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Nisha Muire

The right solutions for your small bathroom

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Toronto real estate is very pricey these days. Finding a house in the city is hard and costly. So, many homeowners who already have a place in town are opting to stay put and renovate their digs to better suit their needs. However, while this is great for those who have plenty of space to spare, people with smaller footprint properties have to get creative when it comes to remodeling – and bathrooms are among the spaces where some creative thinking can go a long way. 

Small bathrooms can usually only be enlarged by encroaching on space in some other area – not ideal in an already tight home. However, there are ways of maximizing the space in your bathroom to get the storage, counter space and functionality you need. 

Let’s look at some interesting trends.

Traditional shelving

The right shelving can go a long way towards making your small bathroom more functional. Narrow, floor-to-ceiling shelving takes little space but provides a lot of very practical storage room for towels and toiletries. 

Recessed shelving

A new trend in small bathroom design is recessed shelving either in a wall or in an existing shelving unit. These handy little nooks provide additional storage for smaller items or even nice spots for small plants. 

Floating sinks

Floating sinks are great at providing the illusion of space in a small area. The underneath of the sinks are easy to clean and can also be used for storage towels in a basket or a small kitty litter for your furry friends. 

Wet bathrooms

A newer trend brought over from Asia and Europe is that of a wet bathroom – so called because the bathroom is designed so that every surface can get wet. Wet bathrooms can look bigger and give the illusion of more space. However, they do need to be properly water-proofed and can make using the toilet or sink problematic if someone has just showered. A compromise with a pane of glass separating the shower and tub can alleviate the water issues that a wet bathroom can create. 

The right colour

Using the right colour scheme can definitely make a small bathroom seem larger and make it more inviting to use. Usually designers will opt for pale blues, greys, yellows and pastel colours in a small bathroom. You can also use one dark, bold colour as an accent as long as other walls are light. 

There are plenty of great ideas out right now for sprucing up small bathrooms. A good designer will be able to steer you in the right direction. 

Radon: a silent toxin

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Checking for radon in your Toronto home should be one of the routine tasks you do every few years. Why? Because radon is an odorless but harmful gas that can lead to cancer with long-term exposure. 

What is radon?

Radon is a colourless, odorless, inert gas that is found naturally in the atmosphere. It is usually not a concern outside where it disperses quickly. The trouble arises when the gas gets trapped indoors – usually in a house or school. The gas seeps into a building and because it has nowhere to go it builds up. 

Why is radon dangerous?  

Lung cancer related to radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in North America. When inhaled, radon breaks down and gets into the lining of your lungs where it gives off radiation. Long term exposure to radon can lead to cancer. 

How can you check for radon exposure?

There is a simple test you can do to check if your home has radon in it – just purchase a test kit from any hardware store and install it in your home. 

What to do if your home has radon?

Radon leaks in from openings connecting your home to the ground. So, the first thing to do is air out your home. Make sure you have adequate ventilation and air circulation. Next, seal any cracks you have in floors and foundations that are exposed to the ground.  

Call in the experts

If high radon levels persist in your home, then it is time to call in experts to help find the cause of the high levels and to help you seal it off. Some homes with dirt crawl spaces may need to have those crawl spaces attended to. 

While radon is fine in the small amounts found naturally, large quantities over an extending period of time are what you must be aware of.

How to win a bidding war

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Toronto real estate continues to be red-hot despite the pandemic and the concerns that the housing market would flatten. Today’s homebuyers are facing a real challenge in finding a home. Bidding wars are making prices climber higher and faster than ever and many buyers are getting frustrated at constantly losing out to other bids. So, what’s a buyer to do?

 

Have a strategy

To make a successful offer on a property in this climate you must be ready. You must know exactly where you want to buy and what you want to buy. When you know where and what you want to buy, you are better able to move quickly when that gem comes up for sale.

 

First through the door

Next, you need a realtor who is able to get their hands on listings before they hit the MLS. Being the first one in to see a property is probably the best way of ensuring you get first crack at making an offer. Even if the seller is anticipating listing the house and accepting offers up until a specific date, if you are able to see the house early and put an attractive offer on the table, chances are high that it will be accepted. Naturally, it doesn’t work in all circumstances, but smart sellers understand that having a good, firm offer is better than five weak offers. 

 

Be prepared

To win a bidding war in Toronto you have to be prepared – that means having your mortgage amount pre-approved and having your deposit ready to go. In fact, the larger your deposit the more seriously you will be taken by sellers because they will see that you have a lot riding on the offer going through. 

 

Sweeten the deal

One of the best ways to sway a seller into accepting your offer is to make your offer as attractive as possible. Get rid of contingencies if possible and offer to pay their closing costs. Although some experts will counsel you to forego an inspection, doing so is not in your best interests. Inspections are done to protect buyers who could otherwise end up facing costly repairs. If a seller wants you to forgo an inspection, you have to ask yourself “why”? And, you also have to determine how desperate you are to win that bid knowing that you might be facing some significant issue down the road. 

 

Escalation clause

If the seller is still set on accepting bids after you have submitted your offer, it is best to then include an escalation clause. Basically, an escalation clause states that you are willing to pay a certain amount over your offer price should the sellers receive something more attractive. However, if this is the case, the sellers must first prove that the other offer was higher and by how much. 

 

Your best shot, but not everything

Lastly, while it’s important to go in with your best offer – it is also a good idea to reserve some of your funds for escalation. Putting in your max offer might get you on the table, but if you have to offer more, then you have to be ready to come up with those funds. By reserving some funds, you have a better shot of not overpaying and of still getting what you want.

Major vs minor renos

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Want to spruce up your Toronto home without breaking the bank? There are a number of ways that you can transform your home without necessarily spending big bucks or calling in a wrecking crew. 

Small changes, big impact

Sometimes all a home needs is a bit of a style upgrade to take it from outdated to fabulous. When people think about renos, big, costly whole home scenarios are what most people envision. However, superficial renos can be just as dramatic and add significant value to your home. 

Paint

If the last time you painted was over five years ago, then it is time for a refresh. If you are more conservative, then you can opt for an updated take on a more conservative palate. However, if you don’t mind drama, then pairing a bold new hue with something more toned down can mean the difference between blow-me-away and blah.  

Wallpaper

Using just the right amount of wallpaper is another great way to change the look of a room and to add drama and interest without a high cost. Although you can certainly pose the wallpaper yourself, hiring an experienced professional is recommended as wallpapering can be tricky. 

Light fixtures

Swapping outdated light fixtures for new, contemporary sources of illumination is a brilliant idea. Whether wall sconces, chandeliers, pendant, track or pot lighting, adding new sources of light can create atmosphere, spotlight a special feature or be straight-up functional. The best part? There’s a great variety of lighting fixtures to fit within every budget. 

Minor kitchen/bathroom updates

No need to replace your cabinets to make a huge difference in your kitchen or bathroom. Some quick fixes for a brand new outlook are all you need:

  • Replacing the cabinetry hardware
  • Refinishing/staining the cabinets
  • Replacing the counters
  • Changing the floor
  • Buying new appliances/fixtures

Mouldings

Another way to really spruce up your home is by focusing on the details – the baseboards, mouldings and millwork. You can change or repaint your baseboards. Add crown mouldings or a ceiling medallion. You could also install wainscoting or a moulded ceiling. All these add interest to a room and create cachet. 

Just a little bit of effort and cost can really update your home.

Sell or renovate?

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Toronto homeowners know that they live in a hot real estate market. The natural question then is: what is best – renovating their existing home or selling to buy a property with more of the features they want?

Evaluate options

One way to help you decide is to list the pros and cons of your current home. Some questions to help you make this list are:

  • Do you like your home? 
  • Is it in a good location?
  • Do you have a big backyard? 
  • Is there room to expand its footprint?
  • Are bones good?
  • What is it missing to make it perfect for you?
  • What can you live with?
  • What do you absolutely want?

If you have a long commute to work, or there is more work to be done than you realistically want to take on, then it might be worth selling. However, if you like your neighbourhood and are basically happy with your property, then it is worth renovating. 

Budget

Renovations are always more expensive than you realize. And, often the 10% contingency that is worked into the budget is not enough – whether it is due to an unexpected issue or because you change your mind along the way. It is better to budget anywhere from 20-35% extra for contingencies.  

Create a realistic budget for your renovations. Price out the materials, the fixtures, the contractors so that you are aware of what you can expect. If you don’t have a realistic budget then you can find yourself in a very stressful situation financially.  

Time

Renovations take time. And, they typically take more time than you anticipated. You will be living in dust, dirt and confusion for whatever time it takes for your home to be ready. You will have to prepare mentally to put up with the chaos for the duration of the renovations. 

If you are well prepared for a reno, then it can  be very rewarding. Transforming a property you already love into exactly what you’ve always wanted is exciting. However, if there are major aspects of the home that you dislike and which cannot be changed, then you are probably better off using your renovation money to fund the purchase of a new home.

Damaged driveways

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Toronto driveways are built for toughness, but even so, they can and do get damaged. Driveways can develop cracks, suffer from an oil leak, and be scratched by snow removal equipment. Even the harshness of Toronto winters, water and tree roots can add to the stress your driveway faces and result in a damaged surface. Here we look at a few of the most common culprits for damaged driveways and offer you ways to protect your hardtop for the long run. 

Bad installation

The number one reason for a damaged driveway is that it was poorly installed. For a solid driveway you need at least six inches of gravel topped by another four inches of asphalt. If there is less gravel or asphalt, if the layers haven’t been compacted properly or if the base isn’t level, then you will see problems developing almost immediately. 

The best way to avoid this situation is to get referrals from family and friends for trusted installers. Or, read the reviews of the installers in your neighbourhood to ensure you’re hiring a trusted company. 

Oil leaks

Oil leaks are very bad for driveways. If not addressed immediately, in time the oil will soften and break down the asphalt making it more susceptible to water and to freezing/thawing cycles.

The minute you see a leak, clean it up and stop parking the leaky vehicle on your driveway until it is repaired. You can buy commercial cleaners at any hardware store that will work to get the grease out as long as it hasn’t penetrated the surface too deeply. 

Salt

In Toronto people tend to salt their driveways. While great for melting ice, it is very damaging to asphalt and concrete surfaces. The increased thaw/freeze cycles will increase the amount of water on your driveway and if there are any minute cracks, they will be exacerbated. 

Instead of salt there are many driveway friendly alternatives: sand, kitty litter, coffee grinds and calcium chloride, to name a few. Look into the option that would best suit your needs and budget. 

Water

Water can easily wear down a driveway. It is very good at getting into cracks and thereby washing away the sand and gravel in your base. 

To avoid water damage, make sure water drains properly. If there are areas of standing water, either brush the water away immediately, or hire an expert to even out your driveway so that it drains correctly. 

Heavy loads

Driveways are built for strength, but there is a limit to how much prolonged weight they can bear. In time heavier loads will cause a driveway to lose its shape. To avoid this, only park the recommended number of cars on your driveway. 

Lastly, driveways will tend to oxidize over time. This is a normal process where the asphalt starts hardending when exposed to air. When a driveway is oxidized it turns grey and becomes hard. Oxidation can be bad because when the surface hardens and loses its flexibility, it becomes more susceptible to cracks. To keep your driveway supple, it is a good idea to reseal it every few years.

The proper care of hardwood floors

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Hardwood floors are a beautiful asset that add value to your Toronto home. While hardwood floors were the standard in older homes, they are not as common now with engineered hardwoods and floating floors replacing the classic standard flooring. 

If you want to preserve your home’s hardwood flooring for as long as possible, you should take the time to do the following simple yet effective maintenance. With a little effort your floors can look as good as new for the life of your home. 

Clean spills

Although wood floors are always sealed, cleaning up any spills immediately is very important. Liquids have an insidious way of finding their way in through the tiniest cracks. Any liquid has the potential to severely damage hardwood floors. So, be sure to mop up any spills immediately!

Dust regularly

Dust can abrade and dull hardwood floors if left unchecked. Be sure to dust your floors as often as you can – daily is best, but if you aren’t able to swing a daily sweep, then every other day is essential to keeping that high gloss and shine. In fact, vacuuming your floors is the best option if you have the attachment that can be used on hardwood floors. 

Wood cleaner

If you really want to keep your floor looking its best, then buy some wood cleaner and use it every month. It will help keep the shine intact.

Protect your floors!

Cleaning your floors properly is only one part of preserving the life of your floors. A crucial element is protecting them from furniture. The easiest way to do this is to invest in good pads that will disperse the weight of your furniture and prevent the feet from scratching up your floors. 

Lastly, it is best to refinish your floors periodically. However, there is a limit to how often this can be done as refinishing requires the light sanding off of layers. Once you’ve sanded down as much as you can go, it will be time to replace the floors. However, that can be decades in the future if you’ve cared for them properly.

Building a cottage

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Toronto homeowners have looked to escape the city in larger numbers than ever during the pandemic. The increased interest in cottage country has brought with it an increase in the number of people buying land and building their own country get-away. 

Rising costs

With cottage country house prices expected to rise 17% in 2021, it is easy to understand why building could be an attractive alternative. However, before building you must take into account all of the peripheral costs that could make building just as costly as buying. Add to that the rising costs of lumber and materials in the province, and the only incentive left in building is the customization that you will get versus buying already built.

What to budget for

Among the more obvious costs of building your own cottage are the cost of land and the physical structure itself. What many people forget to include in their calculations are the costs of:

  • Architect to design your house
  • Preparing the land
  • Excavation
  • Pouring a foundation
  • Creating a path or driveway up to your property
  • Installing a septic tank (if not being hooked up to the city)
  • Drilling a well
  • Electricity/plumbing hook-ups
  • Electrical systems (if off-grid)
  • City permits
  • Gutters/installation
  • Paint
  • Flooring
  • Project manager (unless you plan on doing this yourself)
  • Furniture/appliances
  • Window coverings
  • Landscaping 
  • Closing costs

Kit houses

Prefabricated houses are a very good option for country homes. They are built in a factory and assembled on site. The interesting part of a kit home is that you can choose what state of completion you want for your project. You can order just the kit and find your own contractor to put it together. Or, if you are handy you can put it together yourself, which would save a lot of money. You could also have them install it but get your own supplier for the excavation and finishes. You could also choose the turnkey option where everything is done for you.

Online calculators

If you choose to do the work yourself, there are online calculators that will help you cost out the total expenditure to budget for your project. Although you will have to pay for the full version of these calculators, they will list every element of your project down to how many screws you will need, giving you a very clear idea of how much you need to budget.

Building your own cottage can be exciting. Planning carefully and having a contingency fund are crucial to a successful project.

On trend pandemic renos

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Toronto homeowners discovered that renovating their homes to better suit lockdown-living makes surviving a pandemic much easier. With nowhere to go and being cloistered in their homes for the better part of the past year-and-a-half gave Toronto homeowners a better appreciation for their properties. Whether in a condo, a townhouse or a single-family-dwelling, the rise in home renovations is clear indicator that people put their money where they slept.

Let there be light!

One of the biggest Toronto renovation trends is adding windows to let in more natural light. Inadequate natural light can affect a person’s mental health and quality of life. So, it is no surprise that enlarging and adding windows became a trend in Toronto and elsewhere. If you want to add windows to your home, remember to consult an architect or engineer to make sure that no supporting beams are affected and that you place new windows in the optimum spot for maximizing the amount of sunlight you get per day.

Creating separate spaces

With so many people working from home, there was a sudden need for dedicated spaces for living and working. Given the popularity of open-layouts, people were forced to get creative. Rooms had to be set-up to provide maximum efficiency. The need for distinct working/living space created a demand for innovative solutions to address these dilemmas. Now finding furniture or built-ins that serve double purposes is much easier. And, homes with these solutions have become much smarter as a result. Another trend is turning open-layouts into more closed off spaces where someone working from home can have privacy and quiet.

Sprucing up the outdoors

Whether people have a terrace, a balcony or an acre of land, the need to get outside during the lockdowns have made people appreciate their outdoor space more than they ever have. There has been an explosion of swimming pools being installed and landscapers have been busy from early spring late into fall trying to meet the demands for manicured yards. It’s not hard to understand why – people need an escape from their homes and using the space available to them is the best way to do so.

If you are thinking of renovating your home to suit lockdown living, then you are not alone and any money spent upgrading your surroundings will certainly raise the value of your home.

 

Surviving a heat wave without air conditioning

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Toronto can get hot during the summer. And, with the city experiencing greater numbers of heat waves every year, beating the heat can take some creativity if you don’t have air conditioning. Here are some tips on cooling off when the heat rises.

Fans

The simplest way of cooling down is to create a breeze – and the best way to do that is with a fan. Whether you choose to install a ceiling fan or purchase a pedestal or box fan, these handy appliances are a fraction of the cost of air conditioning and will help cool you down on hot days.

Ice

If the temperature rises too high and the fans are just recirculating already hot air, you can help add some coolness to the air by putting a bowl of ice in front of your fan. As the ice melts, the fan will spread the cool air around and will bring down the temperature. Just be prepared to make a lot of ice so you can keep replacing it as it melts down.

Water

Yes, water can be your friend on hot days – even if you don’t have a swimming pool. You can always soak in a cold tub or you can even fill up a bucket to soak your feet. You can also soak towels and put them on your head and shoulders to help cool you down.

Basement

Toronto home basements are always cooler than the upstairs. If you are fortunate enough to have a basement, consider spending the hottest parts of the day downstairs.

Hydration

During a heat wave you need to drink plenty of water. As your body sweats, it will lose water and electrolytes – both of which need to be replaced frequently. So, try to drink and have a small snack every so often to keep your body hydrated.

Cool foods

Try to eat “cooling” foods such as salads and cold meals. Try to avoid heavy, protein rich meals, which tend to increase your metabolic heat resulting in you feeling warmer.

Lastly, if the heat is too much, head to an air conditioned public place such as a mall, library, movie theatre, etc… and don’t forget to check on your pets to make sure they are not overheating as well.