Visit here to read Part 1 of this Victorian Row House Renovation and see the plan views and more before pictures.
Once my brother and I got over the excitement and shock of being the proud (or foolish?) owners of a completely broken, run-down, century old house we had to quickly figure out exactly what the scope of renovation work would be and determine what exactly the project budget would be. The three things we did know was that EVERYTHING had to go, we had a small timeline and even smaller budget.
The key factor in both our timeline and our budget was that we would do as much of the work ourselves and hire out anything beyond our skill level or areas of expertise. Essentially, we would be DIY renovators for the next 5 months and share all the responsibilities as a team, I would oversee all the design planning, sourcing, purchasing, hiring of trades, scheduling of trades and obtaining all the building permits, stocking the fridge etc.,,,,and my brother, or "Six" as we call him (no.6, the baby of the family!) would be in charge of, well, doing everything we weren’t going to be hiring trades for and pretty much anything I asked him to do ; ). Being both a homeowner and a cottage owner himself he was an experienced handyman who owned a large arsenal of power tools and was always looking for an excuse to put them to use (and any reason to buy more of them!)......
Six took this 'artistic' picture of his table saw?? His new best friend for the next 5 months.
Our goal for the renovation work was to make the most of the structure we had - to do no structural changes and do as little relocating of electrical and plumbing as possible. The layout of the house was pretty great the way it was so we knew we weren’t going to need to build a lot of new walls and doorways etc., the objective was to improve and enhance the spaces by replacing and upgrading everything. Install new modern bathrooms and kitchen and increase storage and efficiency wherever possible. Click here to see the before and proposed plan views of the house.
FIRST - THE FUNDAMENTS
My approach is to get the fundamentals right first, fix the bones before even contemplating new interior finishes or fittings. This means fix/improve or replace the heating system, water system, insulation, entry doors, roofs and windows. If these things aren’t in perfect working order then it just doesn’t matter how great you make the the house ‘look’ the house will be wasteful with energy and water, expensive to maintain, prone to water damage and your spaces won’t ever be comfortable from a heating and cooling perspective.
The Roof & Eaves:
The roof was only 2 years old so we had no plans to do any further roof work. There was however a downspout terminating at one corner of the house which over the years resulted in lots of water penetration in the basement - we quickly and easily rectified this and the basement began to dry up immediately. Our home inspector had told us this was the number one cause of wet basements.
Heating & Air Conditioning:
The house was outfitted with electric baseboard heaters and no air conditioning, not even window mounted units. We planned to keep the baseboard heating system, (replace all the heaters with new) for many reasons. Because the house was a row house it was long and narrow with few exposed exterior walls and the hydro records showed the bills were not very high. Baseboard heaters mean you have no bulkheads or dropped ceilings throughout the house or basement, and as a result we loved the high clean ceilings this created. Electric heat is 100% efficient, meaning all the electricity used is turned into heat, with FAG there can be up to 40% heat loss thru the ducting. Electric heat is clean, there’s no forced air being blown thru the house which continually circulates dust and particles into the air so its great for those with allergies and respratory problems. Baseboard heaters also allow you to control the heat on a per heater basis, turning down units in spaces that aren’t used. If myself or future owners chose to, the electric heat could be effectively supplemented by adding a gas fireplace. One small size gas fireplace unit could heat the main level of the house.
The decision not to add an air conditioning was an easy one. With one end of the house facing east and one end facing west, outside each end of the house were huge mature trees that shed their leaves in the fall, this was optimal for cooling in summer and letting sunlight in during the winter months. But mainly, I considered the fact that the house was over 100 years old and no one to date had added air conditioning,,,why should I assume it would be a problem when I hadn’t even lived in the house yet. So I chose to leave this out of the scope of work. Considering the house had no ducting, the air conditioning would need to be a wall mounted unit or portable, something I think myself or any future owner could add if they chose.
Aside from a poorly placed powder room in the basement, and the fact that most of the existing fixtures weren’t in working order, the plumbing system itself was in good shape and we would only need to do some minor reworking. The drains and stacks had all been replaced in the 80’s with a.b.s. and the water tank was fairly new.
Windows & Doors:
We chose to allocate a huge part of our budget for new windows and exterior doors. I felt this was well worth the investment, not only would it improve the appearance (the character) of the house both inside and out, but it would increase the energy efficiency, reduce the street noise and improve the air flow by selecting a window style with larger screen area.
After front exterior, new double hung windows were installed and the exterior trim work was painted black. The new windows were solid wood paint grade on the interior with aluminum clad exteriors in black. For me, with an original brick victorian facade, vinyl windows just weren't an option.
In addtion to new windows and entry doors, all new baseboards, casings and interior doors were a must. This is a simple and inexpensive way to dramatically upgrade the appearance and quality of the interior and make it look current and custom. Something many homeowners can do (and learn how to do) themselves.
Nothing make a house look better and more inviting than natural daylight and great views. Our new windows would frame our treed views and I knew from the start we would eliminate all the stippled popcorn ceilings throughout the house. Next to the windows this was one of our biggest budget items but I think it was worth every penny. Smoothing all the ceilings instantly brings the house into a custom level quality, smooth, non-textured ceilings reflect more light and also make ceilings feel and look higher. The look is clean and quality.
The DESIGN STRATEGY
Goodbye neglected, rundown rooming house with the 1980’s builders reno. This house was going to be transformed into a clean lined, stylish, contemporary urban space with a little touch of victorian charm. Quality materials and fittings were a must, solid woods, stone, steel and glass, - no faux, no fake, no laminates, no standard builder grade,,,my goal was to achieve a high end look on a budget and set the ground work for further enhancement over the years to come.
Our pre-closing budget of $60k was soon modified after getting possession of the house when we decided to splurge for new windows and entry doors as well as relocating the basement washroom. We began the demo/reno with a budget of $72-75k for materials, supplies and hired trades.
Our timeline would be 4 to 5 months to complete the work and make it move-in ready which I knew was a reasonable amount of time for the work to be done properly and professionally.
More to come......check back for Part 3 of this Victorian Row House Renovation where I'll post the BEFORE's and AFTER's of the basement transformation.