Functioning of the house is the key consideration when undergoing a home renovation

By Ryan Starr, Toronto Star

Are homeowners dropping the ball when it comes to renovations?

The right way to renovate

Contractor Brendan Charters, who spends a great deal of time carrying out major renos on older homes across Toronto, thinks so.

All too often, he laments, owners seeking to upgrade their abodes focus more on sexy things such as granite countertops and stainless steel appliances and less on improving the critical working elements: the air, moisture, ventilation, water and temperature management systems.

“It’s all well and good to rip out that kitchen or change the colours on the walls,” says Charters, development manager with Eurodale Developments. “But not enough time is spent talking about what’s behind the walls, and how does this house, as a system, provide shelter from the elements and a healthy environment to live in.”

Charters is a passionate proponent of the “House as a System” (HAAS) principle, a construction methodology that ensures all parts of the home function in an integrated way.

“The idea is to look at how everything works together, from the insulation to the ventilation, to make it a healthy and comfortable living space,” he explains.

When it comes to major renovation jobs, Charters says owners who fail to treat their home as an integrated system of operations are only creating problems for themselves down the line, no matter how great that stove with the big red knobs might look. “It’s like putting flashy new rims on your car, but failing to fix the brakes. You’re basically setting yourself up for disaster.”

Banking on green

Chad Attard, owner of Attard Construction in Mississauga, Ont., thinks most homebuyers still have trouble appreciating the long-term value of a greener home.

“It comes down to money,” he says. “Unless we can show an actual trade-off, dollar for dollar, very few people are willing to bank on the fact that (greening their home) may save them money over a 10-year period.

“If they’re given a choice, most homeowners will almost always opt for high-end finishes that give their house the wow effect.”

Attard thinks attitudes will change, however, as newer generations of homebuyers enter the market with sustainability at the top of their must-have lists.

Charters agrees. “The consumer is getting savvier,” he says. “They’re not just going to stand at the curb and say, ‘That house is gorgeous I want it!’ They’re going to say, ‘This house might look good, but it performs horribly compared to that other house which also looks good.’ And that will shape their decision.”

“And, let’s face it, energy prices are not going to be going down over time,” he says. “So we’re all going to get hit in the pocketbook, and that’s always where change is initiated.”

First published in the Toronto Star on July 5, 2012.
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