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Globe Real Estate

Tiles and tribulation

Labour costs, as well as more complex designs, can push the cost of tiling your bathroom skyward, so it's crucial to understand the finer points of installation

November 7, 2003
All material copyright Thomson Canada Limited or its licensors. All rights reserved.

The other night, my husband and I met with our contractors, Patrick and Jerry, to review the mounting pile of papers that itemize our "extras." Those are the additional costs we've incurred for work not specified in our working drawings.

When we got to the paperwork for tiling, I expected a big credit. After all, we'd decided -- primarily for aesthetic reasons -- not to tile the walls in the two bathrooms, as originally specified in the working drawings.

I thought the labour savings would be significant, since we were eliminating 45 linear feet of tiling, five feet high.

"Actually, you owe us another $185," said Jerry. My husband and I laughed, thinking this was contractor humour. "Is that Jerry math?" I asked.

He was serious. He explained that our labour costs for tiling were actually higher now, for a number of reasons. First, the working drawings called for ceramic tiles to be installed in the basement laundry room and pool change areas. While shopping for tiles, I chose instead an inexpensive slate tile, in lovely neutral shades of gray, tan and gold. Little did I know that this simple decision would make our costs skyrocket.

Although installation for ceramic tiles starts at about $3 a square foot, the cost of installing natural stone begins at around $7 a square foot. Kate Banaszak, co-owner of Polgres Home Improvement Centre in Mississauga, explained that the labour costs for stone -- whether it's slate, granite, marble or limestone -- are higher because it's more difficult and time-consuming to cut. It has to be cut with a wet saw, unlike ceramic, which can be cut easily with a small tile cutter.

Also, sometimes the installer has to adjust the thickness of the mortar if the stone tiles are sized slightly differently. And the mortar used for stone is twice as expensive as the stuff used for ceramic tiles.

"Actually, you're getting a good deal at $7 a square foot," said Jerry. "Home Depot charges a lot more."

I checked, and he's right. Home Depot charges $7.50 a square foot to install stone, plus an additional $1.60 a square foot to install the scratch coat -- wire mesh and a ¼-inch concrete skim coat that goes over plywood to make the tiles stick better and protect them from moisture coming up from underneath. So our labour costs are $7 rather than $9.10 a square foot. I guess that should make me feel better. However, I can't help but wonder if I would've been better off choosing a non-stone material, like a stone-looking porcelain, to reduce my total costs. (Porcelain usually costs the same as ceramic to install.) Chalk up another one in the "Things I wish I'd known earlier" category.

We also rang up extra labour costs by deciding on a diagonal pattern in one bathroom (more expensive to install than a straight pattern) and a brick pattern for subway tiles in another bathroom (also more expensive to install).

Something else I've learned is that it pays to shop around. I expected to find the best prices for stone and ceramic tiles at big-box building centres, because of the huge volume of business they do. I was surprised to discover that prices at smaller tile shops were often lower for the same materials.

For instance, the slate I found for $3.50 a square foot at a small tile shop was $4.76 at a larger building centre. Likewise, the limestone I chose for our bathrooms at $7 a square foot was $7.84 elsewhere. That 84-cent to $1.26-a-square-foot price difference may not seem significant at first, until you multiply it over several hundred square feet.

So shop around, and be sure you fully understand the labour costs before making your final selection.


Globe Real Estate

Big-ticket savings

With discounts on ‘scratch-and-dent' models, and incentives like price-matching, you really never need to pay the suggested retail price on appliances

1,105 words
14 November 2003
All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

‘You need a day when you don't think about the house at all," a good friend told me recently. "Let's go shopping on my day off. But you're not allowed to look for any house stuff."

I agreed. What was my sole purchase that day? A fridge.

You see, we started our day bargain-hunting at the Dixie Value Mall in Mississauga. When I saw the Sears outlet store, I suddenly remembered what the owner of an antique shop had told me. He'd purchased all of his appliances at a fraction of their original price — because they were "scratch-and-dent" items — from a Sears outlet store.

"Let me just have a quick look," I told my friend, as I made a beeline for the appliance section.

And there it was. Once I saw the sleek, stainless-steel Jenn-Air refrigerator, I knew this was the perfect fridge for our new kitchen. It's counter-depth, meaning the body of the fridge is as deep as a counter (24 inches, or about 60 centimetres), with only the handle sticking out another few inches. The freezer is on the bottom. And, with its tubular steel handles, it has the high-end styling of a Sub-Zero, at a fraction of the price.

Here's the best part. The regular price was $3,499. It was marked down to $2,624. And the day I was there, they had a 25-per-cent clearance on selected appliances, reducing the price even further, to $1,968.74. How could I resist?

The only thing I could see wrong with it was a tiny hairline scratch on the side panel of the door. For a savings of $1,531, I can live with a minuscule imperfection.

Frank Covelli, the store manager, said appliances arrive at the outlet daily from across Ontario. Besides "scratch-and-dent" items, he also receives discontinued appliances, manufacturers' surpluses, floor models from other Sears stores, and large appliances that simply didn't fit in a customer's house. He said in many cases, the appliance ordered — often a large fridge — simply couldn't be taken through the door. Once it's uncrated in these cases, it's destined for an outlet store.

In some cases, appliances that didn't work properly upon delivery also ended up in an outlet store, after being refurbished. Mr. Covelli said these have a label indicating the item has been restored.

Mr. Covelli said when an appliance comes into his store, it's priced about 10 to 30 per cent off the suggested retail price. If an item sits on the floor for six to eight weeks, he said he'll reduce it further. Also, if inventory builds up, he'll offer even more of a discount — like the extra 25 per cent off I got — to clear more appliances.

During recent visits to the Sears outlet store, I've spotted the following bargains: a Bosch dishwasher (regularly $1,399.99, now $608.40); a black Amana counter-depth fridge (regularly $3,299.99, now $1,855.99); and a stainless-steel KitchenAid ice maker (regularly $1,399, now $699.99).

There are also Sears outlet stores that carry appliances in Rexdale, Pickering and Brampton.

But this certainly isn't the only source for appliance deals in the city. Here are some tips on how to save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars when outfitting your kitchen and laundry room.

Other stores also have outlet centres or clearance rooms. For instance, the Bay clears out "scratch-and-dent" and discontinued appliances at a Mississauga store. Herb Caplan Appliances has a clearance room, which has deals like the recent one for refurbished, built-in GE Monogram fridges (regularly $5,200, but discounted to $3,300). Next time you visit an appliance store, ask if they, too, have a clearance section.

Many stores have price-matching policies. For instance, the Bay will match prices from Sears, the Brick, Leon's and Home Depot, providing you have the quote in writing, according to appliance salesman Paul Uppal at the Bay's Queen Street store. So, if you're collecting reward points from either Sears or the Bay, you may choose to buy from them at the best price instead.

Before buying an appliance, ask whose prices they'll match — and do your homework. A little bit of running around is worth it if you can save hundreds of dollars.

Throughout the year, appliance manufacturers offer a number of incentives to get you to buy their products. For example, Frigidaire and General Electric both recently ran rebate programs in which you could get anywhere from $25 to $200 back on an appliance. On top of cash incentives, the GE promotion also offered one of three different cameras (worth $79 to $499) for the purchase of four to seven appliances.

KitchenAid recently offered buyers small KitchenAid appliances like toasters, coffee makers and blenders, for purchasing large appliances.

So, if you have your heart set on a particular brand, be sure to ask about any upcoming promotions. If the salesman doesn't know, ask him to call the company's representative. That little bit of extra effort could be worth your while.

Never pay the manufacturer's suggested retail price. Always ask what their best price is. Salesmen in several different stores have offered me 10 per cent off when asked. Paul Turner, the operations manager at Herb Caplan Appliances, said he'd never sell someone an appliance at the suggested retail price "because they'd just find it cheaper somewhere else." Instead, he knows the store's cost for each item, and calculates a markup. If a customer buys two or more appliances, he said he offers a slightly greater discount.

Ask about coming store promotions. For instance, earlier this year, the Bay offered 15 per cent off all appliances.

If you're in the market for a new refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher or washing machine, you can get the 8-per-cent provincial sales tax back through the Ontario government's Energy Star Appliance Rebate Program. Only appliances labelled with an energy star — an international symbol for energy efficiency — are eligible for this program. But hurry because the program ends Nov. 25. For more information, call 1-888-668-4636, or go to


Globe Real Estate

Hard lessons on kitchen counters

Limestone and marble are too soft. Granite stains. Engineered stone is resistant to most things, but it may cost more

812 words
28 November 2003
All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

About 30 years ago, my mother had what she thought was a brilliant idea to update our horrid orange and brown kitchen. She'd read in a woman's magazine about a do-it-yourself countertop made out of — are you ready for this? — crushed egg shells.

There just weren't many counter options in those days. The kitchens in our suburban neighbourhood were all equipped with laminate countertops in varying shades of harvest gold, avocado green, turquoise, white, off-white and — for a few earthy souls — butcher block. No one at that time even imagined that, a generation later, we'd be importing tonnes of granite, limestone and marble from around the world to create stone countertops.

So, if you wanted something a little different in those days, you turned to . . . eggshells.

We ate nothing but eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner for weeks while my mother accumulated enough eggshells for her project. We were a little skeptical, but she was so enthusiastic we kept our opinions to ourselves.

I vividly remember the day she made her eggshell spread — a combination of the crushed shells and glue — and trowelled it onto our old, stained countertop. Not surprisingly, the results were nothing like the picture in the magazine.

Decades later, I, too, am inspired by magazine photos when designing the kitchen for our new house. Maybe it's the horrifying memory of my mother's eggshell concoction, but the hardest kitchen decision for me is choosing a counter.

I absolutely love the look of limestone and marble. However, even places that sell these materials tell me that they don't recommend them for kitchen countertops. They're simply too soft — which means they scratch easily — and too porous, which means they stain easily. So unless I'm prepared to hire a full-time housekeeper to stand guard over the counter, armed with a wet rag to wipe up any spills instantly, this is not an option for a busy, messy family.

Granite is a much harder and less porous material, making it ideal for countertops. I know lots of people who regularly use knives on granite countertops without leaving a mark. And they put hot pots, pans and casserole dishes right on the counter without a worry.

Despite its reputation as an ideal countertop, granite can stain. I've found that olive oil, butter, red wine and fruit juices can all leave a stain if not wiped quickly. And once a greasy or acidic material settles into stone, it's difficult if not impossible to remove. In fact, a recent Consumer Reports magazine article on countertops ranked granite as only "fair" in the stain category.

Nevertheless, Consumer Reports gave overall "excellent" ratings to both granite and an increasingly popular countertop material: engineered stone, which is made primarily of quartz combined with resins and pigments. "Engineered stone can look much like granite but has a more uniform appearance. It's resistant to stains, heat, and abrasion and never needs sealing," according to the magazine.

Diane Daniels, a saleswoman and designer for The Surface Group in Oakville — a supplier and fabricator of a wide variety of man-made and stone countertops — has repeatedly tried to stain a quartz countertop on an island in her kitchen. She's tried everything she can think of — including foods notorious for staining stone, such as strawberries, raspberries, beet juice, red wine and tumeric — but the spills all wipe clean, even after many hours. She said it's the perfect kitchen countertop.

Quartz countertops come in dozens of shades, including a wide range of neutrals resembling limestone and granite, as well as bright shades of red, green, yellow and blue. One even has small chips of red, green and yellow glass imbedded in its off-white surface.

Jim Fowler, co-owner of The Surface Group, said consumers are increasingly choosing engineered stone countertops, as they discover how well this product performs. "It has the properties of stone and the positive attributes of solid surface," he said.

He explained that an engineered stone countertop can cost either as much as granite, or about 10 to 15 per cent higher, depending on the layout of the kitchen and the amount of material that is wasted when carving up the large slabs of material.

Despite the potentially higher costs, I'm going to go with the engineered stone. That way I get the look of stone without having to constantly shriek at my family about wiping up their mess, for fear of staining the counter. Now I just have to choose the right colour. This won't be easy.


Globe Real Estate

Trying to see the forest for the trees

With loads of things still left to do after nine months of work, it's becoming difficult to remain enthusiastic

751 words
5 December 2003
All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

As we start our ninth month of renovations, I feel the way I did during my final month of pregnancy: fed up, exhausted, and anxious to get it over with.

It's pretty hard to sustain excitement for a project that's lasted such a long time. Prior to renovating throughout the spring, summer and fall, there were nine months of planning before any demolition began.

With almost 1½ years of endless frustrations, construction delays and rapidly rising costs, it's no wonder my enthusiasm is at an all-time low. In fact, I've often thought of selling the house, since it's been such a constant source of aggravation.

"But it's such a gorgeous home," said my friend Tracy. "You're on a quiet, dead-end street. You're close to downtown and the subway. You have a ravine, a pool and a pond in your back yard. If I had the money, I'd buy it. It's my dream house."

Nevertheless, I don't see it that way. The problem with micromanaging a project of this scale is that it's very difficult to see the forest for the trees. Rather than looking at the house and appreciating how truly beautiful it's becoming, I see something different altogether as I walk from room to room: We spent too much money there, I should've done that differently, that problem cost us thousands of dollars, big headache here, several sleepless nights over this.

I wondered if I was alone in feeling this dissatisfied toward the end of a major renovation. My friend Jane, who endured a two–year renovation, said she understands completely how I feel.

"It took me two years before I could appreciate how beautiful my house is. I was so angry at how long it took, at the toll it took on our family. It was a very stressful time," she said. "I'm still not completely over it, and we finished the work in 1997."

Compounding my frustration is the fact that we're weeks away from completion. We still need some flooring, sinks, toilets, shower doors, interior doors, some new exterior doors, eavestroughs, soffits and fascia . . . not to mention the kitchen. Then everything needs to be painted, and my painter recently told me that he won't have much time available in December.

Work is proceeding, though. The guys are currently installing all the trim around windows and doors, as well as the baseboards. The fireplace and mantle, which look terrific, were installed a few days ago.

The kitchen cabinets are primed, but I have to decide on a finish colour.

Although all the pieces are coming together, it still feels like this renovation will never end.

No wonder there's such a demand for renovated houses. Someone else has gone through all the decision-making and stresses. You pay more, of course, for a renovated home, but — trust me — it's worth it.

In fact, I'm rather envious of friends of ours who recently bought a completely renovated home. Within just a month, they found the house of their dreams, sold their place and moved. All they had to do to the new house was paint and refinish the oak floors.

They want to change the kitchen cupboard handles and wallpaper, but that can wait — and that's an easy fix.

I visited them a couple of weeks after they moved, and it already looked like they'd lived there for years. They are very happy in their beautiful new home, and delighted that they don't have to go through renovation hell. That's the way life should be. You find a beautiful house, move in, and life goes on.

That hasn't been our experience, and that's why I think often of getting rid of this colossal headache. Indeed, if someone came along right now wanting to buy it, I'd probably sell.

In a couple of weeks, I'm going to write a list of pointers and sources for anyone contemplating a renovation, big or small. We've learned a lot through this journey (that is, never do this again), and I hope others can benefit from our experiences.


Globe Real Estate

A kitchen to die for

Designer Melandro Quilatan has created a stunning blend of the contemporary and traditional in a model for a Forest Hill condo. It's inspiring — and unattainable

1,078 words
12 December 2003
All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

I wish I could say this is my new kitchen. Alas, it's not. However, this room — without a doubt, the most beautiful kitchen I have ever seen — will be my inspiration as I choose a countertop, cabinet colour, and backsplash tiles for our new home.

The work of Melandro Quilatan, a senior designer with Gluckstein Design Planning Inc., in conjunction with famed designer Brian Gluckstein and two junior designers, this kitchen is located in the sales office of an exclusive 18-unit, six-storey condominium to be built by Great Gulf Homes at the corner of Russell Hill Road and St. Clair Avenue West.

When creating this kitchen, Mr. Quilatan wanted to find a look that would combine the contemporary design of the building with the traditional aesthetics of Forest Hill and the targeted purchasers, aged 40 and up.

In a discussion with the personable Mr. Quilatan, he described how he did it:

The cabinets

This is a perfect example of how Mr. Quilatan combined the contemporary with the traditional. He designed recessed panel doors that, at first glance, look entirely traditional. Take a closer look and you'll notice that the classic, multitiered trim has been replaced with a simpler two-step-like profile. "I thought, ‘Let's clean it up. Let's do a simple step-step.' It gives it some youth. Then we added this really sexy stainless-steel hardware," he said.

Once he'd decided on the cabinet and hardware design, he knew he wanted to visually break up the long runs of cabinets. "What can we interject to make it spicy and special and not in your face?" The solution was to add frosted-glass panels, lined with stainless-steel inserts, to some of the upper cabinets.

The medium density fiberboard (MDF) cabinets were painted a satin finish off-white "with an injection of bluey taupe" to complement the countertop, Mr. Quilatan said.

Because the ceilings are 10 feet high, "we didn't need to go vertical for storage," he said. He ensured that the cabinets were all easy to reach and equipped with adjustable shelving. The high ceilings enabled him to add large, decorative crown moldings.

"The 10-foot ceilings can handle oversized crown mouldings," he said. He chose a nine-inch vertical fluted crown moulding — once again, a traditional look — which projects about six inches into the room.

The sink

Mr. Quilatan decided to make the sink area a feature of the room by bumping out the lower cabinets and counter five inches. Even the crown moulding above is pushed forward to mimic the look below. He added a mirrored backsplash, with glass shelving, for visual interest.

"It breaks it up. Otherwise it would be a very boring length," he said. "The decorative cutout on the kick emphasizes the fact that it looks like a piece of furniture or a console rather than a plain bank of cabinetry."

The cooking centre

"We have the space. Let's do something really special with the cooking centre," said Mr. Quilatan about designing the cook-top area. As with the sink, he bumped out the cabinets and counter several inches.

The decorative canopy, which hides the exhaust fan, and a fireplace-like ledge create the perfect backdrop for artwork. For a backsplash, he chose a charcoal gray, honed granite — the same material as the island counter.

He had the granite tiles cut down to six by 12 inches, so the size would be the same proportion as the mini-brick, gray marble backsplash tiles. "Otherwise, it's going to look like someone's floor on the wall. By cutting it six by 12, it gives it a whole new look," he said. The tiles were laid in a soldier-cut pattern, one on top of the other.

"I did that for variety. It is a different colour material. Why not go the next step and lay it differently?"

He ensured that the grout was the same colour as the granite. "It's very important to go for grout the same colour," he said. "I don't want to focus on the grout. It's a common mistake for suburban builders. You look down and all you notice is the grout."

The counter

Mr. Quilatan chose the off-white granite, with flecks of willow green, charcoal gray and chocolate brown, because "it's a light grain and a very monochromatic scheme. We honed the finish, which further softens the look, and we did seal the heck out of this."

The island

"I envisioned a two-tone kitchen . . . a light-painted cabinetry in conjunction with a walnut island that looks like a piece of furniture," he said.

A taupe glaze applied to the walnut picks up on the colour of the cabinets. At each corner of the island is a classic-style column, with the same modern detailing of the cabinets.

There's room for two or three stools at the seven-foot island. It "is very clean and uncluttered," he said. "It adds to the serenity of the whole place."

The elliptical light fixture above the island was specially chosen to complement different elements in the room.

"We wanted to pick up on the frosted glass, on the mirror. When we saw it in the showroom, it jumped out. It had all the elements. It's very sexy and sculptural."

The floor

"Dark brown happens to be our favourite these days," he said. "It looks luxurious. It's got a depth to it that a light-stained floor does not have. It's a nice subtle backdrop to white. It's a play on light versus dark that makes it crisp and clean. It's very subtle, quiet. I want people to pay attention to the cabinets and not so much to what's underfoot.

"Function is easy. It's planning the aesthetics well that people have to strive a little bit for. It has to be easy to maintain. Why not make it gorgeous?"

I'll give it a try. But I know I'll never come close to the great attention to every design detail that the talented Mr. Quilatan brought to this stunning kitchen.


Globe Real Estate

Wrapping up

With the project coming to a close, here are some words of advice -- and caution

Unsigned Freelance
December 19 2003
All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.

The end is finally in sight! This past week, the house has been full of carpenters busily cutting and installing the baseboards, trim around windows and doors, and built-in shelving.

Piles of wood are everywhere in the house, sawdust fills the air, and someone is always working at the table saw.

The contractors chose wide baseboards and trim that match the original materials perfectly. They've reused most of the original wood doors, and found others that match at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Once the carpentry is done, the bathroom fixtures and kitchen cabinets can be installed. Next the painters and then . . . we're done! Despite my high stress level these days, I must admit the house is looking sensational. The workmanship has been excellent. I'm very pleased with the way it's turned out.

With the work almost done, it's time to finish the Reno Diary series with a list of what we've learned along the way. Here are my 10 Tips on How to Survive a Major Renovation:

1 Good planning is the key to success. Set a budget and find an architect who can design within that budget. Check references thoroughly. Did the architect's other projects come in within budget? Is there a marked difference between his or her drawings and what was eventually built? (A sure sign that the original design was over budget.) When working out your budget, don't forget to include architect's fees (often up to 10 per cent of the total construction cost, plus GST).

2 Don't rush the working drawings. These are the detailed construction drawings needed by both the city building department and the contractor. They become your bible throughout the renovation. If it's not in the working drawings, then it becomes an "extra." Ensure everything you want is in the drawings -- from the number of lights, to the kind of doors, to the quality of finishes (for instance, the grade of hardwood flooring). The drawings are very complicated and difficult to understand. Don't assume it's all there because you've discussed it with the person who did the drawings. Go over them in great detail. Ask what is not included -- because you'll pay for whatever's missing in the end.

3 Allow plenty of time to get your building permit. Our building inspector said anyone planning a spring renovation should have plans submitted to the city the previous fall. If you need to go to the Committee of Adjustment for approval for minor zone variances, allow enough time for this as well. This can easily add months to your project. Be sure to enquire about the costs for these various permits and approvals; they can add many hundreds of dollars to your costs. Our contractors recommend that homeowners get a building permit before pricing the job. That way, if the city imposes any costly structural changes to your drawings (as happened to us), you can decide before the work begins whether you still want to proceed, or whether it's best to scale back the project.

4 A renovation always takes longer than you think it will. "It always takes twice as long as they say it will," says a friend of mine who survived major renovations in three homes. Also, a major renovation always ends up costing more than your original quote, because of surprises along the way, and changes to your plans. Many homeowners I've spoken to suggest budgeting up to an extra 30 per cent to cover these extras. Don't think you'll be exempt from these renovation truisms. If you begin your project expecting it to last longer and cost more, then you'll be emotionally and financially prepared.

5 As everyone knows, good contractors are hard to find. Get referrals from friends and neighbours. Get quotes from a few different contractors, and compare the quotes carefully, item by item. Some contractors add an overall administrative markup above costs (often about 10 to 20 per cent) at the end of the contract -- so be sure to keep this in mind when comparing the breakdowns.

6 It's not always easy to compare quotes, as one contractor may choose, say, a lower-end window, lower-grade shingle or lower-quality flooring to keep his quote below others. To avoid this kind of discrepancy, specify exactly what you want (brand, style, etc.). If you haven't made up your mind yet, ask the contractors to provide you with a range of pricing, from the cheapest to the most expensive. That way, you understand right from the beginning the maximum you could likely spend on these big-ticket items. It's very easy to agree to a lower quote for one of these items, until you actually go out and look at the various options. Suddenly, the Grade 1 cedar shingles look a lot better than the less expensive Grade 2 cedar you'd agreed to. Ditto the lower-end windows and flooring. By understanding what your maximum would likely be, you're better able to budget and less likely to be shocked by any extra costs down the road. It's better to do all your running around before you price a job, so that you already know exactly what you want. Although this can take weeks of comparison shopping, it's worth it in the end because you'll know exactly what you're getting and exactly what it'll cost.

7 Price and recommendations shouldn't be the only considerations when choosing a contractor. Be sure to meet with the project manager, the one who's going to be on site every day. This often isn't the one who presents you with the quote. Do you get along? We turned down one highly recommended contractor because we sensed a personality conflict. We simply weren't convinced we'd get along when the going got tough. Trust your instincts, and pay more for peace of mind if necessary.

8 Probably the single biggest surprise to me throughout this process was how labour rates changed based on different materials. For example, our working drawings called for ceramic tile flooring in one room in the basement. I decided to change this to slate. By choosing stone over a man-made product, our labour costs increased significantly. This resulted in a very large "extra." Here again, if you're unsure of final materials, ask the contractors to give you quotes for the different materials you're considering. Before making a change to the working drawings, ask whether the installation costs will differ. You may decide not to change your mind after all.

9 If you have the budget, hire an interior designer to help you with the many decisions you'll have to make along the way. They know where to find the best products, and they have the trained eye to narrow down the thousands of choices out there to a few that could work in your home. You can expect to pay anywhere from $75 an hour and up. Time adds up very quickly. Be specific about your needs, and let the designer know exactly how much you've set aside for design consultation. To find a designer, ask friends for recommendations, or look in design magazines and newspapers for local designers whose work you like. Arrange to meet with them and look at their portfolio.

10 Prepare yourself for the stress. If you don't handle stress well, then perhaps a major renovation isn't for you. Friends who have renovated tell me it's like childbirth. It's painful, but you forget the pain once it's all over. I'm still feeling the pain -- since we're not totally done yet -- but look forward to putting it all behind me and enjoying this lovely home.

This is the last instalment of Reno Diary. A new series on renovation will start Jan. 2


Contractors: Patrick Tomlinson and Jerry Sayewich, Cardinal Custom Homes & Renovations, 416-820-2401

Countertops: The Surface Group, 1215 North Service Rd. West, Unit A, Oakville, 905-825-3432

Custom mantel: Wilkinson Fireplace Mantels, 2880 Slough St., Mississauga, 905-678-9801

Fireplace: Wilkinson Fireplace Mantels (see above) -- the Heat 'n Glo direct-vent model.

Floor heating system: NUHEAT Industries, Delta, B.C., 1-800-778-9276 or

Hardwood flooring: Herwynen Saw Mill, Rockwood, Ont., 519-856-1180

Hardwood flooring installation: Art Hardwood Flooring, 416-823-8607

Heating and cooling: Canadian Home Heating, 905-567-6024

Kitchen cabinets: Azevedo Kitchen Cabinets, 130 Industry St., Unit 24, Toronto, 416-762-5591

Mason: Surebond Masonry, 416-769-1713

Plumber: VB Plumbing, 416-339-8390

Plumbing fixtures: Dupont Plumbing & Heating Supplies, 2397 Eglinton Ave. West, Toronto, 416-656-6054

Railings: Circular Stairs, 416-741-2782

Security system: Dex Tech Systems, 905-845-9735

Stone: Mason's Masonry Supply Ltd., 6291 Netherhart Rd., Mississauga, 905-670-1233

Stucco: Allied Stucco and Plastering, 905-794-1749

Tiles: Polgres Home Improvement Centre, 4060 Ridgeway Dr., Unit 11, Mississauga, 905-569-0779 and Saltillo Imports, 132 Railside Rd., Unit 9, Toronto, 416-441-2224

Tiler: Polgres Home Improvement Centre (see above)

Vintage doors: Habitat for Humanity ReStore, 29 Bermondsey Rd., Toronto, 416-755-7353, and 1120 Caledonia Rd., Toronto, 416-783-0686

Vintage light fixtures: Era, 1629 Queen St. West, 416-535-3305

Waterproofing: Watertite Waterproofers, or 416-410-5326

Windows: Ridley Windows & Doors, 416-742-3546