Ren­o­va­tion bur­den re­quires knowl­edge

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Recreation & Investment Properties -

Think­ing about be­ing your own gen­eral con­trac­tor on that home ren­o­va­tion project? It can be done, says Liz Briggs, but be pre­pared for some sleep­less nights and more than a few run-youragged days.

Case in point: The taste­ful, 600-square-foot ad­di­tion Briggs de­signed and helped build onto her Na­van-area log home.

Call­ing on a small army of sub­con­trac­tors, lin­ing up friends for the oc­ca­sional work bee, and of­ten swing­ing a ham­mer her­self, over the course of three sum­mers, she com­pleted the awe-in­spir­ing project along with mul­ti­ple ren­o­va­tions to the orig­i­nal home.

“You’re out there all day, help­ing by cut­ting wood or what­ever you need to do,” she says.

“When ev­ery­body leaves, you clean ev­ery­thing up, have some­thing to eat, then drive off to get the stuff you need for the next day’s work. Then you’re up again at 6, writ­ing down what you’re do­ing that day and what you’ll need to get.”

Still, it was def­i­nitely worth the ef­fort, she says, re­lax­ing in an easy chair in her large, farm­house kitchen as a wood stove rolls out waves of heat.

One glance at the ad­di­tion’s slate floor, com­bi­na­tion bath­room/ laun­dry room and new, up­stairs’ bed­room with wide-plank pine floors and arched win­dow proves her right.

Ditto the new win­dows and the hand­some board-and-bat­ten cladding on the rest of the house.

To top it off, she cal­cu­lates she and her hus­band Robin spent less than half of what they would have had they sim­ply con­tracted out the whole job.

Mind you, she did have some prac­tice in the reno depart­ment.

Thirty-plus years ago, with Christ­mas just around the cor­ner, she and her hus­band de­cided to gut the liv­ing and din­ing room of their cen­tury-old home.

They knew there were mas­sive, squared logs un­der the plas­ter and lath, and they wanted to show­case them. “We’d never done any­thing like this be­fore. Cold came in through the chink­ing. When you tried to get dressed for work (Briggs is a teacher), there was plas­ter dust ev­ery­where. We thought we’d get it done in two weeks. It was more like 10 years.”

Since then, thanks in large part to her flair for de­sign, love of wood and sheer determinat­ion — “I fig­ured if I could sew, I could wood­work” — the old home has been trans­formed into a wel­com­ing, an­tique-dot­ted gath­er­ing spot for fam­ily and friends.

She’s made built-in book­cases and cup­boards for a guest room, laid pine floors and teamed up with her hus­band to hire sub­con­trac­tors to up­grade elec­tric­ity and in­stall a new pow­der room.

For all ren­o­va­tion projects, the cou­ple planned a bud­get to­gether then clev­erly di­vided up the labour —”We stay out of each other’s hair,” says Robin, whose role was usu­ally to over­see ex­ca­va­tion, do paint­ing or sand floors.

About 20 years ago, Briggs got a taste of big-time constructi­on when she de­signed and built a two-storey Christ­mas and gift shop on the fam­ily’s 40-hectare prop­erty.

She worked side-by-side with Na­van car­pen­ter, Ger­ald Grimes, whose sense of pride in what he does matches hers and who is happy to have a client work with him, pro­vided she knows what she’s do­ing.

By the time Briggs was ready for the ad­di­tion, she had tools, knowl­edge and ex­cel­lent re­la­tion­ships with area sub­con­trac­tors.

She sketched out a rough ex­te­rior im­age of what the fin­ished ren­o­va­tion should look like, told her house in­sur­ance com­pany what she was plan­ning, and set off to do it.

Over the years she’d honed her re­search skills. There was prob­a­bly noth­ing about win­dows, doors or bath­room fix­tures that she didn’t know by the time she se­lected ma­te­ri­als for the lat­est project.

In all, Briggs drew on two dozen sub­con­trac­tors and sup­pli­ers for the project. That in­cluded Grimes who wound up do­ing the bulk of the ad­di­tion and other ren­o­va­tions.

“It was a huge or­ches­tra­tion,” says Briggs. “Be­ing your own gen­eral con­trac­tor, you have to be cog­nizant that the sub­con­trac­tors are wait­ing for you. “

That or­ches­tra­tion, says Mike Martin, is a ma­jor rea­son most of us turn to a gen­eral con­trac­tor. Martin is the owner of Ottawa’s Michael J. Martin Lux­ury Ren­o­va­tions and chair of the Ren­o­va­tors’ Coun­cil for the On­tario Home Builders’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

“It all has to go in phases. You do the elec­tri­cal be­fore the duct­work, oth­er­wise you could end up rip­ping out all the duct­work to get the elec­tri­cal in. That knowl­edge comes with prac­tise.”

Liz Briggs’ cen­tury-old log home fea­tures new board-and-bat­ten sid­ing.

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