Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mike Holmes: When Not To Renovate

"It's all junk, tear it all down!" For those of you who love Mike Holmes like I do, you're probably very familiar with phrases like that. Mike Holmes has been called a "celebrity renovator" by some, and as of late a "superstar renovator" by others -- that's quite the promotion! So it might be surprising to some that renovation may not always be a homeowner's best option in all cases. When should  a homeowner renovate and when should they wait? Buying a new home is exciting, but did you know that finishing a basement too soon before foundation settles is a no-no? Have you ever looked at all that empty space in your attic and wondered how much it would cost to turn that waste space into a second or third story? First, as Mike points out, that space in your attic is not wasted at all. In fact, it serves a very important purpose: protecting your home. Renovating an attic into a bedroom is quite a costly project. Technically speaking, it's impossible to renovate an attic into a bedroom, as doing so would require a second story addition as opposed to a renovation, so it's best to wait on a project like this -- indefinitely.

From The

The purpose of most renovations is to increase livable space. But sometimes you shouldn't do it because you could risk your investment and your home’s structural integrity and safety.
For example, when people buy a newly constructed home, they often want to finish the basement right away. But the general rule of thumb is to wait at least a year. I’d wait at least two, let it go through a couple of freezing-and-thawing cycles to see if any leaks or cracks show up. The last thing you want is to spend $30,000 to $50,000 only to rip out the work to fix a problem.
Also, you don’t turn a utility room into a livable space with finished walls and flooring because you need to have direct access to the systems there. Makes sense.
But the big one people always ask me about is the attic. Attics aren’t meant to be living spaces, so turning them into one requires a lot of money, work, permits and engineering. It can also lead to problems.
An attic’s job is to help insulate the house, prevent heat from escaping and deter condensation that can cause mould and/or rot. Turning it into a living space means changing the roof, electrical, HVAC and most importantly, the structure.
Most attic floors are built with two-by-fours, meant only to support the roof above and ceiling below — they aren’t strong enough to support people, storage and/or furniture. The floor joists would need to be reinforced with two-by-sixes to carry the weight load to the outside walls.
You’ll need stairs, and that means making sure you have enough headroom to be legal and safe.
Then you have to build a cathedral ceiling — a ceiling with minimal space between the roof and the finished ceiling, which usually isn’t enough for adequate insulation and proper air flow.
And what about heating? Can your furnace handle heating that additional space? Not to mention the extra ductwork, heat registers and adding a cold-air return.
I would avoid it altogether and use your attic for what it’s built to do: protect your home.
Another area people are tempted to finish is the crawl space which is basically a partial foundation that’s about four to five feet deep — just deep enough to get below the frost line. It’s usually cold, dark and damp — it might even have a dirt floor. Most people want to finish them for storage purposes, or to help keep the living spaces above warm and reduce heating bills — never a bad idea.
There are two basic ways of dealing with a crawl space: turning it into a warm zone or making it a proper cold zone.
Converting it to a warm zone means closing off the venting, insulating the foundation walls, laying down vapour barrier, gravel and rigid foam board on the floor, and then adding a heating duct and cold-air return. If you close off the vents and don’t add heating and a cold-air return, you will get moisture.
Now, you could do all this work and still have the floor above the crawl space cold. (I’ve never been in a room above a crawl space where the floor isn’t cold.)
The other option is making it a proper cold zone by insulating the floor above and sealing it with vapour barrier, then making sure there’s enough ventilation. Some say vapour barriers can trap moisture against the floor joists and cause them to rot, but if you properly insulate the floor above, you shouldn't have warm air meeting cold.
There are homeowners who want to turn the crawl space into a full basement, which involves excavation and underpinning or bench pinning. It’s a massive job and doing it wrong leads to major structural damage. I wouldn't recommend it unless you are 150 per cent sure it will be done right and you have a very, very big budget.
No matter what renovation you take on, your top priority is your home’s health and safety.
Sometimes it’s best to not renovate at all, which is strange advice coming from a contractor.
Watch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV. For more information visit

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