The thought is simple: buy an old home at a fair price and remodel it to make it your own.
The fact is that it’s often easier said than done. As you get deep into a remodelling, you never know what weird and wonderful things you’ll find, explains Joseph Paul, owner of Summer Set Construction.
Joseph and his wife Andrea are in the midst of remodeling a near century-old home which sits along the shores of Lake Simcoe. Built in the 1920s, the farmhouse-style building offered the warmth and nostalgia they were looking for as they made their move north from the city.
“We knew work was going to be needed to modernize the place and make it our own,” he says. “The plan was to open up the space by taking out a few walls, increase the view of the lake, update the entire kitchen, add a master bedroom, and eventually double the 2,400 square feet of living space.”
With the plan made and designs finalized, it was going to be a relatively smooth process. As a remodelling specialist who has renovated a few century-old homes in his 40-year career, Joseph says “you come to expect the unexpected.” But even a seasoned remodeler cannot plan for everything.
“Sometimes you find things and just shake your head,” says Joseph with laugh. “We’ve had a few moments where the only apt question was, ‘what were they thinking?’”
Expect the unexpected
It’s always a challenge for remodelers once you start opening up walls and ceilings and lifting floorboards to get down to the bare bones of the structure: there are usually a few intriguing quirks, he explains.
Sometimes the structure has been compromised through many renovations; floor joists have been cut to make way for plumbing and heating; load-bearing walls and post have been removed.
Uneven floors, odd framing and weird electrical practices are quite common. But usually, it’s one or two items that were done before better practices were known that can be fixed relatively quickly.
That’s what Joseph found in his home. Having been compromised over a few renovations, parts of the structure weren’t strong enough to carry loads. Floor joists had been altered, as well as load-bearing walls and necessary posts being removed.
The missing supports meant the ceiling trusses were starting to sag. Over time the windows had started to leak which led some framing to rot, and trace amounts of mold had started to form behind the interior paneling.
The galvanized plumbing pipes were of a type commonly used prior to the 1950s. Unfortunately, these pipes corrode and leave trace amounts of lead in the water supply.
Originally, the electrical wiring was knob and tube which had been replaced with aluminum. Joseph found incorrect connections to copper wiring in some places, making it unsafe and a fire hazard. (Aluminum expands when heated more than copper, he explains. This can cause the copper-to-aluminum connection to loosen over time and arc if the connections aren’t made properly.)
There was also a lack of electrical outlets throughout the house, but compared to the other issues, this doesn’t rate very high.
Upgrading to modern standards
In the early 1950s, it was common to find mineral wool, vermiculite, asbestos, and fibreglass used as wall and attic insulation. In this case, the insulation was upgraded to mineral wool during a 1970s renovation.
Today’s building code calls for an R value of 21 in exterior walls and an R50 value for attics. Joseph was able to meet these standards by adjusting the walls to a 2 x 6 dimension and adding batt insulation with a 6 mm vapour barrier. He also loose-laid batt insulation in the attic to achieve an R-value exceeding 50.
“It’s like I’m on some hidden camera show,” jokes Joseph. “And they’re testing me to see just how good a contractor I am.”
Judging by the good humour he has about the situation – although, there were surely some frustrating moments along the way – Joseph is taking it all in stride and staying positive.
The silver lining in all the work needing to be done is knowing that the finished project will be brought up to today’s modern standards and look fantastic.
“One thing to remember is to be prepared for the unexpected,” advises Joseph. “No question, we found a few issues, but it’s also a good reminder that these situations do happen. When planning a remodel, it’s important to keep in mind the potential challenges hidden behind walls, floors and ceilings.”
COVID challenges continue
The impact of the pandemic on the construction industry has been challenging in a variety of ways, and by all accounts, the coming months will see more of the same, predicts Joseph.
He explains that material and labour shortages, which directly lead to delays and cost inefficiencies, have created frustration among contractors and their clientele.
“We now know that some materials are just taking longer to obtain. So we just factor that into our timelines,” says Joseph. “As long as we plan for it, it’s not an insurmountable obstacle. It’s just one more challenge to be navigated.”
TEXT CHRIS OCCHIUZZI | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN