Friday, December 23, 2005

Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

I am a conservationist and I want my home to be as energy efficient as possible, plus I like to save money. When we tore down the wall between the front room & hallway, we could see into the exterior wall - no insulation. Not even some old newspapers, just air blowing around. I called a bunch of folks from the yellow pages, but could not get somebody to do just that one wall (below the minimum charge), plus we'd have to wait a few weeks, and we'd already booked the drywaller. My friend Matthew suggested Greensaver, and told me all about the EnerGuide for Houses (EGH) program offered through the federal government. What a brilliant idea. Our government sponsors a program to help Canadians make their homes more energy efficient by getting an unbiased energy audit and work plan, plus you can qualify for a grant based on the improvements that you make.

Patrick, a consultant from Greensaver, came to do our audit. He did all kinds of poking and prodding to determine the amount of insulation in the walls & ceilings, but most exciting was the door blower test. He fit our front door with a giant fan that sucked all the air out of the house, creating negative pressure, which emphasized the cold air leaking into the house. It is a particularly cold day, so it was easy to feel the drafts. Patrick gave us a list of recommendations for retrofits, draft proofing, etc. And he told us that our house rated a 51/100 on the EnerGuide for Houses. That is pretty good for a house that is over 100 years old, but there is obviously ways to make it another 49% better. Patrick's model of our house showed that if we did all of his recommendations, we could get up to a 67, which would qualify us for a grant of over $900, and would cut our annual green house gas emissions by 3.9 tonnes. Something to consider.

I highly recommend the EnerGuide program. Canada is full of beautiful old houses that have zero insulation and can benefit from a program like this. Until the 70s, oil & gas were so cheap that nobody cared about efficiency. It is too bad that it takes an energy crisis before we care about conservation but necessity is the mother of invention, and possibly intention too.

Friday, September 2, 2005

Klimt Mural

A unique and original piece of art - especially if you find it in your own home. Maybe a Klimt calendar would have been a better decorating choice for our previous owner. That way he could have taken it with him. This piece of art is in the middle room of our house, so it is possibly the darkest room we have. This colourful mural that measures about 12' x 6' even has glitter on it. We are eager to remove it, but it is a bit farther down on the list for now. Hopefully next month. For now, we will gaze at it and find some celebrity faces. Do you see Delta Burke? How about Cher? Andrea Martin? Let me know which celebrities you see. All comments are welcome.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Pink on pink on pink -- in the bathroom too?

Believe it or not, this is our main bathroom. It is a large bathroom, for such a small house. The original bathroom was about 1/3 the size, but the previous owner combined it with the small bedroom at the back of the house and moved the toilet to sit in front of the large window. And then he filled it with pink fixtures and tiles, and topped it off with pink & white striped wall paper with a pink floral border. All new and all very well installed. But the same 80's cabinets like we have in the kitchen. It is bright & airy, and very very pink!

Foolishly, I thought that it would be easy to make modifications to this room. With such a big space, there is plenty of potential. Although, the more I research bathrooms, the more I realize how expensive they are to remodel. The window opens onto a flat roof over the kitchen/sunroom. It would make a great deck. Too bad that I don't believe in lottery tickets, because I have no idea where the money for that project will come from.

There is definitely a strong colour scheme at work here. Unfortunately, the burgundy mini-blinds are open in these photos, so you don't get the full effect.

Once we get a few more murals down, hopefully we'll find the energy & creativity to de-pink this room. All suggestions are welcome. But for now, we'll just use it as extra storage for the furniture of the room that we are painting at the moment.

P.S. And why not top it off with a wooden toilet seat?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Mural Down!

The charming little houses in Little Italy can often disguise some massive decorating horrors. Our new home has quite a few! Fortunately, I also have quite a few friends. I have many resourceful and dedicated friends. One friend in particular hates wallpaper, specifically wallpaper murals. The moving truck was just pulling away when his office work day ended. Coming directly from work, Chris arrived with a spray bottle, a scraper, and a wacky tool for scoring the paper. He borrowed some fabric softener and got to work, peeling off the tropical scene on the wall of the middle bedroom. While my mother & sister helped me unpack, we could hear the constant whirl of his scraper on the wall. Despite the 35C weather, he would not give up until he was done. He said that the blazing sun on the mural made the room feel all that much hotter, so he had to get rid of it.

I recommended that he relax a bit in the front bedroom, next to this cool rushing river, surrounded by pale pink walls and the same bubble gum pink trim that fills the rest of the house. Pink is rumoured to be a calming colour, yet for some reason it causes me panic. All that I see is more surfaces to be painted. And more curtains and blinds to replace. But for tonight, I will take my own recommendation and relax awhile by the river, and be thankful that Chris gave us a jump start by removing that first mural. Only two more to go.

Hello Little Italy!

I have spent more than my fair share of time on College Street: enjoying the excellent chicken sandwiches at the Riviera Bakery, beers & panzerotto's on the patio of the Cafe Dip, fish sandwiches at the Fish Store, pasta at the Standard Club, or just making my way to and from the West End Y. I love the neighbourhood. But before I moved, I realized that it is going to be a very different experience from what I was used to.

I loved Kensington Market too: all the fresh produce, European Meats, amazing cheese shops, bulk food, Jumbo Empanada, car free Sundays, the Winter Solstice Festival of Lights - there is always something going on. My condo overlooked a quiet residential street with 3 storey colourful houses and big trees. But I never talked to any of the neighbours on Nassau. Mere steps from the hustle of Chinatown & the bustle of Grossman's Tavern, it just wasn't that kind of neighbourhood.

Just before I moved, I went for a morning run past the new house, to take a photo for my curious family & friends. It was just after 7 a.m., and I paused only slightly across the street, when out came the curious neighbour to the north, defending his turf. Great, I thought, the new house comes with a concierge. I went over to introduce myself as his new neighbour. He smiled and said: prego. He seemed slightly startled when I shook his hand, but he waved back as I ran away, likely wondering what he was in for. A neighbour who runs for no purpose.

I really have no idea what he was thinking. But I can see that he is a very friendly and extremely house-proud man. This neighbourhood is full of both Italian & Portuguese families with roots in the trades & construction. Mostly retired, they have oodles of time and tons of skills to customize the facades and interiors of their homes. Their perfectly manicured yards are swept and hosed daily. Will I be able to keep up with their maintenance schedules? I have to go to work, after all. Should we join the trend and have our front garden covered in brick on concrete? Am I just another "Canadian", ruining the neighbourhood?

Our houses are only a few inches apart, so without a doubt, these people are going to become a part of my life. I'm now a part of a neighbourhood, where people stand at the end of sidewalk and chat with each other in a variety of languages, and where the ice cream truck passes every day at 5:10 p.m. This is way better than the Little Italy that I thought I was moving into.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Goodbye Condo Life

What single girl wouldn't love a downtown loft in an old school building in a trendy neighbourhood? I had 13 foot ceilings, a bedroom lofted over the bathroom, huge windows that flooded the place with light, and public transit at my door. My expenses were exactly the same every month, and I was working towards paying off my mortgage. But, my life was all in one room, and I didn't have any outdoor space. I longed for a house with many rooms, doors, and a backyard. Some women I know what children, I just wanted a front porch to sit on, and maybe a few potted plants. (I've learned that if you aim low, you're less likely to be disappointed.)

In 2002, I started to look at houses with a rental unit. I would have help with the mortgage and also get that outdoor space. But the houses that I could afford on my own were... scary. I just couldn't figure out how I'd carry all those building supplies from Home Depot on my bike. And what if the place was a money pit? I just didn't have the financial cushion for that. So, I called off the search and returned to condo life with a warm sense of security.

But then in 2004, I met a nice guy. It took us about a year to admit that an open concept loft would not work for the two of us, and commit to moving in together. So, we went on the house hunt, looking in Toronto's west end. We saw a lot of renovation disasters and houses in need of a LOT of love. Our real estate agent had done major renos to his house, so we had great advice from him. And within 10 days of looking, we found a small Victorian row house in Little Italy. The decor was a disaster, but with some paint, we figured that it would be fine. And as luck would have it, there is a Benjamin Moore store at the end of the street. That and the proximity to the West End YMCA, it looked like a pretty good deal.

I had many a sleepless night, wondering if my over sized loft furniture would fit into a house that is only 12.73 feet wide (yes, the lot is that narrow). Was I crazy to give up my carefree condo life? Did I really want to get into the home reno lifestyle? I didn't even watch HGTV. But yesterday, all that changed. On one of the hottest days of that summer, we moved all of our belonging into a house that seemed even smaller and darker that we'd remembered it to be. Our Queen sized beds would not fit up the staircase, so we had to sleep on mattress on the floor.

Ah, home ownership. What glamour!!