Photo of the day – 15 September 2017

This is the modest little nook which will allow our ceiling height to be around 6’7″ in the basement (as opposed to the 6′ that it was) and leave our front door at the same height (we don’t have room for another front step – we are already on the city’s property with our current front steps!).

It will have a pony wall on the side to separate the door from the living room.  If we find that not having a full divider is too breezy, we might eventually add a felt room divider to add personality and keep out the cold, winter winds.

For you, perhaps it is a boring photo, but for me, this photo represents about 500 sq. ft. of additional usable space in our basement – youpi!

Welcome to the Truffle Warren!  Toss your boots aside and stay awhile! 

Photo of the day, 11 September 2017

I have finally figured out how to use my General contractor’s photos to my advantage, and am going to start posting a photo of the day!  This one is from last week, but is one of my very favourites.  This is the view of the front of the house from the back door.  They had just removed the ground floor, so you are seeing the basement and the ground floor space.  Don’t enter through those front doors!

It’s a long way down…

It sure is empty in here

We are nearing the end of the demolition phase.  In total, it took a little over a month, and the contractors are now creating holes where the future stairs will be and we are making decisions about the ceiling height of our future basement.  More to come on all fronts, but for now, the photos…

Stripped stairs
View from the front door to the stairs
Stripped RDC
View from the front door into the ground floor
Stripped 2e
Second floor
Stripped 3e
Third floor (I am taking this from the top of the ladder because these stairs are gone!)

The numbers that are spray painted on the walls give dimensions for the rooms, hallways, etc.  At our meeting with the General Contractor and Foreman last week, they had spraypainted the dimensions of the rooms, stairs, halls and closets on the floor to give us a feel for the dimensions.  We mostly stuck with our design because we had thought through those decisions carefully with our architect, but we did change a couple of closet dimensions because I am no longer stuck on having a dumbwaiter.

Why a dumbwaiter?  Well, because we will be living on four floors, I thought it would be nice to have something to help move things up and down from time to time.  Instead, we will be using our legs – no need for a StairMaster at our place… we have the old-fashioned version!


Removing plaster

Putting blood, sweat, and tears into our project really happened as we began taking out plaster and lathe…

Plaster removal 1
Second floor front room. Oh, how lovely the plaster detailing on the ceiling was before I pulverized it!

What takes the plaster off of the walls, you ask?  Here are the steps I took:

  1. Put on a mask, googles, and later I learned, a hair cover to protect yourself.  Protect those lungs, eyes, and if you are even a tiny bit vain, your hair.  Because that plaster dust will make your hair look like you inherited it from a scarecrow!
  2. Pound on those walls!  I found a liked making holes with a hammer, Mr. Frugaluxurious liked pounding away with the side of a sledgehammer.  The point is to break up the plaster without damaging the lathe, which will come off in a second phase.
  3. Use cracks and fault lines to your advantage.  If the plaster is cracking anywhere, pound along those lines to get it to come off more quickly.
  4. Scrape the plaster off of the walls.  Sometimes I used the prying end of the hammer, sometimes a crow bar, and sometimes the flat end of a shovel.  Whatever it takes to get the plaster to the ground.
  5. Shovel and sweep it away prior to bringing down the lathe, your next phase of destruction.
    Plaster removal 2
    Second floor office… starting to see the light between rooms (it was behind these walls that I found a long-dead mouse and a vacant wasps’ nest!)
    Mask selfie
    A very clean mask and goggles before I started pounding away!

    Dusty selfie
    A tired but satisfied photo, after I had started protecting my hair!

Review of the City of Montreal’s Major Renovation Subsidy

franglais: a mix of French and English, often spoken in Montréal, North America’s largest francophone city

Today’s post needs to be a bit in franglais, because it is the language in which I live.  For 12 years and 4 days, I have lived in my adopted city of Montréal and loved it.  I arrived not knowing much more than how to read a menu, and now I live and work in French.  But a good many of my thoughts and expressions use the best of both languages, and given that today’s post is about a city program, it will inevitably be in franglais.  So please stay tuned after this public service announcement in French:

Pour ceux et celles qui cherchent plus des renseignements sur la programme des Rénovations Majeurs de la Ville de Montréal, n’hésitez pas de m’écrire directement.  Il me fera plaisir de vous parler de mon expérience.  

Now that we have that out of the way, here has been my experience with the City of Montréal’s Major Renovation program.

The Narrative

We applied for the program last autumn, with our initial inspection taking place on the 14th of December 2017.   The agent we met with, we’ll call him Agent A, walked us through the program, the expectations, and the benefits.  For us, the benefit would be a $15,000 subsidy to help with our home.  Since we seemed to fit the criteria and are willing to work an amount like $15k, we got started.

In February we had another visit, this time from Agent B.  In March he delivered a mass of paperwork that we needed to go through, which we returned as quickly as possible. It is worth noting at this point that, in the package of information we received at the beginning of March, there was a work plan.  The work plan provided by the City was exhaustive, including things like minimum specifications for the kitchen cabinets, arrangement of closets, and the beauty of the backyard.  When I reviewed this 20-ish page document in detail, I flagged about a dozen items that weren’t relevant or weren’t included in Phase 1 of our project (ex: backyard beautification – our renos will finish in the winter!).  Agent B was cool with all of it.  There was also mention (for the first time) of the need for a notary – I asked specifically about this and was told that it came later in the process.

During March and April we were also getting bids and evaluating them.  In May we submitted all of our documents to the City so that they could submit to our arrondissement (neighbourhood) for the permit.  At the end of May, I started stalking Agent B to find out how it was going, only to find that Agent B had gone on extended sick leave.

I only learned that Agent B was out on extended sick leave because I had been stalking him.  And I only got a call back 4 business days later from Agent C because I stalked everyone I knew within the department (including Agent A) to get a prompt response.

Unsurprisingly, nothing had been done under Agent B to move my file toward permit, and Agent C was completely new to the program.  It took him 15 business days to submit my file to the arrondissement, and he made no other notes about my file.  I knew that he also needed to make sure our funding was secured with the City, so I gave him two weeks and started following up.

When I didn’t get a prompt reply from Agent C, I called the main number only to find that Agent C had gone out on extended sick leave.  Argh!  I asked for a call back, and got a ring the next morning from Agent A (at least he was vaguely aware of my file)!

I brought Agent A up to speed, and asked him to make sure we were approved for funding and move the notary process forward.  He asked for a week to do so, so after a week, on the 14th of July, I emailed him and he responded with several questions about my file.  Some of the questions were straightforward (he needed an invoice from our structural engineer that had never been requested and some financing information that we had sent to Agent B while he was already on sick-leave), others were trickier.

For example, we had thought that we might participate in our project by doing some of the demolition ourselves.  Not ones for taking down load-bearing walls, we just wanted to eliminate some of the plaster and lathe and save some bucks.  We thought this would be alright since the General Contractor would still be responsible for the bulk of the demolition (we are moving the stairs!).  I was informed by Agent A that this was not acceptable.  Further, he noted that the City had been supported by the Ombudsperson when others had brought complaints for just such an issue.  We may think that we are qualified to do something such as paint our own interior, but, Agent A informed me, ben non!, we are not!  Much better if all of these details are taken care of by the contractor.

Same thing for purchases; all purchases should be made by our entrepreneur.  I asked him specifically about our IKEA kitchen, which everyone tells me takes hours and hours of store time to get together, so it’s better if we just buy it ourselves.  This would allow me to get exactly what I want and to save the fees of the contractor, who would have to do the exact same work that I have already done.  Reflechissez-bien, I am told by Agent A, it would be much better for me to give the list to the entrepreneur and have them be wholly responsible.  (And in my head, I am thinking that yes, they would be responsible, but at double the cost and this program is only giving me 5% of my overall budget… wait, who is in charge here?)

Well, if you sign up for the Major Renovation program, the City will be in charge, regardless of the tiny amount they give for your major renovations.  So upon reflection, we have decided to withdraw from the program.  Here are my thoughts for you if you are considering signing up for it for your home:

The Lesssons: 

  • Make sure it is a good wad of cash that you are offered, and then cut the expectation in half.  Yeah, the city will be good for the full amount, but you will have delays and unexpected expenses as a result of this process.  For those that keep a rentable unit in their place, the rewards can be much larger (a friend got $40,000.)  Also don’t forget to factor in your stress level: I will un-humbly note that I am pretty awesome at managing a project, and this bureaucracy brought me to tears.
  • Plan on having every single thing, from nail purchases on upwards, done by your General Contractor, and that you want to do it all at once.  If you want to have any tiny bit of control over purchases or want to have a hand in low-skilled work like demolition or painting, this program isn’t for you.  Same if you want some cosmetic things, like landscaping, to happen later – it all must be done within the confines of the program.
  • Sit on your Agent to go to the notary around the time they apply for the permit.  For us, this was the last straw.  Agent A told us that there was a delay of about 15 days from the time we got to the notary until the documents were enregistré.  Given that we were already delayed by Agent B’s sick leave (3 weeks minimum) and that Agent A wanted to review each line item despite the fact that they had been reviewed with Agent B, I feel like the funding is far from guaranteed at this point – in fact, it is likely to cause much more stress and entirely possible that we will get nothing from it.
  • Then sit on your Agent to have the Ouverture du Chantier as soon as possible.  There will be an official opening to your project when they present you with your permit.  No one talks about this until the time is almost upon you.  Given that we are hot on the heels of Québec’s construction holiday, it’s not the best time to bring us, the City, and our General Contractor all together.
  • So since there is no flexibility for cost cutting and high requirements from the City, I recommend this program for wealthy masochists!  

I hope this is helpful to someone out there who wants more information on the program and what it entails, because when I was searching for information on this program, I couldn’t find a darned thing.  Nothing – no one wrote about how they did it or what their experience was like.  So perhaps in the writing of this, I will have better prepared another applicant who will be able to make it work.

Tell me your frustrations or successes with a government subsidy program – I would love to celebrate your success (or commiserate).



One year ago today, we bought our future home.  Today, we actually will take full possession of all of the units and begin to whip them into shape to be our family home.

I have read about a practice of celebrating your personal anniversary of your home by taking care of some home project – either large or small.  Well, on this house-iversary, we are embarking on our biggest home changer ever – a complete gut-reno.

Let the games begin…