Getting Your Home Winter Ready in Muskoka

Eavestrough-Cleaning-Karen ActonOK, so the snow fell, the thermostat dropped, and you still have not done any winter prep around your Muskoka home or cottage. All is not lost; the weather man says that it will be gone in a day or two, so you still have time to get things done. Let this little dive into winter be a great reminder that you still have a few unfinished home maintenance tasks left to check off the list.

Here are some helpful lists I have put together for you from the many great resources on-line. Hope you find them helpful.

Windows and Doors

  1. Check the weather stripping around windows and doorframes for leaks to prevent heat loss. Replace weather stripping, if necessary.
  2. Replace all screen doors with storm doors if you have them.
  3. Replace all window screenswith storm windows if you have this type of window system.
  4. Examine wooden window frames for signs of rot or decay and repair if required.
  5. Check for drafts around windows and doors. Caulk inside and out, where necessary, to keep heat from escaping.

Lawn, Garden, and Deck

  1. Trim overgrown branches back from the house and electrical wires to prevent iced-over or wind-swept branches from causing property damage or a power problem.
  2. Aerate the lawn, reseed, and apply a winterizing fertilizer to promote deep-root growth come spring.
  3. Ensure rain or snow drains away from the house to avoid foundation problems. Make sure the ground slopes away from the house. Add extra soil to low areas, as necessary.
  4. Clean and dry patio furniture. Cover with a heavy tarp or store inside a shed or garage to protect it from the elements.
  5. Clean soil from planters. Bring pots made of clay or other fragile materials indoors.
  6. Dig up flower bulbs, brush off soil, and label. Store bulbs in a bag or box with peat moss in a cool, dry place for spring replanting.
  7. Remove any attached hoses and store them away for the winter to prevent cracks, preserve their shapes, and prolong their life.
  8. Shut off exterior faucets. Drain water from outdoor pipes, valves, and sprinkler heads to protect against pipe bursts.
  9. Inspect decks for splintering, decay, or insect damageand treat, if needed, to prevent further deterioration over the winter. Clean leaves, dirt, and pine needles between the boards of wooden decks to thwart mold and mildew growth.
  10. Inspect outdoor lighting around the property. Good illumination will help minimize the chance of accidents on icy walkways at night.
  11. Check handrails on exterior stairs to make sure they’re well secured.

Tools and Machinery

  1. Bring all seasonal tools inside and spray them with a coating of lightweight oil to prevent rust.
  2. Weatherize your lawn mower by cleaning off mud, leaves, grass, and debris.
  3. Move your snow blower and shovels to the front of the garageor shed for easy access.
  4. Prepare the snow blower for the first snowfall by changing the oil and replacing the spark plug.
  5. Sharpen ice chopper and inspect snow shovels to make sure they’re ready for another season of work.
  6. Make sure you have an ample supply of ice melt or sand on hand for steps, walkways, and the driveway.

Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning

  1. Inspect the firebox and flue system to ensure that they’re clean of any soot or creosote and that there aren’t any cracks or voids that could cause a fire hazard.
  2. Check fireplace for drafts. If it’s cold despite the damper being closed, the damper itself may be warped, worn, or rusted. Consider installing a Chimney Balloon into the flue to air seal the area tightly.
  3. Clean or replace the air filter in your furnace for maximum efficiency and improved indoor air quality.
  4. Clean your whole house humidifier and replace the evaporator pad.
  5. Bleed valves on any hot-water radiators to increase heating efficiency by releasing air that may be trapped inside.
  6. Check that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order.
  7. Remove air conditioners from windows or cover them with insulated liners, to prevent drafts.
  8. If you have an older thermostat, consider replacing it with a programmable unit to save on heating costs.
  9. Install foam-insulating sheets behind outlets and switch plates on exterior walls to reduce outside airflow.
  10. Make sure fans are switched to the reverse or clockwise position, which will blow warm air down to the floor for enhanced energy efficiency and comfort.
  11. Flush hot water heater tank to remove sediment, and check the pressure relief valve to make sure it’s in proper working order.
  12. Examine exposed ducts in the attic, basement, and crawl spaces, and use a sealant to plug up any leaks.

Gutters, Roof, and Drains

  1. Check for missing, damaged or warped shingles and replace, as necessary before you get stuck with a leak.
  2. Check for deteriorated flashing at the chimney, walls, and skylights and around vent pipes. Seal joints where water could penetrate using roofing cement and a caulking gun.
  3. Check the gutters and downspouts for proper fastening, and re-secure if loose or sagging. The weight of snow and icecan pull gutters off the house.
  4. Clean gutters of any debris. Make sure downspouts extend away from the house by at least 5 feet to prevent flooding of the foundation and water damage from snowmelt.
  5. Ensure all vents and openings are covered to prevent insects, birds, and rodents from getting inside to nest in a warm place.

It is always a challenge to get started with a long list of chores but by taking care of your property you prolong the life of it and you will enjoy a safe and warm winter in this beautiful winter wonderland we call home.

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Planning a New Kitchen in Your Muskoka Home?

Sargeant49 important questions before you start

We all want a dream kitchen so before you start here are some tips experts have developed to help you get one. Start with a clear view of what you intend. Focus on the things you want and those you need. This will help you see where you can compromise if necessary and where to stick to your goals.

A kitchen renovation can seem overwhelming when you start the process. There are lots of elements to get right. It is not simply the design but all the other factors from appliances to how will it fit the style and décor of the rest of your home or cottage.

1.Define the vision. Ask the big questions before you do anything. You need to establish how you want your kitchen to function. Do you have a large family and want your new kitchen to be the place where you all spend time, eat meals do home work? Do you love to entertain and envision a stunning space to show off your culinary skills? Ask yourself some clear questions to help build your vision, do you love to cook or is it a necessary function? Will you need a desk or work space here?
By asking yourself questions before you start making decisions you identify exactly what you want and what you need out of your available space. By knowing what you want at the beginning you are less likely to get off track once you have started.

2.What are my needs? After you’ve defined the vision or theme of your new kitchen, you need to identify the nonnegotiable things that are at the top of your wants and needs list. Your needs are the things you cannot do without. Things like an eating area or a large window – the important things that will control your joy level when being in the new kitchen. Don’t over focus on things that will go out of fashion over time like paint colours or even appliances as they can all be changed. Hopefully, you won’t need to make compromises on these needed items.

3. Making a compromise or two. Once you have defined the vision and made sure the needs are in place it is time to look at your want list and perhaps some of the compromises that may be required. You may want a new gas range but it is not in the budget! The solution is simple, make sure the space for the dream stove is created now but buy it next year and use your existing one for now. Some compromises are a bit harder to make. You may have wanted a feature that the space available simply cannot accommodate and that is a tougher compromise to come to terms with.

4.Creating an efficient layout? The layout of your kitchen is a big decision, and you may need professional advice. It is best to sketch it carefully and note where the gas and electrical outlets are going to be for each appliance, and of course drainage for plumbed items. Kitchen designers like to create zones for cooking, washing and prepping which is a great tip for creating good flow.

Consider the space between cooktops and windows or tower cabinets, and between electrical outlets and sinks. Think about which appliances can sit near others, and remember to make sure doors can open safely. Don’t put islands too close to a run of cabinets as you will want to be sure to have a comfortable walkway. Many cabinet retailers will have software that can draw a plan for you and some will even visit your home or cottage to measure and check the positions of things.

5.Don’t forget the lighting and heating? It is very important that while you are still in the planning stage you consider the accompanying elements of your new kitchen design. The lighting and heating are important and it is vital to get it right, not only to create a welcoming atmosphere, but also to see clearly while you’re cooking! Decide whether you need direct lighting over the work surfaces and pot lights in the ceiling. Lighting has come a long way and there are some very glamorous options that can have a significant impact without a huge cost.

The heating system is like the kitchen cabinets and appliances, it’s best to decide on positions for these at the outset so that you can get services installed at the correct locations before the kitchen goes in. Once you’ve decided on the layout of your heating and lighting, as well as the position of your appliances and cabinets, try not to make any huge changes as it can be costly to reposition or divert your utilities once you’re at the installation stage.

6.Don’t forget about building permits? If you’re having structural, electrical or plumbing work done as part of the job, you may need to obtain a building permit before you start work. If you’re undertaking this level of work you may have an architect or a building contractor who will be able to tell you how to go about applying for the right sort of permission for the job.

7.What’s my style?Once you have determined all the practical aspects of your reno you can start to think about the fun stuff! You most likely have browsed the internet or the pages of decorating magazines but now with your vision, wants and needs list you can zoom in on the final “look” you want. Perhaps it’s a farmhouse kitchen with a huge harvest table or perhaps a sleek minimalist block with hidden appliances? Whatever you seek, with careful planning you should be able to achieve it and  stay within budget.

8.Hiring a contractor? Perhaps the weightiest decision you will have to make when undertaking a kitchen reno, is choosing the right people to do the work. Many builders will be happy to take on your whole project, with responsibility for the building work, cabinetry, electrical and plumbing considerations too. However, if you are not making any structural changes you may not need a building contractor. You can act as your own general contractor and coordinate the tradesmen you need to do your project. You may need to employ a cabinetmaker, a certified plumber or electrician, tilers and drywall and plaster experts as well as flooring and heating trades. Remember to ask for estimates and get references.

9.Choosing the finishes. Before the work has started finalize as many things as possible like sinks and faucets, countertops, and appliances as well as the tile and flooring. Don’t wait until your contractor needs the items and you rush to obtain them, rather get ahead of the time line so that you won’t be rushed at installation stage. This will ensure that you do not make snap decisions that you may later regret.

These 9 steps are a great guide to a successful kitchen renovation. No matter the reason for the reno, getting it right will bring you a great deal of pleasure and add value to your Muskoka home or cottage.

How to Choose a Great Muskoka Handy Man

Karen Acton - Muskoka Handy Man

We all know how busy the skilled handy man in Muskoka is and how hard it is to find one when you need one. The temptation is always there to go the route of letting the friend of a friend fix or renovate for you. But when things go wrong you are left in a difficult position. Whether it’s a big project such as a bathroom remodel, something small like putting up shelves, or just simple repairs and routine maintenance, many busy home and cottage owners need to turn to a capable handy man to get the job done. Finding a qualified, professional, and reliable handy man can be a real challenge.

Here are some tips for you to help ensure that you find the right person for the job:

ARE THEY QUALIFIED FOR THE WORK

Unfortunately, all handy men are not created equally! If your project requires specific skills make sure that the handy man you hire has the qualifications and experience to do the job. Don’t forget that in Ontario some jobs require that a person, other than the home owner, performing certain work must be licensed; electrical and plumbing often fall into this category.

GET REFERENCES

Request at least two local references from previous customers. Any good handy man should be willing to do this without hesitation as his reputation is his stock in trade. Don’t just ask for them, check them! Inquire about the quality of the work, timeliness, professionalism, and how the handy man handled any changes that may have occurred during the project.  I find it good to ask if they would hire him or her again.

PUT IT IN WRITING WITH A PROPER ESTIMATE AND A CONTRACT

If you can find 2 or 3 handy men with good references then you should ask them for written estimates for the work you have in mind. Be sure that each estimate contains enough detail that you can make a comparison between them, after all it is not fair to compare apples with cabbages. For example, are the specified materials of the same quality? Does the cost include cleanup and hauling away any debris or old/broken items? Read all contracts carefully and be sure to ask about anything that you are unsure of.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT INSURANCE COVERAGE

Liability insurance is always important. If the handy man or maybe an employee of his/hers is injured while working on your property, you may be held liable for their medical costs and other expenses. Ask for evidence of their WSIB coverage before agreeing to any work. If they only work directly for home owners they do not have to have WSIB and may be depending on your policy for protection. They should also have insurance against their errors and omissions so you are protected if they do damage to your home or cottage accidently when working on the project. Uninsured handy men often charge less for their services because they lack the overhead expense of insurance, but using them could cost you in the long run.

BE CLEAR ABOUT THE PAYMENT SCHEDULE BEFORE YOU SIGN

Be cautious if you are asked to pay for the entire job up front – this is not an accepted business practice and could leave you open to fraud. Handy men will often ask for 50% up front to allow for the purchase of materials. You may have agreed to a “Time and Materials” contract with a weekly invoice being submitted or you may have even set up an account at the supply store so the materials can be billed directly to you and only need pay the handy man his weekly labour cost. Whatever the details are, be sure you are all clear on them and request receipts for all payments.

Whatever your project once you have found that great Muskoka Handy Man you will keep him or her close to your heart! A capable honest and dependable handy person is golden – someone you will recommend to friends being confident they will not let you down.

 

 

Understanding Algae in our Muskoka Lakes

Lake Vernon - Karen ActonHave you noticed there is a lot more talk about algae blooms on our lovely Muskoka Lakes even though the conditions this season have not been conducive to the development of blooms! Over the past 10 years throughout Muskoka there has been an increase in the number of algae blooms reported.

Something I have learned and think you may want to know is that the relationship between algae, algal blooms and water quality is complicated but that the presence of algae in your lake does not necessarily indicate reduced water quality.

What are Algae?

Algae are tiny floating organisms (phytoplankton) or attached (periphyton) plants found in lakes and rivers. They contain chlorophyll and carry out photosynthesis.

Algae are the base component of the aquatic food chain and are a critical component of a healthy aquatic environment. There are many different types of algae found in Muskoka that include diatoms, green algae, pigmented flagellates, and blue-green algae.

Like all life forms algae require a food source and they require sunlight for growth.  It is the amount of nutrients available (especially phosphorus and nitrogen) that will limit the amount of growth of algae in a lake.

There are several other factors that affect the growth of algae in our lakes. Environmental factors that determine the type and number of algae in your lake are:

  • Water temperature;
  • The physical removal of algae as it is flushed downstream;
  • Grazing on the algal populations by microscopic organisms and fish;
  • Parasitism by bacteria and fungi; and
  • Competition from aquatic plants for nutrients and sunlight.

 Phosphorus and Algae

Phosphorus in reasonable amounts is required to help drive aquatic systems. It is a valuable nutrient that promotes plant growth and forms the base of food chains in ponds, streams, lakes and rivers.

Unfortunately, when lakes become nutrient rich it can lead to algae blooms and eutrophication. Algal overgrowth can destroy the appearance of water, make water taste unpleasant and smell, reduce clarity, and change the colour of the lake to a vivid green, brown or yellow.

Natural sources of phosphorus include wetlands and the atmosphere, while man-made sources include:

  • Urban and agricultural runoff
  • Sewage discharges and septic tank seepage
  • Eroded streambanks
  • Fertilizer runoff and detergent wastes.

Nothing can or perhaps even should be done to reduce the nutrients entering your lake from natural sources however reducing the nutrients from man-made sources should be minimized and can hopefully prevent excessive algae growth in the future.

What are Algal Blooms

When there is excessive growth of one or more species of algae, it is called a “bloom”.  Algal blooms can happen at any time of the year but are most common in summer.  Algal blooms usually occur after calm, hot weather when the water gets warm. Blooms are caused by several factors but an increase in nutrients and the right weather conditions often result in the formation of a bloom; just as fertilizing a lawn makes the grass grow faster. In other instances, something may change in the environment to favour one species of algae over another, leading to a population explosion.

One of the most serious consequences of an algae bloom occurs when the bloom dies off. As algae die, they sink to the bottom of the lake and decompose, depleting oxygen levels. The depletion of oxygen in the bottom layer of the lake can free phosphorus trapped in the sediments and reduce the amount of oxygen available for the survival of other aquatic organisms, including fish.

Algal Blooms can occur sporadically in lakes that don’t have elevated levels of nutrients. Therefore, increased levels of phosphorus cannot be relied on as the sole rationale for sporadic or individual algal blooms, and the presence of an algae bloom does NOT necessarily indicate nutrient enrichment.

Blue-green Algae

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are photosynthesizing bacteria, not plants. Blue-green algae are commonly found in lakes and ponds. Some types of blue-green algae produce toxins while others do not.

The only way to determine if a sample of blue-green algae contains species capable of producing toxins is to analyze the sample in the lab.

Blue-green algae blooms are likely to occur during sunny, calm weather when high concentrations of nutrients are present in water. Fresh blooms may smell like fresh-cut grass, while older blooms may smell like garbage. When the algae die and decompose, toxins may be released in those species that produce them. Symptoms from drinking water contaminated with blue-green algae include headaches, fever, dizziness, diarrhea, abdominal pain or stomach cramps, sore throat, nausea and/or vomiting.

Blue-green algae have several characteristics that enable them to out-compete other species of algae, including:

  • The ability to adjust their buoyancy so they can float or sink depending on light conditions and nutrient supply
  • Using nitrogen fixation to maintain high rates of growth when other forms of nitrogen are depleted
  • They are less favoured by predators than green algae because they produce chemicals that make them ‘taste bad’.

 

So here is the bottom line as a cottage owner or renter. Algae are a normal part of the ecology of aquatic life. They usually pose no risk to us. They need specific conditions to “bloom” some of which we can help mitigate by being aware of our phosphate loading from our septic system. This can be done by selecting our detergents and fertilizers with care.  Most algae are not harmful to humans but blue-green algae can cause sickness and in extreme cases serious illness. Water that has a blue-green bloom should be avoided.

I AM NOT AN EXPERT ON ALGAE but I do feel that good stewardship of our lakes is vital and the Muskoka Watershed Council and Muskoka Water Web have great resources to assist us in doing that.

Algal bloom sightings can be reported to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Changes Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060.

Net Zero Homes and Muskoka

Net-Zero-highres Image

Net Zero Home by Reids Heritage Homes in Guelph Ontario.

In May 2017, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) officially launched the Net Zero Home Labelling Program, which is focused on building fully energy efficient communities.

Kevin Lee, CEO of CHBA said “The Net Zero Home Label will help to meet the energy efficient housing aspirations of Canadians, and renew Canadian industry leadership in high performance housing. CHBA members have always been leaders and innovators – this program continues that trend.” He went on to say “Our National Home Buyer Preference Study confirmed that consumers want and expect an energy efficient home. Our members have a long history in delivering high performance homes and are ready and eager to deliver the next generation of high performance housing to discerning Canadian home buyers. Our Net Zero Home Labelling Program provides third party confirmation for both the industry and the consumer.”

According to the CMHC web site a Net Zero Home (NZE) is one that is designed and built to reduce household energy needs to a minimum and includes on-site (not all definitions require on-site but CMHC does) renewable energy systems, so that the house may produce as much energy as it consumes on a yearly basis.

According to the CMHC a Net Zero home is not necessarily an “energy autonomous” one. It does not have to be “off-grid” and can be connected to electrical service. This is so that it can supply electricity to the grid when it is producing more than it needs and draw from the grid when household demands exceed the amount of electricity produced on site.  The NZE designation is about the net annual consumption of energy being zero.  The intention is that  over the course of a year, the energy supplied to the grid balances the energy drawn from the grid, therefore giving a  net- zero annual energy consumption.

Kevin Lee said that the CHBA is “ showing support for leading-edge innovation in the residential construction industry that with the goal of having those innovations as a voluntary and affordable choice for consumers,”  CHBA feels that the Program benefits builders and buyers by clearly defining the two-tier requirements for Net Zero and Net Zero Ready Homes. It also identifies the builders and renovators who provide Net Zero services.

So what do the designation actually mean?   Most of us are familiar with the ENERGY STAR designation which indicates that the home is 20% more energy efficient than the Building Code requires. A Net Zero Ready home will have to be up to 80% more efficient than code, and a Net Zero home will be 100% more efficient than code requirements.  The reason a Net Zero home is 100% more efficient is because it produces as much energy as it consumes.

Special training has been developed for members of the building and land development industry who are interested in achieving Net Zero. There are CHBA Net Zero Qualified Service organizations, energy advisors, and trainers that will work with builders and renovators to plan their next Net Zero project.

It’s becoming increasingly important to build and market energy efficient homes and communities. The CHBA conducted a nationwide home buyer preference study and discovered that four out of the top 10 ‘must have’ features in a new home were energy efficiency related.

So where in Muskoka can you find a Net Zero home you may ask. Well as far as I can tell nowhere yet! But because Muskoka, by its very nature, attracts people who desire to give more than they take I believe this is something we will be seeing more and more of. Builders like Mattamy Homes and Reid’s Heritage Homes are already offering Net Zero options in their developments.  Many more custom builders in our region are taking the required training to be able to offer this option to their clients. So, if you are planning to build a home or cottage in this area ask you architect and builder about Net Zero construction.

The Upside to Downsizing Your Muskoka Home

DownsizeYour children are grown and finally gone and settled into their own adult lives. You have gone through the woes of “empty nest” syndrome and you are now in the position to think about what is next for you!

Do you keep the big home and hope that you get to host the family holidays? Do you even want to do that?  Most of us eventually decide that a smaller home with less maintenance and overhead is the wiser thing to do, so here are some pros and cons to help you decide if there is an upside to downsizing for you.

Most often when I see clients downsize, they tend to move into into a smaller home or condo. Smaller homes very often are on smaller lots and both of these options can mean being closer to neighbours.

On the downside you can see and hear your neighbours.  This may be a negative but you can help moderate the effect by upgrading the window treatments in your home for privacy and strategically place screening plants in your garden or on your patio or balcony to make you new location more private.

The upside is you can get to know your neighbours. In most cases when you downsize you will find you have more time on your hands.  Less work to do around the home so having new friends in the neighbourhood is a great way to spend some of that time. Be social, old friends are great, but making friends next door will enhance the everyday enjoyment you have in your new home.

One of the things a larger home often has is storage space that smaller homes and condos usually lack.

On the downside storage becomes a premium. The double vanity in the old bathroom, the large hall closet, the full basement with a large utility room: these places may be gone in the new home. To counter-act this you may want to consider closet organizers and perhaps a bathroom makeover.

The upside is you can purge and then indulge: You may need to be a little brutal with yourself at first but pare down your “stuff” to only the things you need and love. Then give yourself permission to acquire only products you love as time goes on.  They may cost a little more but your new and efficient life style means you can afford to spend a little more on your favourite perfume and toiletries and use them every day rather than having 2 or 3 kinds and keeping the favorite one only for special occasions!

Most large family homes have formal sitting areas and family rooms. Often there is a craft room and a work shop. Lots of “hidey holes” for family members to have “me time” that may not exist in a smaller home.

The downside is that it is harder to have your own space. As a retired empty nester, you may have developed separate interests and activities from your partner so you will need to be intentional about giving each other the time and space needed to continue to do these activities.
The upside is that by being more exposed to your partner’s hobbies you may find you both enjoy them.  In addition, you will have a smaller home and fewer rooms that need cleaning so more time to spend together.

One of the biggest factors to consider when downsizing is what to keep and what to let go of.

The downside is your furniture may no longer work. Even if you’ve made careful decisions about what items you will keep and take to the new home there could be issues. A light-filled room can highlight stains you hadn’t noticed, the color or style may be all wrong for the space, and the way you find yourself using a room may mean that your furniture feels like a mismatch.

The upside is you are liquidating capital in the process and so can afford some new items: You have the perfect excuse to go shopping for new furniture and that is always fun!

The garden is usually a big adjustment whether you love to garden or not. Moving from a large home that likely has a larger garden to a smaller one with just a little one or even a condo with none can mean a big change.

The downside is your backyard shrinks, and your lifestyle changes along with it. For many this is a relief not a problem but if gardening is a passion for you, the solution is not as hard as you may think. There are often neighbours who can no longer manage their gardens who would love to allow you to help. Put a message on the community Facebook page and see how many replies you get. If you’re used to lazing by a back-yard pool and know you’ll miss it, consider a hot tub or a swim spa instead.

The upside is you have more time for you. Mowing the lawn will no longer be a time-consuming chore and the cost of the spring and fall turn around will be cut down considerably.  Remember, with some creative furnishings and plantings, a compact backyard can still meet your needs for a restful outdoor escape and a place to entertain family and friends.

By the time, you are ready to down size you have very likely been used to a large kitchen and cooking for a family. A smaller home or condo will usually mean a much smaller kitchen.

The downside is a compact kitchen changes the way you cook. When you have had oodles of counter tops and lots of storage perhaps even a pantry, cooking a family meal is relatively easy. A smaller kitchen will require you to clean as you go, plan your meals and shop for ingredients more often. It also means you need to reduce the quantities of serving dishes, glassware and kitchen gadgets that you keep.

The upside is that you can have fun learning new recipes. Embrace your downsized lifestyle and eat out more often. Meet friends out for dinner instead of having them over and when it comes to family events go to their home or make it pot luck and paper plates!

Another adjustment you will likely have to face is that your rooms need to serve more than one purpose. If you had a sewing room in your old home, you will most likely have to set up in a spare bedroom and pack things up for company.

The downside is rooms must serve more than one purpose. As an empty nester, you will have had the luxury of turning rooms the children once occupied into craft rooms, man caves, home offices and the like. When you downsize you will need to adjust to multipurpose rooms and make do, particularly when hosting guests.

The upside is less space less junk. You will be less tempted to accumulate stuff and buy only what you need or genuinely love.

Laundry rooms are often sacrificed in a downsizing move. Laundry rooms become laundry areas and in a condo may even be a community facility.

The downside is you need to plan your laundry day. If your kitchen and laundry become one or you need to leave your home to do laundry, figuring out what to do with baskets of washing can be a challenge. The typical laundry room is a prime dumping ground for all manner of items, such as shoes that need cleaning and stained items that are soaking in the sink, ironing board and so much more. You must find a way to eliminate this or “hide” it until laundry day.
The upside is small loads of laundry done frequently: Piles of laundry will become a thing of the past. Staying on top of washing, folding and ironing will become the norm.

Perhaps the biggest change and even the most difficult one to adjust to is how to handle house guests.

The downside is you have to plan well for company. Larger homes often come with guest rooms for visiting family but downsizing means you need to get creative to squeeze in more than one guest at a time. Bunk beds, wall beds, sofa beds and air mattresses are all options. It’s up to you how many guests you want to accommodate at once —and sometimes it will take a visit or two to see what will work.

The upside is smaller groups of visitors means more one-on-one time with them: If only a couple of family members can visit comfortably at once, quality time together is assured.

The decision to go from a large family home to a smaller one is not easy to make, but in my experience it is usually a good move with no regrets. I would be happy to help you with any questions you may have about the process and, of course, with the search for that new smaller abode.

8 Tips for a Successful Muskoka Home Renovation

Karen Acton - Renovating your Muskoka HomeIn my role as a Muskoka REALTOR® I am frequently invited into homes and cottages to give an opinion of value. These properties are in various states of maintenance and repair and often have been renovated by the home owner. These renovations span the whole gamut, from elegant and value-enhancing to lamentable and wasteful. So here are some tips that I believe will be helpful if you plan to renovate your Muskoka Home.

Set a Realistic Budget

If you plan to do a home renovation you really should have a clear idea of what you can afford before you start looking in magazines and picking fixtures and countertops etc. Talk to a contractor about realistic costs. Even if you plan to do the work yourself be sure to have a contingency fund built into the budget to allow for the unexpected. In my experience, there is nearly always a “surprise” element to every project.

Things to make sure you budget for include:

  • cost of preparing the space before you start the actual work (disposal of old materials)
  • relocating plumbing and electrical
  • light fixtures
  • paint and PRIMER – often skipped but will save time and money if done right!
  • flooring – will the existing floor be damaged in the process and need replacing or refinishing?
  • Permits – most renos WILL need permits and skipping them means that you could have issues when reselling and in some cases, void your insurance.
  • HELP – can you do it all yourself or will you hire out some parts?

Will Your Reno Suit Your Neighbourhood?

While most renos are interior and you may think immaterial to the neighbourhood you do need to consider the investment you are about to make. If your dream is to install an ensuite bath with a steam room that is wonderful but none of the homes in your area have this kind of luxury feature, you should understand that it is purely for your enjoyment while you own your home. You will not likely get any return on the investment. In fact, in some cases over improvements can devalue a home.

Remember not to ignore your home’s style when renovating especially if the renovation includes an addition. If you have a traditional Muskoka waterfront property, then a modern addition with walls of glass may not look esthetically appealing and will not generally improve value. While it may be your dream to own, it may not be the dream of many protentional future buyers. Work with your builder and architect to come up with a design that gives you the features you want but still fits the rest of the home or cottage.

Avoid Going Too Trendy

People sometimes make the mistake of wanting to be too hip and trendy in their new home by picking the latest, hottest, coolest things. I would encourage you to consider that trendy often means short term. While some of the hottest and latest trends will turn out to be timeless many will burn out fast and not only will you stop loving them quickly but the next buyer of your home or cottage will see them as “dated”.

To keep any room “trendy” pick accent items you can add rather than physical and structural ones. That way when the trend is over you can replace them with something new.  A good example of this is shag carpeting.  Rather than doing wall to wall, do a more standard floor finish and add a shag area carpet  and perhaps some shag accent pillows.  When shag goes out of style, and it will, replace these accents with whatever is the next trend.

Buy the Right Materials

One of the biggest mistakes that you can make when it comes to home renovation is to try to be frugal when choosing materials. The bottom line is, you’re going to get what you pay for.  Inexpensive and cheap are definitely not the same thing. Price check and be wise but being cheap will often lead to having to spend more in the long run. Cheap fixtures and products end up looking that way and invariably you will be disappointed and probably choose to replace then with the product you wanted in the first place.

Remember that if you’re going to do it, do it right. If you can’t afford to do it right, wait and do it later!

Do the Prep Work

Do it the right way the first time. Whatever the job get yourself ready before you start. Gather the right tools and prepare the space before you dip a brush in the paint or hammer in the first nail. You will be so glad you did.  I know it is the tedious part of any project big or small but if you fail to be prepared you will end up taking longer than needed and perhaps compromising on the quality of the finished job simply because you were too eager to get started.

One of the most important prep steps is the measuring. The old adage “measure twice, cut once” is the mantra of the great contractor and you should make it yours.  You can burn through a budget quickly by making cutting mistakes in your lumber or trim work and if ordering flooring, buying too much or too little will lead to total frustration. If you are not sure how to measure properly ask someone who knows. A quick lesson will save you time money and frustration.

Paint and Light

People often make the mistake of picking the wrong paint for whatever particular project they may be working on. It is important to use the correct type of paint for the surface. The best advice will come from the professional at the paint store but choose better quality paints with the right finish for the job.

Remember that your lighting needs to complement the colour palate you use and that typically most people gravitate to light and warm colours rather than dark and bold.

Get the Right Tools

If you are planning on doing the renovation yourself make sure you have all the tools you need to do it properly. This means that you may have to borrow or rent what you don’t have. Do not try to make the wrong tool do the job. This can lead to expensive mistakes and sadly even to injury to yourself or damage to the tool you are trying to make do the job. Knives are not screw drivers and chop saws are not miter saws so please be careful and make sure you have the right equipment to do the job safely.

You may even need to rent stand lights so you can properly see what you are working on and space heaters to keep you warm in the addition until the new heating is connected.

Embrace the Chaos

Once you have done the budget, designed and purchased the materials, sit down in and enjoy your last moment of calm for a while. Then take a big breath and embrace the chaos. While it is always best to try working in a clean and tidy space you need to accept that a clean and tidy work space is not a clean and tidy home. You will have disrupted meal times, dusty surfaces and hard to find possessions for the duration of the project. So embrace it, find humor in it and don’t get mad at each other or the kids over things that cannot change until the job is done.

 

I hope these tips will be useful and not too negative. Renovating your Muskoka home or cottage can be an exciting and worthwhile endeavor and if done well, will bring you many years of enjoyment and a good return on your investment when the time is right to sell.