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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hey Toronto, don't forget to Winterize your Plumbing

Winterizing Your Home in the Toronto Area

Wintertime means ice skating and hockey for most Canadians. And whether you plan to go become a snowbird in Arizona or stay in the Toronto area, it is a good idea to consider winterizing your home and yard so that you can enjoy the winter months without having to do any outdoor maintenance.

Here are some of the most popular ways to set your home and yard up for the cold season:

Look into plumbing maintenance: If you do have a problem with your pipes, chances are that it will happen in the Wintertime- when temperature extremes put the most stress on your pipes. One way to try and head this off is to work with a local plumbing partner- someone who can arrange to do maintenance on a regular or seasonal basis. In addition to focusing on water pipe repair in Toronto, most plumbing professionals are able to check all of your pipes and water systems and tell you where there are any weak spots. One way that they can do this is by doing a pressure test that will show if there are any weak spots in your plumbing system. If there are, they can normally predict about how long your system will be able to continue without repair.

Plumbing maintenance that you can do yourself around the home should probably include draining all of your garden hoses, coiling them up, and storing them indoors in a shed or the garage. Draining any fountain not made of stone or natural materials is also a good idea because they will last longer.

Go High Tech On Heat Loss:

Another popular type of maintenance over the past several years has been to take the latest infrared sensors and make a heat map of your home so that a contractor can can take defined heat loss areas and fix them. The present technology is strong enough that it can show a couple of degree temperature difference, making it easy to find out where your house is leaking warm air from the outside.

The savings that you achieve by having your house examined and then repair may be substantial if it works out that you had a major leak without knowing about it.

One area that can put you ahead when it comes to heat loss is choosing the right insulation strategy in your home. Many older homes were not insulated as well as they could be. On the other hand, even if your home is newer and already has insulation in the walls and floor and ceiling, you can still save money in the long run by adding another layer of insulation. If you have centralized heating, it is also a good idea to ensure that all of your duct pipes are wrapped with insulation.

Ensure Your Heat Sources Are Adequate:

Over the years, you have likely grown close to your furnace and fireplace- and know how efficiently they actually perform for you. At the same time, Autumn is a really good time to have a professional come in and check them out to see if they can't get more efficiency out of them. At a base level, you may find that your furnace filter hasn't been changed as often as it could- something that can take away from its output. You can also have them test the output in each room to ensure that the air forced into every room is warm enough to actually heat it up. In addition to wrapping the duct pipes, it can pay off to ensure that the main pipes that lead into the the furnace itself are also winterized.

When it comes to fireplaces, many homes have purchased heat exchangers or inserts that increase the amount of hot air that is generated when you have a fire. If you don't have one, you might look at your options- they can save you money. Getting your chimney cleaned is antoher great winterization idea because it means another season of safe fires in your home.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Evolution of Urban Planning, Infographic

I find it really annoying when people email infographics, asking me to post it for them. I consider them to basically be spam.

This one however was rather interesting, so I have decided to post it. It was sent to me from "Kon von der Schulenburg", who is an architect from an architectural firm called "Cantrell & Crowley Architects & Interior Designers". Their website is

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Raccoon Removal Service for Homes

The video below is of a mousetrap that humanely catches mice. But what if you could build a larger scale version that catches raccoons?

Raccoons are a serious problem in many parts of Toronto, often due to a lack of natural predators that eat raccoons. The closest thing to predators in Toronto is traffic, as testified by the sheer number of raccoons that get hit and killed on Toronto streets every year.

Like the impromptu memorial for a dead raccoon that popped up within hours and went viral in July 2015. Proof that Torontonians truly care about its wildlife, even if they did it a bit jokingly (I think the cigarette in the raccoons paw was a bit of an overkill). Shown below:

A friend of mine who lives near York University even feeds her raccoons. She lives near a ravine so she has tonnes of raccoons in the neighbourhood. Even within her home she is a bit of an animal fanatic, having a rabbit, cats, mice, and pet spiders. The raccoons to her are just one more thing worth feeding.

I should note however that feeding wild animals can be dangerous. If they lose their sense of fear of humans, they are no longer afraid of humans and can become either dangerous or a nuisance.

Toronto's raccoons for example have, for the most part retained some of their fear of humans, but others are quite brazen and friendly - but friendly doesn't mean they are not dangerous if provoked.

If you own a home and you are having a problem with raccoons being a nuisance (and possibly even attacking your dog or cat or children) then you need to have those animals removed.

Many people in Toronto believe that raccoons should be simply be killed, that this is the simplest / quickest / most permanent solution to the raccoon problem in Toronto. Some people attempt to do this by leaving rat poison, anti-freeze or dishwasher detergent in places where the raccoons frequent and the raccoons eat/drink the poisonous materials and later die.

However deadly traps and poisons are banned in Toronto. As is shooting them with firearms.

"Current Ministry of Natural Resources guidelines state that using body gripping traps or placing poison could result in criminal charges and/or provincial charges with fines up $5,000.'
  • The firing of guns in Toronto is illegal.
  • Placing poison out to kill animals could result in criminal charges."
It is important to note that raccoons are wildlife, and as such are protected. They can only be trapped humanely and then transported (preferably outside of the city). Vermin on the other hand (mice, rats, cockroaches, wasps, insects, etc) can be killed outright.

Derick McChesney of SWAT Wildlife
So over the past few decades there has evolved a special ambassador to animals; the modern wildlife removal technician is a licensed wild animal whisperer who safeguards these creatures' lives and the lives of their young families with every house call. He or she protects the animal's rights just as much as he works to seal the house and keep the homeowner or business owner's property safe.

And nobody does this job better than raccoon removal expert, Derick McChesney of SWAT Wildlife.

Last month Life as a Human did a story on Derick that took the form of a very insightful and informative ride along as Derick completed three missions helping home owners and safeguarding raccoons. You can see how he found a nest of baby raccoons in a rental apartment.


Raccoons often like hiding in high places. Hence the ladder.
Derick also shares wisdom about how to know if animals are living in a house before you buy the property, which you can read on Josie Stern's blog below:

Josie Sterns Toronto real estate blog post, Are Raccoons Living In you Home?
"He [Derick McChesney] states, “roughly 15-20% of homes probably have a mice issue or have once had a wildlife issue. Most of the time the seller will only do the minimum amount of work to get rid of the problem and decline the necessary prevention so they can sell the house and then leave the problem with someone else." Buyers that do unwittingly purchase animal infested properties are in for nightmare renovations that can include new carpets, drywall and total home insulation removal and replacement."

Which includes your attic. Sometimes also your basement, crawl space, garage, space above the garage, etc.

Chicken wire is surprisingly effective at caging raccoons out of attics.

Raccoons often get into houses through the garage. They are basically nature's best burglars. Check out Guru Security's blog post, What raccoons can teach prowlers about your home security? to learn more on this topic.

However if you want to make it more difficult for raccoons to get in and out of your garage, you might want to invest in hiring some garage door installers to install an automatic garage door. It takes only a moment for raccoons to sneak into places they are not meant to be - often in search of food - and the more often they manage to find food means they stick around in the neighbourhood and continue to be a nuisance. Having an automatic garage door that closes when not in use prevents the animals from being afforded the opportunity to do so again and again and again.

More photos of raccoons in Toronto:

I should note that Toronto raccoons don't usually get very big. They're comparatively tiny when compared to the giant raccoons you find in the countryside - some as big as German Shepherds or Chimpanzees. It really depends on how well fed they are. In the countryside they can grow to be quite large.

The one in the photo below is large, but still not as big as the biggest one I have ever seen which was Chimp sized.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Conservatives Vs Liberals - How does the election effect housing prices?

In terms of real estate, how does the Canadian election effect home prices?

Well it depends. Are you buying or selling?

If you are thinking of voting for the Conservatives, expect more of the same laissez-faire approach to economics - which means to say the Conservatives like to do nothing unless they absolutely have to.

Remember the recession that started several months ago? Stephen Harper denied it was a recession until economists told him, yes, yes it is a recession. And even after the recession was confirmed Stephen Harper has actively avoided using the word "recession" - because talking about the recession is bad for his re-election campaign. (Instead Harper has been trying to distract people by fear-mongering about Muslims.)

In terms of real estate a recession lowers house prices, so that is good for home buyers, but bad for people looking to sell.

Voting for the Liberals means lower taxes for the middle class, which makes homebuying more affordable - which means prices may end up going higher, which is good for sellers, but more affordability also means the economy is more robust and Canadian homebuyers will be more able to afford that new home. So that is a win-win.

In contrast the Conservatives like to lower taxes for the rich - which they have been doing for 10 years now. This has resulted in the richest Canadians becoming richer, while the middle class has failed to make any progress. The Conservatives had 10 years to lower taxes on the middle class, and they squandered those ten years on partisan politics and betting on oil futures. Thus the rich are now more able to buy property and make themselves richer. Land ownership in Canada has become very skewed towards the rich during the last 10 years, plus foreign ownership of land in Canada has skyrocketed, with much of Canada's oil and mineral reserves being bought up by the Chinese.

Also we should note that the polls show that the best the Conservatives can hope for right now is a minority government, which would be hamstrung by the fact the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc are all refusing to support a minority Conservative government. So even if the Conservatives managed to cling to power, they would be essentially powerless.

In contrast the Liberals are currently poised to seize a possible majority government, which could usher in years of economic benefits for the middle class.

Canada's political system is really about class warfare - squabbling over who should pay more taxes and how much we should spend on social programs.

The Conservatives support the rich, and cut taxes for the rich while cutting social programs that help the middle class and poor.

The Liberals support the middle class, and cut taxes for the middle class, raise taxes on the rich, and use a moderate amount of funding for the social programs.

The NDP support the poor, cut taxes for the poor, raise taxes for the rich and upper-middle class, and spend oodles of money on social programs.

So who you vote for is really a matter of whether you buy, mortgage or rent real estate.

If you are rich, you buy real estate outright. No mortgage. Therefore you should vote Conservative.

If you are middle class, you buy real estate with a mortgage and pay it off over time. Therefore you should vote Liberal.

If you are poor, you are still renting an apartment, living in your parent's basement, etc. You should vote NDP.

There you go - Canada's political parties explained in real estate terms, in a nutshell.

GTA and Vancouver Suburbs Prices Soaring

When will Canada experience a US style burst?
If you think the prices within Toronto and Vancouver are skyrocketing, wait til you see the prices for the suburbs - which would normally be considerably cheaper. All of this adds up to an ever-inflating housing bubble in two of Canada's hottest real estate markets.

According to the latest Royal LePage housing report, the cost of homes in the suburbs are surging, eclipsing those of the city core in some cases.

Home prices in the Toronto area climbed 11.3 per cent in the third quarter from a year earlier, to $612,261. In the city proper, the cost was almost $640,000.

The median price of a two-storey Toronto home, is up 17.1 per cent to $961,656. The price of a similar home in nearby Richmond Hill rose 18.6 per cent to $963,561 and in Vaughan by 18 per cent to $842,173.

Vancouver homes are also high, up 17.3 per cent at more than $1.9-million. The corresponding prices in Richmond and Burnaby surged 23.5 and 20.9 per cent, respectively, to about $1.2-million. A  two-storey in North Vancouver is $1.3-million, while those in West Vancouver are going for about $2.8-million.

Across Canada, home prices rose 0.6 per cent in September from August, and 5.6 per cent from a year earlier, according to the Teranet-National Bank home price index released yesterday. The index showed that prices climbed 10.4 per cent in Vancouver and 8.6 per cent in Vancouver

"The Vancouver index, at 201.24 in September, is the first to top 200, meaning that prices in that market are slightly more than twice as high as in June 2005."

With respect to these two markets a bubble has been forming for over two decades, with prices reaching dizzying heights - especially in Vancouver. At some point the bubble has to burst and prices will tumble, but to do so there has to be an impetus - something to set it off. A proverbial flea that broke the camel's back.

The 2008-2010 recession wasn't enough to do it. The current 2015 oil-collapse recession plaguing Canada likely won't be enough either, because when you consider that the Canadian dollar has slid dramatically over the past two years, what you realize is that if you measure housing prices in US dollars, the prices haven't really gone up that much.

The Canadian dollar hasn’t been above parity with the U.S. dollar since Valentine’s Day 2013. Since then it’s dropped at a record-setting pace of 23 per cent by July 2015.

Now you might think, oh the dollar is down, wouldn't that effect our economy? And you would be right - it does. It boosts our exports because the prices of doing business/buying goods in Canada is now cheaper. It also means the prices of investing in real estate in Canada is now cheaper too (for non-Canadians).

One would wonder if it were possible to take your money you had invested in oil - if you timed it right before the oil prices collapsed - and reinvest in real estate. Then when the oil prices go back up eventually, the price of the Canadian "petro dollar" would rise in value too - which means when you sell the real estate, you've then made a bundle on both the increased value of the real estate, but you've also made a bundle off the fluctuating US-CDN exchange rate. Hypothetically speaking.

Meanwhile Canada has an election coming up very soon...

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Carports Vs Garages

It is cheaper to build a carport instead of a garage, and in Canada it is arguably also more practical.


Well, have you ever had to shovel snow out of a driveway just to get the garage door open?

Or is your garage so full of stuff that you park in the driveway anyway and don't actually park your car inside the garage?

That is why. Carports give you the advantage of being able to park your car in the driveway, but still have a roof over top of it so you don't have to shovel the snow so much.

Plus carports never have the problem of junk accumulating in your garage, stuff that rightfully belongs either:

In your basement.
In your attic.
In your recycling bins, because lets face it, a lot of the junk people keep in their garage is really just garbage.

Now I understand some people just love having a garage, but parking in a carport is so much easier and you get many of the benefits of having a garage, but without the cost and certain annoying factors that come with garages. Thus to me a carport makes a great deal of sense just for its convenience.

In the USA carports are more popular in the southern states and near army bases, thanks to the 1950s modernist movement which saw many residential communities built near military bases using the modernist designs, which in turn used carports as part of their designs quite often.

The designs shown above are by Mike Kopecky, who grew up near an army base in Texas and now lives in Toronto. He is the designing houses for a retro-modernist community in Leander Texas, but hopes that developers in Toronto may become inspired to try something similar here in Canada. You can read more about his development in Leander in the Globe and Mail.

Below are some different, interesting and innovative designs for carports. I especially liked the ones with the solar panels and plants.

Friday, January 30, 2015

1 Bloor nearing Completion

The photos to the right and further below are of the new building at 1 Bloor Street East. The photos were taken around 6:30 PM on January 29th.

The condo / hotel / shopping mall / movie theatre / gym / etc will have a plethora of things for people who live in the building to do, or people just visiting the building because of the entertainment venues that will also be available to the residents / hotel guests.

The structure is being built in Toronto during a bubble in condo construction, largely fueled by overseas investors and not based on locals buying the condos. This is ever so much true about 1 Bloor, which has been embroiled in scandal and fraud since its inception the property changed hands because the original developers could not commit to building.

The prices of the condos in what has been billed as the most desirable condo to live in (in Toronto, and arguably all of Canada) however have been outrageously expensive. People buying a condo there are ridiculously rich compared to the common standards of most Canadians. Think celebrities, oil tycoons, the mafia - and quite a few wealthy foreigners - all in the same building.

I think it would funny if the condo bubble in Toronto burst right around the time people finally get to move into the finished building, and condo prices fell about 30% in the space of 1 year. People who bought an expensive condo during the years prior to the bubble bursting will be crying at the potential savings they could have had, and those who bought their condos on a mortgage may run into the problem of trying to refinance their mortgage and being denied by the banks because the value of their condos has changed so dramatically.

Accompanied by the drop in prices Toronto will also experience a recession as many construction workers are laid off, which in turn will hurt other industries as the flow of cash in the city will slow dramatically and cause layoffs in those industries. The manufacturing and services sectors will be hurt the most.

The real danger of such a recession is whether Vancouver and other cities across Canada also experience a recession around the same time. If it is just localized recession the impact and dip in the economy won't be so deep, but if it effects most of Canada then it will effect many more Canadians.

At present, judging by the current slowing of the Canadian economy, combined with the finish dates for many condos in Toronto, I expect the localized recession in Toronto to happen in 2016. If the slowing of the economy hurts other real estate markets across Canada however we may experience a nation wide recession instead.

The white blurs you see in the photo below are from snowflakes zooming down past the camera lens.

Gardening, Roof Repair + Finished Basement


One of the ways to boost the value of your home is to plant a flower garden - especially roses, as roses are very easy to maintain and quite hardy. Rose bushes really just need to be trimmed once in awhile so they look good, and during the autumn you need to mound the dirt up around their bases to protect their roots more, so they can survive the winter easier. That is pretty much it. Some people also sometimes use powder pesticides on their roses to prevent insects from eating them, but it is not a huge necessity.

The other benefits of roses is that you have a constant supply of flowers to decorate your home with... which means prospective buyers coming to your home may see a vase of roses on the kitchen table, immediately bolstering their opinion of the place subconsciously.

 And because Valentines is almost two weeks away I thought I should include some tips about roses / vases...

Tips to Keep Your Roses Fresh in the Vase Longer

Many people love to give roses and get roses but after a couple of day the roses start to droop or dry out.  Shortly after that they wither and die and you have to throw them away.  It is such a waste and a sad way for you roses to go.  You try everything you can but you just cannot keep your roses as fresh as possible for as long as possible.  There are some old wives tales that say use sugar in the vase water, clip the ends every couple of days but do these tips really work?  Below are a few tips that may help you keep the roses from your lover a little while longer. (Or prepare a vase for prospective buyers viewing your house.)

#1. Sugar in the vase water really does help.

Sugar can help to keep your roses longer after all.  The theory is that sugar simulates the photosynthesis process and makes the flower rejuvenated.  You can use regular sugar (for a regular sized vase use about 1 teaspoon).  Or you can use leftover soda pop to produce the same effect.  Use the clear soda (Sprite or 7 Up) if you have a clear vase.

#2. Hairspray?

Yes, this works. The hairspray locks the moisture in.  All you have to do is get your hairspray bottle from your bathroom, grab your bouquet of flowers, hold the hairspray about a few inches away from the flowers and spray them well (make sure you get every section of the flower, but do not saturate them). Don't worry about the stems in the water.

#3. A Little Bit of Vodka Never Hurt Anyone

This works similarly to the sugar.  The vodka is meant to prohibit the growth of bacteria which could prematurely weaken the roses.  It may be a good idea to use in conjunction with sugar as sugar can cause bacteria to grow.  You only need a few drops so do not worry there will be plenty left for you to drink later. In theory anti-bacterial mouth wash would also work.

#4. Roofing Tar?

Wait, what? Roofing tar???

This sounds just as crazy as the hairspray idea, but if you want to keep your roses forever, this may be a great choice for you.  The roofing tar coats the entire rose and preserves it forever. A million years from now it will be a fossilized rose.

What happened was local Torontonian Rob Campbell decided to do an experiment when he decided to make black roses by dipping red roses in ToughRoof flat roofing tar. Basically all you would have to do is head to your local roofing guy who deals in flat roofing tar and ask him if he can dip your roses into the leftover roofing tar.  Within 3 minutes you should have a fresh set of a dozen roses that will never parish.  What a great way to celebrate Valentines with your loved one. (Especially if they are a goth and love black roses...)

See also
Valentines Day Black Roses made from roofing tar
How to make Black Roses using Roofing Tar

I am not sure if this would help sell your house, but hey you never know.

Roof Repair

To continue on the vein of the repairing the roof, this is another excellent way of boosting the value of your home. Having a new roof installed (after ripping out the old one), repairing the old roof by adding either new shingles or aluminum can dramatically change the look of your home and give it a fresh look - effectively a face lift for your house.

Check the before and after photos below showing what a great difference having your roof repaired makes on the appearance. To say nothing of better insulation and preventing leaks.

Or in the case of the photo at the top here, getting rid of a serious mold infestation by simply cleaning the roof.

Below - New roof plus solar panels.

Below - A lot less drab looking on the new roof.

The big thing these days is to install roofs that are plastic or aluminum and shaped like tiles or shingles.

Finished Basement

The last thing I want to discuss is the concept of making a finished basement. Not just to prevent flooding by having some basement waterproofing done (see the City of page about how to prevent basement flooding or visit a website like Royal Basement Waterproofing), but also because when trying to sell your home whether you have a finished basement can be a big selling point. See the before and after photos below to see what I mean.

Having a finished basement means you can have a living room or recreational room down there. Some people even make their own private bar, or put in a swimming pool, lots of options. Like the basement swimming pool below.

At which point you have to say, who wouldn't want a swimming pool in their basement?

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