No Place Like Home

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Copyright © 2003, 2006 Harry van Bommel

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Using a Notebook to Keep Track

I found that with a major renovation it helped to keep all the information in a portable file box. I used a standard notebook or binder to keep my notes in and then files to keep quotes, brochures, plans, drawings, permits, etc. It is good to keep a daily “To-Do” list and a record of what was done and by whom to remind you in case problems come up later on. The daily record should include a summary of any personal or telephone conversations including the persons you spoke with and at what time. There are always miscommunications on a major renovation. Keeping the lists and daily record will help keep you clear and help you in speaking about any difficulties with on-site work or workers with their supervisors.

I also recommend that you photograph or sketch your project at different stages. (For example, at the foundation, framing, rough ins of electrical wires and plumbing, etc.) If you have difficulties later on you will know where to locate the wires and pipes without having to guess or make big holes in your walls. You will also have a record of the work to show others if problems arise.

The idea of the following forms and lists is not to turn you into a paper-pusher. Instead, it is to help you keep track of what is going on during a major renovation. You have many other things happening in your life at the same time as this project, so these following pages are ideas to help you keep things straight in your mind.

You can use the following major headings to help organize your information or any other system you prefer:

Daily Log



Tip: If you use file folders to keep your records for suppliers, possible volunteer groups, etc., I suggest you write the names, addresses and telephone numbers of anyone involved in the file on the outside front cover of the file folder. This makes it much easier to find the correct telephone number without having to sort through the file folder.

Flow Sheet (Project Management)

General Process:

1.Sketch out what you would like.

2.Consider hiring a home inspector to evaluate your whole house for any areas of concerns that can be taken care of during the renovation (better to do at same time than to do it later after the renovation done).

3.Check the By-laws and building codes to see if what you would like is possible.

4.Decide on one of the following options based on reliable information from the City Permit Department, a local realtor (re: value of your home) and your own financial advisors (re: a reasonable assessment of how much you can afford):

renovate your home

demolish your home and start from scratch

buy a home more suitable to your needs (new or used)

buy a vacant lot and build your own home

5.Verify with your insurance company that you are covered for accidents and other liabilities if a volunteer should get hurt on the job. Professional contractors should have their own liability insurance. Make sure that is true for all professionals working on your project.

6.Get a minimum of three quotes of how much the work will cost

7.Choose a contractor and negotiate a written contract with specific costs listed.

8.Determine who your AAsker@ will be to help you with this project. Have them use forms to manage the flow of information, draw up lists of volunteers, coordinate work, prepare Athank you@ letters after work is done, etc.

9.Determine if you need a permit (i.e., if you are making structural changes, adding onto the house, or making changes to the plumbing, heating or electrical systems).

10.Prepare drawings of what you would like to do if you require a permit. These do not have to done by an architect. Many contractors can do these.

11.Get the required permits from your municipality (all except electrical).

12.Once you have the building permits, get the electrical permit from your local hydro company.

13.Use forms to establish a tentative schedule (it will never work out as you plan but at least it might lead you in the right direction. This form will also provide professionals and volunteers with an initial idea of how much you will need them. Attach this schedule to your written agreement with the contractor.

14.If you are digging around your home, get your local hydro, gas, telephone, television cable, water line and other underground cable companies to come out to outline where their underground equipment is so that you do not accidentally cut their lines. This is usually a free service.

15.Use forms to itemize materials for which you will need to get quotes from various sources and get those quotes. Use more detailed forms for actually ordering materials (either donated, at cost or for-profit).

16.Have a list of necessary rental equipment suppliers and possible costs (if items cannot be donated). For example, a local bin supplier for loading garbage on the site. These companies often have weekly rates and provide bins within 24-48 hours.

17.Order materials and have them delivered according to schedule.

18.Work with the contractor and/or volunteers through the various action steps required to get through the different parts of the project.

19.Keep a daily log of what has happened and a running “To Do” List for upcoming tasks that need to be done or phone calls that need to be made.

20.Take photos throughout the work as a record but also as possible gifts to those who worked on the project. This is an excellent task for members of the family who cannot work on the actual construction of the project.

21.Ensure that everyone follows work site safety at all times.

22.Resolve communication problems as they come up. Do not wait days or weeks to complain about a problem. The clearer your communication, the smoother the work will go.

23.Call to thank the donors and volunteers as soon as their part is done. Follow-up with a thank you note and invitation to an open house after the work is all done.

Scheduling the Work

There are three types of schedules you might like to keep:

A rough outline of the whole project, in pencil, so it can be modified when necessary

A day-to-day or week-to-week schedule for all professionals and volunteers to see what is happening now and scheduled in the near future.

Your own record of what you are doing, who you talked with about what, what commitments people have made, follow-up calls or meetings, etc. You may need this information later on to confirm what you said or did on a certain day or time.

Simplicity is important.

For the overview you can list the tasks similar to the Flow Sheet above.

For the day-to-day or week-to-week schedule during big projects, list the tasks broken down with agreement of the contractor and/or volunteer project coordinator. List who is responsible for what piece and when the work, delivery or follow-ups should be finished.

For example:

To Do List

TaskBy WhomFinished by When Actually finished (date)


You might use a white board to help you make changes as you need to and so that it is visible to everyone.

For your own activities, you can use a notebook or file folder with a record of:

DateTimeActivity                                             Comments

Necessary Follow-up (if these involve a specific date and time, add them to your personal calendar at the same time as you make a note of it here)

Financial Sheets

Set up standard financial spreadsheets to keep track of budget estimates and actual costs. This will help if you have to report any expenses for your own income tax purposes (some renovations may be tax deductible), for a charity with which you are working and for your own interest. Keep them simple.

Include estimates, ongoing expenses and finish with a project budget listing all expenses and donations.

For example, you can use the following headings:


Estimated Costs

Actual Costs (inc. Taxes)


Leave margin space for additional information you might add later on as well as space at the top and bottom of the page for extra comments.

When the project is done, prepare a final report, if necessary with a summary of the information from this notebook.

The headings might be:

Description of Work

Materials Costs (incl. Taxes)

Labor Costs

Sub-Contracted Work


On a separate page keep a list of all donations, their costs (if any) and their retail value. You may need this information for tax purposes, for the charity (if you are working with one) and for your own records.

A more detailed form for each element of the project could have the following headings:



Unit Cost






Volunteer and Professional Time Sheets

Keep a section in the notebook to record hours worked by all professionals and anyone who volunteered their time, including you.

Again, keep it simple:

DateNameHours Worked mostly onPaid

Worked(list tasks)(amount and date)

As always, leave margin space for additional information as well as space at the top and bottom of the page for extra comments.

Log Book

A logbook is a helpful communication tool when more than a few people are involved in a big project. In this log book, volunteers, the contractor, the person with long-term care needs, the family can all write notes about what they did when the others were out or what they need for the next day to continue the work, etc.  You might also include a ‘guest book’ portion in the book where guests write in inspirational, spiritual, or funny thoughts during the actual renovation. These comments make great keepsakes if you make a photo album or scrapbook of the renovation.

The top of the page would have a sample of the headings and people would write their own so they can have as much space as the need. For example, the headings could be:



Questions? Needs?

Contact Sheet

Whoever is the Asker will need separate sheets to keep track of who they talked to and what they asked for. For example, they can make their own form that includes the following information:

Company/Organization called

Person to contact who can make the decision

Product, service or volunteers you need

Research info from web site, telephone conversation, brochures, etc.

Date and Time of Call


Date and time of Call


Date and Time of Call


NOTE: You can use abbreviations to reduce how much you write. For example,

wcb = they will call back; cb = I will call back; lm = left message


Letters may be one of the tasks that the Asker, a volunteer or support circle member could do so the individual and family can concentrate their energies on others things.

Request Letter

Some people prefer to send request letters to ask for donations or volunteers. We found it better to start with telephone conversations or personal conversations (at a meeting, a gathering, a social event) and follow-up with an information or confirmation letter.

Information Letter

An information letter and confirmation are very similar. Use the following headings to make sure you cover the basics:

describe the person who is being helped (not the family but the person)

describe how their life is not measuring up to what the reader of your fax or e-mail would consider acceptable and how that will change with the completion of the project, and particularly with the materials and/or volunteer help you are asking for.

describe a number of difficulties that the disability creates. Then ask the reader to help solve one of these difficulties.

you can also describe why the family needs the help now. For example, the reader may mentally ask why the family cannot lift a child into the bathtub if you are requesting a roll-in shower. The answer will either be the child’s need to become self-sufficient or because of the strain on the parents’ backs.

give a sense of urgency as to why the need exists now for the renovation.

Remember, the documentation should give them some confidence they are not being taken advantage of. If you are working with a charitable organization, it may increase that confidence. You may also add a reference letter from a trusted community member and/or a referral from a physician or occupational therapist outlining why the modification or renovation is necessary.

A reasonable request dealing with one of the issues, cements that confidence. This will ensure that they are on your side and more often than not they will be willing to help in ways even beyond your initial request.

Confirmation Letters

Once you have made an agreement with a donor, send a fax or e-mail immediately confirming the details with your sincere thanks.  Use similar headings as with the information letter and include the specifics of your agreement:

itemize the material they agreed to provide

at what cost, if any

whether they will deliver (give delivery address) or you will pick up

delivery date and time

your agreement to let them know how the project turns out

Include the complete name, address and telephone number of the family receiving the donation plus your name, address, telephone number and e-mail in case they need to follow-up with you.

Thank You Letters

Thank you letters can be prepared and signed by the “asker”, a volunteer or support circle member if they have been the main contact person to the person who is being thanked. However, a separate card or note should also be signed by the individual or family to further emphasize the importance of acknowledging the helpfulness of the person being thanked. This separate card or note can still be prepared by the “asker”, volunteer or support circle member to save the individual or family time.

Thank-you letters reinforce why a person’s decision to help you made sense. It reminds people of what the person’s life was like before the renovation and how that has changed for the better by their donation of materials and/or volunteering their time. You may include before and after photos if that is appropriate.

You can either write a ‘form letter’ on the computer and modify it for each person, or you may hand write them using a card or nice stationary. Obviously, the more personal the thank you is, the more memorable it will be for the reader.

If appropriate you may also include an invitation to an Open House so the person can see how their efforts have made a real difference.

Lastly, for large donors and volunteers who contributed many hours of help, you may want to give them a little gift. Again, the more personal it is, the more memorable the gift. It can be handmade or store bought as long as it is thoughtful and considerate of the individuals you are giving it to.

Sample Request Letter for Materials or Volunteers

(“Askers” Name, Address, Phone & Fax Numbers

or The Letterhead of a charitable or not-for-profit

organization that is supporting the project)


(The name of the person who can make

the decision regarding your request

Their Title, (i.e., Store Manager)

The full and correct name of their company or organization

Full mailing address

Fax Number, if request is to be sent by fax.

Dear (Depending on your initial conversation with them

by telephone, use either first name or surname);

We are writing to ask your help with a very special project that we are undertaking in your community.  (Name of recipient), is an (age) year old boy/girl/man/woman who has (briefly outline condition to explain the need for this project, i.e., person needs help with bathing because of their cerebral palsy).  As a result, we are assisting with the (outline project or part thereof for which you are requesting this person’s or organization’s help, i.e., construction of a roll-in shower in ‘name of recipient’s home). 

We have already enlisted the help of (name of organization providing either materials or volunteer labor, i.e., Local Trade Union) who will be providing (list materials or type and quantity of volunteer labor). {Note: People are generally more eager to participate in projects which already have other support from the community.}  We are still in need of (state here exactly what you are asking this person for) to complete this project. {Note: If you are asking for a list of materials, it is best if possible, to already have a quote for these materials from this company, as this gives the reader the impression that their company is your first choice for these materials.  This quote should accompany the request and should also be referred to in the letter of request.}

(If this request is coming from a charitable or not-for-profit organization that is involved in this project, include a brief description of the organization and why it is involved in the project.  Also, if the organization is a Registered Charity, give the Charitable Number. All of this adds validity to the request.)

(If this request is not coming from a charitable or not-for-profit organization, it should be accompanied by supporting written documentation such as a doctor’s or physiotherapists, or occupational therapists letter, describing how the project will help the recipient. As well, invite the reader to visit the project site to meet the recipient and view the project. This will give the reader added confidence that the request is legitimate.)

I will give you a call on (day and date), to discuss this project with you further.  Please call me at any time with any questions at (writer’s phone number/s).

Thank you for your kind consideration of this request and very special project for (name of recipient).

Yours truly,

(Name of writer)

(Title, if being sent from an organization)

(Direct phone number) 

{General Notes: Keep your request as short as possible. A one-page letter accompanied by supporting documentation is best. A lengthy letter will likely be set aside with the intention of getting to it later when there is sufficient time. Remember that you are writing to a manager or a business owner who is already busy with their own priorities. You are interrupting them, so make your request simple, clear and specific, and as easy as possible for them to make a favorable decision. Do not forget to follow up as often as is necessary until you get what you need.}

Typical Tools/Supplies to Own or Rent

Basic home renovation tool kit:

allen keys

caulking gun or caulk with its own dispensing trigger

chisel set

clamps (especially ones that grip and release quickly)

counter sinker for forcing nails below surface of wood

drill bits (for wood, concrete and metal)

ear plugs

electrical current tester

extension cords of varying lengths (12 or 14 gauge)

file (bastard file it is called!) to sharpen tools and for deburring metal pipe

fire extinguisher in case a small fire is started

first aid kit with instruction book (even better to be trained in emergency first aid in case you need it)

flash light (and spare batteries)

gloves (helpful during demolition, digging, grading the ground, hammering, carrying lumber or other heavy equipment or material to reduce the risk of injury and getting blisters)

hammer:regular size and weight

framing hammer (heavier)

hole punch

knife (heavy duty utility, retractable knives with refills)

putty knives (various sizes)

ladders (several types and sizes depending on the work being done) – always make sure they can carry the weight of all the workers

levels: small one for hanging towel racks, photos, paintings

2, 4 or 6-foot level is essential when framing, installing cabinetry, and

hanging doors to ensure that these items are plumb and level

L-shaped square ruler

magnifying glass (to read very small print on packaging)

measuring tape

heavy duty carpenter pencils

regular pencils and paper for making lists, drawing out designs (used paper with squares on them to draw to scale)

pliers (regular, adjustable vice grips, needle nose with wire-cutter capability, tongue-and-grove, wire strippers)

pry bars (a heavy duty one for demolition work and a smaller, thinner one)

random orbit sander or palm sander

rasp for shaving down wood (e.g., bottom of doors)

saws (hack saw for metal, regular wood saw, jigsaw, plumbing tube-cutter)

screw bits (if you have a for power screw gun)

screw drivers (straight, Robertson, Philips) of various sizes

stapler (heavy duty construction kind – either manual or power)

stud finder (an electronic tool that helps locate studs behind drywall)

tool belt

vice grip

wire cutter

wrench set (adjustable and standard)


It is helpful to have a stock of some of the following supplies handy. Your local home building supply store staff can give you a good sense of what supplies are most used for the type of renovation work you are doing. Do not go overboard, though, and buy a lot of supplies you may never need. The idea is to have some basic supplies at home.

assorted sizes and types of abrasives (steel wool, sandpaper in incremental grits)

adhesives: carpenter’s glue (yellow), Super or Krazy glue, Loctite Power Grab that is latex-based glue that can be tinted to match any material

broom, dustpan and brush (or several sets for different parts of the house)

heavy-duty contractor garbage bags

lights – when removing light fixtures, use ‘dummy’ lights in rooms to provide sufficient light. These are a basic socket with two wires to attach to light box and allows easy removal when putting up drywall

lubricants (WD-40, graphite powder, petroleum jelly and a paraffin or beeswax candle)

assorted sizes and types of nails

assorted sizes and types of painting/photo hanging nails, screws, clips (you can buy them in a kit)

assorted sizes and types of nuts and bolts

assorted sizes and types of screws

sheets (cloth and plastic) for covering furniture, food, or separating the work room from the rest of the home

assorted sizes and types of wall plugs (kind you drill a hole in drywall, insert plug before putting in a screw to hang cupboards, shelves, paintings)

tape (various kinds including regular and duct tape)

assorted sizes and types of washers

If you are doing much of the renovations yourself, the following tools may be very helpful to buy:

a cordless drill (or screw gun) – 12 volts or higher (18 volts preferable for heavy-duty work)

power saw [blades for the power saw based on the materials to be cut (i.e., there are specific blades for cutting framing material, for trim material, for floor laminates, and for metal)

a circular saw (also called skill saw)

compound mitre saw (also called chop saw) which cuts all trim, baseboard, casing, door jams, framing materials, floor laminates

the basic drywall tools including a hock (tool for holding drywall compound “mud”), a narrow drywall knife for filling small holes, a wide drywall knife for tapering seams, and an inside corner tool for smoothing drywall compound in inside corners.

Safety Equipment

The following are basic safety equipment that you should use:

safety boots (with steel toes and steel shanks in the soles to prevent nails from coming through the sole) should be worn at all times

safety glasses should be worn at all times when cutting materials, chiseling, during demolition, and at all other times when there is a risk of flying debris.

dust masks that are absolutely essential when cutting concrete, sanding drywall, floors, etc., working with insulation, or working in a confined place without ventilation where there are airborne particles present.

safety belts and tie offs should be worn and properly secured when working on scaffolding, on the roof or working more than six feet off the ground where it is possible for you to fall

hard hats should be worn when doing any demolition work or when working under unfinished ceilings where objects are likely to fall down on you.


There are dozens of excellent books available through your local book store, building supply store and library on home renovations. Check out one or two to get some basic information that may be helpful during planning and negotiating with a contractor. It is also a good idea to have a basic home renovation and maintenance reference book in your own home library.

I have usually only included books from the last 10 years although some older books may be relevant to your needs.

Many of the larger building material suppliers have a catalog of their products which gives you a good sense of your options. For example:

Home Depot (annual). ProBook: Professional equipment and supply catalog Self-published. About 1,150 pages. These stores also tend to have in-store education centers where you can take a course on a specific skill (e.g., laying laminate flooring) or purchase books and instructional videos. Some stores even have a lending library. Most of them also have professional staff on hand who can explain how to do a particular part of renovation.

Here is a sample of books on home designs, renovations and maintenance.

Ahlstrand, Alan. (Ed.). (1994). Ortho’s home improvement encyclopedia. San Ramon, CA:

Monsanto Company.

Extensive, well-illustrated encyclopedia of home improvements with a detailed index.

Altman, Adelaide. (2002). Edlerhouse: Planning your best home ever. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Extensive resource in designing an accessible home for seniors with many diagrams.

Black & Decker. (1999). The complete photo guide to home repair. Minnekonka, Minnesota: Creative Publishing International.

Over 2,000 photos demonstrate simple and more complex repair jobs for your home.

Caldwell, David. (1996). Renovating your own home: A step-by-step guide. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing.

A thorough, Canadian guide to renovating your home with checklists, forms and useful tips. Line drawings are used throughout.

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (1990). At home with Alzheimer’s disease. Ottawa: CMHC.

Short booklet with excellent information on adapting a home for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (1999). Healthy housing renovation planner: Renovate the healthy way. Ottawa: CMHC.

Excellent overview of project management for Canadians of the healthy home renovation options available.

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (2002). Homeowner's inspection checklist. Ted

Kesik and Darrel R. Smith.

Workbook style manual to do thorough home inspection and then keep up monthly maintenance using their handy calendar reminders.

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (1989). Maintaining seniors’ independence: A guide to home adaptations. Ottawa: CMHC.

Lengthy workbook that serves as a tool for assessing what adaptations may be helpful in providing more independence for seniors at home.

Carey, Morris and James. (1998). Home remodeling for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide.

Typical “Dummies” book written in clear English and a quick read. Very useful tips.

Creative Homeowner. (2000). Home book: The ultimate guide to repairs, improvements and maintenance. New Jersey: Creative Homeowner.

Over 600 pages of photos and illustrations on all aspects of over 300 projects.

Gibson, Greg. (1996). Remodel! An architect’s advice on home renovation. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons.

An architect’s 250-page overview of the planning, design and construction considerations for home renovations complete with photos, diagrams and index.

Gladstone, Bernard. (1993). The condo, co-op, and apartment dweller’s guide to repairs and improvements. Toronto: Simon and Schuster.

Basic guide with limited illustrations on most aspects of home improvements including

dealing with contractors.

Harland, Edward. (1993). Eco-renovation: The ecological home improvement guide. Post Mills, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company.

Provides insightful ideas into renovations that will add value to your home and provide a

safer, healthier home.

Lester, Kent. (1994). The complete guide to being your own remodelling contractor. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books.

Thorough guide on how to manage the renovation rather than the designing or doing the

construction work.

Ortho’s home repair problem solver. (1995). New York: Ortho Books.

Extensive guide that covers almost all areas of home maintenance including foundations, mysterious odors, plumbing, electrical, and telephones.

Reader’s Digest. (1999). Ask the family handyman. Pleasantville, New York/Montreal: Reader’s


Nearly 400 pages of easy to understand answers to typical home repair and improvement questions.

Santucci, Robert M.; Stoddard, Brooke C.; and Werwatch, Peter. (1995). A consumer’s guide to

home improvement, renovation & repair. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

An extensive reference guide by The Enterprise Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to low cost housing.

Snell, Heather. (1983). The accessible home: renovating for your disabled child. Toronto: IS


Good sections on measuring a person’s abilities relative to home renovations (e.g, height for kitchen and bathroom counters, placement of light switches).

Sussman, Julia and Glokas-Tenel, Stephanie. (2002. Dare to repair:A do-it-herself uide to fixing

(almost) anythin in the home. Toronto: Harper Collins.

Full of illustrations for women who want to rely on themselves for home repairs.

Villa, Bob and Howard, Hugh. (1999). Complete guide to remodeling your home: Everything 

you need to know about home renovation from the #1 home improvement expert. New

York: Avon Books.

Good American guide to understanding different house styles and remodeling options. Extensive use of color and black and white photographs to help with understanding.

Wagner, Willis. H. and Smith, Howard Bud. (1996). Modern carpentry: Building construction

details in easy-to-understand form. Tinley Park, Illinois: The Goodheart-Willcox

Company Inc.

Includes information on building materials, safety rules, tools, level instruments, codes and planning, foundations and framing, roofing, doors and windows, thermal and sound insulation, wall and floor finishing, painting, chimneys, and renovations, electrical wiring, plumbing, heating and ventilation. Includes glossary and extensive index.

Wings, Charlie (1999). Charlie Wing’s big book of small household repairs. Toronto: Reader’s


Good tips and illustrations with succinct information on a very wide range of topics including repairs to electronic appliances.

Witzke, Ed R.R.; Gray, Douglas A. (1993). The complete Canadian home inspection guide.

Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Extensive ‘how to’ with thoughtful checklists, diagrams, charts, and glossary.

Wylde, Margaret. (1994). Building for a lifetime: The design and construction of fully accessible

homes. Taunton Press.

A ‘how to’ book that looks at all aspects of home design to accommodate peole who are injured, chronically ill or aging.

Organizations and Web Sites

David Caldwell’s web site on home renovations: This web site provides information on David’s books including Renovating your own home: A step-by-step guide from which the regular home maintenance checklists were reproduced in our Chapter 9 with his permission.

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) offers many excellent resources both through books and pamphlets but also through their web site: or call 1-(800) 668 2642.

The Center for Inclusive Design & Environmental Access is based in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Buffalo. The center offers publications, CDRom courses and government information for inclusive building designs.

DiaDot Disability Home Renovation has specific information on renovations for people with disabilities including floor plan layouts, information on ensuring enough turnaround spaces for wheelchairs, kitchen and bathroom renovations and more.

Disability Resources has updated links to many aspects of disability including renovations under their page:

Easter Seals  will provide up to $3,000 of material costs (no labor) per project for children 18 and under for accessibility and mobility equipment which includes wheelchairs, ramps, elevators and porch lifts. They do not cover modifications or renovations such as widening doors. They take approximately up to 4 weeks for approval and 4 weeks to send a cheque after an invoice has been received. Household income is not required.

The Enterprise Foundation (American)  was founded by James W. and Patty Rouse (1982) and established to see “that all low-income people in the United States have the opportunity for fit and affordable housing, and to move up and out of poverty into the mainstream of American life.” (page. xiii in their book A consumer’s guide to home improvement, renovation and repair.)

Hometime Improvements is based on the television series with project advice in various areas that might interest you plus a ‘store’ to purchase their resources.

Landlord’s Self-Help Centre is a not-for-profit organization that provides information, assistance and education programs to Ontario’s small scale landlords free of charge.

Ontario March of Dimes covers the cost of assistive devices such as wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, commode/bath chairs, Hoyer lifts, bath benches, grab bars, etc. through their assistive devices program. They also assist with up to $15,000 of the cost of home modifications including wheelchair ramps, porch lifts, elevators, platform stair lifts, seated stair lifts, ceiling tracking and lifts, automatic door openers, bathroom modifications including roll-in showers and roll-under sinks, widening doorways and lowering or eliminating entry door and patio thresholds, replacing flooring for wheelchair use and modifications to vehicles to make them wheelchair accessible – of this these through their home and vehicle modifications program. Both programs are for adults only (18+ years old) with a physical disability. The applicants income and that of his or her spouse are the only financial criteria used -- other household income is not considered.

Natural Resources Canada is the federal government program that helps homeowners evaluate the energy efficiency of their homes with actual in-home inspections that offer suggestions on how to improve energy efficiency.

Renovators Place is a commercial site with lots of free information on home renovations, accessible homes, and more.

The Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program for Persons with Disabilities (RRAP-D) is a federal government program through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and offers financial assistance to low income households who own and occupy substandard housing which includes housing that is not accessible. The qualifying criteria is household income and the value of the home. During our pilot project, we found the criteria difficult to meet. For example, in Toronto the home has to be valued at less than $250,000. The maximum household income requirements are lower than would be required to own a home in Toronto. For further information:   1 800 668 2642. Home Adaptations for Seniors’ Independence (HASI) is also a CMHC federal program to help home owners pay for minor home adaptations so low income seniors can live in their homes independently.

Mag Ruffman is a television and print-media home renovation expert. She is a licensed contractor with tips on her web site at:

University of Buffalo has extensive information, links and resources on designing more accessible housing.

University of Manitoba’s Universal Design Institute architectural/udesign/accexx looks at how opening up space makes homes more accessible but also add value to the home.

University of Missouri has many useful links on home renovations and maintenance.

University of Toronto’s Adaptive Technical Resource Center at Robarts Library provides online, telephone and drop-in advice on adaptive devices.


alternating current (AC)  an electric current that regularly reverses direction and is used most often in home wiring.

anchor bolts  bolts embedded in concrete used to hold structural pieces in place, used to secure a deck to the exterior brick, block or concrete wall, for example.

asker   a person, usually not the person who is having the renovation work done or their immediate family, who asks individuals to volunteer and companies to donate or discount their materials for a project.

aesthetics  how something looks pleasantly.

back fill  replacing soil around the foundation after excavating

back or front split  a partial second or third story to a home with part of the original roof remaining untouched. For example, inside you will have 3-5 steps leading up to bedrooms or a bathroom or down to a family room.

Backing  narrow strips of wood spaced to form a nailing base for another surface (often used between drywall ceilings and floor joists) and also called “furring”

baluster  virtual wood or metal strip that holds up the stair railing

balustrade  a railing consisting of a series of balusters that supports a continuous hand rail.

barn raiser  a tradition within farm communities of families and neighbors helping someone to build a new barn over a few days with dozens, if not hundreds, of people helping in the construction while others help with feeding the workers, bringing materials when they are needed and keeping the work site clean.

bearing wall  a wall that supports the weight of an upper floor or roof of a house. Often found running down the length of the house. With modern engineered floor joists and roof trusses which extend the entire width or length of a house, the bearing wall is no longer necessary.

bevel  rounding the sharp corners of various materials including wood, steel or glass (e.g., around door frames, baseboard).

bidet  either built into a toilet seat or separate, this low narrow basin uses water pressure to wash a person’s anal and genital areas; some also have a dryer attached

bridging  two pieces of wood that cross between floor joists to keep them from twisting and to strengthen the joists’ ability to carry the weight of the floor above

building code  the municipality’s regulations for how various buildings must be contructed and/or renovated to safeguard the structure of the building, prevent fires and water damage, minimize heat and energy waste and safeguard neighboring buildings.

by-laws  the municipality’s laws about how land can be used including set back requirements from lot lines for all buildings and decks.

cantilevered  something which extends horizontally beyond a supporting surface such as a portion of a deck that extends beyond the supporting beam(s)

casement window  a window that can swing in or out

casing  the trim around a door or window (inside or outside) or the finishing lumber around a beam or post

caulk  to seal and waterproof cracks or joints especially around windows, exterior door frames, bathroom flooring or where siding edges touch the exterior wall

ceiling track  a system that uses a flexible body lift to carry an immobile person from their bed into a wheelchair, commode/bathchair or tub

cement  fine grain material mixed with water and an aggregate (sand, rock or gravel) to make concrete

cement board  used like drywall, these cement panels provide fireproof, moisture-resistant fiber-reinforced walls around fire places, in showers, around tubs and other areas requiring extra moisture or heat resistence.

circuit  a path for electrical power provided by wires (conductors)

circuit breaker  a device in a circuit that opens the circuit up to prevent the flow of electricity so that it will not be damaged by an overload or short in the circuit. Old fuse boxes are now replaced by a main electrical panel with circuit brakers which can also be manually turned off if you are working on the wiring in a room that is connected to a specific circuit.

complementary colors  two colors (opposites on the color wheel) that enhance each other (e.g., blue and yellow, purple and orange)

concrete  building material made of cement, water and aggregate (sand, rock or gravel)

contract  a binding agreement (e.g., between a home owner and contractor) usually in writing

condenser  part of the air conditioning system that receives heated coolant and releases the heat into the air

conduction  is when heat travels through a solid matter (e.g., a wire)

conductor is a material, like electrical wire, that carries an electric current

conduit, electrical is a pipe or tube through which wiring is run

connectors  are fasteners that join two or more conductors so that an electrical current travels from one to the other

contact cement  is a neoprene rubber-based adhesive that instantly bonds upon contact with itself

contractor  the person responsible for the actual construction work whether they do it themselves or sub-contract it out to others

corbel  an extension out from the surface of a masonry wall to form a supporting ledge

corner bead  is a metal reinforcement fastened on all outside corners before plastering or mudding drywall; also a molding used to protect corners

current is the flow of electrons through a conductor

dead bolt lock  a steel bolt that goes into the door frame and can only be moved by a key or inside lever (considered safer than spring-loaded locks)

dead load  is the permanent, stationary weight of a building and permanent equipment

dew point  is the temperature at which cooled air allows water vapor to condense and create dew

direct current (DC)  an electric current that flows in only one direction (e.g., from a battery)

disability  a developmental and/or physical condition or impairment that limits someone from performing one or more life functions in a significant way.

door frame  wood or metal sides that provide support to a door. Interior frames have two sides and a top while exterior frames have two sides, a top and a bottom (threshold)

door stop  a moulding nailed to the faces of the door jams to prevent the door from swinging through; also a spring with a rubber tip mounted on the wall behind the door to prevent the doorknob from puncturing the wall

down spout  a vertical pipe from the roof gutter to the ground or drain.

dormer  a projecting structure built out from a sloping roof that usually includes one or more windows

drains  pipes that take liquid and water-based wastes from the home (i.e., bathroom, kitchen, laundry room) out to a municipality’s sewage system or to the home’s own septic tank.

dry rot  is not a very exact term but usually refers to wood that can be easily crushed into a dry powder because of decay

drywall  a sheet of material made of gypsum sandwiched between strong sheets of paper. They are used to create interior walls and ceilings and are screwed onto wooden or metal studs or floor joists.

eaves  the lower part of a roof that extends over an exterior wall (also called overhang)

electricradiant heat  a system which delivers heat without using air but by moving through solid matter; such as radiant heat in flooring or outside of a garage door to melt snow

elevation  the height of an object above grade (ground) level, for example the front door. Also a drawing showing the front, rear and sides of a building.

estimate  is a calculated guess of how much a renovation will cost. Estimates are often lower than actual quotes and usually much lower than the actual cost of the labor and materials for a renovation

façade is the main or front elevation of a building (above ground)

face nail  is driven perpendicular to the surface of the material being secured

fascia  a long board nailed to the end of rafters to provide structural support and support to the gutters and soffits.

family  is defined by individuals and usually includes both biological family members and very close friends

fire resistent drywall  heavier and often made with cement compounds to prevent fires in walls around fireplaces, furnaces or other hot areas in the home.

fire wall  is a wall which divides a building to restrict the spread of fire

flange  a projecting rim or edge

flashing   is sheet metal or other material used in roof and wall construction to prevent rain or other water from entering (especially around roof vents and chimneys)

flitch  is a steel plate placed between two pieces of 2-inch lumber to form a reinforced header

footing  the concrete perimeter pad on which the foundation wall is built

footprint  seen from above, the footprint is the part of the building that touches the ground. An accurate property survey shows the footprint of all buildings on a lot.

foundation  is the supporting portion of a house or building located under the building and supported only by soil or rock. The foundation wall supports the entire structure

framing  using mostly wood or metal in home construction, framing is the ‘ribs’ of a home including the interior and exterior walls, ceilings, floors and roof.

furring  narrow strips of wood spaced to form a nailing base for another surface (often used between drywall ceilings and floor joists) and also called “backing”

fuse  a protective device used to shut off electricity when an overload of current occurs. In older houses, fuse boxes are being replaced with circuit breaker electrical panels

gable  the portion of a wall under the peak of a roof

girder  a main beam that supports other beams

GFI – ground fault interrupter  is an electrical safety device that detects a short circuit and shuts off power automatically to protect against electric shock. Can be installed in a circuit or an outlet (like GFI plugs in bathrooms for shavers and hair dryers or outside for electrical lawn mowers and Christmas lights)

grab bars  usually stainless steel or other metal bars attached to walls that people can use for support to get out of a tub or shower or raise from or lower themselves onto a toilet.

grounding  a third wire in an electrical plug, switch, power tool or equipment that prevents electric shocks

grout  a thin mortar (paste) used to fill the joints between ceramic tiles

gutter  a trough (metal, plastic or wood) attached to the edge of a roof to collect and move water from rain or melting snow to a pipe leading down underground, into a water barrel or on to the ground.

hanger a piece of metal used to attach the end of a beam to other beams (one beam literally ‘hangs’ onto the side of another)

header  a horizontal beam or similar structure used to carry the weight over an opening like a window or door

headroom  is the space between the floor and ceiling

hearth  is the part of a fireplace that holds the fuel (e.g., wood) and contains the fire

heat pump  an energy unit that heats or cools

Hoyer Lift a portable lift system to lift and transport people from their bed or chair to a commode, bathtub or other place.

I beam  a beam made of a single, thin vertical web that connects two horizontal flanges. This is the most common beam found in the basement of modern homes.

induction  a process where electric current is produced by a magnetic field (like flash lights that are pumped by hand to produce light)

in-law suite  a separate living unit within a home that one can rent, provide a family member (like a parent-in-law) or use as extra living space for an older child

inspectors  for home renovations, these are people sent by the town/city building department or the local utility to ensure that construction is going according to the building code for structural safety purposes, heating, plumbing, and electrical.

insulation  a material that resists heat transfer from one area to another such as between the exterior and interior of an outer wall. Also found covering electrical conductors.

Insurance  policies carried by homeowners and contractors to cover liability during and after construction

interior trim  items to finish a room such as baseboards, moldings, and casings.

intermediate colors  a combination of primary colors and secondary colors (colors beside each other on the color wheel): red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-orange, red-orange

jamb  the top and two sides of a door or window frame that has contact with the door or window

jig  a device to position material for accurate cutting or assembly.

joist  one of a series of parallel framing beams used to support floors and ceilings. They are supported by larger beams, girders or bearing walls

kerfing  longitudinal saw cuts or groves made on the unexposed side of wood to allow for bending or relieve stress and prevent warping (e.g., creating a semi-circular window frame above a semi-circular window)

lacquer  a clear finish used to protect and enhance the appearance of wood

lally column  a cylindrically-shaped steel pipe or tube used to support beams and girders and sometimes filled with concrete.

landing  the flat platform between flights of stairs

Lazy Susan  circular revolving shelves inside the corner kitchen or bathroom cabinets to allow for more storage space and easy access to all items

level  a tool used to make sure that things are perfectly horizontal or vertical (e.g., in framing studs and headers, creating window an door frames, hanging cupboards and shelves)

lineal (or linear) foot  referring only to length of a foot rather than square or cubic feet

lintel a horizontal structure of steel, wood or concrete which supports the load over an opening such as a door or window

long-term care needs  any physical or mental condition that requires home modifications and/or renovations such as wider doors or a wheelchair ramp

lot line  the line that divides your property from that of your neighbors and/or city property

masonry  using mortar to build a wall with bricks, concrete blocks, stones, or tiles

mechanical systems   include air conditioning, electrical wiring, heating, plumbing, and ventilation

mill work  describes products made from lumber in a planing mill or woodworking plant and includes, door and window frames, entrances, blinds and shutters, sashes, doors, windows, stairs, cabinets, mantels and moldings

modification  relatively minor changes to a home to accommodate a person’s needs or wants (including such things as adding grab bars, widening a door, moving light switches or electrical plugs) as opposed to renovations which are major changes to a room or home

moisture content  is the percentage of water in wood compared to oven-dry wood. The higher the moisture content the more the wood will twist, warp and split as it dries.

mortar  a combination of cement, lime, sand and water used to bind bricks or blocks

MR (moisture resistent) drywall is used in areas of high humidity or moisture usually under ceramic tile or other nonabsorbent finishes used in showers and around tubs (often called “green board” because of the green color of its finished side)

negligence  actions or decisions that result in injury to people on your property that should have been prevented by a reasonable homeowner or contractor.

nonbearing wall or partition  a wall or divider that goes from the floor to ceiling without taking on any of the weight of the ceiling or floor above. These can be moved or taken completely out to open up a space.

nosing  the part of a stair tread (step) that hangs over the riser.

on center  a measurement from the center of one framing piece (e.g., stud) to the center of another

parging  a thin coat of plaster applied to brick, concrete or stone to form a smooth or decorative surface.

percentage land coverage  the percentage of your property that is covered by the footprints of all buildings. For example if your property is 100 x 50 ft, you have 5,000 sq feet of property. If your home is 40 x 25 feet and a separate garage is 20 x 10 feet, you have 1,200 square feet (1,000 + 200) of buildings on your property or 24% land coverage.

percentage window coverage   the percentage of the exterior walls that have windows. Municipalities have limits on how much window space a wall can have for fire prevention reasons since a main cause of fires spreading to other homes is through window spaces. The percentage usually depends on how close your house is to your neighbors. Older homes have more windows than are usually granted to additions or new homes.

permits  documents issued by the municipality to allow someone to renovate or add onto their home

plate  the top or bottom horizontal piece of wood or metal of a framed wall.

platform framing  a typical building style where the floor joists of each story rest on the top plates of the story below (or foundation) and the bearing walls and partitions rest on the sub floor of each story. See also post-and-beam framing.

plenum  is the sheet metal chamber in a furnace where the heated air stays until it goes through the ducts to rooms throughout the house

plot plan  is an aerial view of your home and property showing how far the edges of the buildings are from the property lines – also called a site plan.

plumb is vertically in line or perpendicular to a flat and level surface or exactly upright. In geometry that would be a 90 degree angle to the flat and level surface.

plumbing  the system of pipes that bring water into and throughout a home and the pipes that take out liquid and water-based wastes.

plumbing stack  is a vertical main pipe for waste venting

porch lifts

roll-on and roll-off does not require the wheelchair to turn on the lift. The person simply rolls onto the lift and rolls off when it reaches its new height.

90-degree turn lift requires the person to turn the chair on the lift before exiting.

post-and-beam framing  a framing style in which loads are carried by a frame made of posts connected with beams, eliminating the need for load-bearing walls. See also platform framing.

powder room a  2-piece bathroom (sink and toilet) often located near the front door of a home

primary colors   are red, yellow and blue

property line  the line that separates you from your neighbors and the municipality’s properties. Same as a lot line.

push stick  is a pole or scrap strip of wood used to push wood through a power saw or planer. Pushing the wood by hand is usually unsafe with power equipment.

quarter round  a molding with a cross-section of 1/4 of a circle.

quotes  more than an estimate, a quote provides a detailed list of expected labor and materials costs to do a home modification or renovation

R value  is a standard way to tell how efficient certain insulating materials are. Building codes usually require a minimum R value for different parts of a building (i.e., R-15 for exterior walls and R-30 for ceilings).

rafter  one of a series of structures of a roof designed to support the roof weight

rail  the cross or horizontal studs of the frame of a window, or door

ramp  a flat surface that connects two separate levels inside or outside a home; (i.e., the ramp from the front door down to a driveway).

receptacle  the electrical outlet used to plug in electrical equipment such as lamps, computers, stereos, and battery chargers

register  the grillwork put over the ends of heating and air conditioning ducts to direct the air into the room

remote controls  electronic devices that allow someone to operate lights, televisions, stereos, computers, curtain closers/openers, door closers/openers from a distance. These devices can be located throughout a home as well as carried on the person or on a wheelchair.

Renovation a large, often time-consuming construction project that will definitely change a person’s day-to-day activities at home. These include changing bathrooms and kitchens, adding an elevator or wheelchair ramp, and may include a home addition or complete rebuilding of a basement.

resale value of home  is the value a homeowner adds (or takes away) from their home based on modifications and renovations done. For example, adding an in-law suite that can be easily converted into rental property adds to the value of the home while a swimming pool or elevator is likely to lower the value as only people with those needs or wants would buy the home.

riser   the vertical part of a step that holds the weight of the next step up or down. It rises vertically from the back of one stair tread to the front of the next one. This is the back of a step that your toes often hit when climbing stairs.

retaining wall  a wall that holds back earth, gravel or other material. For example, a wall that prevents earth from sliding down onto lower elevation gardens or walkways.

ribbon  a narrow board attached to studs or other vertical framing to add support to joists or other horizontal studs.

rough-in  installing all plumbing pipes and electrical wires ready for inspection before insulation and drywalling is done

rough opening  the opening formed by framing studs that will support door and window jams.

sash  the framework that holds the glass in a window

scaffold  a temporary platform or structure used to support people and materials during construction (also called staging)

scratch coat  the first layer of plaster that has a rough surface to provide ‘teeth’ for succeeding layers.

screw bits

Robertson  have a star shape (best one and invented in Canada)

Philips  have a square head

Straight  have a straight edge

secondary colors  colors created when primary colors are combined: violet, green and orange

septic tank  a sewage tank (usually underground at the back or side of a home that is not attached to a city sewage system) that keeps the sewage sludge for decomposition by bacterial action and emptied once or twice a year, as needed.

setback  the amount of space required between the property line and any building on the land. Most municipalities require that buildings be a certain distance from the property line to avoid encroaching on a neighbor’s lot.

sheathing  boards or panels that are attached to the exterior studding or rafters.

shim  a thin strip of wood or plastic, often wedge-shaped, to plum or level doors and window frames.

showers, roll-in  a separate shower that allows someone in a wheelchair to ‘roll-in’ to the shower without assistance

shoring  wood or metal bracing used to provide temporary support

siding  vinyl, wooden or metal panels used to cover and protect the outside wall of a frame building – often instead of using brick.

sill  the lowest, horizontal stud  (or piece of lumber) of a framed structure usually resting on the foundation walls. Also the lowest stud of a window, or exterior door frame.

soffit  the underside of the ceiling joists or rafters that extend beyond the exterior walls with small holes to allow ventilation of the attic/roof.

softwoods  evergreen trees that have needle or scalelike leaves (except cypress, larch and tamarack). The term has nothing to do with the actual hardness of the wood.

span  the distance between structural supports

specifications (the specs)  a written document giving the type, quality and quantity of materials and the work required to finish a construction job.

stringer  a sloping wood or metal stud that supports the risers and treads of stairs.

stud  one of a series of vertical pieces of wood (2x4 or 2x6) or steel that together create the framework of walls. Drywall is attached to the studs to finish the interior walls.

sub floor are the boards or panels laid directly on floor joists over which a finished floor is laid.

sump pump  a pump used to automatically remove water from a lower elevation

super poly  a plastic sheet of varying thickness used to create a vapor barrier on exterior walls and ceilings.

support circle  a group of family, friends and neighbors who come together to help in a renovation job and/or with other supports needed by someone with long-term care needs

telepost  a metal, upright, vertically adjustable supporting post that is circular in shape and is attached to a structural beam. It is used to level floor joists to a horizontal position and needs periodic adjusting.

termite shield  a sheet metal placed in or on a foundation wall or around pipes to keep termites out of the house.

thermostat  an instrument that automatically controls the operation of heating or cooling devices (like furnaces) by turning these on or off depending on the temperature in the room. Modern ones include computer programmed controls that allow you to preset the temperature of a room or house depending on the time of day, week and year.

three-way switch  allows you to turn on and off the same lights from different locations, e.g., at the bottom and top of a staircase.

threshold  a wood or metal piece that closes the space between the bottom of a door and the sill or floor underneath. Also called a saddle. Explains the expression of carrying your spouse “over  the threshold” the first time you enter your new home.

toe nailing  hammering a nail at a slant to join two pieces of wood; for example, connecting a vertical stud to a horizontal floor plate.

transformer  the device that transforms the voltage of electric current

tread  the horizontal walking surface on a stair

trim  the finish materials around windows, doors, and at the top and bottom of interior walls,  such as moldings, baseboards, quarter round to make the room look ‘finished’

truss  usually looks like a triangle and holds up the roof while providing rigid support over wide spans.

underpinning  a short wall section between the foundation sill and first floor framing to provide support. Also called cripple wall.

vapor barrier  a watertight material used to prevent any moisture or water vapor getting past. For example, a vapor barrier (e.g., super poly) is placed over the insulation and studs of exterior walls to prevent outside moisture from getting into the house.

variance  an agreement by the municipality that allows a home-owner to do something contrary to the building code or zoning by-laws. For example, allowing a home owner to build an addition to the house that is closer to the property line than is usually accpeted. A variance is granted or denied after neighbors have an opportunity to speak in favor of, or against, the variance.

vent  a pipe that provides a flow of air to or from a drainage system (e.g., to allow a toilet or sink to drain) or to make moisture and air leave a room (e.g., bathroom and kitchen vents).

wainscot  a decorative raised or lower interior wall surface (usually 3 or 4 feet above the floor) that sets itself apart from the rest of the wall (e.g., wooden or plastic panels painted a different color from the rest of the room to add elegance)

weather strip  narrow strips of metal, plastic, vinyl or other material to stop air, dust, moisture, and water from getting by around doors and windows.

weeping tiles  plastic or unglazed ceramic pipe placed on stones or gravel around the perimeter of the foundation that permits water to drain away from the foundation


awning windows hinge on top and open from the bottom (helps keep rain and snow out)

casement windows hinge on left or right side and open/close with a crank or lever

sliding windows side up or across a track

zoning by-laws  municipal laws that describe what can be done with a piece of land. For example, some land is zoned for commercial or industrial use while others are zoned for farming or residential use.