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This Old House - Do-it-Yourself

Canadian Houses Built To Last – But Do They?

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 10 February 2004 00:00

Science and technology may be improving durability of construction materials, but no building in Canada lasts forever, at least not without some help. No matter how well-built the home or how durable the materials, eventually exposure to pollution, sun, water and other elements, plus daily wear-and-tear, take their toll. Even low-maintenance buildings keep Canadians busy.

At Statistics Canada's count, our neighbourhoods consist of about 11 million private homes, over 70 per cent of which are older than 20 years:

  • 1.7 million of these were built before 1946
  • Another 3.6 million went up between 1946 and 1970
  • A further 2.5 million were constructed between 1971 and 1980, and
  • The remaining more than 3 million homes are more recent structures.

According to the 1996 Census, approximately 65 per cent of Canadian homes needed only regular maintenance. However, close to eight per cent, or about one million houses, required major attention, with problems ranging from defective plumbing or electrical wiring to structural damage. With small repairs and aesthetic changes to medium-priced and big-ticket items, the work invoice totalled $12.8 billion in 1998.

Although in 1998 Canadians paid over $8 billion to contractors specializing in repairs and renovations, many property owners tackled these projects themselves. Newfoundlanders and rural Canadians made their own repairs and renovations more frequently than their mainland or urban counterparts. At the other end, homeowners in Ontario and British Columbia paid the most for contracting services -- with $0.70 of every dollar spent on repair and renovation.

Demolishing buildings is often quite costly and complex, especially in urban settings. Saving money is at least part of the reason for the growth in repair and renovation work which contributes to keeping sound structures in place and modifying them for new uses. Reducing energy costs and considering health and safety measures are other incentives to renovate. Statistics Canada also attributes growth in renovation spending to Canadians' increasing support of the concept of 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.'

However, when you renovate or undertake a major repair, be careful not to let the '3Rs' distract you from an opportunity to take a new look at your home and how you use it.

As you assess your project, ask yourself how changing particular components will affect the performance of the whole house. According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), a house is not merely a building but "an interactive system made up of many components including the basic structure, heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment, the external environment and the occupants [where] each component influences the performance of the entire system."

This means a renovation or repair to one area may require changes elsewhere. For example, when installing a hot tub during a bathroom renovation, something must be done to account for the large amounts of humidity that will be added to your home. Your existing ventilation may be inadequate to handle the increased moisture levels. Proper ventilation is essential to avoid mold growth, indoor air quality problems and damage to the structure or finishes.

Before renovating, assess the condition of your home to determine if there are any significant underlying problems that must be addressed before or during your planned renovation project. Start with a systematic and thorough inspection of your home to assess its condition. Look for any signs of deterioration and the possible causes. Many problems in other parts of the house originate in the basement so begin there. Depending upon the size of your project, you may want to ask a qualified home inspector or a professional renovator to help you assess your building and develop a plan.

Why not make use of your tax dollars and start with CMHC, our federal housing agency. Their website offers lists of renovation questions so you'll know what to consider, what to ask and what an answer could mean to your project and your budget.

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