Friday, March 21, 2014

Because You're Worth It

Our decision to renovate was based on our decision to make this our forever house.  So when we considered finishes and function, the choices we made were what best suited us.  Not resale.

But when people ask us what were some of the best decisions we made during our renovation, the top two answers are less about us or pretty finishes...and more about taking care of our investment.  Because it's worth it.

And funny enough, neither were in place at the end of the renovation.  Both were installed shortly after the "end".  Let me explain...

1) A Surge Protector

When we dug out and finished our basement in 2011, we kept the electrical panel where it was.

Look to the Left
There it is!

Forgive the bad iPhone pic.  I am not a professional photographer. 

It's on the wall next to the TV, but the simple doors painted the same color as the wall help to make it "disappear".  Yet it's totally accessible.  I'm happy we kept it accessible, because we've needed to have access to it far too many times than I wish we did.  I'll explain...


Same place as always, but upgraded during the big dig and finish.  Which was great, because during the even bigger renovation last year, we utilized that capacity.  But what we didn't do was this.

Surge Protector

Back up to the middle of July.  Renovation complete.  So many details, all executed.  So happy. 

Less than a month later and out of the blue, there's a surge in the hydro transformer across the street.  I'll spare you the gory details.  But one detail I missed was to make sure we installed a surge protector.  Of course. 

We lost our microwave, sump pump, basement bar fridge, many many potlights (not just the bulb but the whole can) and...the brand new range oven.  Dear God.

Luckily, there's a happy ending.  The range was new, so it was serviced for free and saved.  Wal-Mart was having a sale on microwaves.  And our contractor is amazing and replaced the brand new blown electrical....and installed a surge protector. 

I'm told electrical surges, like the one we had, happen less frequently than someone you know winning the lottery.  But for a few hundred dollars, that cute little box can save a whole lot of headache.  And if there's ever a surge again, I'll be happy to replace the protector instead of half the electrical items in my house.

2) A Furnace Humidifier

Our old house had laminate.  Our new old house has hardwood.  And lots of it.  Combined with a long, cold, dry first winter, you get this.


Silver lining?  I could get rid of some runaway paint.

I'm a glass-half-full kind of person. 

But to be honest, the gaps really were freaking me out.  Then, my contractor stopped by for a question I had and I think the gaps freaked him out, too.  I was in contact with his HVAC guy within the hour.

I lived with laminate floors and wood trim with 20 coats of paint for over ten years.  What did I know about swelling and contracting wood during winter?  I know a lot now.  And that humidifier is currently working overtime.

Humidifier Thermostat

This is on the front of the furnace.  It's cranked up to 45% because the humidity level in this house is sooooo low.  How to know when to back it off?  Look for condensation in the corners of the windows.  This sucker has been in place for 3 weeks now and I have yet to see any.  Yikes.

From Behind

It's hard to see the actual unit, as it's on the back of the furnace.  But it's directly connected to a water supply.  I'm crossing my fingers the humidity will make the boards swell up soon.  These gaps are making me crazy....

So there you have it.  Two of the best decisions we made during our renovation.  Which together cost less than a half of a percent of the total cost of our projects. 

Because they're worth it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How To Survive March Break

I don't remember Spring Break in grade school or high school.  I remember it in college...but the week never overlapped with friends at other schools. 

Here?  Everyone in Ontario is out at the same time (well, except University students - what I still call college - but we're not in that realm yet so it's not on my radar).  And since everyone's out, most people are away.  And by that I mean Steve's co-workers. 

So we stay home.  Always have, probably always will. 

With two in full day school now, and one in preschool, I'm used to a schedule with a speck of freedom.  But March Break means no school and no preschool.  So I reminded myself of that good old Weight Watchers mantra: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  I kinda did both.

Here's my guide to surviving March Break with three little least day one.

1) DO NOT show up to an Honest Ed's event without expecting a line up. 

Make that an insane line up.  Honest Ed's was having a sign sale.  My dad loves this store and we needed something to do, so why not check it out.  Why?  Because everyone else in Toronto was thinking the same thing.

The line wrapped almost completely around the entire city block sized store.  Needless to say, we aborted mission after the line moved about 15 feet after 15 minutes.  (My friend was #700 in line, just past the Mirvish Alley on Bloor, and got in after 5 hours of waiting - score!)

2) DO go to a diner for lunch after visiting Dollarama to make your own signs. 

The meltdowns at Dollarama meant we actually got Easter chocolate instead of sign material, but the goal was to make it out alive, which we did.  The diner paid off because the boys woo'd the owner and got free fries.  And I didn't have to make lunch.

3) DO indulge in child labor.

I run a tight ship, or I would be overtaken by these boys.  They are smart, strategic and like to stick together.  Even though I have a rule about eating only at the table (or island), with placemats, keep your head over your plate, two hands on your cup, use your gets on the floor.  A lot.  This week, it's their responsibility to clean it up.

4) DO NOT forget to check voicemail.

While we were at Honest Ed's/Dollarama/the diner, we got a call from St. Alban's Boys and Girls Club.  Jake was the first on the waitlist, and there was an opening for him to join the (incredibly cheap) March Break swim class.  Yes...!!!!

With Henry already registered for his level, we have 2 out of 3 in the pool at the same time all week.  This mom of 3 energetic boys couldn't be happier.

5) DO check books for the missing sock.

I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off searching for George's sock when we were getting ready to go to swim class.  It was on his foot all day.  Even through nap.  Then suddenly, it was gone.  Just one.  Couldn't explain it.

Just before bedtime, Henry picked up one of the 10 school library books we found in random places around the house this weekend.  He said, "Oh yeah!  I forgot I used George's sock as my bookmark!!"  Of course you did.

Thank goodness we made it through day one.  Day two, my parents come for a 5-day visit.  Which means at least that part of my March Break plan will not fail ;)

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

More Tree Insurance

Note to anyone in Toronto threatened by your neighbor's private (not city owned) tree: take care of it yourself. 

Trees are a tricky thing.  They are really tricky in this city.  Super tricky in our old, old neighborhood where the maples are 100 years old and reach 90+ feet high. 

And then you have an ice storm.

This is three streets away from us.  They are our school friends.  And that tree that uprooted and tipped over was enormous.  Thank goodness nobody was hurt, and she said they needed a new car anyway.

We have a maple tree that hangs over our house.  It belongs to our neighbor and is set back just far enough from the street that it is a "private" tree, not a "city" tree...meaning the city doesn't take responsibility for (read: prune) it. 

Pruned, April 2010
Pruned, May 2012

So we do.  We've pruned this tree out of our own pocket for 10 years.  The last prune was May 2012.  I consider it really expensive insurance. 

Then the December 2013 ice storm happens and we lose our our electrical mast for the 2nd time in 18 months.  Same tree dropping branches. 

Finally, a discussion with the neighbor that owns it.  Safety is number one concern.  There is ice storm damage that needs to be taken care of.  Tree is in decline, getting worse.  We say, let's consider removal and suggest helping with cost.  Lots of head nodding, but not much interest is shown.  Weeks go by and then...there's a really windy morning...

Drooping = Split Branch
Diamond = Large Split I look up to see a really large branch swaying and twisting and splintering in the wind.  Above our car.  Just outside the front door.

Here's where I tell you I go a little crazy.  Maybe it's mama bear protecting her kids?  Maybe it's mama bear imagining no car and shuttling three littles in subzero weather?  Maybe it's mama bear picturing herself scaling the tree with a saw in hand and throwing the broken branch on the neighbor's yard? 

Take your choice. 

(The arborist may or may not have almost witnessed some scaling by this mama of three littles who use the front door after he said someone would be nuts to park or walk under the tree like that....ARGH!!!)  

5 very long days after that windy morning, the branch -and other dead, broken, damaged- came down. 


It's a point of contention for me.  I love our neighborhood for so many reasons, and the big, beautiful, mature trees is one of them.  But the less of this tree I see hanging over our house, the better I feel. 

I just don't feel good about the cost.  I've done some digging since the last prune in May 2012, trying to figure out where the responsibility for taking care of this tree lies.  The owner?  The neighbor?  It appears that if there is a hazard to the neighbor present, it is the owner's responsibility to mitigate that hazard.  The problem is the process of getting the owner to act.  The city moves quickly for nobody.

The owner doesn't live there.  They rent out the house.  Our urgent communication wasn't replied to for days and no offer to act was given.  So in this situation, we acted.  We couldn't wait.  

Instead, we're waiting to hear from them about our suggestion to share the cost...while we continue to monitor this poor tree and keep track of its decline (read: continued hazard) which may lead to removal. 

In the meantime, I will cringe just a little bit less with the next big gust of wind ;)