How Much is This Going to Cost?

The excavator digs a trench to connect our new perimeter drain to the storm sewer

Yesterday, 195 countries signed an agreement to tackle the costs of climate change. I’m looking forward to seeing what our new Canadian government, in conversation with the Provinces and everybody, comes up with.

I hope it has something to do with helping people like us to do things like we’re doing with our house. As it stands, few people looking at their household budget would conclude that doing what we’re doing makes any sense. That’s because we’re looking farther into the future than most people, but also because we’re looking beyond our own budget to the costs of climate change.

That’s probably the part that stops most people. We’re spending more money on our house so that maybe some island nations won’t disappear under water. What? You may have a couple of questions about that.

  • Question 1: There is no way that the greenhouse gases our house produces, even with its old oil furnace, would be enough to make much of a difference to global warming no matter what we do so what’s the point?

Answer: That’s why I’m not interested in minor reductions–I want that 70% or greater reduction that our first Energy Audit in 2008 said was possible. That’s also why I’m sharing this story–because one house can inspire other houses and going to all this trouble just for one house doesn’t seem worth it.

  • Question 2: Families like ours have enough trouble keeping food on the table without going into debt to combat climate change, so why don’t we let the governments take the lead?

Answer: If our governments had been taking the lead, families like ours wouldn’t have to be sticking our necks out. Everyone seems to be waiting for the price of gas to go up or government incentives to arrive or some other change to happen which will make reducing energy use and switching to renewable energies cost effective for the general public.

Meanwhile, the planet warms, the ice melts and the weather gets crazier.


We can’t wait anymore. Sometimes you have to wag the dog and sometimes that means biting off more than you can chew. Any more dog metaphors I can use?

Here’s a video of what it looked like, through the window of the Little Yellow House next door where we are living, when the concrete arrived right in the middle of that cold snap two weeks ago. I had to go to work, but Leanne had a day off and filmed a bit as the work progressed.

I will always remember the statistic that Lorraine Gauthier of Now House shared with us. In 2011 the home renovation market in Canada was worth $33.8 billion. That’s a lot of people renovating. How much of that was spent on energy efficiency upgrades? Just 7%. Here in the warm Lower Mainland of British Columbia, I expect it was even less and I expect that percentage hasn’t really changed.

People are renovating their homes, but the value they expect to get from their renos is counted in comfort (they will enjoy their new kitchen) or resale value (they expect to sell their home in a few years and their new kitchen will fetch a higher price).

What about the comfort of clean air circulated through a Heat Recovery Ventilator which maintains a nice, even temperature?

What about the comfort of knowing that your new insulation and heat pump mean that your carbon footprint is so much lower?

What about the value of a reduced energy bill that will save you thousands of dollars in the long term as you embrace your house as a forever home and put down roots in your community?

Do I sound like I’m blaming homeowners? I’m not. The barriers to doing what Leanne and I are doing are real. Cost is just one, but let’s look at it first.

On Saturday Leanne asked herself how much we have spent so far on preserving, renovating and retrofitting the two houses which sit on this now protected Heritage Site. My wife is amazing. This is what she came up with.

2010 Maintenance & Upgrades $6,000.99
2011 Heritage Revitalization Costs:
7-14 Annabel Vaughan $350.00 Architectural Services – initial payment ($6625 total)
9-15 Underhill Geomatics Ltd. $3,415.27 Topographical & Legal Survey
10-9 Annabel Vaughan $868.00 Architectural Services for Sept
2011 Maintenance & Upgrades $904.32
2012 Heritage Revitalization Costs:
9-11 Home Depot $24.61 sheets & pads for sander
1-30 Annabel Vaughan $1,120.00 Architectural Services
4-26 Annabel Vaughan $1,279.04 Architectural Services
4-26 Annabel Vaughan $1,260.00 Architectural Services
11-21 Birmingham + Wood $4,144.00 Statement of Significance & Conservation Plan
2012 Maintenance & Upgrades $2,344.26
2013 Heritage Revitalization Costs:
1-9 SpeedPro Signs $336.00 HRA Proposal Sign & Installation
1-9 SpeedPro Signs $44.80 HRA Public Hearing Sticker
1-31 Annabel Vaughan $802.75 Architectural Services – Final Invoice
2-26 Chiu Hippmann Engineering $1,127.73 Structural Engineering
2-27 Red Door Energy Advisors $980.00 Hot 2000 Energy Model
2013 Maintenance & Upgrades $1,442.00
2014 Heritage Revitalization Costs:
2-17 Underhill Geomatics Ltd. $1,575.00  Field work & plan preparation
11-29 Underhill Geomatics Ltd. $679.35 Update plans
11-13 Campbell Burton McMullan Lawyers $907.88 Right of Way Legal documents
2014 Maintenance & Upgrades $326.98
2015 Heritage Revitalization & Construction Costs:
24-Mar Ridgewater Homes $10,000.00 General Contracting
01-Jan Underhill Geometrics $679.35 Surveying
13-Feb City of Maple Ridge $1815.00 New Storm Sewer Connection
27-Mar City of Maple Ridge $50.00 Heritage Alteration Permit
27-Mar City of Maple Ridge $68.00 Land Title Office Registration Fee
26-Jun Ridgewater Homes $20,000.00 General Contracting
26-Aug Ridgewater Homes $20,000.00 General Contracting
24-Sep City of Maple Ridge $1,642.75 Building Permit
30-Jun Chiu Hippman Engineering $142.80 Structural Engineering, structural analysis & design review (Building code change, drawings issued, letters of assurance, 12 blueprints issued for “Revised Building Permit” 6/2
23-Oct Ridgewater Homes $30,000.00 General Contracting
08-Dec Ridgewater Homes $30,000.00 General Contracting
11-Dec MeadowRidge $1,979.25 Plumbing – Permits/Start up
12-Dec Underhill Geometrics $1,680.00 Surveying
27-Sep Staples $2.19 Copies of plans for sketching services, etc.
05-Aug Landfill tipping fee $22.00 Garbage dump
16-Aug RONA $6.71 Bags for storing/moving vermiculite
05-Aug Landfill tipping fee $72.00 Gypsum recycling
05-Aug Husky Gas Station $50.00 Gas for garbage/gypsum dump run
14-Aug HNT Mart $241.05 New grinder for reno work
24-Nov Husky Gas Station $20.00 Gas for garbage dump run

Are you ready for the total? Here it is

Total $148,404.08

Would you spend as much? Maybe, maybe not.

As renovations and retrofits of older homes become more common, costs should come down.

If you merely want to dramatically increase energy efficiency without making additions or other changes, you may not need an architect.

If you’re not interested in protecting your property with a Heritage Revitalization Agreement, you won’t need a Statement of Significance etc.

If your property already conforms to most of the engineering requirements of your municipality, you won’t have to pay for new sewer lines or bury electrical services, etc.

Digging a little deeper, there was another series of costs because there are two houses on this non-conforming double lot. The Little Yellow House, which we normally rent out but which we are now living in, had its own expenses as part of the Heritage Revitalization Agreement including a new sanitary sewer line and electrical service.

Even with us doing a lot of the work, the Little Yellow House upgrades cost $78,056.37 between 2010 and 2015.

Between the two houses, we have spent $226,460.45 on, as Leanne put it, “Maintenance, Upgrades, Heritage and Construction between 2010 and 2015”.

Putting aside the Little Yellow House, Leanne further broke down the Forever House costs by itemizing just the big ticket items like this:

Total paid to Contractor $110,000.00
Total paid to City of MR $3,575.75
Total paid to Underhill (surveyors) $8,028.97
Total paid to Architect $5,679.79
Statement of Significance $4,144.00
Total paid to Engineer $1,270.53
Lawyer Fees $907.88
Total $133,606.92

And that’s not the end of the story. Those are costs to date. Before the work is done we will still have another $60,000 to pay to Ridgewater Homes, our contractor. Then there is the plumbing estimate of $18,000 and the heat pump and HVAC system for which we don’t even have an estimate yet.

Unfortunately, the limits of our financing are fast approaching. After proudly paying down the mortgage on the first townhouse we bought (and still own) in Burnaby to a mere $45K, we are borrowing against that property up to about $160K.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that we’re headed for lean times, and some have pointed out that we didn’t have to be so ambitious with our plans.

I defend our decisions with the title of this blog. Would we be happy here forever had we simply fixed the bathroom without enlarging it or adding a bathroom for the kids upstairs or deepening the basement or shooting for carbon neutral? All of these things will guarantee a long, comfortable and low-carbon life in Hammond Forever House and I think it’s worth stretching for.

A few donations for the Hammond Christmas Hamper 2014
Just a few donations to the Hammond Christmas Hamper in December 2014

Last year our Hammond Neighbours stepped up to help a couple of Hammond families who were struggling have a little less stress and a little more cheer over Christmas. Do I think Leanne and I need a Home Reno Hamper to get us through this challenge? No, we’ll always come out okay, but I will accept any incentives, grants or publicity from any government, organization or neighbour which would like to see more people reduce their home’s carbon footprint because, unless you’re a millionaire (who can afford a higher energy bill anyway), retrofitting, revitalizing and renovating are just way too difficult.

And with house prices the way they are right now, no wonder it seems like the favourite thing to do with older homes in Vancouver is bulldoze them!

I’m very excited that Justin Trudeau has committed us to deep cuts in our carbon emissions; housing is a big source of greenhouse gases. What I want for Christmas, even if it’s too late for us, is a brand new national strategy to help homeowners turn their houses into low energy forever homes!

Dream big!

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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