2018 Progress Part 2

Welcome back to Hammond. This is the second part of a status report for 2018. You can find the first part here.

This post will cover stuff like the main floor bathroom, the back porch and steps, railings for the basement steps, rainwater collection, landscaping and shingles. Next time I’ll get into heating, energy efficiency, transportation and other stuff.

The Master Bathroom

In April of 2018, our amazing neighbour, Ron, helped me take the next steps in tiling the bath/shower walls. The shower area needed more water-proofing than just the Red Guard I painted on. Ron helped me with the orange Kerdi membrane which is the last step before we put white tiles on the walls. We had already done this with the shower basin because we had to prove to the city

Ron’s Kerdi and tile work Dec. 17th, 2016

inspector that the floor under the shower wouldn’t leak and the drain worked. The photo on the right is Ron’s tile work just before Christmas 2016. You can see the Red Guard, the Kerdi membrane and the tile. A few days later the inspector came and passed us which allowed us to have Christmas in the house that year for the first time in 2 years. Huge deal. Huge.

This year we got as far as tiling the top of the bench and stair (grey tiles matching the floor). Ron lent me his tile saw and we drew some lines on the wall but then I just ran out of time. Those walls are going to take at least a week of solid work. Ron says it will “test my abilities” which is putting it mildly. To this day, the bathing area looks like these photos (except there is a rabbit cage in there). Hopefully, in 2019, we’ll get that finished with beautiful white tile.

The Upstairs Bathroom Penny Floor

Penny floor Feb. 2018

I’ve already posted about the penny floor so I almost forgot to mention it here. That project sure took a while, but once I told everyone I was going to do it, I kind of had to, didn’t I? For the full story go here. All I have to report now is that the epoxy is holding up well and the floor feels even better now that the pipes I embedded in it have heated water running through them.

The Back Porch, etc.

In the summer we took some more strides on the exterior. The back porch needed more than a plywood surface. The rainwater cistern was snug in it’s concrete home but had no landing nor stairs above it as the plans said it should. The gutters were not connected to the cistern either, of course. The first step was the concrete walkway that would be at the bottom of the stairs coming off the porch.

One of the trades I talked to recommended some drainage so that the water coming down the slope of the back yard toward the house wouldn’t end up pooling on the concrete. I can’t resist more work, so I did some more digging and fussing with PVC pipe. It’s raining a lot these days and it all seems to be draining nicely.

I posted a little about the concrete and back landing and you can find that here.

Craig Pinsent Carpentry was a great help in getting the concrete poured and he built the landing and the stairs you see here:

BTW the three short posts you see on the porch itself are reclaimed pieces of the cedar posts that used to hold up the house. It feels good to incorporate elements of history like that. The posts will be covered with another layer of finishing boards and caps to match the front porch.

Craig referred someone else to us to put a vinyl surface on the porch itself. His name is Perry and he did a great job. The pattern looks like wood planks and doesn’t draw the eye, but should go nicely with the dark trim on the house. The porch serves as a roof for the basement, so we needed (and the building code requires) something weather proof. The whole family loved having a porch at last. I put up hammocks that had been bought years ago but never used.

As for the rainwater, with some trial and error I connected the back gutter to the cistern and it filled up quickly. We have some work to do before we can pump it out of the cistern for use in the garden, but at least we’re collecting water now.


It was our hope to finish the exterior before winter, but that ship has sailed. We have stacks of cedar shingles in our basement still waiting to be primed and put up. Leanne does most of the painting when she has time and the kids pitch in, too. We had a shingle-painting party on August 4th when some friends joined the team (thank you friends!). Most of the yard was covered in drying, primed shingles.

For months, whenever I had a few hours, some dry weather and some primed

Me, my Dad, and a stapler

shingles ready to go I was outside running the (borrowed) compressorĀ  with a pneumatic stapler just putting up shingles. My dad bought me that stapler in 2016 along with a bunch of stainless steel staples for just this purpose. It’s nice to finally be putting it to use. I’ve made a few mistakes but hopefully none will be noticeable in the end.

Basement Step Railings

I called Craig back and asked him to build us a railing for the basement steps. We discussed it and here’s what we ended up with.

The final step will be caps for the posts to match the front porch railings and some paint!

The Landscaping

Getting the yard graded and seeded was something of an emotional need for the whole family. We had been living in a construction zone for years and it was really dragging us down. Leanne found a landscaper called Clearview Lawn and Landscape and they ended up doing a great job. We’re never sure if we can afford these big ticket items, but it was a good investment in our mental health, if nothing else!

Grade adjusted, topsoil added, plants removed (or moved) and potting soil added in some places
Hallowe’en with grass!

Another outdoor achievement was the new concrete front path. That was the first bit of concrete I didn’t get any help with (except for the concrete company and Ron, the neighbour who drops by every so often to inspect my work). The forms and mesh were mine and Leanne and I did the screeding, edging and “brush finish”. Not bad, eh?

There you have a very short telling of some of the stuff we got up to here at Hammond Forever House in 2018. I do have a lot more photos, details and video to share on each of these topics, but this will have to do for now.

Up next: heating, energy efficiency, how we ditched our hybrid car for a pure electric one, and other stuff, too. Thanks so much for reading!

2018 Progress Part 1

It’s hard to believe it’s 2019. It feels like we’ve been renovating forever (but hey, it’s only been since 2015!).

In the next three posts I will share what we’ve got still to do and the broad strokes of what we accomplished in 2018.

“How’s the house coming? Finished yet?”

People who haven’t seen me for a while because I’ve been busy working or renovating or taking care of kids or doing housework often ask how the house is coming. Day by day is the answer. Sometimes they ask when I think it will be finished. Please don’t ask me that, I say and laugh a bitter laugh. Ha. Ha. Ha.

What’s next? I can only express our plans as hopes because all my estimates have been wrong and are at the mercy of so many factors. In 2019 we hope to finish all the railings, siding, trim and shingles on the outside of the house. We hope to finish the basement.

We hope to finish interior details like inside window frames, door frames, shelving and cupboards. We hope to put up the used solar hot water panels that some friends gave us. We hope to replace the

The house in 2009

white-picket fence which will mean we can get a dog. We hope to paint the house.

Milestones we can aim for are 1) passing our final building inspection, 2) submitting new photos to the local film commission in case any productions want to use the property as a location again and 3) doing a post-retrofit energy audit to see just how successful we were at improving the energy efficiency of the house. Continue reading 2018 Progress Part 1

Why we hire the wrong people

Summer 2018 is almost over–I mean I go back to work next week–and we have made some real progress on the house.

A bunch of stuff we did for ourselves, but there were some things we needed help with.

This was the back porch in April 2017.

Remember that post Seeking Carpenter? I needed help building a landing and stairs for the back porch. Well, we found one and he proved once again that way back when we first started our project, we had no clue how to hire people! (To be fair to ourselves, the whole renovation industry needs an overhaul, but I’ve explored that before.)

This time, instead of a) waiting for a large, reputable home-builder (like HW Construction, whom I recommend if you can snag them) to find time to fit our tiny project into their busy schedule or b) signing our lives away to a mid-sized “Renovation Contractor” (maybe one with glitzy marketing materials, a glitzy web-site, glitzy questionable “awards”, lots of positive reviews everywhere from people you can’t actually get ahold of on the phone and a long list of lawsuits to their name) I hired a guy from the neighbourhood.

His name is Craig Pinsent and I can totally recommend him so give him a call:

Pinsent Custom Carpentry 604-999-0112 [email protected]

Continue reading Why we hire the wrong people

Seeking carpenter

Hey neighbours! Do you know any good local carpenters who would like to help us make our back porch look like this?

You see, I’m teaching an evening class as well as a morning class now, Leanne is working as hard as ever saving the world, the kids are being, you know, kids and the City of Maple Ridge would like us to hurry up. I’m worried that I’m getting used to living on a construction site and maybe we’ll never get done.

Yes, as fulfilling as it is to figure out how to recreate heritage detailing on the exterior of a 1923 craftsman-style cottage, and as much money as we save, it is slow going!

I have been plodding along with the front porch stairs, columns, belly-boards and shingles, but I think we may be able to afford to hire someone to help us get the back porch right

As you can see from Annabel the Architect‘s drawings, there will a rain cistern under the back porch. I’ve already placed it there on a concrete slab and our neighbour, Ron, helped build a cinderblock wall around it. He embedded a couple of steel saddles to attach the landing posts to. It looks like this now:

The railings, posts and corner column will be the same as the front porch, so there won’t be any guess work. I can handle putting up shingles, but it’s the structural stuff that makes me nervous.

Please write a comment if you are interested in helping. Thank you very much!


PS: as for the surface of the back porch, I’ve heard good things about Sundecks Unlimited. Has anyone had a good experience with them? Any other companies you’d recommend?

Renovation Nightmares

The Horror Stories

Hammond Forever House at peace now that the horror is behind us…or is it?

Imagine you embark on that home renovation you’ve been thinking about. Close your eyes and imagine how it would go. Are you getting warm fuzzy feelings or are you trapped in Mount Doom? Do you get a positive feeling from the prospect of hiring a contractor and making your dream come true?

No? Why not? Wouldn’t it be cool to do something like this?

Nickel Bros. lifted HFH in 2015

Is it the horror stories? Chances are you’ve heard horror stories. We sure did.

In fact, the closer we got to actually doing it, the more we noticed the reactions of people who had gone before us. The sucked in breath. The eye-rolls. The temple-rubbing.

Then there was the urgent hushed advice–“Make sure you get a good contractor,” “get lots of quotes,” and “check references.”

Some people expressed almost complete hopelessness. My former Member of Parliament, upon walking up the front steps, said, “better you than me.” A few people said they wished they “had our energy.”

All of these well-meaning sideways comments were like cryptic prophesies of inevitable doom. It was as if they wanted to tell us the horrible truth, but were afraid it would become self-fulfilling. Or maybe there was someĀ schadenfreude in there–because if we succeeded where they had met with problems, maybe it was their own fault after all.

February 23, 2018. Almost 3 years after hiring a contractor and it still looks like a construction site.

The result of all these conscious and unconscious portents of ruin, was to make me even more determined. I had reached that point where there was really nothing that would stop me.

Continue reading Renovation Nightmares

Basement Power Centre

It’s a daunting task sifting through the photographic story of our daunting renovation. So let me bring you up to date with a snapshot of “the utility room” as it is at present.

Mountains of debris and materials surround the incomplete but functioning heating apparatus in the basement. The new steel beams stretch above and a Christmas tree of red heating pipes radiate from behind the old electric water heater which is currently keeping the house warm (with the occasional help from our as-yet still in-use wood-burning insert in the upstairs fireplace.)

November 13, 2017

The red pipes are stapled to the ceiling and, when filled with hot water, warm the main floor of the house. I’m not recommending this in most cases but in ours it worked. If you already have a system of hot air ducts and you want to go more efficient and stop burning fossil fuels, you’ll probably end up with a heat-pump of some kind and an air-handler (fan). Much easier.

This is called underfloor heat

The other water tank (to the right) is a new one and it supplies all our domestic hot water (DHW). It is designed to work with a solar hot water system so only the top half is electric. Without the solar system installed yet, it works hard and is unable to fill our large bathtub in one go (I talk about our bathing hardships in this post).

Between the tanks is a utility sink which is not hooked up yet.

In the foreground is various detritus from all the various sub-projects involved in a big renovation. It includes a stack of beautiful custom-made window-sills crafted by Ron’s friend Andy and a classic, incredibly heavy table saw which I bought from a friendly neighbour to replace my much newer one which we burned out and is, apparently, irreparable.

I have to thank Richard at MeadowRidge Plumbing and Gas again. He supplied all the pipe and let me borrow his special stapler to attach the pipes to the ceiling. His team designed and installed the Christmas tree, did all the connecting and made sure everything worked. I’ll be singing their praises again on this blog.

The big missing piece to this system is the solar storage tank. We haven’t worked out the details, but I’m expecting a fairly large tank on the left of the above photo. We were given two hydronic (hot water) solar panels and, dammit, we intend to use them.

With photo-voltaic (electricity-generating) solar panels dropping in cost so quickly, the most common advice now is to install those and use the electricity to heat your water and do everything else, too. Dave the father-in-law likes to remind people that electric water heaters are 100% efficient–meaning all the electrical energy goes into the water–unlike gas or oil ones.

Hydronic panels don’t need direct sunlight like PV panels do, but they have other drawbacks like heating too much water when you don’t need it. That’s why I’m imagining a large storage tank, but it’s also our plan to sink that heat into the basement floor concrete which is why we ran water pipes through the large basement slab. That concrete slab can accept and store a lot of heat during the day and release it through the night.

Pipes in the slab

So, unfortunately as it stands, our electricity bill is pretty high since we are heating everything with two electric water heaters. We must accept this as short-term pain at this point in our journey. With higher incomes, we could install all the bells and whistles at once and show you the finished product like some HGTV show, but we can’t.

We can’t because for the first time in years, we can’t pay off our credit card every month. It’s a scary place to be. We don’t have the capital to move the project faster, and from what I hear on CBC, neither do most Canadians. If Canada is going to reduce energy consumption as we have committed to do, aren’t we going to have to change this situation?

I have a few ideas about that, but I’m going to have to find the time between work, kids and renovations to share them. Thanks for reading and supporting Hammond Forever House!


PS: if you’re curious about what the basement looked like before:

May 21, 2015


August 5, 2015








You may also enjoy the posts about clearing out the basement and getting the basement ready for lift-off.

Bathing in a Half-finished Bathroom

I’m so excited about my new (used) computer and ability to shoot a video and share it immediately that I took my clothes off!

The bathing room January 14th, 2018

To give us a conditional occupancy permit just before Christmas 2016, the City of Maple Ridge required us to have somewhere to bathe. We installed the Master Bath, but not the Master Shower. They inspected the shower pan to make sure it was water proof and I assisted our Master-mason neighbour, Ron, installed the floor tile.

The bathing area has not changed much since then. No shower. Red walls (sealed with Red Guard roll-on sealant). No curtain or barrier between the bathing area and the rest of the bathroom.

How can we possibly live?

This is a video Leanne shot with me last night to answer that question. In it we talk about the where we are, how we got there and where we’re going with the bathroom. I also demonstrate how we bathed when we lived in Japan and how that colours how we bathe now. You can tell I’ve forgotten how to talk publicly at the beginning of the video because I can’t seem to finish a sentence.

**WARNING!!! The following video contains middle-aged semi-nudity. Viewer discretion is advised.**

After we moved into this house in 2007, we updated the kitchen and bedrooms. The bathroom then became the focus of our discussions. It was the reason we started looking at a more ambitious renovation.

It was in this room, when it looked like this:that Leanne inspired me to dream bigger. We were talking about what changes we would like to make while standing between the old sink and the old bathtub.

I said something like, “wouldn’t it be amazing to have a Japanese-style bathroom where you can get the floor wet, bathe outside the tub and then have a nice soak in clean water?”

Leanne said something like, “Why can’t we?”

I said, “Wha-huh? Whaddaya mean?”

“There is no reason we can’t have the bathroom we want.”

I’m paraphrasing, but that conversation led us to ask Annabel the Architect to draw the generous bathing space we have today.

Even though it is not finished, I remind myself every day that we have achieved that dream.

Credits and Thank-yous for the bathroom:

Ron the awesome neighbour for donating his time and expertise. He taught me how to use his tile saw, advised me on everything from framing the tub surround structure to how to create a slope for the shower drain and how to mix sand and cement to pour over the heating pipes in the floor. He lent me his big tub o’ Red Guard, tools, and so much more.

Pro-fix Drywall for putting the drywall and Densshield boards up, mudding, taping and priming the whole room. Great job!

Meadowridge Plumbing and Gas for all the plumbing.

Splashes Bath & Kitchen Center who supplied the shower fixtures.

-Ron’s friend Andy who custom-made the new window sills for all the new windows in the house.

-Our neighbour Sue who supplied tonnes of storage advice as well as furnishings like the shelving unit in the bathroom.

Craigslist for helping me find the toilet, sinks, taps and the dresser I turned into a bathroom counter.

-Our friends who gave us their old bath tub.

-Leanne for giving me inspiration and partnering with me on this crazy journey.

Renovating a home is not easy, but by telling our story, I hope it becomes easier for you.

Front Porch Progress

My back is telling me to stop working on the house, but today was sunny and the rain is a-coming so I figured I’d better work on the porch.

I’m very pleased I was able to get the larger section of the banister up there and fit the shell of the old post over the 6X6 post I bolted to the front of the porch. I used four lag bolts on each post to attach it to the front face. As I mentioned last week, that floor is more or less floating on a bed of XPS styrofoam strips so I feel better now that it is has two good anchor points.

It was way back in the summer of 2015 that I posted photos of the porch deconstruction. If you would like to see a bunch of photos of the day we stripped the house of shingles click here! For photos of the stairs being removed click here. Those photos are coming in handy now as I work to reproduce the same surface appearance with a completely modern structure under it.

So far, the only difference will be that the banister will be slightly further forward, giving us more porch floor space. Hopefully the change won’t be noticeable.

Here is what the porch looked like before it was demolished:

Cat on a New Porch Post

I know I promised more frequent, less in-depth posts so here is a cat on a post (in a post).

Odette is about 6 years old now and she is probably wondering what she did to deserve the new kitten which we have quarantined in the bathroom. They haven’t officially met, but we are now a two-cat household and she knows it.

So how is the house? Well, I’d like to tell you all about it but the photos and video are still stuck on the camera until I find time to clear the memory of Leanne’s computer. My old MacBook from 2007 is not only full, but also too old to update with current software.

Not to fret; this picture, uploaded from my venerable iPhone 4, tells a thousand words.

Odette is sitting on a post I just bolted to the reconstructed front porch. That post came out of the basement and used to hold the house up. Now I’m using it to anchor the porch posts that I’m about to replace.

Behind the post, lying on the porch, is the old railing attached to the shell of the old post. I’m going to insert the new post into that shell.

Here’s what the porch used to look like:

That’s what I’m trying to reproduce. Wish me luck!

PS. If you look closely in Odette’s photo you can see the complex layers I added on the porch to achieve the original tongue-in-groove top surface but still meet modern standards for a porch which covers a living space.

The “living space” under the porch is a root cellar but it still requires a proper water-proof vented roof. That bottom black layer is a “torch-on” roof surface. The blue blocks are 1″ thick XPS styrofoam to ensure I don’t nail into the roof from above. (More about styrofoam here.) Next is a layer of 1X4 “sleepers” onto which I nailed the tongue-in-groove fir flooring. The final surface is “floating” to a large extent, which is why I want to anchor it with these posts.

All this, by the way, I learned from Ryan at HW Construction. Thank you Ryan!

Seriously, that fir flooring is beautiful. It cost about $900 from Standard Building Supplies. Most people wouldn’t put it on a porch, but that’s what Leanne’s grandfather, Carl, did, so that’s what we did. We swallowed hard at the price tag, but I try to remember how much we’re saving by doing the work ourselves. That only helps until the credit card is maxed out, though.

Incidentally, the three houses across the street have the same flooring on their porches, too–it’s just older. You can see one of those houses in the reflection on the storm door.


Hitting the nail on the nail

**WARNING — this post contains graphic details of home medical treatment. Squeamish people may want to skip this one.

Have you ever hit your thumb with a hammer?

Have you ever hit your thumb with a screw gun (you know, a drill with a screw bit on it for screwing in screws)?

Until this month I could say that throughout this whole Hammond Forever House renovation I had done neither.

Now I have done both. And I have some advice (brace yourself).

If you see blood under your nail, you’re probably going to have to puncture the nail somehow to let the blood out and relieve the pressure. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

Sometimes photos get flipped for some reason, so I don’t know if you are seeing this right side up or upside down. The thumb with the single red dot is my left, the one with the more impressive blood-under-the-nail effect is my right.

About a month ago I was squeezing a stud with my right hand against another stud so that when I screwed them together with my left hand they would fit nice and snug. (Okay, I know that sounds dirty but I’m talking about the vertical 2X4s that are in the wall, not the other kind of stud. Please note that I was doing this to reinforce the wall where the glass of the new shower wall is going to attach, so I could have added, “in the shower” but I didn’t. You can thank me now.)

Anyway, I was pushing hard on the screw gun and it slipped and the bit jammed into my right thumb. If you have ever done this, you’ll know that it really hurts.

Fortunately, the kids were home so I could go downstairs and grump at them for not doing chores while I put ice on my thumb and felt stupid. Neither action really made me feel better and by the time Leanne came home, I had decided that I would need to puncture my nail to relieve the pressure.

The screw bit had hit high up on the nail, just under the cuticle, so it wasn’t too hard to push a sewing needle through. We sterilized a needle with a match, Leanne held my iced thumb steady and I pushed the needle with a thimble. A drop of blood formed and we knew we had gotten through. After the pain of the “operation” had subsided, I knew I had done the right thing because the pain caused by the trapped blood was much less.

It didn’t look nice though, with a large blood stain under the nail. People said my nail would “die”, but it didn’t. A couple of weeks later–you can see in the photo–fresh nail was growing out and the top surface was flaking off, revealing new nail underneath.

That’s when I smacked my other thumb with a hammer.

I was putting finishing nails in the tongue-in-groove ceiling on the top floor (photos in a future post). Just a light tap and I instantly felt like the stupidest guy in the world. I could see the little spot of blood under the nail.

“Here we go again.”

This time I thought I could ice it fast enough that I wouldn’t need to puncture the nail. We even took some time out when Leanne got home to have a picnic at a local playground until I realised that another home operation was unavoidable. It was hurting too much. The kids were upset, but we went home.

I went straight to the bathroom with the sewing kit as before, but this broken blood vessel was under harder nail than last time. I couldn’t force the needle through and it was painful to push so hard.

So I did what you would do and got the drill.

I have a really nice tiny drill bit that would have been perfect, but my cordless drill can’t grip it. It’s too small. So I had to use a slightly larger bit–still very small, but…

This time I didn’t ask Leanne for help. Nobody came in the bathroom until I made that little macho pain sound. It’s kind of a grunt, like a cross between “Oh!” and “Ugh!”.

Then Leanne and our daughter came in and saw the drill on the counter with a drill bit, blackened from the match, with blood on the tip and nice little balloon of blood sitting on my thumb nail.

“Wow.” said my daughter.

“Your dad is a badass.” said Leanne.

The moral of the story can be gleaned from the photo. My left thumb is healing nicely with a small hole in it. My right thumb is also healing but it looks like a nightmare. I don’t think the needle hole allowed enough blood to escape. Next time I’m just going to get the drill right away.

“Or,” my daughter said, “you could quit hitting your thumbs!”