Tiny Houses in North Hastings

February 14th, 2016

A new housing craze is trending in North America, called the tiny house. Some people call this the small house movement. It's more than just an architectural style, it's social movement that advocates the simplified lifestyle. If you haven't seen one, do a search on the internet and you'll be surprised by how lovely some of these affordable homes can be.

They're a really interesting solution for those planning to build a more permanent home or cottage on a property as the tiny home could be used as temporary accommodation while the larger structure is being built and later on, converted into a guest Bunkie... or a shed... or as our American neighbours at the island used to call their tiny cabin, "The Beach Cottage". For people who like camping, they offer a great option- the opportunity to have an indoor living room, kitchen and bathroom.

One of the problems is that most local municipalities have restrictions. While no building permit is required for a structure that has a footprint of 107.6 sq ft or less, houses need to be 800 sq ft or more, and serviced with a well & septic and some sort of power. In most cases, hunt camps can be smaller, but they be lived in year-round and really aren't allowed to have any services or they're taxed like a residence. Frank Mills, the chief building official for Wollaston Township and Hastings Highlands says he gets a call a week, inquiring about permits for a "tiny house".

“We are still receiving requests for Tiny Houses, usually about 500 square feet.", Mills wrote in a report to Wollaston Council, "My recommendation is to amend the zoning bylaw at some point to allow them on rural lands."

I hope council was listening.

Log Home Construction

February 9th, 2016

For many people, a log house is their ultimate dream home. Built properly, a log house can last centuries, providing the cozy comfort in the winter and cooler comfort in the summer, because heavy timber is a great, natural thermal insulator.

If a log home appeals to you, don't be disheartened by well-intentioned friends and family who don't understand that log home construction has come a long way since the late 1800s, when pioneers hastily stacked logs to create a one room cabin for their families. These days, building codes speak about "R" value or "R" factors for insulation, which doesn't take into account the mass of wood, which holds heat in log construction.

While log homes are still built essentially by stacking logs, different builders use different systems to fit the logs together, this is known as joinery. Most use a system of gaskets and sealants designed to move with the logs as they shift and shrink, settling during the first 8-10 years after the house is built. Some employ tongue and groove construction. notching the logs so that they fit into the top of one row and the bottom of the next row of logs. Still others, use bolts that go through the logs, employing a spring mechanism that pushes downward to ensure that the logs settle evenly.

Problems with log homes are generally caused by the types of logs used, designs that don't protect logs from getting wet and a lack of maintenance on the exterior. As with any structure, site drainage should ensure that water drains away from the home on all sides. A properly designed and constructed log home, will have adequate overhangs, rain gutters and down spouts and requires the same house maintenance routine as any other home.

Specific attention should be given to places where the end grain of a log is exposed. These should be treated with preservative chemicals or flashing, trim and caulking as required. All exterior surfaces of logs should be brush or spray treated with a wood preservative that contains water repellent. Corners and other areas that are exposed to frequent wetting should be thoroughly treated.

Corners may be Dovetailed, Saddle Notch or Butt and Pass cut like the pioneers made theirs. Dovetail corners often have a layer of asphalt-impregnated foam between layers. Some say that a properly built but-and-pass house will never settle. Most log homes have some sort of chinking. This material fills the gaps between the logs and is usually a synthetic material, although in some cases it can be mortar.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about mortar chinking. Some people believe it can be drafty or crumble... this is simply not true. It requires a little more finesse to install it, but it more economical and longer-lasting than synthetic products plus it's easy to install, do-it-yourself friendly, minimizes water damage and it's fire resistant to boot.

It is the responsibility of the log-home builder to understand and conform to the best practices of the trade, but the secret is in keeping the space between logs tight. Logs "check" during drying, causing longitudinal splits and for the first couple of years, which can make quite a loud banging sound. The choice of wood can affect the degree of checking and the amount of maintenance required over time. Attention to this sort of detail is where craftsmanship comes in.

In order to rot, wood requires a moisture content somewhere between 30 and 60%- this is more of an issue in warm, humid, southern climates, so it's highly unlikely that your Central Ontario log home will rot. Log homes aren't a fire hazard, either. A solid log wall is resistant to heat, due to its mass. When there's a fire in a log home, the subfloor, interior walls and roofing will always burn first. The walls will stand up a lot longer than in a home with conventional framing.

There's no need to worry about termites or other wood-boring insects any more than one would with other types of construction. These pests are more interested in logs that have bark and it's hazardous to construct log homes from logs that haven't been debarked. Once logs are stripped and dry, they aren't that delicious, so log homes aren't any more susceptible to termites than conventional houses. Logs that are left unprotected for several weeks after being cut may be vulnerable to colonization by fungi but this readily identifiable and less likely if the trees are felled in late fall or winter.

After logs are removed from the woods and debarked, they are usually dipped in a preservative and stored off the ground, under cover, to air dry. Some manufacturers kiln-dry or partially kiln-dry their logs. This makes the logs less vulnerable to rewetting during storage and the kiln temperature kills beetle larvae and fungus spores. Some manufacturers additionally treat log-kits with fungicide.

When we speak of maintenance, it's something every home owner has got to do. The exterior of a log home should be maintained with a good quality stain purchased from a reputable company that specializes in log homes. The application of maintenance treatments will vary depending on the procedures used during the manufacture.

Generally speaking, the exterior should be retreated after the first six months, at about 18 months to ensure that untreated areas of the log, exposed by checking, receive treatment. Large checks and splits, especially the ones on the upper faces of logs should be caulked to prevent moisture leaks. After eighteen months, the exterior should be maintained at four to five year intervals and some products have even better longevity.

It's a good idea to wash your log home every year. This removes surface contaminants like dust, bird feces, pollen and insect remains that prematurely wear the finish. After you've cleaned it, touch up and breaks in the chinking and if your log home looks dull in spots, you should apply a clear maintenance coat to those areas.

NOTE: Wood sealants and film-forming finishes tend to trap moisture in logs, so it is best not to used any until after the first heating season. Once stained or varnished, under normal circumstances, the interior walls should never have to be redone.

We are on Facebook

January 26th, 2016

Readers of this blog have learned that it isn't really about self-promotion, so much as it is to talk about the beautiful area in which we trade... or to talk about stuff that interests us. It's interesting, some of our posts get a lot more attention than others. Thousands and thousands and thousands of reads. Yup. Lots.

One post, from a while back, that still gets regular messages is the one entitled "PROPERTY RIGHTS- what every Buyer should know". It's amazing how little we really understand when it comes to the various rights that may or may not be included when we purchase property.

There are lots of other interesting notes that come back and sometimes we share them, on our Facebook page.

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Up, Up & Away?

January 21st, 2016

Royal LePage CEO, Phil Soper, predicts that Canada will continue to see home prices to rise by 4.1 per cent over the course of 2016. He also predicts that the markets in Greater Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Areas will continue to grow at a less "frenetic" rate.

Gregory Klump, the chief economist with the Canadian Real Estate Association suggests that Toronto is still experiencing a sellers' market, as an imbalance in supply and demand has resulted in large price increases for single family detached residences. Condominium sales, have slowed somewhat, except the smaller units which are generally favoured for short-term living or investment.

Derek Burleton, Vice President and Deputy Chief Economist for the TD Bank Group has expressed concerns about deteriorating affordability in the region. He suggests that higher land costs and restrictive regulations have made it difficult to supply affordable housing, even for those with moderate and higher incomes.

People in Toronto are quite accustomed to seeing old houses torn down to make way for skyscrapers. The push is on and while multi-unit dwellings, like high rise condos, are remarkably more affordable than single-family homes, the increased density puts a greater strain on the basic infrastructure of the area.

In the short-run, we need affordable housing. In the long-run, most of us want to secure social, economic and environmental prosperity. We need to find some middle ground. I know it's easier to provide services to a highly populated region, but there are problems with high density living, too.

City streets, buses and subways are already overcrowded and many industry professionals are concerned that there has been more attention given to creating housing than to sustaining the communities being created. Can we begin to imagine the long term ramifications to the quality of life that vertical concrete communities pose to our rapidly aging population?

What we need are housing policies that address long-term needs, rather than short-term demands. Burleton suggests, we need to find ways to reduce the cost of construction, expedite delivery and encourage investment in a broader range of housing types. & there's plenty of room in this neck of the woods. Perhaps we need to work at helping small towns to better accommodate some of this growth!

Bill 73: Smart Growth for Our Comunities Act, 2015

January 14th, 2016

Bill 73 was first read in the provincial legislature in March 2015. The revised version received Royal Assent on December 3, 2015. Known as the "SG Act", a few sections were proclaimed to be in force on the date of Royal Assent and those sections that amend the Developmental Charges Act (known as the "DC Act") were proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor of Canada as of January 1, 2016. The date that majority of SG Act (which amends the Planning Act) will come into force has yet to be proclaimed.

Based upon public consultations on Ontario's land use planning and appeals system that took place around the late fall of 2013, into January of 2014, the SG gives municipalities greater independence as far as local land use planning disputes. According to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (The Honourable Ted McMeekin), the SG Act will effectively give residents more of a voice in determining how their communities will grow and make the planning and appeals process more predictable, however, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and its operations were not part of the review.

There is no question that significant improvements have been made with regard to municipal accountability in Ontario... but it's interesting to note that McMeekin used the word predictable... not streamlined or more efficient. The Province's efforts to have the municipalities take a stronger role in the process, adds more to the burden of municipal responsibility for service provisions. There will be more letters, phone calls and email to answer. There will be more reports to generate.

One can only imagine that the ultimate result will mean increased costs for local ratepayers and a longer wait for responses. On the upside, I suppose, is that local municipalities will be able to collect the fees... and maybe some common sense will kick in when looking at requests for minor variances.