Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Can we really renovate our way out of recession?

The sight of Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the evening news in casual attire using a nail gun looked as awkard as me wearing heels. This publicity stunt caught my attention, and I had to find out more. 

Touted as temporary, timely and targeted stimulus, The Conservative government's proposed Home Renovation Tax Credit came a few months too late for me! Sadly, this tax break for home renovations is NOT retroactive to Jan. 1, so I can't claim a credit for the tile work done last week, nor for all the materials I have purchased over the past few months. It is too bad because the total is nearing the HRTC limit of $10,000, which would have given me a healthy $1,350 tax credit (which could have been spent on even more renovations). This is one of the rare times that procrastination would have paid off, literally. But we had just started smashing out the floor tiles when we witnessed the first of many big crashes on the world stock markets. We could have put the renovation on hold, covering the plywood subfloor with a nice big bathmat, but I joked that my spending may stimulate the economy. And despite going over budget on this reno, one little home was not enough. So people, get out there and get renovating.

Or should we save? Am I the only one who finds it ironic that this is the same government that launched a massive plan just under a year ago to encourage Canadians to save? The Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) is promoted as tax-free money for what matters to you. Every year, Canadains can put up to $5,000 in a registered TFSA account and the gains will be tax free and there is no penalty for withdrawls. But from what I understand, this intitiative was only created to make up for the Conversative's broken campaign promise to adjust the capital gains tax. I don't think that they really care that Canadians today have the lowest personal savings rate of all time. The airwaves (and cyberspace) are littered with ads for the TFSA, either from the government or from all the banks lobbying hard to have you open your account with them. Some say that "it's worth talk". And I guess that it is good for the banks to have something good to talk about these days, when all their news of late is full of doom and gloom. Although, I can't help thinking that if I'd had this TFSA last year, maybe I really would be "richer than I think".

Both these programs remind me of when the Conservative's canceled the EnerGuide for Houses program. We were midaway through the program to make our home more energry efficient in exchange for expert advice and a small grant. Harper's cancellation made us rush our energy efficient retrofit work, from 18 months to only 8, without any guarantee that there'd be enought money left in the program to pay out the promised grant. It was a real disappointment. But when Harper launched his new program, it was vaugely similar, but rebranded with the media friendly prefix "Eco" in the title. 

So, the question remains: what should I do with all my extra money? Should I save it in last year's budget surprise: the TFSA. Or should I get myself a nail gun and continue stimulating the economy? Or should I say screw it all, and jump on the next plane to Costa Rica? Pura Vida, amigos!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Welcome to Command Central

I write to you from the warm travertine floor of my new bathroom. I have to sit here to enjoy the heat and admire control central. Today I wired up the floor heating to see if it would work. It is pessimistic to think that it wouldn't, but all the warnings in the package and the fact that the only friend I know who had floor heating installed found that it didn't work after the tile was finished. Hers had to be removed and replaced.

Last week, we chose to call in a pro to finish the floors. I was hoping to find somebody to do both the tiles in the bathroom and the hardwood in the hallway & back room. We had two contractors who were willing to do both jobs, but neither had a wet saw, so had to rent one, and neither had experience working with the traditional strip oak flooring currently in our home. The third contractor did tile only, and were not fazed by the travertine nor the NuHeat floor heating mat. They were my favorite already, but I had to wait for the quotes. In the end, they had the bathroom, but we had to find somebody else to do the hardwood.
We agreed on a price Thursday and they came the next day to do the scratch coat. This consisted of metal mesh covered with shiny mortar and took less than an hour. The following day, they came to do the drypack and level the floor. This is when they imbeded the floor heating mat. This needed to dry for a few days, but they were back on Tuesday to lay the tile. Wednesday they returned to grout. A finished floor in less than a week. Incredible!

But, then came the waiting. Three days and we could seal the tile. On the appointed day, I painted the walls, and then did one coat of tile sealer. A second coat of sealer today, and "light traffic" is permitted 4 hours later.

We wanted to install the baseboard trim before putting in the toilet, but sadly the paint can says we need to wait TWO WEEKS before gluing on trim. So, more waiting. (Please note: I was intending to glue and nail the trim, but have since been adviced to only nail after committing my intentions to print. Thanks to my readers!)

Feast your eyes on this beautiful sight! Tiled floor, a mirror in the vanity cutout, and our sink/vanity in place. Now, just imagine the luxury of the 31C floor temperature contrasted against the -22C temperature outside (with the windchill factor). My command central has a backlight overhead light switch, a timer for the exhaust fan, and a programmable termostat for the floor heat. And best part -- it works.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The waiting is the hardest part

Tom Petty may have beat me to this phrase, but honestly, the waiting can be the hardest part. Months in the making, we thought that after the grout went in, that we'd be showering at home in a matter of days. But, the grout sealer bottle said to let the grout cure for 10 days before sealing. Everybody in my network thought that seemed like a long time, but when you've gone to this much effort, what is a few more days? Or 10?

So, we waited. And worked on figuring out how to get the floors finished. My part time tiler/brother-in-law refused to work with the travertine we'd selected and the floor heating mat. Who could blame him? I thought about doing it ourselves, but after checking out the large wet saw at the rental department of Home Hardware which rents for $78/day, I thought twice. I had visions of us trying to cut the 12" x 24" tiles on our front porch in the -24C weather with all our neighbours watching (and laughing). So, at the end of the year, I decided to call in a few pros and speed up this outrageously long bathroom reno. Right now we're waiting for quotes from our three selected contractors, recommended by our friends Max and Tino at Home Hardware.

Yesterday my tiler/brother-in-law called to say that he was coming to caulk the tub area. I wanted to do it myself, but like the grout, he said no way! Who am I to argue. Again, after the months of work to get to this point, I'm happy to have him do it. So last night, Dan and I poured out some toxic grout sealer and applied it with some sponge brushes to all the grout lines. Twice.

Mike has just finished caulking and in 24 hours, we can use our shower and tub. Hooray. This is a huge victory worth celebrating. And since I didn't do much of the work for this part of the reno, waiting really was the hardest part. But now, showering at home will be my reward!

Thanks again to Mike for all his amazing work. The shower looks amazing! I can't wait to have my victory bath tomorrow.