Building My Home
Do you ever think you would like to build your own home? It can be a very fulfilling but I can tell you from experience it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
After buying, improving, and selling two 10 acre parcels of land in the late 1980’s, I bought a vacant lot in the town of Keswick closer to Markham where I lived at the time. I had no intention of building a house; I was just going to improve it, put up a fence, maybe a driveway and sell it. It was 1989 and house prices were climbing out of sight something like they are today and to add insult to injury our then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was about to introduce the “General Sales Tax” (GST). The GST was a scary thing at the time and after a long talk with my almost fiancée Caroline, we decided that we should build a house together otherwise we may never be able to afford one.
One of the early challenges we faced was even if we knew exactly what we wanted to build we still needed someone to draw up working blueprints for us to submit for a building permit. I was shocked when I found out this would cost thousands of dollars even if we hired a 4th year architecture student. We solved that problem along with others we didn’t even know we had yet by signing up for the contracting program offered through a local lumber company (Beaver Lumber). They offered complete working blueprints along with a “how to manual” in exchange for agreeing to buy the materials from them. The manual included sample contracts that we would need to hire trades people to build the house.
The size of the house we could build was limited by the building “envelop” or footprint of the structure. The placement of the house on the lot must adhere to the required setbacks from property lines as designated by the municipality. The building we wanted to put on the lot didn’t fit the municipal guidelines, our lot was too shallow, so we had to apply for a “minor variance” and I had to appear before town council. Luckily they were very pro building and my application was approved.
Brian, one of the carpenters that we hired, introduced me to the idea of building with a preserved wood foundation. He came from Alberta where he had built hundreds he told me. Fortunately he was about to put a PWF foundation under an older home that he had just moved into, so I got to see one being built. I thought it was the cat’s meow and particularly liked the idea that my basement walls were going to have R28 insulation and we could finish the basement at the same time as the rest of the house.
We were ready to go July 14th, 1990, the excavator started to dig the hole for our new house! I was thrilled and petrified all at the same time; you see my parents had taken out a mortgage on their home to provide the funds for us to build. I had to deliver the goods! I was on the site every morning by 7:30 a.m. and it was my job to make sure the carpenters had all the material they needed that day and for the next day. This was before cell phones so I was lucky there was a pay phone at the end of our short street next to a convenience store. I made many calls to Beaver Lumber from that phone booth!
Our building site was less than 500 feet from the shore of Lake Simcoe and the name of our street was “Spring Road”, so it was no surprise when the hole was being dug I noticed water in the bottom, “Hmmm”. No problem the excavator said, we see it all the time, I’ll dig you a pit for a sump pump.” Whew”, thank goodness, I pictured us having a pool in our basement. The building proceeded as planned with my two carpenters a young apprentice and occasionally me such as when we were lifting the framed walls up to vertical on the 2nd floor. We only had one potential mishap during construction when Glen had the misfortune of having the bottom cord of a roof truss he was standing on break! Luckily he was able to jump to the floor of the ensuite bathroom instead of falling 2 stories to the ground.
The home was substantially completed on the outside by mid-September and now the inside work continued. I had to hire a heating contractor, a plumber, an electrician and a drywaller. It was quite amusing watching Tom the drywaller walking around on stilts doing the high work.
It was almost time for painting so I started requesting quotes. It was a big job because the basement was finished and needed painting as well. We called in an “English painter” for a quote (I think I liked his ad), he looked around and told us about the wonderful job he does and quoted us $12,000!!! We thanked him and after he left I turned to Caroline and said “I guess we’re in the painting business now”.
It took us over 2 months to paint all 3 levels; a primer coat and two finish coats and don’t forget the trim and staining an oak staircase! Finally we were done, I thought, so I applied to the town for an occupancy permit. That’s where they come and do their final inspection.
Everything was good except I didn’t have any steps going out of my back door. There I was in January out in the yard building a porch and steps out of left over construction wood. I moved into our new home in January of 1991 and Caroline joined me after we were married in September of 1992. We had a lot of compliments on the appearance of our home especially from children who told us how “pretty” it was. It had dove grey horizontal siding with white corner trim and a white wooden porch with columns on either side and had a very welcoming look to it.
We didn’t want to leave but the commuting became too much and in 2002 we moved to a new builder built home in the community of Berczy Village in Markham.
Following is a short Video of the building of our home