House Beautiful: Comfort with convenience

Couple anticipates inhabiting their Saanich Peninsula retirement home for at least another quarter century

The owners of this comfortable rancher brought con-siderable skills into play when they decided to reno-vate it and move to the Saanich Peninsula from the Lower Mainland.

In creating their ideal retirement home, the own-ers - a former nurse administrator and a teacher who specialized in consumer education - planned in detail how to make it work for two people bent on aging well.

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"Our gut reaction when we first saw this house was to tear it down and build anew," said Bonita, 62, who last spring left her job as vice-president of acute services for Provi-dence Health Care in Vancouver.

"But our builder explained the house itself was solid and almost all the bearing walls were on the outside. So we completely gutted and redesigned it instead."

The 1978 home had been occupied by a very elderly man for many years, and was part of an estate sale, said her husband, Bryan, 64.

"The old gent couldn't keep the place up, no maintenance had been done, and it had been empty for a while when we saw it," said Bryan, who spent 14 months scanning the listings every day and tracking prices closely before making the purchase.

They moved in last July, after spending six months transforming the building.

One of the first things they did was to raise the living room's sunken floor.

"We have a vaulted ceiling, so there was room to raise it a couple of feet," said Bonita, noting it looks better without a wooden railing, and it is easier to move around.

They added a wood-burning insert that heats 3,000 square feet - more than they need in their 1,750-square-foot house - and radiant floor heat was installed in seven zones. Electrical and plumbing systems were replaced.

"There are always some surprises, and one of ours was failing perimeter drains, which were all above the foundation level and didn't go anywhere. It was like a moat around the house," Bonita said. "That was very unex-pected."

The kitchen used to be very narrow, with a huge long hall behind it, about 26 feet by seven-feet-six. "An amazing wasted space."

They combined the two areas and now Bonita can indulge her love of cooking, making chocolates, doing all her Christmas baking as well as freez-ing, dehydrating and canning.

he owners saved "serious money" buy-ing appliances ahead of time, on Black Fri-day last year. "We got them at Sears because they agreed to store them and not start the warranties Tuntil we moved in.

That was huge," said Bryan.

While the interior was being trans-formed, they removed all the siding - "It was failing, fanning open at the corners" - but managed to reuse 50 per cent of it.

Bryan undercoated both sides of every board, then he and Bonita overcoated each board again, twice, once nailed in place.

"It took three months, but we did it because we were quite capable of that," said Bryan. "It was going to cost $13,000, and we put the savings into excavating the garden instead.

"Every dollar you spend is an after-tax dollar, so that bill would have meant earn-ing more like $26,000 - that's disposable income.

"From my perspective, you are always dealing with scarcity. You don't have infi-nite funds, so it's important to protect what you have."

He is also a big believer in land - "They're not making it anymore" - and explains they have an acre now bordering Ardmore Golf Course, compared to a third of an acre at their previous home in Rich-mond.

They also saved by not reconnecting the front entry to the garage, after the original link was removed due to leaks. "We figured we could take four steps in the rain, and save thousands."

The key word is discipline, he stressed. "The big advantage was our builder, Max Huxley, who gave us a fixed price and was great. We knew exactly what we were dealing with; everything was up front.

"We got three quotes originally, and his price was a little higher than the rest - but it included everything." Bryan noted friends who chose the lowest bid when ren-ovating ended up paying much more because they didn't compare quotes line by line to see precisely what was included.

"Max's quote had a lot more lines," said Bryan with a chuckle.

Huxley said the owners were a treat to work with.

"They were at the house every day, worked along with the guys ... and Bonita was very clear about what she wanted. It made the project seamless and smooth.

There was no wavering. She was also good at sleuthing," he said, adding she found original documents that showed the drain tile had never been connected properly to the stormwater system.

He added that because the failing drains were higher than the crawlspace slab, it created hydraulic pressure and leaks. "We put down sand, a proper vapour barrier, new skim coat of concrete, made the drain tile deeper - then connected it correctly."

His crew also added a structural wall in the crawlspace, running down the middle of the house. "The original builder over-spanned the joints, which meant the floors needed more support, especially in the kitchen. It's crucial because of the heavy granite countertops and cabinetry," said Huxley.

"We kept all the exterior walls and took down all the interior ones; pared back when some aspects were too expensive; did everything we could to save money and still achieve the home they wanted."

Bonita didn't want a huge house - "I don't want to spend my whole life cleaning" - but plans to age in place for at least 30 years. Her mother is 92 and still going strong, and Bryan's father and grandfather both lived into their 90s.

With that in mind, their house is geared to maximum comfort.

All doors and taps have lever handles, not knobs. "I have arthritis in the family and many physiotherapist friends advised this is important," she said. All faucets have hoses attached, for easier reaching and rinsing.

She opted to have cupboards directly under sinks, and drawers below next to the floor (so no wasted space with false draw-ers) and found most of the pulls online for $9.50 instead of $35 retail. "It would be crazy to spend that much when you need 18 of them."

The master tub has armrests, a comfort-able slope, extra width but not length so it conserves water, and a non-slip bottom.

The no-step tub is a convenient height for sitting and swinging legs over, and the room is large enough for wheelchairs or walkers. "We could dance in here," Bonita joked.

The walk-in shower has a slightly sloped seat, so water doesn't pool, and there is no frame around the glass, which eases clean-ing.

Bryan's greatest frustration was being unable to give away the old bath fixtures, even though they were in good shape, partly because it was difficult to remove them without damage.

And talking about good shape, these two never have to go to the gym.

They have a five-year plan to transform their property into a park, and it will likely be much sooner. Bonita recently took a 10-week landscaping-design course at Camosun College, and Bryan is planning to build a greenhouse.

They tore down a 12-foot blackberry hedge, ordered half a tonne of rock to cre-ate a 90-foot support wall, and planted along its edge so there is no need for a rail-ing.

"We retired at the right time," she said flatly.

"Ten years from now, we couldn't have done all this work, and besides, this project has been a really good transition into the next phase."

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