Renovation of older Glebe homes

By John Gordon

Gordon March 2016 IMG_3460_2

Older Glebe homes have an impressive architecture presence, but can benefit from updating.
Photo: Liz Mckeen

The older homes in the Glebe, in general, have an impressive architectural presence with many still possessing wonderful design elements including fine carpentry and a striking array of finishing materials from B.C. fir and quarter-cut oak to chestnut. The houses are unique, designed by various top architects of the period and these architectural details together with a terrific location and vibrant community are what attracted many people to purchase in the Glebe in the first place.

Although these older homes have an abundance of charm and character, they do not always meet the current needs or match the lifestyle of their owners. The older homes often had a more traditional or formal layout, where the trend today is for a more open concept approach that includes larger kitchens with an integrated family room, a master bedroom with ensuite bathroom and walk-in closet, updated bathrooms, gas fireplaces, additional lighting, more closets and storage, upper laundry areas, etc. Simply put, many people desire the features found in the newer subdivision homes skirting the city.

Sometimes by reconfiguring the “parent” building or existing house it is possible to make some of the desired changes. Often, a one- or two-storey addition together with internal reconfiguration of the existing floor plan is required. These additions have the option of a full basement to add even more additional living space or allow for a “granny” suite or, in some cases, a basement apartment for future income. If your budget doesn’t allow for this scale of project, it is often possible to develop the attic or remove the roof and add an additional full floor. The added floor is the ideal footprint for a bright master bedroom with ensuite bathroom and a walk-in closet. There are additional options, such as improving the outdoor living space with the addition of western red cedar decks, a pergola, interlock patios, a garage, etc.

We believe that the design solutions to enlarge or renovate your home should exhibit sensitivity to the architectural heritage of your home while allowing homes to grow to meet the changing needs of their owners.

Translating Ideas into Reality

Preliminary architectural design or concept drawings are the first step to understanding the potential of your home. These scaled drawings show the proposed renovations and how the parent building can be modified to accommodate the proposed design. With the owner’s input and through consultation with the contractor on the finishes for the renovation, e.g. exterior finish, quality of windows, final flooring, choice of trim, cost estimates can be made.

If the price is in the owner’s budget, the next design phase is the creation of building permit drawings or working drawings. These permit drawings are submitted to the City on the owner’s behalf and the required permits are issued for the proposed construction. The City acts as a third-party inspector and together with Hydro Ottawa, inspects all aspects of the project according to the Ontario Building Code and issues a “final inspection” on satisfactory completion. This legalizes the construction, gives peace of mind to the owner and facilitates ease of title transfer if the home is sold in the future.

As a Glebe resident you have chosen an ideal neighbourhood, so why not customize your home to suit your requirements and at the same time build equity in this, your largest asset.

John Gordon is a principal at Gordon & McGovern Construction

How can i maintain the value of my Glebe home?

By John Wenuk

I’m a residential renovator who’s been working professionally in the Glebe for over 20 years. I’ve seen all sorts of styles of homes, built at different times, in all sorts of conditions. I have experience building things right from soil and footing conditions all the way up to rooftop peaks and chimneys. One of the questions I’m most likely to be asked is, “How can I get the best return from my investment?” My answer is always, “It depends!”


High on the to-do list is proper maintenance of roofing, fascia and soffit, brickwork, paint, other building claddings, porches, decks, balconies and foundations.
The best investment in your home usually comes from simple home maintenance, particularly on the exterior.

It Depends

Your best investment return depends on the condition of your home, the length of time you plan to stay in it, and how much you want to or can invest in the building. I always like to think of renovation investments from the point of view of capital investment. In other words, if I spend some money repairing, maintaining or renovating, how much of that money will I get to keep in the appreciated value of my home? I think the best investment usually comes from simple home maintenance.

Start With Exterior Basics

Probably your best investment per dollar invested is in proper and timely exterior home maintenance that can prevent expensive repairs. I have seen far too many brick walls blown out by a tiny leak in the flashing or roof, too many attics contaminated with squirrel and bat residue because of a small hole in the soffit or fascia, and too many foundations damaged or destroyed by improper water management. A huge problem may have started with a small building deficiency that neglect, time and weather have aggravated.

Consider obvious things like the exterior features on a home that protect it from Ottawa temperature and humidity swings. High on my to-do list are proper maintenance of roofing, fascia and soffits, brickwork, painting, other building claddings like stucco and wood, porches, decks, balconies and foundations. If an issue is caught early enough, the deficiency can be repaired before it becomes a major financial commitment.

How Can I Tell What’s An Important Maintenance Issue?

The best way to know if anything is going wrong with your home is to simply look at it in as much detail as you can. And the outside of your home is where all that nasty weather is trying to get inside to wreck things. Binoculars help for really high places like roofs, soffits, fascias and chimneys.

An hour or two once a year is all it may take, if you’re a keener take notes on anything odd you see. For example, consider your front porch. If it’s made of wood, metal or concrete, is it level? Is there any rotten wood, bad concrete or rusted metal that you can see? Is it pulling away from the main part of the house, and if so by how much? When it gets painted, how long does the paint last? Do parts of it get an unusual amount of water that takes a long time to dry? You can compare your notes year to year. There may be authoritative information “out there” that may give you some insight into what you see happening. However, it’s best to consult a Glebe home expert, particularly if you have a heritage home – someone who can put these issues into perspective and help you prioritize the work to be done. Problems you see may or may not be important – it really depends!

If a maintenance issue gets really out of hand, it will depreciate the value of your home unnecessarily. Homes with poorly maintained roofing, decking, brickwork, painting or foundations can have an extremely negative effect on price when it comes to market. Often the perceived loss of value in a purchaser’s eyes is much greater than the actual cost to repair. It makes sense, if a goal is to maintain the value of your home, to have a five- or 10-year plan to repair any issues and upgrade where possible. Fix the simple things before they get worse, and repair and upgrade things that are getting worse or that are unsafe.

In conclusion, I view good building maintenance, particularly on the exterior, as the keystone to maintaining and increasing the value of your Glebe home. Generally the dollars invested are moderate and easier on the budget than the cost to repair the home during a full-blown emergency. Once the exterior of your home is well maintained, what would I recommend you do next? Well, it depends!

John Wenuk is the owner of award-winning Sandy Hill Construction Ltd., serving Glebe homeowners for more than 20 years.

To dig or not to dig, that is the question!

By Shane Adsett

So you have decided to finish your basement. This is a good thing, as you now have the opportunity to ensure that your foundation is taken care of.

Typically there are four types of foundations in the Glebe area:

1. Compacted rubble
2. Concrete block
3. Poured concrete
4. Stone

Given that, in general, none of these foundations have an exterior membrane or vapour barrier on the floor, it is imperative that the floor and foundation be allowed to breathe. The biggest mistake that we encounter when demolishing previously finished basements is the lack of airflow.

When the insulation is installed directly against the foundation, it traps moisture and hence promotes mould. Mould is extremely detrimental, especially for rubble foundations. We have come across cases where you can literally push a screwdriver through the foundation walls. But, where to begin?


Ductwork and dryer box installed at a current project on Rupert Street; pre-wire complete; underpinning and walls insulated; vapour barrier installed
Photos: Courtesy of Adcor Construction

The three options are: exterior membrane, interior membrane or no membrane. In our opinion, an exterior membrane is preferable, as the moisture is prevented from entering the foundation and when installed in conjunction with weeping tile and gravel, it offers the best protection. It is, however, more expensive and destructive to the landscaping. For rubble foundations, it is the only way to go.

An interior membrane involves the installation of a membrane on the interior walls in conjunction with weeping tile and gravel. The weeping tile should if possible be connected to the sump pump. This is a much cheaper option.

If a membrane is not possible, the foundation walls should have tarpaper installed and the 2 x 6 inch perimeter studding offset by approximately a half inch. The insulation (the new Ontario Building Code calls for R20) should be installed as per the studs. This method allows airflow and assists in moisture evaporation.

The floor

Here again we need to allow airflow. A subfloor such as DRIcore® is perfect as it acts as a vapour barrier and because it is raised on “dibbits,” it allows for any water to flow to the floor drain.

In a case where water is a non-issue, the subfloor can be fabricated using 1 x 3 inch pressure-treated lumber (the new pressure-treated can be used indoors). Strapping is installed on a “super six” vapour barrier followed by 4 x 8 foot sheets of 5/8 plywood, as opposed to aspenite (particle board), which in our opinion is an inferior product that we never use.

To dig or not to dig?

The Ontario Building Code calls for a ceiling height of 6 feet 11 inches. In many cases excavation will be required, and lowering of the floor will take you below the foundation wall or footing.

First, you will need a report from a reputable professional engineer (P. Eng.) about the methodology. The two main methods are “benching” and “underpinning.”


This method uses forms to provide a “reinforced concrete bench” that juts into the living space by up to 24 inches. With this method, excavation of the area directly under the foundation walls is minimised; however, you lose living space.


This method is in our opinion the preferred one. It generally entails excavation of 48-inch sections under the foundation using the 45-degree repose method. You excavate 48 inches and leave 48 inches, with the unexcavated section left with a 45-degree angle from the base of the foundation. One then forms, reinforces and pours the excavated sections, and the process is repeated. This ensures that there is no subsidence of the foundation walls and gives the foundation additional strength.

In all cases it is imperative that you retain a P.Eng. for all structural work including the temporary shoring needed prior to the installation of support posts. We strongly recommend a building permit and a licensed company with a minimum of $5 million liability insurance and WSIB coverage. This will prevent you from being sued should someone be injured on the job.

In closing, while it is true that the preceding projects are costly, in our opinion they add real value to your home. The cost of adding ceiling height makes the space much more inviting and comfortable. One does not have to lower the whole basement; in many cases, only the living area needs to be lowered.

It goes without saying that in all cases, the foundation should have any required remedial work completed prior to finishing the basement.

Shane Adsett is the owner of Adcor Construction Inc.

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