8 01, 2017

How laneway houses could help solve Toronto’s real-estate woes

The GTA housing market has been operating within a policy of intensification for more than a decade now. This has caused a shift away from ground-oriented homes and moved the market toward higher-density housing, such as condominiums.

Our real-estate market has seen consistent increases in the cost of housing, with the average price of a detached home in Toronto increasing by over 32 per cent this past November from the same month last year, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board.

While those who prefer urban living have embraced higher-density housing, folks looking for traditional ground-oriented housing must move farther and farther away from the city to find it.

So what if there was a way to introduce new ground-oriented housing in the heart of Toronto that could accommodate up to 100,000 people, and the solution was literally in our backyard all along? That is, if your backyard is along a laneway.

Laneway housing is an innovative concept first introduced in Toronto back in 2006. And while it ultimately went nowhere here, it did inspire Vancouver, Ottawa and other cities to introduce policies that embraced it.

The original concept a decade ago contemplated a separate dwelling being legally severed and requiring new municipal services, resulting in the digging up of laneways.

The new groundswell of interest in laneway housing (call it laneway housing 2.0) is focused on taking a different approach, where the new structures will be treated as secondary dwellings on the existing property.

That means the garage at the rear of the property could be rebuilt by the owner to include a secondary dwelling unit, potentially serviced through the existing municipal connections, limiting neighbourhood disruption and creating new appropriately sized, ground-oriented housing units that could range in size from 700 to 1,500 square feet.

This could represent one of the most innovative solutions to a wide range of the city‘s housing needs, including multi-generational households where the owner can provide accommodation for parents or children or introduce much needed rental housing stock and help generate new income from their property. And it would be creating new ground-oriented housing in areas close to transit and existing community amenities, with minimal neighbourhood disruption.

There is no silver bullet solution to solve all of our housing challenges in the GTA, but with approximately 300 kilometres of laneways in the City of Toronto, laneway housing could be a good start.

But this innovation will require that everyone works together: citizens, government and industry. And community consultations are underway. If you’re interested, you can participate by going online to: lanescape.ca/survey to learn more about the initiative and provide your input.

Remember: The best way to predict the future is to help create it.


6 05, 2016

Toronto House Prices Are Rising By $550 A Day


Every day you own a detached house in Toronto, your net worth rises by $550.

Or put another way, every day you delay buying a house in Toronto will cost you another $550.

The Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) reported Wednesday that single-detached home prices hit an average of $1.258 million in April, up a massive 18.9 per cent in a year.

That breaks down to price growth of $16,820 per month, or roughly $550 per day.

That’s for single detached homes in the city itself. The average price for all home types in Greater Toronto rose by $104,000 in a year, to $739,082, up about 16.3 per cent in a year.

Condo owners aren’t seeing nearly the same rate of growth, though. Condo prices in the city rose 7 per cent, to $436,545, and in the suburban 905 region they rose 7.8 per cent, to $343,439.

So if you own a condo in Toronto, you’re seeing price growth of $2,411 per month, or “just” $79.26 per day.

Detached home owners can be forgiven for thinking they’ve won a real estate lottery.


21 04, 2016

SOLD! 92 De Grassi Street – Leslieville


Welcome to 92 DeGrassi Street – Visit the Full 92degrassi.com Website >>

This stunning detached home sits on one of the most desirable tree-lined streets in Riverside. The open concept living and dining rooms feature hardwood floors throughout, a wall mounted gas fireplace and large windows allowing for plenty of natural light.

The gourmet kitchen features ample cabinetry, stainless steel appliances, a gas range, granite counters and a centre island complimented by a classic butcher block top. Combined with the family room, this space is perfect for the entire family to gather during dinner preparation or to enjoy when entertaining guests. Walk out to the large back deck and extend meal preparation to the outdoors during barbeque season. There is also a conveniently located powder room on this level.

The second floor boasts an impressive master suite complete with a lovely bay window, hardwood floors, a large walk-in closet with custom California Closets and a 4 piece ensuite with his and her vanities! The second washroom on this level was recently renovated with modern subway tiles, a large tub and a wall mounted vanity. The second bedroom on this level is fantastic with tons of room to sleep or play, hardwood floors, a large double closet also fitted with custom California Closets and a Juliet balcony overlooking the back garden. Afternoon sun fills this room with natural light.

The third level loft is a wonderful space with ample storage, 2 lovely windows and hardwood flooring. Perfect as a bedroom, media room or home office to suit your personal needs!

The basement rec room is ideal for playtime or for movie night for the whole family. High ceilings, quality broadloom and pot lighting enhance this exceptional space wonderfully. Another 4 piece washroom, a laundry room and a bedroom complete this basement perfectly.

The recently added and custom designed front and backyard landscaping include the front porch addition and back deck. This created a home that is one of a kind with a seamless flow inside and out! Move in and enjoy this spectacular residence.

For more information, photos and virtual tours please visit www.92DeGrassi.com or give us a call at 416.465.7850


28 03, 2016

What Is UFFI?


Urea formaldehyde foam insulation is injected as a mixture of urea formaldehyde resin, an acidic foaming agent, and a propellant, such as air. It was commonly used in existing houses by injecting the foam into areas, such as behind walls, where it was impractical to provide conventional insulation. The insulation was approved in Canada for use in exterior wood-frame walls only. It has a reasonably good R value (thermal resistance). Some formaldehyde gas is released during the on-site mixing and curing. Formaldehyde is colorless, but has a very strong odor, which can generally be detected at concentrations above one part per million. It is this by-product of the curing of the foam that became a controversial issue.
Formaldehyde is both a naturally occurring chemical, and an industrial chemical. It is found in dry cleaning chemicals, paper products, no-iron fabrics, diapers, pillow cases, the glue in particle board and plywood, cosmetics, paints, cigarette smoke, and the exhaust from automobiles, gas appliances, fireplaces, wood stoves. It occurs naturally in forests and is a necessary metabolite in our body cells.

Ambient formaldehyde levels in houses are typically .03 to .04 parts per million. By comparison, typical levels in the smoking section of a cafeteria are 0.16 ppm. Houses with new carpeting can also reach these levels.

The rate at which formaldehyde gasses are released from materials into the air depends on temperature and humidity. The higher the humidity levels and the higher the temperature, the more gas is likely to be released.

The insulation was used in the 1970?s, most extensively from 1975 to 1978, during the period of the Canadian Home Insulation Program (CHIP), when financial incentives were offered by the government to upgrade home insulation levels. The insulation was banned in December 1980, in Canada. It is estimated that over 100,000 homes in Canada were insulated with UFFI (commonly pronounced “you-fee”).
The insulation was also used extensively in the United States during the 1970?s, and has been used in Europe over the last thirty years. UFFI is still used in Europe, where it was never banned and is considered one of the better “retrofit” insulations.

In the United States, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the sale of UFFI in the United States in 1982, and shortly thereafter a law prohibiting the sale of urea formaldehyde was enacted. In April 1983, the U.S. Court of Appeal struck down the law because there was no substantial evidence clearly linking UFFI to health complaints. UFFI is not widely used in the USA today.

UFFI was not a do-it-yourself product. The foam was machine mixed on-site, and injected into wall cavities where it expanded to fill the cavity. Like many new and fast growing industries (particularly those supported by government grants), workmanship and quality control were often less than perfect.

One of the first problem cases involving formaldehyde was in the United States. This involved an extremely air-tight and poorly ventilated mobile home, apparently with a poorly-mixed, half-formed UFFI. This started to raise government suspicions about the insulation. (In other mobile home studies, any elevated levels of formaldehyde were traced to the panelling or carpets, not UFFI.)
A laboratory study which produced nasal cancers in rats that were exposed to high levels of formaldehyde, increased the concern. Following some press releases and cautioning by authorities, a number of home owners began to report problems that included respiratory difficulties, eye irritation, running noses, nosebleeds, headaches and fatigue. Very quickly, fear and suspicion led to the conclusion that a problem must exist. Few issues have stronger impact than a potential health concern, especially if the suspected cause is new, poorly understood and widely used.

In the case of UFFI, the uneasiness and uncertainty were especially difficult to fathom or control, since the material was hidden from sight, and the reported symptoms were identical to those often experienced in our heated, dry indoor air.

Although there were no substantiated problems clearly attributable to the foam, urea formaldehyde foam insulation was banned as a precautionary measure. Research was initiated to evaluate the problem, and to determine what should be done.

No one knew exactly how many homes had UFFI, and it was often difficult to find out whether a home had UFFI. The problem was further complicated by the fact that the foam was often used somewhat inappropriately in walls of solid masonry houses, in attics, in cavities where freeze-up of pipes had occurred, and even as an acoustical insulation in party walls in row houses, and in the ceilings between the first and second floor of the house.

The fears of cancer and other health problems were only the beginning of the story. These fears caused a reduction in the value of real estate. The costly “remedial” measures and the long term stigma attached to UFFI houses became a marketplace reality because of the perceived health problems.

The federal government set guidelines for reducing formaldehyde levels in houses, and removal techniques were specified. The initial threshold level set for formaldehyde gas was 1.0 part per million (ppm). As testing methods improved, the level was brought down to 0.5 ppm and, eventually, 0.1 ppm. The threshold level became very conservative, indeed.

A court case which eventually set records was initiated in Quebec, in which the claimants accused the federal government, manufacturers and others of bringing a dangerous material to the market.

Those charged with the task of designing and refining remedial measures set out to find the worst cases to test their theories, but they encountered an unexpected problem. They couldn’t find any UFFI insulated houses with formaldehyde gas levels above 0.1 ppm, let alone 0.5 ppm or 1.0 ppm. Even in the few houses that tested at levels approaching 0.1 ppm, these results were rarely duplicated in subsequent testing.
It became known that the levels of formaldehyde decrease rapidly after the foam has been installed. Within several days of the application, formaldehyde levels typically return to ambient house levels.

As the body of information grew, it became clear that finding a single house that exceeded this very conservative threshold level was going to be a challenge. In fact, in reviewing several thousand files, not one house was found with levels of formaldehyde which remained above 0.1 ppm! The highest levels were found in homes with brand new carpeting which were tested on a hot summer day. The same house tested two weeks later showed levels typical of any house, with or without UFFI.

The presence of UFFI does not affect the amount of formaldehyde in the indoor air. Indeed, while not statistically significant, the homes tested were found, on average, to have formaldehyde levels slightly below that of homes of similar ages without UFFI.

In a study in Britain, people who worked in environments with high formaldehyde levels, such as morticians and laboratory technicians, were studied for possible health effects. These subjects were found to have a less than average number of respiratory diseases, and actually lived slightly longer on average, on the whole. (Again, while this may not be statistically significant, it suggests that low levels of formaldehyde are not harmful.)

A number of studies have been done examining the health effects of UFFI. Studies using random samples of UFFI and non-UFFI homes done before the ban showed no impact of UFFI on health. However, studies done after the ban showed increased reporting of symptoms, even for such things as constipation and deafness which have no biological basis.

When no correlation could be found between formaldehyde gas and health problems, other possible problems related to UFFI were investigated. mold and fungi, dust mites, and un-named “UFFI gases” were all investigated as possibilities. None were linked to UFFI. There was no damage to house framing or materials caused by UFFI.

UFFI is one of the most thoroughly investigated, and most innocuous building products we have used. After the longest and most expensive civil case ever held in Canada (eight years) was concluded in the Quebec Superior Court, not only was no basis for a settlement found, but the plaintiffs were obliged to pay most of the costs.
The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that urea formaldehyde foam insulation has not been shown to be a health concern.

It is not the purpose of this paper to determine why or how all of this controversy arose without any proof. Suffice to say that people with the best intentions were working in the public interest, and perhaps erred on the conservative side. In retrospect, although the results were unfortunate, we would hate to think that people responsible for the health of consumers would err on the other side.

We believe that those who have urea formaldehyde foam insulation in their homes should enjoy their houses, and sleep well at night. It is the sincere hope of the authors that the market place will respond appropriately. The owners of properties with this type of insulation should not be penalized financially, and no stigma should be attached to these homes. We would further urge real estate associations and boards across Canada to consider dropping the UFFI clause from purchase contracts. Similarly, we would ask mortgage lenders not to penalize those who have UFFI in their homes. UFFI is simply not the problem it was once feared to be.

While we do not believe UFFI to be a problem, other household materials and products can produce formaldehyde, and other air pollutants for that matter. If you suspect your indoor air quality to be poor, there are Environmental Consultants listed in the Yellow Pages of your phone book, often in the Business and Industrial section.

By: Alan Carson Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd. and John Caverly, Building Inspection Consultants & Associates.
The purpose of this paper is to provide home owners and home buyers with the facts, and some guidance, concerning the use and safety of urea formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI).

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