Changing Hammond

Our neighbourhood of Hammond is changing and the community is abuzz. The focal point of this discussion is the possibility of a new multi-use recreational facility being constructed in the middle of Hammond on city-owned land which is currently home to a small community centre, outdoor pool and two baseball fields. This is really why I’m writing this post. It’s a chance to talk about the future of our community.

It’s time to speak up. If you live in Maple Ridge and you would like to learn more and voice your opinion, here is the link: https://engage.mapleridge.ca/move-meet-play

Change is hard

Hammond is changing whether we want it to or not. Some of these changes we like, some we don’t, some we fight over. We’re at a cross-roads of the lasting impact of the pandemic, a housing crisis, an opioid crisis and a climate crisis. The City of Maple Ridge is growing and diversifying. It’s easy to feel powerless.

In this post I’m going to talk about what we can control and what we can’t.

Because of the rapid growth of our town, we’re watching as older homes in our neighbourhood are bought, torn down, and replaced with houses three times the size. Even houses that have been recognized as having heritage value are not immune as recently the one that belonged to John Hammond, one of the three founders of Port Hammond Junction was demolished and a towering modern structure is being erected in its place.

Cars and trucks speed through the small Hammond streets, ignoring stop signs. The school zone at Hammond Elementary is ignored by drivers in a hurry. Sidewalks are scarce and cycling feels risky. There are two small shops but most shopping and services require a trip to Lougheed Highway in a car. The historic commercial centre has a few businesses that struggle to survive. In a car-dependent town, people from other neighbourhoods won’t make the side-trip into Hammond to shops here and Hammond’s population doesn’t provide enough walking traffic to make businesses here viable.

As a parent of two teens, I’m still carrying some parental guilt that my kids didn’t grow up cycling around their neighbourhood as I did in Vancouver. I think I could have done more but I also remember them expressing fear of traffic. How different would their lives be if we lived where bikes were more welcome on the road?

Climate change means to Hammond more extreme heat events in summer and cold snaps in winter, putting vulnerable people at risk of heat stroke or being snowed in. There is more frequent and severe flood risk from the Fraser River. Air quality problems from wildfire smoke are a regular occurrence. Meanwhile the older homes are poorly insulated, use fossil gas for heat and lack air conditioning.

In 2019, a major employer in Hammond, the Interfor cedar mill, shut down, leaving its property and buildings dormant. The entire site had been a settlement of the Katzie People, including a sacred burial ground. The Katzie were forced off the land by the colonial government in 1862. Although the current owner has plans to re-develop the site for industrial purposes, they must work in good faith with the Katzie First Nation and deal with the important archeological implications. This will take time.

While we wait for resolution and reconciliation for the old Hammond Mill site, a major expansion of a lithium-ion battery assembly plant has been announced for the industrial park adjacent to Hammond. This should bring new jobs, improve the city’s tax base and perhaps launch us into the clean economy. The plant’s location next to the Golden Ears Bridge means trucks won’t need to drive through the neighbourhood which has been a problem with the mill site.

Doing nothing is a choice

Many residents of Hammond like it the way it is, (or is it that we’re willing to put up with its short-comings if it means keeping the things we like?) but change is a-coming. We can watch it roll over us or we can help to shape it.

The City of Maple Ridge is growing faster than almost anywhere else in Canada. In BC, only Langley is increasing in population faster. Like it or not, Hammond is a natural area for increasing density. It has had residential streets mapped out since 1883 when the town was registered as “Port Hammond Junction”. Streets are built and all have power, water and sewer systems. The railway tracks run through and take commuters into and out of Vancouver. It’s accessible via Lougheed Highway and the new bridge to Langley. There is potential for growth in employment with the nearby industrial park. All these factors combine to make Hammond attractive for sustainable development and increased density.

Some people who are concerned about losing what makes Hammond special say that population growth should happen in newer communities in the east of Maple Ridge. However, those communities mean enormous costs to the city, which must build new infrastructure, not to mention schools and services, and to natural habitats which are destroyed to build new houses. In a world which needs compact, accessible cities, Hammond has a lot of the right stuff.

“But” you say, “can’t we push all the density into Haney?” The downtown core. City Hall, Arts Centre, shopping, transit hub, recreation centre—all these things are close by. It’s perfect. Well, if you’ve visited Haney lately, you’ll see all the housing units that are going in there. So Haney is already densifying. In fact, it is no coincidence that Maple Ridge was successful in attracting a new Rapid Bus service connecting us to Langley and the Skytrain in Coquitlam. The federal and provincial governments are taking some climate action and that means encouraging population hubs where transit can be more effective in giving people the freedom to leave their cars at home.

Well then, can we hope that Haney will take all the people and leave Hammond alone? Sorry, it’s a free country and we can’t stop people from moving into our nice community. However, we CAN lean into the historic settler rivalry between Haney and Hammond and grow BETTER than Haney.

Preserving the Form and Character of Hammond

So if we can’t hold back the population boom, how can the form and character of Hammond be preserved? The properties here are cheaper than Vancouver and buyers are free to do what they wish with their lots as long as they don’t apply to re-zone. Some buyers work to update the existing house, but it often makes economic sense to start from scratch. Can we blame them? Not really. The people we need to talk to are the current owners, not the new buyers.

In BC, unlike some places in Ontario where the government can unilaterally protect a heritage property from demolition, the only way to preserve an older home’s character here is if the current owner decides to protect the building by working with the heritage department of the city. We did this with Hammond Forever House. Owners are sometimes concerned that they will lose money if/when they choose to sell if any restrictions are placed on the buildings, but this fear is largely unfounded as shown by examples in Vancouver.

In Maple Ridge, there are different heritage tools available for homeowners, ranging in ease of application and levels of protection. Currently there are properties in Hammond which have been identified as having heritage character and value. Some have received awards and are listed on the city’s heritage inventory. However, Hammond Forever House (AKA the Whitehead Residence) remains the only property actually protected. John Hammond’s house had a heritage plaque on it, but was demolished. I know that the heritage department had many conversations with the new owners, but without the previous owner having protected the site, the city could do nothing. The current owners are perfectly within their rights to build their dream home on the property they have bought.

Once a house is destroyed, the BC building code has a lot to say about what replaces it, but the form and character requirements are very loose. Even in the Heritage Character Area of “Upper Hammond” the Hammond Area Plan provides guidelines and not requirements. While it is shocking to see a much larger structure replace a modest pre-1940’s house, we must ask ourselves how much we want our government to intervene in these cases. As it is, we have put a lot of power into the hands of property owners and it is they who have the power to save the houses that we love.

If you are a Hammond homeowner and would like to learn more, go here: https://www.mapleridge.ca/2570/Heritage-Conservation

So, as the population of Hammond explodes, in addition to encouraging homeowners to have a chat with the heritage department, how can we hold on to the neighbourhood’s character-defining elements?  I think the answer lies in what happens when a property is re-zoned. The Hammond Area Plan identifies parts of Hammond for higher density: along 207th Street, around the historic commercial centre and around Tolmie park, among others. When a development proposal is made for those properties, the city has much more influence over form and character including green space and setbacks. These are opportunities for residents and city staff to have their say.

Source: https://www.mapleridge.ca/1754/Hammond-Area-Plan

So, if we can make sure the new multi-family buildings fit in with that Hammond character and convince the owners of the single-family zoned lots not to let them be replaced by monster houses, we could avoid the fate of so many ruined communities.

By the way, do you know what we get when we densify? A viable commercial centre on Maple Crescent! The city can’t force a business owner to relocate where there are no customers. With enough people within walking distance we could have some really nice services there. Can you imagine a dentist or medical clinic? One business I’d like to see flourish there is The Good Wolf Café which is planning to relocate to Dartford Street. Click here for a story about the café and if you’d like to support this dream, you can check out the owner’s gofundme page.

Will a new Recreation Facility Ruin Hammond?

Concerns over a large new facility in the middle of quiet, residential Hammond are understandable. We’re talking about at least one ice rink, an indoor pool and perhaps gymnasiums, cultural space, meeting rooms, performance space, health services etc. Construction is going to be disruptive to nearby neighbours. Traffic patterns will change. More people will come and go. The baseball fields would need to move to a better location more befitting the legacy of baseball in the neighbourhood and that of Larry Walker Jr. with as little disruption as possible to all the players who depend on them. It would be a big change.

I think all the discussions about whether it should happen or not and what form it should take, must be based on the future, not the past. Looking to the future, I think a comprehensive multi-use community centre could be the keystone to creating the vibrant, healthy and low-carbon community we all want.

As you can see from this image from the City of Maple Ridge, the two baseball fields dominate the site right now. To the south there is some green space and a little-used basketball court, a parking lot, a small community hall, an outdoor pool and a small playground. There is a childcare centre in the community hall but the hall itself has such terrible acoustics that it is not suited to most events (believe me, we tried). There are a few mature trees near the playground.

Some opponents of the location say it’s not good because it’s in a residential area and will bring people to the neighbourhood. I wonder if we have become so used to the North American standard land-use pattern of islands of residences separated from services, recreation, shopping and everything else that we can’t see the benefit of waking up and walking to the pool in the morning. It’s also difficult for us to imagine a system of walking/rolling paths and transit that is so easy that people leave their cars at home when they want to go across town to the gym, leaving the parking lot free for the hockey players who need a car to transport their gear.

This summer my 15 year-old and I walked to a playground half a block away, borrowed an e-scooter at the playground using an app on my phone and rode on smooth, interconnected bike paths to a local recreation centre where we had a light lunch and admired the pool and fitness facility. That was in August in Kokkola, Finland—not far from the arctic circle. Finland is one of the happiest countries on earth and I think we can be that happy, too.

The Baseball Question

Some of the discussion on social media about the proposed facility has taken on a divisive, pro-baseball vs. anti-baseball tone. Baseball has been important to Hammond since the 1920’s when it started being played at Hammond Park, about a block to the south. Back then, the Hammond Cedar Mill recruited workers based on their skill at the sport and there was a great rivalry between the Hammond and Haney Teams. The community got together and built the first Hammond Stadium in its current location in the 50s. Now we have the opportunity to decide what happens next.

Ridge Meadows Minor Baseball is very concerned about losing the fields because any disruption in the season could be devastating to the kids. After years of dreaming about a 5000-seat or 300-seat stadium, the fields were upgraded more modestly 10 years ago to fit regulations for players aged 15+. Baseball is important to this community and the city seems to acknowledge that. There are plans in the works to improve the experience of the baseball community but those plans are not public yet. Can we have that new baseball stadium as well as a new multi-use facility? Mayor Dan Ruimy told me he thinks the baseball community will be happy but it’s easy to be sceptical since plans have fallen through before.

I have been told that, as far as baseball fields go, the two we have now at Hammond Community Park are well-used. That seems to mean regular games, practices and events from April through October with little happening there during the weekdays until 4:30 pm. For five months of the year, the fields are not used for baseball at all. One of them is fenced off completely; the other, named after baseball legend and home-town hero Larry Walker Jr., is a nice grassy expanse where people throw balls for their dogs (even though it’s not an off-leash park). There used to be a soccer pitch on that field, but that was removed because it interfered with the baseball somehow. Summer soccer camps and other events take place there occasionally. As community space goes, it doesn’t seem well-used to me.

My wife and I walk our dog there regularly and almost never see anyone except other dog owners who walk the perimeter of the fenced-off field. Occasionally, during baseball season, a game is happening and we wonder why there are so few people watching.  Evenings and weekends for 7 months of the year may be well-used for a baseball field, but I think a multi-use recreational facility could benefit a lot more people, of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities, for 12 months a year, every day from early in the morning to late in the evening. The fields have been moved before and I’m sure we can move them again if it means opening up more recreational opportunities for all of us.

Location, location, climate action

Some people who are opposed to the new facility say that they see the need for new facilities, but want them located somewhere else — further east, they say, where the city is growing. They forget, however, that there are already similar facilities to the east and building more there encourages urban sprawl and car-dependency. Let me get into a little bit about why the proposed location is ideal and how it could help turn Hammond into a model community and also what climate change has to do with this.

So far, I’ve only mentioned climate change in passing but in 2024 it must be central to all our planning. We see this reflected more and more in our governments’ priorities. Mayor Ruimy’s  Climate Action Taskforce is in full swing; the federal government and BC Government are funding efforts to increase housing, address the opioid crisis, create walkable communities and fight climate change. Climate action, it turns out, has many co-benefits, including saving money in the long run. I’m hopeful that a new facility in our neighbourhood can take advantage of this unity of purpose and make all the disruption worth it.

We know that, in the face of climate change, we must mitigate its effects on our communities and also reduce our carbon emissions. The provincial target is to reduce emissions to 40% below 2007 levels by 2030.  How could a multi-use recreation facility help to do these things?

A community centre can mitigate the effects of climate related events like heat domes, atmospheric rivers and extreme cold snaps by providing respite for community members whose homes are too hot, too cold or flooded. It is a central point that people can walk to for resources, sand-bags, information and even food or clothing. Being within walking distance is key.

Can it reduce carbon emissions? To answer that we need to look at where the emissions are coming from in Maple Ridge and what big moves the City can make to address those sources.

Statistics Canada reports that when Maple Ridge residents were asked their main mode of commuting to work in 2021, 84% said car, truck or van. That was up slightly from 2016 so we’re going in the wrong direction (probably because the city is growing so fast and transit is not keeping up.) We also know that 68% of all car trips start and finish in Maple Ridge. Is that great? No! But it does make it easy to see how we can improve.

Source: https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/as-sa/fogs-spg/page.cfm?topic=13&lang=E&dguid=2021A00055915075

The Community Energy Association’s Climate Action Planner for Maple Ridge is also helpful. It provides a “Business As Usual” case and allows you to estimate the effects of certain actions towards the provincial goal for 2030. You can try it by following the instructions here: https://ghgtargets.mapleridge.ca/#ClimateActionPlan

Using this tool, I learned that the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Maple Ridge is transportation, with 60% of all our emissions. That makes sense because most people drive to work and we are still largely a bedroom community and a transportation corridor. We have not been served well by transit and we still have low levels of active transportation infrastructure.

On the graph for Maple Ridge below, the yellow line at the top is Business As Usual (no climate action) and the diagonal light green line is the target emissions reduction for 2030. The graph shows where the emissions are expected to come from if we don’t do anything.

Source: https://ghgtargets.mapleridge.ca/#ClimateActionPlan

The CEA’s climate action planner then helps you estimate what effect different “big moves” will have on emissions. The goal is to reach that target line. I played around and got the following result:

Try this yourself at https://ghgtargets.mapleridge.ca/#ClimateActionPlan

Those blue parts are about transportation. The largest emissions reduction will come from reducing the number of cars on the road and shifting passenger vehicles to electric. “Shift Beyond the Car” means Active Transportation (bikes, walking, etc.), Transit (buses and trains) and Land Use (locating places we need to go closer to our homes). I guess we’re not expecting everyone to jump on the new Rapid Bus immediately, so the biggest reductions are expected to come from more people switching to electric vehicles. We can hope in the future to improve transit and walkability to the point where fewer cars of any type are needed, but this is where we are now, it seems. My family has two EVs (a 2015 Nissan LEAF and a 2021 LEAF) and we like them, but I don’t like that it is difficult to get around without a car. That’s not freedom.

The purple and grey parts of the graph are about buildings: improving standards in new construction (using the BC Energy Step code) and retrofitting existing buildings. As Hammond develops with more multi-unit residences built in certain areas, they will be held to a stricter energy standard. Multi-unit buildings are more efficient to heat and cool than detached houses. Meanwhile, existing homes can be preserved and made more efficient with incentives and guidance. I could go on and on about buildings, of course, but let’s get back to transportation.

When we consider that 68% of car trips start and finish in Maple Ridge, having a recreation and community centre that serves a wide section of the population near where they live will certainly help. Combine this with much better transit and vastly improved bike and walking paths that connect the rail station and the Rapid Bus route on Lougheed Hwy., and the facility becomes a key climate action “big move” all by itself. With all these co-benefits, it is likely to attract funding from upper levels of government and we can avoid half-measures.

Note that we’re talking about Maple Ridge, so other sources of greenhouse gases are not part of this conversation. Canada’s biggest sources of emissions are electricity production and fossil fuel production. Those aren’t our particular challenge here in Maple Ridge (we don’t produce fossil fuels and our electrical grid is 94% renewable energy) except that we should make sure to vote for federal parties who are serious about ending fossil fuel subsidies and transitioning to renewable energy.

So, from a climate action perspective, this multi-use recreational community centre looks like it’s a good idea. So let’s see if we can make it even better for the planet.

With at least one ice sheet and a swimming pool, how about we use the excess heat produced by the ice rink to heat the pool? That should reduce the amount of energy needed by 55%. Chilliwack Coliseum did it, so why can’t we?

Fantastic. But let’s go further. This new facility will mean digging a pretty big hole, especially if there is underground parking (yes please and with EV chargers galore, please). Let’s bury some geothermal loops and use the constant temperature of the earth to heat the facility in the summer and cool it in the winter. That will save a lot of energy and money.

And since we’re burying pipe, why not bury MORE pipe and increase the heating/cooling capacity to the point where neighbouring buildings can share it? That’s called a community energy hub and it’s not a new idea. Any new homes, including multi-family developments along 207th Street, could opt in to sharing heating and cooling with this new hub.

With passive house design elements reducing the building’s energy needs and solar panels on the roof, this new facility could more than power itself.

Is this expensive? Yes, which is why we need funding from federal and provincial governments who know that, although there will be high upfront costs, the long-term savings are considerable. That’s how renewable energy works. It costs more up-front but slows climate change and saves a lot of money down the road. The city has already figured this out and shared it like this:

Source: https://ghgtargets.mapleridge.ca/#ClimateActionPlan

Our house is an example of this. We retrofit our house, put a 12 kW solar array on our roof and stopped using no fossil fuels. Our annual electricity costs, which now include heat, cooling and powering two cars, is something like $600 now (and we’re still aiming for that to be zero).

Climate action is all about the future and now is a moment of opportunity to secure that future. We have a Mayor and Council who are committed to creating low-carbon, walkable communities which address the needs of all citizens. We have two local MLAs and a provincial government who have shown they are serious about fighting the climate crisis, as well as the housing and opioid crises. The current federal government has also shown willingness to fund projects that address these challenges. Even more importantly, these governments have shown a level of willingness to work together which doesn’t always happen. In a short-term political system, politicians are often punished for long-term planning. With elections always looming, now is the time to dream big and secure funding for those dreams.

Hammond has a big enough heart to welcome all

As we envision our ideal Hammond community, we must acknowledge the enduring presence of the Katzie First Nation and Kwantlen First Nation who have occupied these lands since time immemorial. It was James Douglas, governor of the Colony of British Columbia, who allowed settlers to take possession of Indigenous lands in the 1860s. The Katzie were forcibly removed. Over the decades, children were forced to attend Residential Schools. The Katzie reserve is within walking distance of Hammond Community Park and many Indigenous people live in the Hammond neighbourhood. This facility should be a welcoming space of reconciliation and cultural exchange.

I think of all the different people in my neighbourhood, including new Canadians who are choosing it to call home, our seniors, the 2SLGBTQ+ community, people without homes and people with mobility issues, and I want all of us to be able to walk or roll to a place we can feel welcome, connect with our community, and improve our health. Healthy, happy people are more resilient and willing to help their neighbours. They also create fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Another inspiration I want to share is the Kitsilano Shower Program for the Homeless which happens bi-weekly from 7:30 – 9am. In a housing crisis, a community centre can help.

In conclusion, our neighbourhood of Hammond is changing whether we like it to or not and the best we can do is guide the change so that it means a low-carbon, climate-resilient, walkable community that welcomes all. Of course, change is uncomfortable and when it seems to benefit others while disrupting our own lives, it can be hard to see the positives. That is why we must step back and look at the bigger picture as well as the small details.

Applying an integrated approach to this neighbourhood, the new community center can address arts, culture, recreation and social needs in the community but also community energy needs, health services and services for people without homes.

It is time to speak up about the future of our city and our neighbourhood. If you are a Maple Ridge resident, please complete the survey before the deadline of Friday, February 23rd. Find it here: https://engage.mapleridge.ca/move-meet-play

Climate-friendly Homes Tour 1

Last month we welcomed something like 150 people into Hammond Forever House in our first Climate-friendly Homes tour. It was a blast!

So many great conversations about heritage, lifting houses, insulation, heat-pumps and solar panels. It was so successful that when the Climate-friendly Homes Tours happen again in spring, we’ll do it again.

We were also proud to be the first ever stop for the Wandering Wolf Cafe which did a brisk business outside. So much deliciousness!

Of course, not everyone could make it, so I made a series of videos for those of you who weren’t here. Some of them are youtube shorts compiled together and some of them go on and on in a very geeky way. You can find those below and on the Hammond Forever House youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPB6B3OwG-6D-0ke2W-pWew

For a more-or-less complete photographic tour, here is a nice slideshow for you:

 

I’m still working on putting together the complilation videos of the interior tour, but here are the first four videos: The Exterior (and Garage):

In my next post, I will continue the virtual tour inside the house.

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.

Shingles

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) compressor  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!

Before
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

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.

 

Snowed in without Power!

I wish I could show you a photo of the house today. It is buried in snow. Unfortunately, Leanne’s computer is still too full and I can’t download the photos from the camera yet.

This photo from New Year’s 2017 will have to suffice.

January 1st, 2017 at 12:43 am.

We thought this was a lot of snow. (Ha!) Besides less snow, the other thing that is different in this photo is all the lights are on.

Over the past weekend, due to heavy snow breaking branches, we have had 6 separate power outages.

They are not the most relaxing events, but the kids love a good black-out. We light candles and revel in the adventure. “I love Earth-hour!” says my daughter.

Beneath the fun of it lies my worry that the decisions we have made on the house leave us vulnerable to power outages. Specifically, back-up power.

I have this insecurity that there is a silent mass of onlookers waiting for us to fail. “Let’s see how this ‘Forever House’ handles a power outage” they say in my head. “Bet they wish they had a gas generator!”

Well, I must admit it was a bit shaky, but we did okay and I remind myself that we’re not done yet.

Surprising to many, my master plan calls for no fossil fuels and no wood-burning. I want to keep the brick fireplace but insert an electric fire that looks good and gives a little heat. When the power went out, however, it was very comforting to be able to light a fire. It reminded us of the winter of 2014 when we challenged ourselves to live without buying more fuel oil and so we relied on wood and a little electric heat.

Leanne wants to keep the fire, but we don’t have to decide now, because we have a lot of other things to do before we come to that.

The fact is, we moved in before the house was done. I am not finished insulating and sealing the basement and top floor. The root cellar door is not sealed and insulated as well as we plan to. I’d also like to re-apply the weather-stripping to the windows, seal up the stained-glass transom lights in the front rooms, and improve the front door.

All this insulation and sealing is key, because we are counting on it to keep our heating bills down.

At the moment, our heat is supplied by the same water heater that used to heat our tap water before the renovation. Hot water is pumped through pipes stapled to the underside of the main floor and it warms the floor above.

Heating water with electricity is 100% efficient, but it is expensive, so I have been steadily trying to finish insulating wherever I haven’t reached yet.

The first time the power went out for more than an hour, I was anxious that putting our eggs in the electricity basket had been unwise. However, we noticed that the house did not cool very quickly. The insulation we had done so far was having an effect. It was the front rooms with their thinner walls and heritage windows that cooled the fastest and that’s where the fireplace was.

I also noticed that the bathroom floor, where the water heating pipes are embedded in concrete just below the tile, stayed warm for two hours or so. I realized that one great advantage to heating with underfloor hydronic pipes is that once the water is warm, it continues giving off heat for some time.

Once the house is finished, we will be able to last a long time without feeling the chill, but maybe you still think we need a back-up source of heat for longer emergencies. They tell you to be prepared for 72 hours without assistance.

My answer to that is my father-in-law Dave’s idea which he has helped us implement: the Toyota Prius as back-up generator. Read more about how we’re doing that here. When the wiring to the garage is complete, we can use the Prius or any other hybrid or electric car to power important stuff in the house like the fridge.

A more obvious solution is a large storage battery like Tesla’s Wall. Charge it in the daytime with solar panels and charge your car from the battery at night. If there is not enough to completely charge the car, BC Hydro will tip it up.

Incidentally, this is the same principal we hope to implement with the solar hot water panels someone handed down to us: heat a large tank of water in the heat of the day and use it (or simply let it warm the basement) in the evening.

It seems I have to get used to the idea that the house will be completed bit by bit. There will probably not be a ribbon-cutting ceremony. That fantasy of moving back in with all systems working perfectly is just that, a fantasy.

Meanwhile, it looks like it will be sunny tomorrow so the kids will go back to school. Then, later in the day, another winter storm is expected. At least now we know we can handle it.

Oops, we’re a little low on dry firewood…

Anybody got some?

 

 

 

Goodbye sneaky cupboard

On the landing of the stairs heading to and from the kids bedrooms on the top floor is a vent. It looks like this.

The landing
The landing
Air vent on the landing
Air vent on the landing

It used to be connected the forced air furnace and it would blow warm air up the staircase. I suppose because there was no cold air return and the air already up there had no easy way to get down, the heat never seemed to reach the bedrooms.

We have pondered what to do with it. Could it be a laundry chute, a ventilation duct, or a cat passage?

Well, it turns out that because we are making the basement walls so thick, it can’t really be used to access the basement.

Looking up from the basement you can see the cupboard.
Looking up from the basement you can see the cupboard.

What about the cupboard under the stairs? Could it be a storage hatch?

No, the cupboard under the landing must be destroyed to make way for greater headroom as people use the staircase below.

It’s a little sad to destroy a hand-made piece of history, but the BC Building code gives us no choice.

The duct is boxed in through the cupboard to reach the basement ceiling. You can see where the spray foam insulation bust through from the outer wall. That’s why they used half-pound insulation instead of 2-pound insulation (which is what is going into our roof this week!); the denser foam would have busted these old walls apart.

The duct traveling through the cupboard
The duct traveling through the cupboard

There was no way to remove the duct intact, so I broke it out.

With the duct gone it looks like this.
With the duct gone it looks like this.

From the basement looking up at the ceiling, it looks like this:
DSC04358
Now we have a square hole in the landing that leads nowhere. What should we do with it?

We haven’t decided yet, but knowing me, it will probably have something to do with insulation!

Attic Relics

Things I found while working in the attic today:

Treasures
Treasures

It’s a dirty, dusty place to work, but it’s rewarding when you find…a hammer? No, not the hammer. I’m using the hammer to build stuff. What is that next to the hammer, though?

It’s made of wood and I think it’s some kind of target. Leanne’s Mom, Julie, has an older brother, Uncle Jim, who also grew up in this house. We’re pretty sure all the pellets embedded in the garage door are from his pellet gun. This target looks none the worse for wear so either it was not that kind of target, or Uncle Jim was a terrible shot.

Even more interesting than the hammer or the target is that little piece of paper. Check it out:

Anyone know the restaurant?
Anyone know the restaurant?

That’s right. An old-school fortune from a fortune cookie circa…? And a very wise one, at that. I’m certainly learning a lot, but I’m not feeling particularly young.

So what am I doing in the attic? Making the walls, floor and ceiling thicker to accommodate more insulation of course! Here is the before and after.

Before:

DSC04014

After:

Thicker roof rafters, thicker floor...
Thicker roof rafters, thicker floor…

This is the attic space above the front porch, so the more insulation I can add, the better. The roof rafters for this gabled dormer that sticks out majestically over the porch are only 2X4s. I’m adding another set of 2X4s so that we can fill up that 7 inches of space with 5″ of spray-foam insulation and 2″ of something else.

The house on July 4th with its gabled front dormer and diamond window into the attic.
The house on July 4th with its gabled front dormer and diamond window into the attic.

Speaking of insulation, on the floor of the attic is a treat for us energy efficiency geeks: the original bags that the rock wool insulation came in have been used as an underlay.

Crushed Rock Galore

IMG_1924
James and the rented compactor

Okay, you’ve seen the concrete get poured on top of those pretty red water heating pipes in this post. Now let’s step back a few steps to what went under the concrete.

After the roof was put on, the basement floor was the first significant task that Leanne and I took on ourselves after things fell apart with our contractor, so it was a big deal for us.

image
Annabel’s 2012 drawing

In a nutshell, the plan has always been to dig deep enough to give us some reasonable ceiling height in the basement. We also wanted to add a lot of insulation under the house which meant digging even further. Continue reading Crushed Rock Galore