Stories & Features

5 renovation tales from Team Power Smart members

Image of a contractor installing insulation in an attic
As of April 1, 2021, you'll need to hire a Program Registered Contractor to qualify for insulation rebates under the Home Renovation Rebate program, which offers rebates for qualifying heat pumps, insulation, heat pump water heaters, windows, and doors.

After a great response from members, here are some gems, plus expert advice

We asked Team Power Smart members for renovation stories good and bad. And wow, did the stories roll in.

We're happy to report that most of those stories, but not all, had happy endings. Here are excerpts from five of the most intriguing tales we heard, plus a few observations from renovation expert Lawrence Barks, a Program Registered Contractor in progress operating out of Prince George.

To qualify for insulation rebates under the popular Home Renovation Rebate program, it's now required to get the work done by a Program Registered Contractor (PRC). Barks is earning PRC status by doing about 10 hours of additional training in insulation best practices and in-depth understanding of the rebate program. Even for a guy with more than 20 years experience in insulation jobs, there are things to learn.

"It's always good to refresh," said Barks, who runs Excel Insulation. "I only see it as being a positive thing that I am going to be a PRC contractor."

Barks is not afraid to see the bar raised on home energy-efficiency standards. He says that as B.C.'s building envelope standards evolved and renovation rebates arrived, home inspections got more rigorous. And that's been great for his business.

"Before that, no one was really looking at what was going on with an attic insulation job," he says. "Suddenly, I was getting calls for jobs from people because home inspectors were saying 'get this guy, because he's doing great work'."

Upgrading insulation will help you save at least 10% of your home's energy cost and improve your home's comfort year round. The popular Home Renovation Rebate program offers savings on qualifying insulation, heat pumps, water heaters, windows, and doors.

And now, five renovation stories from Team Power Smart members.

Hole in the house leads to complete rebuild

A Nanaimo family bought a house originally built in 1949 and discovered a bizarre surprise during renovations:.

"We optimistically began renovating, at first to make it more energy efficient. We had an audit done and basically there was a hole in our house measuring four feet by five feet. We set about caulking, insulating etc., but two years later realized that we had set ourselves an impossible task. We deconstructed the old house, recycling as much as possible, and built a brand new house. It was the right decision. We did a lot of the work ourselves but had professionals doing what we could not do. We love our home!

Barks: "That's not unusual for homes of that era. Back then, insulation wasn't a priority and there wasn't as much concern about the building envelope. So buildings were less comfortable in winter and summer, and a lot of moisture could get into the homes and, at times, it would cause some rot issues."

Did you know? Before you consider a major renovation or upgrade, it makes sense to make no-cost and low-cost changes. Heating only the rooms you need, when you need them, and draftproofing windows and doors, can cut heating costs significantly.

No joy in the attic, just toxic popcorn

Vermiculite or 'popcorn' insulation was all the rage in homes from around the 1920s to 1990s, but the mineral often includes dangerous asbestos, as this Team Power Smart member discovered:

"For years I have continued to pump energy out of my poorly insulated attic, which also needs soffits and new wiring. However none of this can be done as the old vermiculite insulation which is mixed with fibreglass insulation needs to be removed first. Cost estimates are around $20,000 to remove and abate the asbestos (if you can find a company who has time for such a small job in these busy times).

Barks: "Unfortunately, we see that a lot. The last attic job I did involved vermiculite removal, and it is costly. The specialists went in to remove it safely before we started blowing in the new insulation. You have to bundle up [with protective equipment] really well, wear a good mask, and ensure good ventilation. And you can't just take the stuff to the dump. It has to be shipped to a special location and be disposed of in a certain manner."

Did you know? Not all vermiculite sold in Canada before 1990 contains asbestos fibres. However, if your home was built in this era, check with your insulation contractor. They'll advise on the best solution for your home, including any safety concerns.

Goats on the roof are one thing, but this is unbearable

One strange night, a woman was watching TV when she heard a loud noise outside:

"On the roof above the dining room was a momma bear and her cub. I went back inside, not worrying anymore. The next day I wake up to rain pouring into the dining room on my brand new hardwood floor. After dealing with that I decided it's time to renovate the roof, windows and wall. I called a contractor who installed energy efficient windows and patio door. All the outside walls were insulated with R40 insulation. After the renovations were done, I bought [thermal] blinds for all the windows. The dining room is a lot more comfortable after redoing the insulation, windows, and doors. Thank you, bears for pushing me to renovate."

Barks: (Laughing) "I've never had to do a job like that, but I heard a bear story last weekend that was similar. A cousin of mine watched a bear climb onto the roof of a shed at his place last fall, and ripped up the whole roof trying to get to some garbage inside the shed."

Did you know? Thermal window coverings are specifically designed to reduce energy loss through windows. About 30% of a home's heating energy is lost through windows, and in cooling seasons, about 76% of sunlight that falls on standard double-pane windows enters to become heat. The Home Renovation Rebate program offers rebates of up to $100 per window or door, based on the thermal factor of the product you choose.

Bathroom of horrors gets an overhaul

Steve's 1960s-era house included a downstairs shower he describes as "a disaster", from the creepy bare light bulb to a plastic shower insert with a door so sticky that a guest, not realizing you had to 'body check' the door to get out, got trapped inside:

"We did a top-to-bottom reno. I watched every YouTube video I could on framing and building a shower stall from scratch. Now it's a lovely walk-in shower with beautiful tiling. We also built a second wall out from the concrete foundation (as Mike Holmes recommends) and went crazy with insulation, using R5 foamboard for the foundation and then adding R12 for the second wall. I added a bathroom fan, with a timed moisture sensor to save energy. Adding LED pot lights cut down the electricity usage and it looks so much better than the bare light bulb that was there before. Really pleased how the bathroom turned out, and it is now functional and energy saving."

Barks: "It used to be that a concrete wall in the basement was all that was done. They'd do your basement in concrete and then go to work on the upstairs. Nowadays, those concrete walls need to be insulated – we've been insulating them as part of the [BC Building Code] since probably the 1990s. And here in Prince George, those codes are even stiffer. We do interior walls at R24 and attics at R52, while I believe the standards down in the Lower Mainland are around R16 for walls and R40 for attics." Foundation walls in Zone 6, which includes Prince George and the central interior, must have a minimum R-Value of 16.9, compared to an R-value of 11.3 in Zone 4 (Vancouver and southern Vancouver Island).

Did you know? R-Value represents the ability to resist heat flow, or insulation's thermal resistance. The R-value can depend on the thickness and density of the insulating product.

Fire in the microwave! A renovation tale still in progress

Back in 2018, Anita's fortunes turned with what's known as a 'protein fire' in her microwave – the result of a pain-relieving bean bag being left in too long – that destroyed her kitchen:

"The insurance adjustor who attended the scene advised us this was his fifth call in one year in regards to these bags catching fire. Two and a half years later my cabinets and counters have just been installed. I had no lights, just holes in the ceiling where pot lights should be, a fridge in the garage, a range in the middle of the kitchen space with a collapsible table on plywood floors. No water and all dishes had to be done in the laundry room, where the faucet squealed. Throw in the COVID-19 pandemic and trying to get a commitment from contractors, along with delays on backlogged supplies and appliances. Yes, the word "nightmare" comes to mind.

Barks: "Getting a contractor can be challenging when it's busy, and here in Prince George, it's been one of the busiest years for building that I can remember. I guess my advice is to indicate that you're serious in moving forward with a job. When contractors are really busy, they may not have the time to just show up to provide advice. And even if you've booked an appointment and someone doesn't show up, it doesn't mean that they don't want the job. It just means they're real busy or something happened. So it never hurts to reach back out to that contractor. You'll probably find that if they're reputable, they'll do everything they can to get there the second time, and they may even cut you a better price for missing the first appointment."

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