Walking Into The Plans

Had a quick coordination meeting with the General Contractor today.  It was a pretty cool to be there to see the first wall come up in front of me as well as stand in my building for the very first time. Chalk outlines There is a lot of visual progress right now. Once the framing and roofing is done it will seem as if not much is happening, but thats only because its all behind the scenes at that stage. But for now, its quite exciting to literally see it happening before my eyes.vStanding in my house was really cool too.  We were looking at the full sized drawings taking about rough ins and plumbing etc  and then walked into the structure where the elements were all chalked in.  Walls, support columns, doors etc. It really felt like this cool middle ground between initial concept and final reality.

I had this strange flash of realization yesterday when coming back from the mortgage signing and final Kitchen meeting. I remembered back to last August when I began in earnest to contemplate rebuilding my house/home. It all seemed overwhelming and improbable, vague and insurmountable. What would I build ? Who would I talk to? How do I do all the financing? How would I find a place to live with Orville while its done ? It really was a bit by bit process that I chipped away at. Those initial days were WAY harder than now. It really felt like I was pushing a giant boulder up a hill. Now that its pushed over the top, I am just running (sometimes staggering) after it as it rolls down with its own momentum.  Still many, many things to do, but they are now a series of bite sized details that all seem individually doable and solvable.




One of Orville’s windows that he will look out of to watch all the entertaining foot traffic 🙂



Lots done in one day!

“Look Out Honey, Cuz I’m Using Technology”

Its remarkable the momentum that has been carrying the house forward.  Mentally and physically, I had kind of checked out from the build to attend to my mum and the details around my father’s passing.  I still would come by to take a look at the site pretty well every day.  My mum enjoyed coming as well.  She too likes the symbolism of the “Tancsa castle” as my father felt success as a father in my success.

A little shout out to Iggy Pop in the title of today’s post from the song Search and Destroy…. I was thinking about it last Friday when the foundation was poured. hqdefault Gone are the days of pure human brute force building things.  Sure, there has always been technology involved, but its just that much more advanced.  Instead of wheelbarrows and human raw power, giant concrete pump trucks with snaking articulating arms to hose in the foundation. It was done in an easy 2 hours. Routine for the construction workers, amazing for me to watch.
It cured over the weekend and the forms were removed on Saturday and vanished leaving what felt like the legs of a creature slowly materializing in front of me.
It was really cool to watch it all just appear like that in such a short period of time.wp-1461939751835.jpg
Meanwhile, on the inside stuff, I bought a new stove and, Ooooooohhhh Luxury…. A Dishwasher!!!! The old house had no room for one. Also, more design work on the Kitchen. Progress. And next week starts Framing already.  Some services were already roughed in as well.  Technology, its amazing!


Click on the images for larger versions
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Building a Home

I grew up in a tar paper war time four in Toronto.  It had one bathroom, an unfinished damp basement and two tiny rooms for our family of four.  It was a ‘modest’ house by the standards back then. But it was the best home I could imagine to grow up in.  To my father, it was always his castle.

He was really excited about the prospect of seeing my new house. When I would visit him at the nursing home, he would ask most days about it.  “did I start yet?–yes”, “Is it finished?– no”  It would have been nice for him to be around long enough to see it done, but it was not meant to be.  There was a bit of a sombre congruence this week as the foundation quickly came to be, he began to rapidly decline.

Kitchen islands, tall basements and beautiful fixtures are wonderful things– things which I will enjoy.  But with the passing of my father I am reminded about what is important to me– truly important, that those are not (for me anyways) the necessarily parts of a happy life.  Love, kindness, health, family and friends.  Its the home, not the house.

Thanks Pop you were a wonderful father who gave Judy and I so much. As I run next Sunday in my seventh marathon, in the city where your castle was, where our home was,I will think of that incredible stamina you had, and honor that tradition you showed us.

Mihaly Tancsa Feb 18th, 1929 to April 24th, 2016




Forms and Cooking

A few steps done this week on the build.  The footings were first which cured for a day. Then a load of gravel.  Then they were inspected and re-surveyed. The forms were delivered yesterday and started to get setup. The plan is for the concrete to get poured tomorrow afternoon.

In the meantime, I have been looking at Ovens and Dishwashers. Also an eye opening experience. Its been many, many years since I looked at a new oven and it too can pull you into the world of expectation inflation. Given that I tend to spend a bit of time in the Kitchen cooking and eating, I figured getting something that works well, and is easy to maintain would be worth a few extra bucks. But its shocking what you can spend on it. I also find myself having to repeat this question in my mind, “Sure, that feature sounds nice, but is it really going to make me a happier person in life in the short/medium/long run” ? When it came to the bathtub, spending double totally made sense to me. Why spend $500 on a tub I cant fit into and hence, will not use. That was an easy choice. It wasnt cheap– $1800, but I see it as worth it as I will enjoy it in a tangible sense. But the Kitchen I find a little harder. For $800 I get a functional stove. Traditional coil. Bare bones. But for $1400, I get one that does work a little better for baking (I do like to bake the odd fish and chips) and… well it looks so much better. I find the price difference purely an aesthetic choice. Is it worth it ? Will I be a happier person in life ? Still thinking….. As for the dishwasher, fuck yes! I have been dreaming about having one for ages! never had any space for it nor the plumbing in the old place. Now ? Damn straight! Whooo hoooo!!!!

Footings– Not just a Hole in the Ground

The first day of something new– footings.  The concrete foundation is being poured.  The forms and slab will come next.  If all goes to plan, it will be done early next week and the basement will start to really take shape.  wp-1461019762109.jpg


It was pretty neat to see the slush of concrete actually being poured and formed.  Properly constructed and barring any accidents over its lifetime, they will be hidden from view until the next property renewal, hopefully another 100yrs from now.   I was imagining walking over them some time in August and doing a little jump into the air.  In the old house, I could never stand up straight in the basement.  I will be able to exercise in this one.

I like dropping in to see it all.  Over the weekend I passed by both days even though I knew no work was scheduled.  I still cant believe this is my house being built.  After all these years, all the talk and planning and saving.  Its actually happening now.


I also got a colored rendering of the design.  Its bright! It looks a bit cartoon like with the bright white.  But thats the idea.  The WhiteHouse on  Menno St.  1600 Pennsylvania Ave ?

The Whitehouse

Some earlier pics from the day courtesy of Ben, the General Contractor.

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End of Week 1

End of Week 1

The footings didn’t get poured today as the building permit didn’t get released until yesterday afternoon.  No biggie.  Monday it will happen.  The weather is cooperating so it will be fine.  The builder and my engineering neighbours are excited about the sandy bottom where the house will be which is great for drainage.  The one spot on the south west corner where the soil was a little different might have been a well from long ago.  No matter, its filled with gravel now so its load bearing will be fine.

I walked around and in the site and was amazed at how fast it had all dried out from the heavy rains earlier this week.  I am still blown away at how pretty well everything was hauled away to the dump in one afternoon.  That black&white, cold rainy day seems long ago now.  I did find something that was left over from the recycle bin I guess as well as a bit of trellis that formed the border of my old front steps.  Kath and I did that as a project many years ago— fixing the front porch and steps.

I am dropping by each day en route home from work to see it, even though little is happening right now.  Its neat to stand and talk to random strangers who walk by.  My neighbours of course all know me, but we have a lot of foot traffic come through.  Its fun to go troll some of the cranky older folks who don’t like my neighbour’s house across the street. Its a very modern style that I personally love!  However, some people don’t like ‘different’…. I really want to troll some of them and say my home will be done in the style of a giant black obelisk like the one from 2001, A Space Odyssey.  But the picture will go up soon 🙂 


You can see where the old well probably was where the gravel is


Stuff found in the dirt


Design Help

There are lots of people who spend every waking moment designing every last detail of their dream home.  They read magazines like “Better Homes than Yours” and “Gardens you will Never Have” and watch endless shows on the tele about home renovations and innovations in home design.  Thats not me.
My main goal in this was really first and foremost to build a NEW house.  The old one as I had said before was falling apart.  The hot water heater went. The furnace was about to go. The roof needed to be replaced. The windows were falling.  The main house beam was turning to sawdust and the foundation which was rubble to begin with, was crumbling.  The plumbing was added after the house was built…. and so on.  I find it rich when people say, “Oh, you should have saved it”… It would have cost more, taken longer and the results crappier in every way.  And for what end ?  Nostalgia ? Nostalgia for what ?!?!
But beyond just a new house, I had to decide what features I would enjoy without breaking my budget.  This is where design advice came in really handy. With the Architect, all those little things like site lines, angles of sun, flows inside the house, balance, functionality etc — things we are generally aware of when they dont work, were designed to work by someone who understood these concepts. I remember starting from a plan that looked ok, but when we talked about it and my life style (No, no sex dungeons, but HIGH ceilings!) it was amazing how so many elements in the original plan didnt work, were dumb or just didnt match my lifestyle.   It was a real pleasure working with Laird who really helped my come up with a design that made good use of the space, was artistically pleasing and not too large AND, met my lifestyle goals.
I had a similar experience with the Kitchen design as well today. How do I like to eat? Where do I eat ? Do I cook a lot? What does my Kitchen look like now ? Bright ? Dark ? Practical ?  It was a really great process and I was extremely pleased at the end of it.

On the construction front, we are still waiting for the build permit which hopefully should be ready for Friday. If so, footings get poured and my house starts to grow!looking at kitches

Digging Deep, to Grow Well

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It was pretty cool to see the big hole in the ground and the incredibly big pile of dirt! The foundation is not going to be that large of course, but they have to dig bigger in order to do the backfill once the concrete is poured.  The paperwork is taking a little longer than we hoped, but the building permit should be finalized by Thursday and the concrete guys can start pouring Friday. I was thinking a lot about when I worked on the farm some 27 yrs ago standing before the pit in my yard.  It reminded me of doing tangible things– growing things and not manipulating symbols and routing bits of light.  As my professional world is utterly intangible, it was a cool experience to grow things which were of course incredibly tangible.  Although I am not doing any of the labour and crafting, I am putting my savings into the physical building so it reminded me of that creation feeling that I felt part of while farming.  At the end of this will be something physical/tangible– for me to enjoy, to be part of the neighbourhood in a hopefully positive way and for someone in the future to enjoy after I am gone.


The cool thing about building a house from scratch is that you get to pick everything.  The shitty thing about building a house from scratch is that you have to pick everything.   My good friend Keith Winter pointed out, we only seem to have so much energy every day that we can allocate to making choices.  Too many choices and you just get burnt out and stop caring and look for the easy way out.  This was one of the dangers that took effort to navigate around in the lead up to demo day. Picking a rough plan to start from and then modify from there– its exhausting mentally.
Also, for all of our adult lives, Kathleen and I kind of lived like university students.  So I am coming from zero.   I almost feel like I am coming at this like a HillBilly. My Kitchen Island was my Corelle Plate I bought from the Bi-Way 20yrs ago that I would balance on my sink’s edge.  I love good design. I think good design like good art enhances our lives and is a necessary part of it.  But prices?!?! Holy cow, you can blow your brains out on stuff.  Bathroom fixtures were a real eye opener.  Somewhere between a garden hose and a $2,000 set of shower fixtures must be a happy medium for me.  I am just not sure where.


One luxury I know I will go for is an oversized bathtub.  As a kid I used to LOVE to soak.  But by age 15 or so, I could no longer fit into a tub without feeling like I was sitting in a bucket.  As a recreational long distance runner, having the ability to do an ice bath post long run would be very, very nice indeed. So to me, spending $500 on a normal tub does not make sense. I wont use it.  $1800 for one that I will, does seem like an investment in my enjoyment of life.


There it goes– Demolition day +1

It feels like I just rolled a large chunk of my psyche off the top of a five month effort to get to the top of the hill.  There is a chunk of me, now rolling down, set in motion and no longer in my full control. Not to overuse the metaphor, but when the Waterloo North hydro guys cut the power two weeks ago, the last safety line was cut and the boulder was ready for its final push. If the boulder lands and stops at the right place– At the bottom of the hill is my new house and my next home.Cutting the Hydro

It took perhaps 20-25min to be a pile of tinder.  The wood snapped like match sticks as the digger went through it like it was a cardboard house. It was ready to come down.

Some pictures at


some videos at


I was quite positive and up about seeing the process. Really, I had removed all the memories and those I keep. In the end, it was a shell of a structure. I think too, because I have been in this sort of controlled stagger forward since November, this was more of a big step than a leap. Its been exhausting to get here, so a little more potential emotion gets blended into the bigger picture. Yes, a big day but I felt very prepared and very happy.

The weather cooperated. Overcast black and white– a nice day for transition. By Thursday, Spring returns and by Friday the footings for the new house are scheduled to be poured and will begin to cure. There is a wonderful congruence of symbolism there for me.




Rebuilding from a hole