View from the internal attic window above the new family room.
View from the internal attic window above the new family room.

After 6 years of working with VELUX and being exposed to Active House and other projects, my picture of the ideal home for my family has evolved. When Great Gulf asked us to live in Active House Centennial Park, I said yes instantly, then someone had to remind me that I should speak to my family first. As plans firmed up and the experiment came together, I also saw an opportunity. We had been planning a small sunroom addition on the back of our house. But when we had the opportunity to be out of the house for 6 months, 6 months where we could make a big mess and have time to clean it up, well then, this meant we could do a much more serious renovation. With careful consideration, I hired a Hamilton based architect and work began on designing a master suite into our unused attic.

The original plan was to take the attic of our old Victorian semi-detached and add a bedroom, maybe a couple skylights and an extra bathroom, doubling the number of showers in the house. And remember, I have three daughters that will be teenagers before I know it, so an extra shower is good planning. But sometimes even best laid plans change.

The design quickly expanded in scope and started to include opening up the second floor to create a small family room and to better connect the house to the outside. Then a skylight was added that would bring light into this new family space, the original stairs and even the front entrance of the house. I was charmed as I envisioned this new family area for the kids, the brightening of the darkest part of the house and the prospect of doing something bold in my own house. I was sold. Bethany on the other hand, wasn’t. She saw the cost, questioned the usefulness of the new space, and was concerned the bedrooms would be too small. I don’t think I convinced her at that time that this was the best thing for the family, but she decided to take a leap of faith and we went for it.

The attic design took a lot of “push and pull” as the architect would call it. This is a small house, so squeezing in a new set of stairs while ensuring room for a bed and storage in the attic took a bit of magic. With few vertical walls and no additional dormers planned, we used skylights for fresh air, daylight and views. We were even able to get a view of the Niagara Escarpment from the dormer. We went with a spray foam insulation to preserve space, ensure a good airtight seal and because experience has shown me that it can be challenging to get adequate ventilation in a retrofit cathedral ceiling. It also took the help of some great contractors on this often-tricky job. Most of the contractors were amazing to work with, except of course, for those that weren’t. But the few bad ones give you perspective to appreciate the good ones. I did much of the demolition work and whatever else I could to stretch our budget. We completed the work on the first and second floor prior to moving back, it was close, but we made it. We plan to move up into the attic this summer. I am very proud of this project and now that Bethany can see the near-end result, she is very happy with it too.

View towards downtown Dundas & Niagara Escarpment from attic.
View towards downtown Dundas & Niagara Escarpment from attic.

I once read that buying a home is a balance of compromises. We bought our home in Dundas and compromised on living space, energy efficiency and views to the outdoors in order to live downtown of one of the prettiest little towns in Canada. I guess our current and future planned renovations are inspired by Active House but motivated by what we had to compromise on to move here. We love walking to the girls’ school, the parks, the library, to the shops around the corner. We love having easy access to so many hiking trails up the Niagara Escarpment, across streams and past waterfalls. This lifestyle isn’t for everyone but we’re super happy here. Adding more space, light, views and even some energy efficiency brings us much closer to our experience of living in an Active House while staying in our neighborhood. We miss so much about living in Active House Centennial Park, but this renovation feels like we brought a small piece of the experience home.

Spray foam being applied in the attic.
Spray foam being applied in the attic.
Roof and skylight installation.
Roof and skylight installation.