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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.

Basic home maintenance to prevent issues

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You’ve found the perfect Toronto home in your preferred neighbourhood – if you want to stave off potential issues and you want to keep it looking its best, then there are some very simple home maintenance tasks you should do routinely. By keeping on top of small things, you will eliminate the larger issues that can arise from simple things left undone. To help you keep track we’ve compiled a list of tasks you should do every so often to keep your home in top shape.

Regrout/recaulk

It is important to refresh the caulking and/or grout around tubs, sinks, toilet bowls and tiles. Recaulking/grouting will prevent water damage in these high-water areas.

Exhaust fans/air conditioners/central vacuums

Clean out the filters in all the small appliances that have them including exhaust fans, air conditioning units and central vacuums. Cleaning your exhaust fans will prevent mold from forming while cleaning any filter will ensure that the appliances it’s in will continue functioning optimally.

Downspouts

Make sure that your downspouts are always pointing away from your home and can drain easily. Downspouts that are clogged or don’t have the attachment that leads away from your home could cause water damage to your foundation.

Drains

Keep your drains draining smoothly by giving them a good cleaning every few months. You can use baking soda and vinegar to clean them out periodically, but if you have a really slow moving drain, then you should use a snake to clear any gunk built up and to get the water flowing again.

Gutters

Gutters should be cleaned at least once a year – if not twice – in the spring and in the fall. This is especially true if you have a lot of trees close to your home. Cleaning debris out of the gutters will help to keep the water flowing properly and prevent any water damage from happening.

Driveway

Fill in any cracks you might see right away. Leaving a crack can actually cause the crack to widen and worsen over time – especially due to winter conditions. You should also reseal your asphalt every few years.

Trees

Trim your trees and hedges to keep them away from power lines. It is better to prevent vegetation from getting tangled up with power lines to avoid a falling branch taking out the power and causing expensive damage.

Windows/doors

Inspect your window and door seals to makes sure there are no leaks. If you do find a leak then you should seal it right away.

By keeping on top of these few simple tasks, you can easily maintain your home.

Rehab your lawn

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A neatly manicured lawn adds curb appeal to any Toronto dwelling. Whether you have a tiny patch of land or a sprawling acreage, having a healthy, green lawn is definitely satisfying. If your lawn is more dust and weeds than grass, there is a way to bring it back to life without the need of costly services. All you need is time and the commitment to providing the care a new lawn needs to get established.

Get rid of weeds

The first thing to do to get your Toronto lawn looking healthy again is to get rid of the weeds. It is best to use a non-selective herbicide for this task. Spray it on to your lawn and wait the recommended amount of time before moving to the next step. If the weeds persist, then you will have to spray those areas again until they are gone.

Aerate/till

Once you have rid your lawn of weeds, the next crucial step in the regreening process is to aerate. To do this you can use a tiller or aerator and if you don’t have one of these you can rent one from your local hardware store. If tilling the soil, then it is best to till to a depth of 5-6 inches to really break-up the soil. Incorporating the tilled vegetation into the soil is great for softening heavy, clay soils.

Rake

Once you have properly aerated your lawn (or tilled it) you must rake it to remove any debris – this ensures that the seeds contact the soil properly.

Seed

Now you are ready to put down your seed. Broadcast spreaders work best for large lawns, but drop spreaders are better for areas edging garden beds. If you want to get the best coverage, spread from north-to-south first and then go back and spread the seed from east-to-west. You will be certain to cover every inch with this technique.

Rake

Rake in the seeds lightly. They should have contact with the soil, but not necessarily be buried by the soil.

Fertilize

Add your rooting fertilizer – it should only be fertilizer specifically meant for new growth grass, otherwise it can scorch the seeds.

Water, water, water

Finally, you have to water your lawn consistently. You should water your lawn twice a day for 15-20 minutes. Your goal is to keep the seed moist until they start to germinate and sprout.

Wait for the grass to be at least 3 inches tall before cutting it, then make sure your lawn mower doesn’t cut more than ? of the stems. With consistent watering and cutting, you can revive your lawn and enjoy a lush, green carpet.

Flooring trends 2021

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Toronto flooring trends haven’t changed all that much over the year – hardwoods are still the number one choice for most homeowners. However, there are some innovative materials now on the market and the colours are definitely trending lighter than before.

Hues and colours

Dark wood flooring in Toronto homes was all the rage for the better part of a decade, however, recent trends show colours starting to lighten. Now it is very common to see pale shades and cool tones over the darker ones. Even when it comes to tiles, the colours being chosen are lighter, with a bit of texture and/or neutral. However, geometric patterns are also very trendy right now.

Area rugs

Area rugs are on the rise in popularity. While banished from most homes for a long time, these accent pieces are making a comeback and are being used to highlight a room’s colour scheme or architectural detailing. If you do opt to use an area rug make sure that there is at least 18” of clearance all the way around it. If being placed in the living room, then all of the furniture should fit easily on top of it. Otherwise just the front legs of the major furniture pieces should be on top of it.

Biggest trends for 2021…

But what is the biggest trend in flooring for this year? Greige. Yes. that in-between colour that is a mix of both grey and beige has now found its way from cabinets and walls into flooring. If you are redoing your floors and really want to be on trend, then this is the colour for you. It is cropping up in wood, laminates and tiles.

Lastly, marble patterns are going to be huge this year. They were already starting to take hold in the prior two years, but they are now really hot and will be found everywhere from kitchen to hallways to bathrooms.

Regardless of the current trends, finding the right flooring for your home is best done but following your own tastes – after all, you are the one who will be living with it.

Finding your renovation budget

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Toronto real estate is in a seller’s market. Prices are high and competition fierce for the homes on the market. It is no wonder that many people are choosing to stay put and renovate instead of wading into such a hot market. Then there are those who are renovating to maximize the returns they can get when they do list their property. Whatever your reason for wanting to renovate, the first step is figuring out how you will finance your reno. Financing a renovation is one of the very few acceptable reasons for incurring debt. Renovations are considered a good debt because they add to the value of your home.

Budget

Once you have determined the kind of budget you will need for your renovation, you will have to think about where to secure that funding. If your project is small, then you might already have the funds set aside or can postpone your reno a few months to save it up. However, if your project is large then there are several options available to you for financing.

HELOC

The home equity line of credit is one of the smartest ways to finance a home renovation. The HELOC lets you borrow money against the equity built-up in your home – up to 80% of your home’s value (loan plus mortgage combined). HELOCs require you to repay only the interest every month, making them extremely flexible. The only caveat with a HELOC is that you must be disciplined enough to draw down on it only for the project at hand and not be tempted into using it to float any shortfalls in your monthly budget. As there are no requirements to pay back the balance each month, the other danger is that you never really ever end up paying the loan back. However, if you are disciplined and know that you can repay what you borrow and won’t use it for vacations or other miscellaneous expenses, then a HELOC is a great way to finance a reno. And, because of its flexibility, you can borrow and repay against it as often as you like.

Remortgage

The next option for financing a renovation is to remortgage your home. As long as you have a realistic budget and know how much you will need for contingency remortgaging your home will give you the best interest rates and it will force you to repay the loan every month – making it an ideal way to ensure that you don’t simply float the loan indefinitely. The only drawback with remortgaging your home is that it is not as flexible as a HELOC. If the project costs more than anticipated or you have other projects you want to do afterwards, you will again have to look for a way to finance them.

Personal loan or unsecured line of credit

The other options for financing your home renovation is through a personal loan or a line of credit. While they are both solid options if you aren’t able to access a HELOC or remortgage your home, they will cost you more in the longer run and are not very flexible either. Furthermore, if you don’t make the minimum payments on the line of credit every month, the interest charges can balloon your debt significantly in a short amount of time.

Home renovations are great not just for adding value to your home, but also for creating a space tailored to your needs, your aesthetic and your comfort level.

Avoid being house poor

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Buying more house than you can handle and becoming instantly house poor is very easy in the heated Toronto real estate market. As the property boom continues due to record low interest rates, a lack of supply and the continuing pandemic that is causing people to seek out space, emotion is another very important component that is fueling the rise. People are fearful of “missing out” and of never being able to enter the housing market if they don’t do so now. However, before taking the plunge it is so important to properly evaluate how much you can realistically afford to pay every month.

Monthly carrying costs

Most financial institutions recommend that your mortgage not be more than 26% of your monthly income and your total carrying costs should be maximum 30% of your budget – that would include property taxes, insurances and an emergency fund. Many people push that figure to 40%, but that is truly the limit when it comes to how much of your monthly income should be spent on housing costs.

How to calculate what you can afford monthly

Before you can determine how much you can feasible afford to pay per month, you first have to calculate just how much you earn. While most financial institutions and mortgage lenders will calculate your borrowing capability based on your gross income (before taxes), a more accurate way of calculating is to base your borrowing capacity on your net income (after taxes). Then, calculate all of your fixed costs – savings, car loans, school loans, utilities, insurances, etc… Add on your variable expenses such as food, clothing, entertainment, vacations, haircuts – and then see what you are left with at the end of the month, this figure is the real amount that you can afford on a mortgage. If you don’t have much left over, then you will have to rejig your spending to include a mortgage, property taxes and/or condo fees, house insurance and a maintenance fund.

Deposit

The amount of your deposit will also play a role in how much of a mortgage you can afford. The greater your deposit the more house you will be able to buy. If you are able to put down 20% of the asking price, then you will also save on mortgage insurance, something that can add quite a bit depending on the amount that is being insured.

Better safe than sorry

Lenders will always be quite eager to lend you money – but it is prudent not to let their enthusiasm sway you. Be prepared with your own calculations so that you know exactly how much you can afford and just how much you are willing to stretch. Although what you can afford right now might now buy you the kind of property you had in mind, it doesn’t have to be the only property you purchase. When you have enough equity in your home, you can sell it and move up – this is especially true if you are buying your first property. A starter home is something you can easily afford, that will get your foot in the real estate door.

In the end, there is no point to buying a home that will leave you broke at the end of each month. Living a good life means being able to go out for meals or shows, take vacations and not have to pinch your pennies to buy clothes or shoes. You will be much happier in the long run if you only bite off as much as you can comfortably chew.