a bigger renovation with plans for baby No. 2.

NOW: Luke and Marianne Windisch play with 3-1/2-year-old daughter Anneka in their airy, new, top-floor master bedroom.
NOW: Luke and Marianne Windisch play with 3-1/2-year-old daughter Anneka in their airy, new, top-floor master bedroom.  (Andrew Lahodynskyj / Toronto Star)

That’s where typical ends, though, since Marianne is a professor of building science and mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto. She knows houses from the inside out. She especially knows when one isn’t working well — and how to fix it.

“We had no insulation, air was leaking in through windows and electrical outlets, and there was a lot of thermal discomfort,” Marianne says. “To make it more comfortable, you have to tighten up the (building) envelope but also supply mechanical ventilation to compensate.”

They hired Greening Homes, based in the city’s Junction Triangle, to fulfil their plans. “They understood more than anyone else what we wanted to do,” says Marianne.

The couple’s plan for extra space was to push into the attic. They wanted to maintain the twinned appearance with the next-door semi, including the roof profile, and that meant a return trip to the city’s committee of adjustment with new design plans when their neighbours decided to also add onto their top floor.

Initially, the Windisches had planned about $250,000 for the reno. But the project “dramatically increased in scope,” says Marianne, when they got buy in from their neighbours and were able to build greater ceiling height and floor space in the attic. Ultimately, they spent about $600,000 — which also included gutting the entire house, adding insulation to the walls, new windows, floors, HVAC, two new baths (main floor powder and third floor master), redoing the electrical, ductwork, sound proofing, and getting rid of bulkheads. The kitchen and second floor bathroom were put back as they were.

NOW: The new room for the new addition, whose arrival sparked the Windisch family's home renovation.
NOW: The new room for the new addition, whose arrival sparked the Windisch family’s home renovation.  (Andrew Lahodynskyj/Toronto Star)

“We figured we were only going to do this once, so do it properly,” she says of the seven-month project completed in December, 2017. The family lived in a nearby rental while the work was carried out.

“Yes, it’s more than we originally anticipated but basically we have a brand new house.”

“We love it. There’s lots of room — love the ceiling height, the sunlight that floods the space in the afternoon. The cross-ventilation is excellent, and it’s much healthier to live in. We get way less smoke from next door, and it’s less drafty.”

A drainwater recovery system will be an easy retrofit down the road, Marianne says.

Their new space added 600 square feet to their home that now totals 1,800 sq. ft. It gave them a voluminous third-floor master bedroom with 14-foot ceilings and ensuite bathroom, and a light-filled home office for Luke, the general manager for a medical device company. The second floor, with its two bedrooms and adjoining bath, is for the children: Anneka now 3-½ and the baby due in a couple of weeks.

With a slightly higher peaked front roofline, and a flat roof extending over the back, the increased heat-island effect — more surface to catch sunlight — was alleviated by packing the flat roof with Roxul Comfortboard (for an R-value of 45), installing vents and a reflective coating.

Creating the high-performance envelope for energy efficiency and comfort was a challenge. With just 12 inches between them and neighbours to the south, and a party wall on the north, it meant gutting the house to insulate wall cavities from the inside.

Depending on the wall system, the walls were packed with either Roxul (spun mineral wool) insulation or blown cellulose, says Christopher Phillips, president of Greening Homes’, who has a master’s degree in building science.

NOW: The main floor benefitted from the seven-month reno that added floor space and replaced insulation, windows, floors and HVAC.
NOW: The main floor benefitted from the seven-month reno that added floor space and replaced insulation, windows, floors and HVAC.  (Marianne and Luke Windisch)

Phillips also notes the Windisches saved approximately 4,000 kg of carbon dioxide in their insulation choices. “The big savings is choosing not to use spray foam. It’s literally the worst – the data shows you’ve used so much carbon to produce the foam in order to save so little. Blown cellulose, which is chopped newsprint, is recycled and renewable, and the best thing you can use to go to less impactful carbon environment.”

Building code updates have made houses increasingly more energy efficient, he says. “This is all good, because the more airtight the less reliant we are on fossils to heat and cool. The downside is tight envelopes don’t present opportunity for good ventilation so you have to create it.”

They opted for a separate HVAC system on the third storey that allows greater control over the air on just the top floor without having to heat or cool the whole house.

Another part of the solution was to install a heat recovery ventilator that adds or removes heat from the house’s exhaust air. For instance, in winter the HRV returns cooler air which sinks to the floor where the top-storey return is located and the fresh air is picked up by the central air handling unit and redistributed to the rest of the house.

As well, clerestory windows atop the third-storey walls draw in abundant natural light. They have a motorized open/close system and the stack effect — hot air rising that then goes out the windows — provides natural ventilation. On hot, humid summer days, they run air-conditioning just for the third floor, where Luke has his home office.

Alex Newman is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her at alexnewman@rogers.com

NOW: Luke Windisch in the roomy third-floor home office of the family's refurbished Leslieville semi-detached.
NOW: Luke Windisch in the roomy third-floor home office of the family’s refurbished Leslieville semi-detached.  (Andrew Lahodynskyj)

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place. HomeYou’ve been selected.Only $1.49/week for your first 4 months.Special offer just for you. Unlimited access.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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A Simplified Guide for Toronto First-Time Home Buyers

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Toronto is the largest city in Canada, the fourth largest city in North America, which makes it an exciting place to live in.

But as with other major cities, finding the perfect place to move to can get tricky. If you’re planning on buying a home for the first time in this city, it is indeed a big decision and there are things you should know in advance.

Don’t worry, this guide will help explain the basics of what you as a buyer should know when you decide to buy a home. It will make you feel like a true expert during the buying process.

Decide what type of home you are looking for

There is no right answer to what makes a good home. It all depends on your preferences and needs as the resident. It is, therefore, a good idea to determine as early as possible which features of a home are important to you. If you are buying a home and moving in with someone, it can be a good idea for both of you to make a list and compare.

Toronto is a city that offers different styles of living accommodations and its neighborhoods are quite versatile and diverse, same as the people living there who come from all parts of the world.

The most common forms of housing and real estate opportunities in this city include bungalows, two-storey houses, split-level homes, and the very popular Toronto condos. Due to the high property values, the city boasts of construction of many condominiums as they are a more cost-efficient choice and provide a plethora of benefits.

When you decide on the type of home you want to buy, it is good to do some research and learn the biggest differences between them.

What to think of when choosing homes in Toronto

There are certain things you need to consider when choosing your home in this city. 

Being close to the things you need to visit every day makes life a lot easier. Pay attention to the proximity to shops, preschools, schools, and your job. In addition, access to good public transportation is crucial. Being able to move around the city easily and the opportunity to commute is important to many.

Know that having a balcony can significantly increase the value of your home and improve your well-being. Being able to move easily in the area is something that many people underestimate, but can be very convenient, and this is why you should see if there are good cycles and walking paths. 

And finally, make sure that the house is well designed which is a quality that does not disappear with the age of the house or with renovations. 

Set your budget

Before you start the search for your new home, you must know how expensive of a home you can buy. It is preferable to know in what price range to look for. The budget is usually decided based on your mortgage and how large are the monthly costs you can handle.

A mortgage is always about a balance between risk and income for the bank. The higher the risk for the bank to lend to a particular home, the more expensive the mortgage will be. When it comes to the bank’s reasoning when applying for a loan, it is in principle always a question of whether you as a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage.

The bank also takes into account your financial history. If you are a person who has managed your finances well, the chance increases that you will get your mortgage approved. If, on the other hand, you have a bad reputation with banks, it is weighed in as an aggravating circumstance.

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