Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Back to our home after the holidays

There is nothing better than the smell of cedar to make you feel like you're deep in the holiday season. In our case, it's also the smell that indicated to us that our siding was going up. While we were away in the interior of BC celebrating Christmas in a forest full of trees, Smallworks was working hard to get a forest of trees on to our home. Excited to return home and discover the changes, we took a quick iphone video to showcase the changes. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We're floored!

Long ago, the Romans used radiant floor heating in their bathhouses. For centuries, the Koreans heated their royal palaces and traditional homes this way too. Today, the technology to warm our floors and heat our homes has come a long way. 

Basically, radiant floor heating can be electric or hydronic. Hydronic radiant floor heating is a system of plastic tubes laid within a floor that carry hot water, dispersing the heat through the floors surface. The cooler water returns to the heat source where it is reheated and sent out again in what is known as a “closed-loop system”. The pipes are encased in a concrete slab so once they are covered the system is invisible to the eye. The theory on radiant heating is that you don't need to set your thermostats as high to heat the home and for cooling you don't need to go as low. When you have a really tight building envelope and you add things like an on-demand hot water system (and maybe even one day solar hot water), you can significantly reduce your energy costs.

But enough about all the facts and stats - watch our floors get poured and take a peak inside our home!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why are we doing this again?

Rather than starting with a number speech I thought it might be fun to play a little multiple choice. Jot down you answers and I'll tell you how close you were later in the post.

What is the median income of a household in Vancouver?
A. $45,000
B. $58,000
C. $72,000

What percentage of their income do Vancouverites spend on housing?
A. 32%
B. 44%
C. 68%

How much does the average single family home sell for in Vancouver?
A. $750,000
B. $900,000
C. over $1,000,000

Many of you know that I've been chipping away at a Masters in Urban Studies for the last few years. I just finished a fascinating class on urban housing policy. I had the great pleasure of being taught by Frances Bula - a prolific blogger covering the Vancouver beat. You might also know her name from the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun where she is often called to write articles about our cities.

One of the topics that kept coming up in a variety of ways was affordable housing. This probably has something to do with the fact that Vancouver really struggles to provide affordable housing options to its residents. Most of the interventions to date have been geared towards low and very low income households and the best type of assistance you can offer these folks are cheap rental options. Helping the poor is always a good thing for a city to do, but lately a whole other group of folks have emerged that are suddenly struggling when it comes to housing...which leads me to the answers of the multiple choice above...

The City of Vancouver is the least affordable housing market in Canada and one of the worst in the world as well. Ou Salaries have become divorced from the housing market putting homeownership out of reach for most of the individuals that live and work here. Our median income is $58K. We spend about 68% of our income on housing (anything above 30% is considered unaffordable) and the average single family home sells for over $1 million.

As young couples attempt to transition from renters to owners, the vast majority find themselves priced out of the market. Instead, folks like Brendon and I explore a limited number of options – keep renting, move to the suburbs and commute to the city for work or leave the province entirely.

Other cities like London, Santa Barbara and Hong Kong that struggle with similar problems have begun to pioneer a whole suite of options to support home ownership for their middle class workers. And low and behold one of the ways they are doing this is by separating the land from the building. (If you remember, this is what we are attempting to do.) This is one way to develop a shared equity agreement where the full 'value' of a property isn't carried entirely by one household but rather is shared by a combination of private owners, municipalities and non-profits.

Is it messy? Yes - totally! But increasingly, especially in cities where property prices are completely out of touch from local salaries, these kind of creative solutions are becoming a necessity. Not just for economic reasons but also for social and environmental grounds. If there are no opportunities for ownership for your mid-level professionals then you end up with a city that is dominated by seniors (folks that got in before the prices skyrocketed), the wealthy and foreign investors interested in turning a profit. For all your young households that move to the suburbs, the city is faced with the environmental implications of a growing community that will commute long distances daily.

I'd like to think that the Shared Equity Agreement that we've developed with Barb and Roger might be something that can inform a new way of sharing ownership and addressing affordability in Vancouver. God knows we need new ways of keeping the next generation of homeowners in the city.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Taken by the floors

By the time you get to 32, there are not a lot of 'firsts' left to try. I've had my first professional job, owned a car, has sex (sorry mom), and heck I've even eaten my first (and probably last) pig head. That said, this house building exercise has has been chalked full of more 'firsts' than I can count. Today was no exception. With Brendon away in Ottawa I convinced Roger to come with me to my first auction. We're now at the stage of the construction contract where shortly Smallworks will hand over the reigns to us and we'll be charging ahead with kitchen, bathroom and upstairs flooring installation. So slowly but surely we're trying to get prepared by purchasing all of the things we'll need.

One of the things we had to buy to be ready for this transition was flooring for the upstairs of the house. We had visited a few places in town to scope out prices and based our taste, we were looking at paying more than $12/square foot for engineered hardwood. Even for a small place, those kind of prices are ludicrous and quickly add up to thousands of dollars. I had heard that auctions were a good place to source items like flooring at a low price.  I contacted the google gods and low and behold an auction selling hardwood and engineered flooring would be taking place in our city Saturday December 4th. I did my due diligence and went to the showroom yesterday to evaluate the options. I asked as many questions as I could think of about the process and the product and anything I forgot to find out, I researched late last night to make sure I was ready. I felt like I was living the Girl Guides motto 'be prepared'.

Then the real auction started and everything I had practiced went down the drain - it was over before I knew it, I wasn't quite sure what happened and I felt a little victimized once the auctioneer yelled 'sold!'. Without me really knowing how it happened, we are now the proud owners of wide plank, smoked oak, hand scraped solid hardwood floors. I'm still trying to figure out what went down. I couldn't understand one word the auctioneer was saying and I never put up my hand to bid. Apparently though, I rustled my ballet which is enough to put in a bid and I shook that little piece of paper at just the right time to launch myself into the lead. Luckily, the flooring was Brendon's number one choice (it was my number two) so in the end we're thrilled about the purchase. Once I got to the till I found out just how much I had 'chosen' to pay - $3/square foot - by all accounts a good price.

The confusion quickly vanished and I left on a high with a couple of fliers stuffed into my purse advertising the bathroom and kitchen auction coming up next week. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 22, 2010

5 days in 2 minutes

Here we go! Watch our house go up!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Up, up, up and away!

On Monday this week Smallworks began putting together our home. Brendon has been capturing the whole thing by setting up his camera to take a photo every 3 0seconds. This weekend you'll be able to see a short movie of how it all came together but for now here's a preview of all that's happened in the last four days.

We are really excited and are loving how it is coming together. It feels bright, spacious and totally contemporary! Yeh Smallworks! We love it!

Monday, November 15, 2010

A buffet of weekend thoughts

Very often over the last few months I have wished that there was some sort of gadget that could transcribe directly from my thoughts to this blog. Something like the Vulcan mind reader would do the trick. I often sound better in my head – more articulate, funny and insightful somehow. Somewhere between my flashes of inspiration and the late nights when I put in the time to transcribe the story of the day, I lose something and I end up with a hodge podge of ideas.

This one is no different. In fact, I’m warning you in advance that I sound a little like an excited four year old recounting a story about their day. That won’t stop me though so here I go.

This morning, Brendon and I were on the ferry back home from the rainy Sunshine Coast. I organized a weekend away at a resort to celebrate Brendon’s 34th birthday. It was a much needed respite for both of us. We spent time mountain biking, eating great food and playing with our iphones at the dinner table. (I’ve gotten exceptionally good at the cribbage and scrabble apps.) The point of the trip was to distance ourselves from the stresses of home building and financing yet much of our conversation and activities revolved around the imminent home.

Upon our arrival on the coast, we took a scenic route to our destination and from the road couldn’t help notice a beautiful small home perched up on a hill. Brendon pulled the car off the road and we scrambled up the driveway to get a better look. There we met John Gillespie, the excited owner of the 750 square foot new home. He was more than happy to show us around and share his thoughts on modular small homes. His is a beautiful space on a gorgeous plot of land. The home is an experiment he’s working on to see if he and his partner can build something green, modern and affordable. They’ve got some green, a lot of modern and they are slowly chipping away at the price although it’s doubtful that they’ll be able to get it much lower than $250K with labour, materials and permits.

Friday, before we left, I took a trip to Smallworks with Barbara and Roger to see our home. It was hanging from the rafters and since it will begin to be put up tomorrow, it was our last chance to see it in pieces. I took some classic pictures – one of Roger in ‘the bathroom’ and another of our first and second floor hanging in one long line together.


Saturday and Sunday felt like a true break from our city routine but we couldn’t turn off our interest in real estate and we found ourselves ‘mls’ing’ and commenting the designs of different homes and communities. While the trip was a well needed escape from the everyday, it is pretty clear that if there were to be a gadget that could read our minds and transcribe our thoughts – the story you’d get is one that is dominated by anything and everything to do with building small homes.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Our home in pieces and on paper

Smallworks has been working double duty on our house - laying down the foundation while in their shop they've been putting together the house. With a prefab home, the exteriors are built out off site and craned into place when ready. Brendon took a visit to the workshop and grabbed some awesome photos of our home coming together. The shots below show two exterior walls being built and insulated.

Bruce, our site manager, says that the exteriors will be ready to go up in a week. That means that the next time you'll see our walls they'll be holding together our home!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Another Dad pays a visit ...

About a month ago my dad called to say that he was considering coming to visit us in Vancouver. In my 32 years on the planet my father has never taken a 'side trip' to see me so I was immediately suspicious. I had visions of Ron reviewing our budget and revising our shared equity agreement. There are still three days left in his visit so I don't put it past him that he'll want to do that but so far it's really been special to have him around. Every daughter wants their dad's approval and I am definitely no different. While in previous postings I've painted Ron Schatz as a catastrophist, you'll see from his own words below that he's really a supportive, funny and insightful dad.

Ron Schatz speaks:
I arrived in Vancouver on 31 October after spending a few days in Saskatchewan reconnecting with family. I decided to maximize my Aeroplan miles and visit with Akua and the Purdy's. I arrived to find deep trenches and Stephen the cat acting a bit skittish as his familiar marking spots in the back yard have been removed.

The visit started with a tour of Vancouver's progressive housing and city planning initiatives. Akua, in her usual participatory style, asked me to accompany her to an interview with some occupants of social housing in Gas Town, a location that she is using for an urban housing class. We then set out on tour (on foot of course) in the West End. Her positive attitude and enthusiasm is quite infectious and I needed all of it as I somehow ended up carrying her fairly heavy bag along the way. At one point I had to hand it over after I slipped down an embankment near East Lagoon and found jeans covered in mud. Suddenly with the mud enhanced appearance I had this rapid affinity with the social environment. As we passed one fellow who kind of looked like an artist with a fair amount of hair stuffed into his head gear, he muttered "f'ing fagot" as we passed. Whether it was my smile or my appearance who knows, but we had a good laugh about that. Anyway back to the mini home.

If you appreciate construction sites as I do, then the mini home now emerging is a fascinating place to be these days. In order to create a fully functional house the effort over the past few days has been on basic water supply, drainage and sanitary systems by connecting and extending (and sometimes improving) the existing systems that serve the main house of Roger and Barbara. The mini home, while relatively small in footprint, has all the technical and construction features of a house much bigger in size. One thing stays the same, and even might be more important given the infill location, that is the need for excellent project management to keep the project on track. That is where Smallworks, the design and construction company comes in and they look to be doing an excellent job.

Bruce from Smallworks on the job.

So this is Vancouver, a place of innovation in housing, transport, environment and socially responsible initiative. It has always been thus as new ideas emerge in the West and move East.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Haunted by Construction

Happy Hallow e'en everyone. The Purdy family is joining in the fun with a haunted house of their own. With both the back and the front of the propery turned into a construction zone the whole lot looks eerie and frightening.

I came home from a girls weekend in Victoria this evening and was met by the results of two more days of digging. [sigh] I don't know how Barbara is handling it. It must be difficult for her to see everything her and Roger have planted and nurtured over the last 17 years, ripped up in a single afternoon. While I get depressed, Brendon reminds me that we have to keep our eyes on the end result - when we'll have a beautiful home and hopefully a green space restored to its original beauty.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hoses, vibrators and concrete

Oprah and Barbara Walters know first hand that there is nothing better than a guest with a good story. Just in our case it happens to be someone a little less famous than Bill Clinton or Lady Gaga. Welcome Roger Purdy, the steadfast, unwaveringly father of Brendon Purdy. A chemical engineer by training, Roger has been watching the construction like a Brazilian soccer fan at a World Cup Final. Since I've been at work and Brendon's been in Ottawa, he also happens to be the only person that has been watching. To give you the play by play of the most recent adventures of hoses, vibrators and concrete I'm passing it over to Roger Purdy.

Roger Purdy speaks: Today was the day that the foundation got poured. One monster pumper truck and a cement truck for one little house.

THE PLAN: With cement in pumper truck, a hose would extend to the framed foundation and pour wet cement into the mold.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED: The pumper truck was so large that the outriggers (stabilizers) on its side could not be extended in the laneway to support the weight of the hose. Under the weight of a 100lb hose and no stabilizers the truck could have tipped over. This was definitely not an option so the men had to rejig their original plan and use the hose on the basement level instead. This was a major change - one worker had to be in the basement all the time supporting the weight of the hose and moving 2x4’s around to prevent it from falling down.

Suddenly, the pour began. The first blast of concrete out of the hose splattered water and dirt all over the place – I thought that a major clean up would be required, but this was the initial priming of the system, not the actual pour.

The pour began with a 4 inch (10 cm) ribbon of concrete coming out and jetting about 2 meters from the end of the hose - thankfully, most of the concrete ended up in the forms, but there was a considerable amount of spillage too. The fellow had a big job. Not only did he have to hold the weight of the hose, balance on top of the forms, manage the changing pressure of the concrete as it came out and make sure that the everything was pointed in the right direction, all while watching that he was filling the form correctly. The man on the vibrator had to balance on the forms, pull the vibrator around with him, untangle the electric cord from the supports and forms, make sure all the concrete was settling OK, and help the man pouring and the man lifting the hose. And then of course there was the third man, (the one in the basement) making sure that the hose moved where needed. The fourth man on the pumper truck was controlling the flow of concrete, yelling instructions, making sure the pumper was full of concrete (or maybe that was the fifth man from the cement truck.

All I had to do was take pictures and drink tea. Good division of labour. Overall, considering the challenge, it was very efficiently done.

Easy and elegant it was not. That said, despite the challenges it was well educated...and highly entertaining.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What a difference a day makes

I went to work on Wednesday and came back to see this 9 hours later. It's unbelievable how quickly it's all going up! What you are see are the footings and the framing for the foundation. Concrete will be poured this coming week to create the walls of the crawlspace and 'garage'.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Rock in a Hard Place

Last week the contractors took out over 14 truck loads of dirt from the site and left a hole almost 7 feet deep. Unfortunately they couldn't take everything away...and what they left behind became Brendon's homework over the weekend. In the pit was a huge rock, one so big that it couldn't be dug up, but in too critical a place to be left behind. With instructions from the Smallworks team that we needed to find a way to take at least four inches off the top we evaluated our options. The first thing we could do would be to blow it up. This would require hiring some other contractors that would drill down into the rock and pack the holes with an mixture that when hard would crack the boulder so that it could be extracted. The price tag on that would be around $700.

The second option we had was to rent a diamond saw from RONA and pick up a sledgehammer. The price tag - $50. Can anyone guess which option won?

What Brendon thought he'd be able to get done in 4 hours took him almost 10 hours... and we're not even sure it's enough. I have to admit that on this task I did close to zero. I tried to swing the sledgehammer once and I think that I shook a little dust off the rock but that's it. This one couldn't have happened without my man!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The hole

WARNING: This blog post is all over the place - likely the result of adrenaline and exhaustion.

Destruction is satisfying. While people all across Canada spent time eating turkey this weekend, we were ripping down fences, uprooting plants and removing flagstone. I have to admit, I never thought that tearing things down would be so much fun! Maybe because (unlike building) you don't need to be exact and probably because it also involves sledge hammers [sigh].

Today was the day we've been dreaming about for a year now - the building phase has begun. An excavator and seven dump trucks full of dirt and we are now the proud owners of a huge crater in the backyard of Brendon's parents backyard. Despite the anticipation, it is only now (at 10pm) that I am fully realizing the magnitude of today's accomplishments. This probably has something to do with the fact that along with 'the big dig' we had take our cat to a veterinary dermetologist, I had a doctors appointment, we had to finalize the contract, sort out our first payment and go to work.

Yes, you read correctly. We did in fact take our cat to a doctor that specializes in skin disorders for pets. I had a moment a few days ago when I could feel the weight of the house payments looming and for a second I felt like Brendon and I were exiting the freedom of DINKdom and entering the weightiness of adult responsibilities. Our appointment today with the cat reconfirmed that despite the move to 'homeownership' we are still clearly DINKS. Before going to the appointment I had to fill out and 8 page questionnaire for Steven. One of the questions (and I am not kidding) was the following:
Has your pet been out of his or her usual environment recently (i.e. vacation, play date, day-care, visit to family or friends, kennel, pet-sitter, etc.)?

Look at how cute he is in the hole! cutchie, cutchie, coo....