RENOVATION FROM THE GROUND UP
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- tiful.ca. An article there on creating a new retaining wall helped me to improve my wall.
RETAINING WALL REPAIR
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.culturedstone.com 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.
CREATING CURBSIDE APPEAL
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.
INSIDE & OUT, SYNTHETIC STONE RECREATES THE BEAUTY AND NATURAL FEELING OF THE REAL THING AT HALF THE PRICE.