Sunday, 6 November 2016


Most of us want to eat food that not only wet our appetite but also deliver to our body the vitamins and minerals it needs.
We also want this to be inexpensive, am I right?

For a lot of us to satisfy our vegetable needs, we have turned to gardening. I myself started this only a few years ago as the next logical step to both living a more frugal life but also a more sustainable one.

The issue

So then you may ask "what's the issue"?
The answer is "Time". Now I am not talking about time as in my hectic work schedule. I find the best way to unwind after a tough day in the rat race is to go out to the garden and play. The time that I am talking about is the length of the growing season.

As you may be aware, I live in Central Ontario. In my area we have a average last frost date around the 15th of May and a an average first frost around the 5th of October. This gives me roughly 143 days or 20 weeks of growing season.

Now yes, some things like root veggies can handle the frost and kale can even take freezing temps but the progress of these types is very slow.

So how do extend my growing season without moving further south?

Season extension

There are a few different ways to attempt season extension. The first one is something many gardeners do nearly every year. They start some seeds inside. In some cases this is the only way to get a plentiful harvest of tomatoes and peppers. Some people even go as far as to have a grow room complete with lights so they can grow things indoors all year long.

Another way to extend your season is to use low tunnels or cold frames.

Cold Frame after planting 24 Oct 15
As you can see my cold frame is just a raised bed with a cover. With this setup I was able to grow Kale an Beets all winter even though I had some -30 C (-22 F) overnight temperatures. Doing this just involved taking a blanket out and covering it on the really cold days. Using Poly for this isn't ideal as it has zero r-value. Glass would be better, but I had a roll of vapour barrier already and it is a lot cheaper.

Of course you can go full tilt and get a greenhouse but to a cheapskate like me that just wasn't an option until I read something about Geo Domes.

My frugal greenhouse

You may be asking yourself "What the heck is a Geo Dome"?
Well I first stumbled on to these a couple of years back and sort of got enthralled by the possibility. However, even though I pride myself as a general handyman the angles that needed to be cut and the difficulty of the connections had kept me at a standstill. That was until Mrs. Smallsteps... mentioned that maybe we should look at getting a greenhouse. After a quick search on the Internet we found good quality greenhouse with the space we wanted would run us around $2500.00. You could also find small flimsy looking ones for about $800.00. At this point I decided that I would attempt the Geo dome greenhouse as it would only cost a couple hundred dollars worth of wood. Not wanting to waste anytime as Halloween was right around the corner I jumped over to where they have plans that could help me get started.

Angles? Who the heck likes angles.

Now I had a few options I could use PVC or lumber. This was pretty simple, I like lumber and had some scrap to start practising. After a few bad cuts I went ahead and built my first triangles. Making simultaneous 60 degree and 74 degree cuts took some getting use to but now I figure I would be comfortable making trusses if I needed to so that's good. I then started putting the triangles together to make a hexagon  and voila, I had made 1 wall or 1/5th of the walls which I then took it apart to stain and put plastic on  before putting it back together.

After that I made 3 more or 4/5 of the outer walls. I decided I would build the roof pentagon before the fifth wall as I needed to figure the door piece out and wanted it to be standing before I did. 

Going vertical!

Putting up the walls was a lot simpler than I had expected. I just leaned the first one on a 4 foot piece of rebar I had around and then set the second up the same way and screwed them together. Then it was on to the third an fourth piece and that went much the same as the first two. Before I walked away to start on the roof pentagon I installed a brace just to keep the walls from bowing too much if it became windy.

Closing off!

The roof pentagon was built from the same size triangles as the middle sections from the hexagons. Once the pentagon was complete it took a little finessing to get it to fit but with a little stretching it dropped in to place. Then I was on to the last hexagon which I needed to make a door frame in. I decided on a 29 inch door opening and started working on the walls. I built these in place and then took them off for staining and to put the plastic on. I found it much easier than trying to fit something that I prefabbed. Then I reinstalled and squared the opening.

The door was made out of 2x2`s with a 2x4 centre brace for strength. After staining and putting the plastic on I installed it and placed a jamb to stop it from over swinging and Voila! The dome was complete. Well, mostly complete.

Finishing Touches

By making the dome out of individual Triangles and then putting them together I ended up having gaps in the vapour barrier between the triangles due to the wood not perfectly aligning all the time. I fixed this by running clear tuck tape over every seam on the dome. After that I just sat back and let the sun do the work. I later went back and checked the temperature and compared it to outside. I think the pictures says it best, but the dome had a temperature 20 C (nearly 40 F) higher.

After all was said and done this project cost me roughly $302. Not all cost are accurate as I did not use all of the screws or stain that I purchased and I had the vapour barrier left over already. Not bad if I do say so myself.

If you have found this project interesting take a look at some of my other posts like Why Compost or Our Income Property Journey.

Do you have a story you want to tell, leave me a comment, I would love to hear

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Bugalow to Duplex: The Backstretch!

This project is our answer to mediocrity. This would be our 4th rental property but our first multi-family property. Up until this point we had 2 townhouses and 1 condo. Though they had been very good for appreciation the cash flow we received form them was slim to none. This project is all about cashflow for us.


Though it may sound like a very complex thing to undertake it was actually quite simple. The building code her in Ontario stated that we required safe and sound insulation in every shared wall and ceiling. It also stated that we required 3/4 inch type X drywall on the wall to give 45 mins before the fire could burn through the walls and ceiling. This took a only a few days and then it was on to painting.

 Upper Unit Completion

Though we were hoping to have the upper unit complete in May the permitting process took more time and as usual in a construction project delays happen. In the end the upper unit was complete right around the Canada Day (1st of July). Though I haven't talked about the upper unit much it really was mostly was updating. We did a complete update of both the kitchen and bathroom and refinished the hardwood in a couple of rooms. We then put it on the market and rented it for $1650 for August 1st. With that complete the full focus of our contractor and ourselves turned to finishing the lower unit. 

Flooring, Cabinets and finishing touches.

Once the walls were painted downstairs the flooring was put in over a few days. What a change that was and we started to feel like the work (and the money) would soon be over. We had now seen the basement of this 3 bedroom home go from a dungy rec-room, workshop, utility room to a blank slate to a very nice looking 2 bedroom separate unit. All that was left at this point was the finishing touches which I will go over in my next post.

Check out our Bungalow to Duplex posts -  3 month updateNew beginning, Now for Inspection, Plans and Progress or How I paid off my mortgage journey for more info.

Do you have a story you want to tell, leave me a comment, I would love to hear

Monday, 17 October 2016

Bungalow to Duplex: A new Beginning!

From the Floor Up!

Following receiving the go ahead on our permits and completing the demo we started the rebuild. The furnace and AC units were from the early 90's so our first task was to get them replaced. Since we were replacing them that also gave us the option of moving them 4 feet and therefore created a much larger second bedroom for the basement suite. The contractor we hiredWe also needed to upgrade the water heater but as it was a rental that was looked after by the company.replaced and moved the furnace and had the water heater rental company upgrade and move the water heater to create space for the second bedroom.
Kitchen Island rough-in
The next project was the rough in of the new basement plumbing. We first needed break the floor and lay in the new drain lines for the Kitchen and Bathroom downstairs. Once the rough plumbing inspection passed the concrete was patched and the framing could be started. At this point the both bathtubs (up and down) were brought in and then the units were separated properly.

Old Stairs = New Laundry

Walls and Windows

In order to separate the units we first needed to remove the old stairs from the backdoor to the upper unit. This was only 3 risers so not a big deal. We placed new joist across the space that the stairs took up and built a wall at the back to create the upper units laundry closet. 
We only ran into 1 issue while framing out the basement. The previous owners had weakening the floor joists by chiseling out an inch hole so that the could run there plumbing above the old drop ceiling in the basement. The solution was to sister up the joist from wall to wall. This cost about $500.00 more than expected but it needed to be completed to pass the inspection. Then we ordered and installed the new windows which included enlarging one  for egress requirements and adding a new one in the basement living room.
Added centre window

Water and Wires

The next 2 surprises came fairly quickly. These were not actually needed upgrades but they just made sense. The house had a 3/4 inch service line from the street but after the water meter it stepped down to 1/2 inch. My plumber suggested that since he was running a bunch of new lines for the basement that it might be a good idea to replace all of the old copper supply lines and increase the service lines to some area to 3/4 inch. We also requested the city replace the old water meter.
The second issue was the electrical panel. The old one was fuses and needed to be replaced so instead or just throwing a new 100 amp panel up we decided to increase to 200 amp. This required a new mast on the roof and for the power company to run a new supply and change the meter as well. This ended up costing us around $1000.00 of non-forecasted money but the benefits easily out weighed the downside of not doing it.

Now that the behind the wall things were done we could move on to fire separation and drywall. This had taken to this point about 2 weeks longer than expected but progress was still being made.
Stay tuned for my next installment.

 Check out Bungalow to duplex , or How I paid off my mortgage journey for more info.

Do you have a story you want to tell, leave me a comment, I would love to hear

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Bungalow to Duplex. Quotes and Permits and 3 month update

Busier than planned

For the few people that actually are following this Blog I apologize for leaving you in the dark. It has been a very busy few months and the blog has kind of went to the back burner but hopefully I can give more regular updates going forward on our journey.


Possession didn't start as expected. To start with we had our possession date on the 9th of Feb. Seeing as this is the 8th time we have purchased a property I didn't expect anything out of the ordinary. The first thing was the keys. Usually when you buy a house you get the keys from your lawyer or Realtor. Well in this case the seller (Bank, Realtor, or lawyer) decided it was better for them to just leave them in the lock box that was at the property. I think that is a little lazy considering you expect better customer service from your local burger joint.
The next day we took the day off from our jobs and went to check out the house. We need to replace the furnace so we brought in 3 furnace contractors to take some measurements and give us a quote on the replacement. We are taking the opportunity to move the furnace as well in order to gain more space in the basement suite. Obviously this is was a good day to interview General Contractors for the rest of the work and so we did. We had 4 Contractors in to give us a quote on our reno's and we are still awaiting a response.

Permits and Paperwork

On the 12th we submitted our zoning application to the city and now the waiting game began.
After a week of reviewing we decided on a Contractor. We finalized some details on the plans with his input and were now just waiting for the zoning application to be approved.
The zoning approval came on the 18th of Feb and on the 19th we submitted our building permits to the City to get that part underway. There was a few corrections and clarifications along the way but after roughly 4 weeks our permits were approved on the 15th of March.

The Demo

What a relief it was to get the planning part finished and we could move on to the demo. Truth be told I had already pretty much demolished the whole basement and the kitchen upstairs. Once the demo was complete it was now time to add the second suite.

Stay with us to learn if this gamble is worth the risk, if it works out I may convince you to to turn a bungalow into a duplex. Until next time!

Check out Bungalow to duplex , or How I paid off my mortgage journey for more info.

Do you have a story you want to tell, leave me a comment, I would love to hear about it!

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Bungalow to Duplex! Plans and Progress?

Getting Going

As I mentioned in my last post we put in an offer on a house and it was accepted. Since that time things have been a little hectic with much to do. First was to finalize the deal by getting the inspection done.

Moving along

The Basement Plan
The inspection went well with nothing major found. The basement is concrete blocks and there was minor water damage but water diversion can fix that, there are several junction boxes and some bad wiring. There may be some asbestos in the basement ceiling tiles, floor tiles and heater vent insulation but we sent some samples in so we are hoping to get the results soon. Although these issues were identified they were not enough to make us walk away so with that the deal was finalized and we moved on to the next steps in a long list.  We had an architect in to measure the basement and draft up some plans. We discussed with  her what we were looking for and received some tips and suggestions from her for the basement and upstairs. A furnace contractor also came by so we could find out not only the replacement cost but also to see about moving the location slightly. Replacing the system which is 20 yrs old only makes sense if we are able to adjust the location to give more livable space in the suite. Otherwise we could just wait and save the cost until it is actually broken but a little pre-planning will probably save us a much larger "emergency" cost down the road anyway.

So, what's next?

Well, we still don't actually have possession but we will on the 9th of February. We are going to have three General Contractors into see the space and the rough plans that we have from the architect. Hopefully their quotes will be in line with what we are expecting. We are also going to have a couple more furnace people in. The more quotes to chose form the better, right? 

I can't wait to get in there! I have an extreme amount of excitement and apprehension that has been causing many sleepless nights. Hopefully the apprehension will subside once the plan is in high speed. 

Stay with us to learn if this gamble is worth the risk, if it works out I may convince you to to turn a bungalow into a duplex. Until next time!

Check out Bungalow to duplex , or How I paid off my mortgage journey for more info.

Do you have a story you want to tell, leave me a comment, I would love to hear about it!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Bungalow to Duplex! Now for the inspection!

Back of house with basement entry

We became real estate investors in 2009. Since then we have slowly grown our portfolio to 3 units. Until this time we have always looked at small nice single family homes. This is where we step into what will hopefully be a more lucrative type of investment and we explained that in our last post Bungalow to Duplex!

Putting in the offer

We put our max offer and our agent presented it this way. The offer was not accepted and they countered $10K below the asking price so we decided to walk on 13 Jan. On 15 Jan the sellers agent asked us if we would consider submitting the offer again because the seller (the bank because it is power of sale) would like to review it again. So in went the offer with the only change being the possession date due to the quick closing. After a non-revocable period of 48 hrs and it being a bank they signed back on the 19th of Jan and we agreed on the 20th.

Awaiting the Inspection

Now that the bungalow is conditional we are getting our ducks in a row and finding a good architect/designer for the basement apartment and a contractor to oversee the renos. I had originally planned to do a lot of the work myself but considering I work full time and would only have the evenings and weekends for this reno and after figuring out what it would cost a month to have the property empty or at least partially, we decided on a contractor. If there is an opportunity for me to get in there and get dirty I will still take it but for now I am leaving it up to the experts. The home inspection is booked and we look forward to meeting with our awesome inspector on the 24th of Jan and once we have completed that we will start planning for everything else so that we can be prepared for our 9 Feb possession date.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Do you have a story you want to tell, leave me a comment, I would love to hear about it!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

How I paid off my Mortgage (Post #3)

Here we go again!

In 2010 we sold our house in Edmonton for about $60,000 more than we originally paid for it but the real shock was that a new home close to work was going to cost us at least double of what we sold the last house for. That's right I said double! We bought a 2400 sq ft home in a great neighbourhood just north of Toronto. The location was amazing, it was only 20 mins from work had lots of amenities near by and had a great school zone as well. It also had a large amount of green space nearby, but as mentioned before the price was the problem. We were now in the most debt we had ever been in our lives. The purchase price for our new home was $735,000 and even though we had always concentrated on paying down our mortgage this put our new mortgage at over $400,000!

On top of this our second child was born right after we moved in.

If you build it...

Not willing to let a little financial insecurity get in our way we got back at it. The sweat equity was again put in. The back yard was a blank slate when we bought the home so we turned it into something more comfortable. The house had a lot of pink berber carpet that we replaced with a nice hardwood floor. We also completely gutted the en-suite bathroom for a major update adding a beautiful vanity, a new jet tub and a larger shower stall.

On the road again!

In 2012 we moved to the Barrie area and this is where the dream became a reality. We put our house on the market and sold it for $828,000. After only 2 years in one of the hottest housing markets in Canada we made $93,000 on our property. The next step is the most drastic as it involves us paying off our primary residence mortgage as well as buying a rental property almost at the same time.

See How I paid off my Mortgage (Post #4) for more or look back at how we made it this far with How I paid off my Mortgage post 1.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Bungalow to Duplex!


Ask almost any landlord out there and they will tell you it was accidental. If you want to continue this "lifestyle" one day you have to sit yourself down and make a decision, do you want to be remain an accidental landlord or do you want to get serious and try and generate income from rental income.

We bought a condo in 2009, a townhouse in 2012 and another townhouse in 2014. In future posts I will explain the properties in detail but one issue that we have is that we are barely cash flow positive on the properties. Well we finally decided to get real and determine how to generate some income! We found a Realtor that specializes in rental properties and that has a lot of contacts. We then immediately talked to a mortgage broker that also dealt with a lot of investors.

We have since restructured our finances in order to find our next property and this time it will not be an accident. We are now focusing on a 2 unit property or creating one with some sweat equity! We have put in an offer on a Power of Sale single family bungalow tonight. If our offer is accepted we intend to make it a legal duplex and generate income and hopefully passive appreciation. Stay with us on the journey!

Do you have a story you want to tell, leave me a comment, I would love to hear about it!