NOW Magazine - Toronto Living - - Front Page - By Ge­orge Bo­brovskis

When Christine and I searched for our first home, we ended up buy­ing a pretty lit­tle semi-de­tached house in the Up­per Beaches. The house needed some work and, at $260,000 back in 2001, wasn’t a bad deal for the area. Our daugh­ter Emma was on the way, and this house helped us re-es­tab­lish some roots in the neigh­bour­hood. Since the house needed quite a bit of work, we started from the ground up – lit­er­ally. It had a di­lap­i­dated garage and an unattrac­tive con­crete re­tain­ing wall that sur­rounded the front and south ends of the prop­erty. Our first task was to re-dress the con­crete-block re­tain­ing wall, which had been ce­mented over an­nu­ally. Frost and salt had got­ten in be­hind, scal­ing the ce­ment off the wall and onto our drive­way ev­ery spring. We needed to in­ves­ti­gate sev­eral things be­fore get­ting started. Does the back of the wall sup­port­ing the earth have suf­fi­cient drainage and wa­ter­proof­ing to pre­vent wa­ter from get­ting into the cracks and freez­ing, cre­at­ing the freeze-thaw cy­cle? Does the wall at the bot­tom have any breath­ing or drainage places to re­move mois­ture? Is the back of the wall filled with gravel to aid in wa­ter dis­per­sion? Our wall had none of th­ese. No won­der it was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing ev­ery spring! In our case, cos­metic re­pair was not the best so­lu­tion. Refac­ing was, com­bined with some ini­tial prepara­tory work around the wall. I also learned of a Web site deal­ing with ex­te­rior land­scap­ing in­no­va­tion called www.back­yard­beau- ti­ An ar­ti­cle there on cre­at­ing a new re­tain­ing wall helped me to im­prove my wall.


My prepara­tory work in­volved dig­ging be­hind the ex­ist­ing re­tain­ing wall to re­pair and wa­ter­proof the back. I added a wa­ter­proof­ing mem­brane and gravel fill to help dis­perse wa­ter to the base of the wall. Since our home is on a sloped site, I didn’t have to put in drainage pipes at the bot­tom of the wall. I then back­filled with soil and grass, leav­ing about 6 inches to the top of the cap. It was time to reface the wall’s front.


One prod­uct I’ve been us­ing for refac­ing old and new houses is called Cul­tured Stone. This syn­thetic prod­uct is very durable and weather-re­sis­tant. The com­pany has a large stock of looka­like stones and ve­neers that can recre­ate vir­tu­ally any stone look and tex­ture. I chose Cul­tured French Stone. Check out www.cul­tured­ to see their wide range of prod­ucts and get in­for­ma­tion on in­stal­la­tion, mor­tar se­lec­tion and main­te­nance, and on their 50-year limited war­ranty. What ex­actly is Cul­tured Stone? It’s a syn­thetic pre-cast ve­neer and ar­chi­tec­tural trim prod­uct that repli­cates nat­u­ral stone in its tex­ture, shape, size and colour. It’s cast in moulds taken from nat­u­ral stone, us­ing a process that cap­tures their finest de­tails. A di­vi­sion of Owens Corn­ing, the Cul­tured Stone Cor­po­ra­tion has been sup­ply­ing man­u­fac­tured stone ve­neers since 1962 world­wide. You’ll find a va­ri­ety of com­peti­tors in this field, such as Brad­stone and Ar­riscraft. The new Blue Moun­tain Ski Re­sort and Deer­hurst Re­sort in Huntsville have suc­cess­fully uti­lized th­ese ma­te­ri­als, both in­side and out­side, to cre­ate awe-inspiring recre­ational and moun­tain-like re­sort build­ings. The Moun­tain Equip­ment Co-op store on King used th­ese ma­te­ri­als in new ways.


Too of­ten we for­get that bal­ance in ma­te­ri­als, pro­por­tions and scale are very im­por­tant el­e­ments in cre­at­ing curb­side ap­peal for our homes and land­scap­ing. The 13/4-inch av­er­age thick­ness of th­ese stones, the fact that they are light­weight (8-12 lb/ft2 or 3959 kg/m2, typ­i­cally one-quar­ter the weight of full-thick­ness stone) and can be quickly and eas­ily ap­plied with­out ad­di­tional foot­ings or wall ties makes the prod­uct work struc­turally, for as lit­tle as half the cost of nat­u­ral stone. The stones are non-com­bustible and build­ing-code-ap­proved. In the case of our re­tain­ing wall, we were ad­vised to hire an ex­pe­ri­enced in­staller. The in­staller added a small gal­va­nized chan­nel near the bot­tom of the re­tain­ing wall to al­low for a gap be­tween the side­walk and drive­way for clean­ing snow and leaves. What a dif­fer­ence! By work­ing from the ground up, our home in­stantly looked re­freshed. With the added home value three years later and the at­trac­tive re­tain­ing wall, the mar­ket value had grown to $340,000. I can’t wait un­til we fin­ish re­design­ing the fa­cade and im­prov­ing some of the in­te­rior spa­ces to re­ally give this house an up­lift.

Ge­orge Bo­brovskis is an in­tern ar­chi­tect with the On­tario Ar­chi­tects’ As­so­ci­a­tion. He’s also founder of the YMCA’s Break­fast Of Cham­pi­ons, an an­nual fundraiser to help those in need.


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