Think carefully before paying a contractor up front


You've decided to get going on your dream renovation and worked out the details with a contractor. Now you're anxious to get the work started. But the contractor wants half the money up front. What should you do?

Think very carefully before paying. Then think about finding a different contractor.

Outside of specific circumstances — such as pre-ordering high-value custom products that cannot be returned, paying for permit fees, road cuts, tree removal, building demolition, or moving hydro wires — down payments for work not yet completed should never amount to much more than 10 per cent of the total cost. If your contractor is providing design services separately from renovation services, these may also need to be paid for prior to the construction work starting.

Reputable reno professionals shouldn't need your money to finance their business and should bill you in proportion to what has been completed. A deposit serves mainly to confirm your good faith commitment to the project, as set out in your contract.

If a contractor wants most or all the money up front (and often in cash), they may be running an under-the-table operation, cheating on their taxes, skipping building permits and proper business insurance — all of which put you at risk. These are situations where fly-by-night contractors may not do the work promised and the homeowners may never see their money again. And without a written contract, there will be almost nothing they can do about it.

Most renovation contracts, particularly for larger projects, have a clear payment schedule laid out that ties payments to progress milestones, so you pay an amount proportionate to the percentage of work completed. That's fair to both you and the contractor. Small jobs may only require a small deposit and full payment upon completion. In no case should you have to pay a large percentage or all of the costs before the work is done.

For consumers, the key to renovating the smart and safe way lies in being informed about how the renovation business works. You can find a wealth of practical information from the Canadian Home Builders' Association at

Outdoor upgrades that add value to your property

During the warmer months, there’s often nothing better than spending a weekend outside working in the garden or fixing up the house. Sharon Grech, Colour & Design Expert at Benjamin Moore, shares some ideas for weekend summer projects that add value to your property.

Deck it out. A great way to make a fresh statement in your backyard or breathe new life into an aging deck is to give it a colour makeover. Grech recommends Benjamin Moore ARBORCOAT, a premium stain available in several colours and varying opacities, designed to enhance and protect the appearance of decks, siding and outdoor wood furniture. The stain also penetrates into the wood to provide excellent UV protection. “For a modern contemporary look, I love Rustic Taupe or Westcott Navy. For a more classic look, try Leather Saddle Brown,” she says.

Curb appeal. The front of your home is the first thing people notice, so keep your front yard looking fresh with budget-friendly landscape projects like adding decorative stepping stones, a small garden or window boxes. Painting your front door is another simple yet impactful project that enhances your property’s curb appeal. When choosing front door colours for a dark or brick house, Grech recommends Concord Ivory HC-12 or a classic red like Dutch Tulip to brighten it up and coordinate with bright flowers. If your home is painted in a lighter colour, try a more fashion forward option like Wythe Blue HC-143 and complement with a garden of flowers in simple whites and lots of green.

Get your home picture perfect. Thinking of selling? The summer is the best time to photograph your home. Even if you’re not planning on listing it until later in the year, arrange to take photos now when it’s looking its best.

Find more information at

Tips To Get Your Yard Ready For Spring


Spring cleanup doesn’t have to be a chore — becoming familiar with just a few easy tasks can help make that enviable lawn seem effortless.

“Even just keeping on top of a few regular jobs is enough to make a difference,” explains John Ladds, operations manager at Weed Man Canada. Ladds recommends incorporating the following tasks into your home’s spring check-up:

1. Tools and equipment review. Before beginning anything, give all your equipment a once-over. Taking a few minutes at the start of the season to check hoses for leaks and mower blades for sharpness ensures that the rest of the year runs smoothly.

2. Cleaning and raking. Once all the winter wetness has finally dried, that first initial clean up and deep raking helps to open up airways and establish a healthier root system.

3. Professional fertilization. Scheduling a good slow-release fertilizer to be applied soon after grass has started growing for the season is strongly recommended.

4. Aeration. Professional mechanical core aeration works wonders to increase accessibility to nutrients, water, sunlight and oxygen and provides a noticeable difference when it comes to your lawn’s growth.

5. Try something new. A novel project around the house can invigorate not only your yard, but also your spirits. Whether it’s setting up a rain barrel or beginning a yard waste compost system, these kinds of DIY projects are sure to improve efficiency.

Find more information online at

What’s Trending In Home Décor This Season?


Freshening up your home for spring and summer is simple with a few strategic changes, inspired by top trends from design experts and Pinterest boards. Here are some ideas to make your home magazine cover-ready.

Contemporary colours. Colour is having a major moment, with new hues shaking up classic design. Navy is the new black and works as a great neutral in the kitchen or living room, while jewel tones are perfect for decorative accents. Greenery is Pantone’s colour of the year and will make any space instantly fashionable. The fresh and zesty yellow-green hue is symbolic of new beginnings, but any shade is a design win this season.

Floral fabrics. Embrace spring and summer with flowery prints. Play with a variety of patterns and sizes and stick to a unifying colour scheme for a look that says modern chic, not antiquated grandmother.

Tiles with texture. Subway tiles are so 2016, now replaced by rustic materials like wood, terracotta and cork. Keep the look crisp and lines clean by using a matte finish and placing tiles on an accent wall or item, like the fireplace.

Picturesque plants. Take a cue from Pinterest and green your interiors with indoor vines — climbing plants have risen in popularity on the platform by over 200 per cent since last year. Pretty Heartleaf Philodendron is easy to grow and ideal for beginners.

Wow-factor windows. Create drama, dimension and interest not only at the window, but also in the light that cascades into the room with the right window treatments. From solids to textures to stripes to small-scale designs, new Designer Banded Shades from Hunter Douglas offer a fabric to fit your style. Top it off with a sophisticated colour palette featuring fresh neutrals, greys and pops of colour that excite. Intelligent design enables the shade to transition from open to closed seamlessly, providing a modern solution for view-through, light control and privacy.

How to get your best looking deck

With summer on its way, now’s the time to start thinking about maintaining the look of your deck. Before you start the process of cleaning and staining, it’s important to know the differences between oil and water-based stains, and which is most suited to your needs.

There are several factors to consider when choosing a stain, says the research and development team at Thompson’s WaterSeal, who are experts at deck care.

The first thing to do is determine the type of wood you are working with and what kind of stain base it needs. Some woods, like cedar, have a natural resistance to rotting, so a water-based stain may work better. Weather exposure is another factor to consider — if the wood is going to be in direct exposure to wind, rain and sunlight, an oil-based stain is the best choice.

Oil-based finishes penetrate deeper into the wood, nourishing it and reducing imperfections and scratches. They are also better at preventing water damage and are long lasting. Oil-based finishes are formulated for all exterior wood types, including hardwoods.

There are also benefits to a using water-based stain, which hide blemishes that might already be on your deck, like scratches and nicks from chairs. These stains also have a less potent odour than the oil-based finishes. Clean up is easy, simply with soap and water.

The stain types also have some commonalities. Both protect exterior wood from the elements by preventing water damage, resisting mildew and providing UV protection, while extending the life of your exterior wood. Both can enhance your deck’s appearance by adding some fresh colour. Thompson’s WaterSeal offers both oil-based and water-based stains.

Top 5 Pitfalls Of Kitchen Renovations


A gorgeous kitchen can definitely make your life better, but before you start your reno, find out more about five common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

1. Kitchens are expensive. It’s easy to spend $25,000 to $50,000 on a mid-range kitchen makeover. Even budget remodels of a small kitchen can run up to $15,000. Expert do-it-yourselfers can cut these costs in half, but most of us don’t have the required skills and will likely need a professional contractor to deliver the best results. Given the cost and lifestyle impact a kitchen reno has, avoid dealing with contractors who promise a low price but want to be paid in cash with nothing written down.

2. Cabinet hardware varies a lot in quality. Before you sign any kitchen remodelling contract, make sure it specifies the type and brand of hinges, drawer slides, handles and accessories that’ll be used.

3. Fancy countertops can be troublesome. High-end stone and solid surface countertops deliver powerful bragging rights, but they’re not necessarily more durable than less expensive options like laminate or solid maple. Some elaborate materials require regular sealing, while others can be damaged by a hot pot. Research your options before deciding.

4. Ask for great materials. Even expensive kitchen cabinets are often made of the cheapest material possible, melamine-coated particleboard. Think of sawdust bonded with glue and a factory coating on top. Truly high-end cabinets are made with veneered cabinet-grade plywoods and solid hardwoods. These are stronger, lighter in weight and more durable.

5. New kitchens don’t always pay off at resale. According to an annual survey run by Remodeling Magazine since 2002, mid-range and high-end kitchen remodels deliver only 60 to 65 cents of increased resale value for every dollar spent. If you’re planning to move in the near future, make sure the investment makes financial sense.

Find more information on the Canadian Home Builder’s Association’s website,

Simple Updates For A Chic And Cheerful Laundry Room


Laundry rooms are often crammed, busy spaces. Many times they are — more practical than inspiring, but, that doesn’t have to be the case. Design expert Kimberley Seldon believes that surrounding yourself with beautiful colours, finishes, and a calming but practical lighting scheme is one way to make the chore of laundry a little more enjoyable.

Seldon partners with the Electrical Safety Authority to provide tips to create an attractive, functional laundry room.

Amp it up. Installing kitchen cabinetry is a great way to add storage for cleaning products and other essentials. When it comes to colour, washers and dryers are now available in a variety of hues, but keep in mind, you may need an electrical upgrade to accommodate new appliances. A washing machine needs to be on a 120-volt, 15 or 20-amp receptacle on its own circuit, with the outlet placed out of reach and directly behind the machine. Any outlets within a child’s reach need to be tamper-resistant.

Wash and go. Since a laundry sink is essential; try choosing an apron sink with sleek fixtures for added style. Any outlet located within 1.5 metres of any sink in the home must be protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to prevent shocks. Working with a Licensed Electrical Contractor will help ensure all your outlets meet the Ontario Electrical Safety Code.

Lighter lights, brighter whites. While bright lights might be needed to spot stains, consider creating some ambiance for when it’s time to fold your laundry. LED strip lighting can be added to open shelving. Don’t forget to include functional lighting for closets and storage areas. To prevent fire, pot lights need to be at least 15 centimetres from anything that could catch fire, while surface-mounted lights need to be 30 centimetres away.

Find more tips online at




Mortgage Insurance Basics

The individual buys a house and takes out a big loan to pay for it. Now, the bank is asking whether they want life insurance.  Reluctant to leave an unpaid debt when they die, they say yes.  Within minutes, their application is approved and the cost is added to their mortgage payments.

For lenders, life insurance is an easy sell.  They suggest it at a time when the customer is most vulnerable and have yet to do any comparison shopping.  The customer also sign a waiver form if they decline the insurance, agreeing not to hold the lender responsible if something  happens to them.

Most people don’t realize that the life insurance sold by mortgage lenders is different from the policies sold by life insurance agents and brokers.  While it sounds like a great deal at the time, this type of mortgage life insurance is great for the bank, as they are fully protected, but is it great for you?  Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks with bank group mortgage life insurance.

 Introduction to the concept

  • A mortgage is the single largest debt most Canadians will ever assume. Most consumers will take the time to shop around for good interest rates and terms that suit their needs, but not everyone bothers to do the same for the accompanying life insurance.
  • Many simply accept the coverage that’s offered by their lender without investigating other options. That’s a pity, because in many cases you can obtain better coverage for a lower price from an independent financial advisor.

What is mortgage insurance for?


  • Mortgage insurance is about protecting your loved ones. If something should happen to you (or your partner), mortgage insurance will pay off your debt. It’s a simple concept, but the details in each contract can vary significantly.

What kind of coverage does the bank offer?

  • If you purchase mortgage insurance from your bank or credit union, you are purchasing creditor’s group insurance.
  • You are a certificate holder. You do not own the policy. The bank may make changes to the coverage without your consent, and coverage will terminate as soon as the mortgage is paid off.
  • The premium you pay remains the same, but the coverage decreases along with the balance of your mortgage. You are paying a level amount for decreasing coverage.
  • You are not able to name your own beneficiary. If something should happen to you, the bank receives the insurance proceeds directly.
  • If you decide to change banks at a later date, you will have to reapply for insurance coverage – you will pay rates based on your age at that time, and if your health has changed, you may be declined.
  • In most cases, creditors group is based on “blended rates,” meaning that smokers and non-smokers pay the same amount for the same coverage. If you live a healthy lifestyle, you will pay the same amount as someone who is overweight and smokes a pack a day.
  • Bank mortgage insurance only covers the first to die, but charges you for two people insured. That means, if you and your spouse are both killed in the same car accident, the bank mortgage policy only pays for one life.

What are the advantages of owning my term insurance policy through an      insurance company?

  • An individual term insurance policy, obtained directly from an insurer, puts you in control of your own coverage.
  • You own the policy. If you decide you want to keep some or all of the insurance after the mortgage is paid off, you may do so.
  • Your insurance is for a fixed amount, based on the original amount of your mortgage. If you purchase a policy for $200,000 and you die when your mortgage is only $100,000, your heirs will still receive the full $200,000.
  • You may name whomever you please as beneficiary – spouse, child, grandchild or friend. They receive the funds directly from the insurance company, meaning they are free to decide whether they want to pay off the mortgage, or invest the funds and use the interest to make the monthly payments.
  • An individually-owned policy is fully portable. When your mortgage renews, you are free to shop around for the best rate. If you decide to change lenders, your individual policy will come with you – completely unchanged from when you first obtained it. You will not have to reapply for coverage, and your premiums will remain unchanged.
  • Ask your banker about “Waiver of Premium for Disability”, rights of “Convertibility”, “Guaranteed Insurability Rider” if you move to a new home or change banks. You’ll probably get a look of confusion. Solution: An Insurance Agent has many valuable options that can be included in a policy that you own and control.
  • An individual policy is fully underwritten based on your individual circumstances. Someone who leads a healthy lifestyle could end up paying a much lower rate for better coverage. The banks have post-claim underwriting, where the underwriting is completed after a claim is submitted. A customer could be declared uninsurable after they have submitted a claim resulting in years of paid premium, their claim being denied and leaving the mortgage unpaid.