The best time of year, but where to start?

By Francie Healy

Spring! At last! As visions of renovations start to sprout like seedlings, how do you decide what to do first?

We asked some of Ottawa’s “home” experts what they think are the best projects for Spring.

In a nutshell, they all had one word.

Outdoors.

          Paul Denys, Designer/Renovator, Denys Builds Designs, thinks a new porch or deck is one of the nicest things you can do for yourself when the warm weather begins. Do that first, he says, and you get to enjoy it all through the summer and well into Fall.

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Paul has taken on many such projects, but some stand out as particularly memorable. One is a Victorian Italianate-style house, rich in history. Its once- magnificent main-floor porch and second floor deck and railings were rotten. As each exact replica of the 80 curved pregnant-lady square-cut balusters was replaced, along with a rare, curved front railing, he watched the house regain its original elegance. Other parts were replaced (unique curve fascia and crown, new curved front stairs), and the house was its stunning self of days gone by.

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It was a joy for the homeowner, of course. But something as simple and transformative as a porch created a happy buzz in the community. Neighbours were so pleased that one couple volunteered to help with landscaping.

Moe Abbas of Ottawa General Contractors says there’s usually a big boom in Spring renovations, because after a long winter people are anxious to enjoy the outdoors. Not only that, but they want to start early so they don’t waste a minute of it.

And, he says, since we live in Canada, weather is the single greatest influence (“after the government”, he adds) on what and when to renovate and build.

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“Working with the weather saves homeowners thousands of dollars,” he adds. “Working against the weather can be disastrous, time consuming, and very expensive.”

All the exterior trades, he says, are steps ahead of the game because they start the last part of winter just preparing for Spring. His firm has to book exterior sub-trades well in advance.

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One of the first things that come to people’s minds is landscaping. And then there are new outdoor finishes and sidings. Spring has a way of inspiring wonderful new projects.

But it’s important to know what you want, and to communicate that to your renovator or contractor.

“Good contractors will help guide you in your renovation,” says Moe. “They will give you options to suit your needs. I teach my guys to really listen to what our clients are looking for and then to make it happen for them. I believe that by paying close attention to what our clients are looking for, we can help them find their ‘new beginnings’.”      

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Additions are huge in Spring, Moe says. They need to be planned before Spring – no later than mid- to late winter – but they are best started in Spring.

“People do not want such a huge intrusion on their lives in -30 weather when they have nowhere to go,” Moe explains.

He says another great thing to renovate in Spring are kitchens and bathrooms. Although they are “year-round” renovations, interest in them peaks in Spring.

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“People start having guests more frequently in the nice weather,” he says. “And they want a common area to enjoy.”

And anyway, there’s something about a new kitchen or bathroom that is irresistable. Moe says they often tend to have more “wow factor” than living rooms.

“We have more energy in the Spring,” he says. “And we tend to see new life and new ideas then.” What better way, he adds, than to re-invent a look or a lifestyle with a renovation?

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Andy Cotnam of The Fireplace Center and Patio Shop is thinking “outdoors” this Spring, too. He suggests expanding your house without building an addition.

The thing you have to do, he says, is to start at the end and go backwards from there.

Figure out what you want for your back yard or deck, and how you’ll configure your space. Where will your conversation area be? Where will you eat? Cook?

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And then put it together exactly the way you’ll be most comfortable, he says. But think about safety, too. Know what kind of awnings, coverings, or umbrellas you’ll need to keep the sun’s direct rays from hitting your skin.

He says wicker is always beautiful, and there is also great wooden outdoor furniture that will last a lifetime. Some manufacturers actually give a warranty of 50 years for some woods, like Jarrah Wood (from Indonesia) and Ipe Wood (from Bolivia) that is remarkably dense and strong. He says to pay attention to the environmental responsibility the manufacturer of wooden furniture exhibits, however. Be sure before you buy it that the wood has been harvested and renewed according to Forest Stewardship Council of Canada standards.

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Whether you’re buying wood or wicker outdoor furniture, know who you’re buying it from, he says. He recommends manufacturers such as Actiwin, Homecrest, and the Outdoor GreatRoom Company.

Most of all, says Andy, enjoy the whole back yard experience.

“It’s about the memories,” he says. “It’s how people remember that great get-together outdoors at your place.”

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