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Newsletter #232

Cold Weather Building

New House Building: Money Saving, Convenience and Healthy House Tips

James Todd
January, 2005

All past newsletters are archived online at:



  1. Finish the Basement now or later
  2. Attached vs Detached garage
  3. What are the dangers of building in cold weather?
  4. Thought for the Day
  5. Subscription Information
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1. Finish the basement now or later

A frequent question of new home buyers is "Should I finish my basement now or later?" The answer depends on your needs. If you need an extra bedroom, bathroom, or a playroom for the kids, or if you need an in-law suite, then "need" is the guiding factor, and now is the time to do it.

If you do not "need" the finished space now, but are thinking along the lines of the next few years, we suggest that you get the outside walls of the basement properly insulated top to bottom, vapour barrier applied, and drywall applied, followed by a couple of coats of paint. In many communities, the outside walls of basements have to be framed, insulated, and covered with vapour barrier at the time the house is constructed. So the added cost of the drywall, taping, and painting is minimal and it will really spruce up the basement, as well as reduce heating costs. The best time to do this is when the basement is still empty. Of course you will need to make sure that your building permit covers this, and that your electrical work gets done, and inspected. The cost can be quite nominal, for this extra drywall work in the average basement.

This brings up another frequent question, "How much will finishing a basement cost?" Again, personal taste comes into it a lot but $20 to $25 per square foot is a rough guide, and should turn a typical basement into a comfortable living area. Remember, the finishing and the furnishing really impact the appearance of living space.

From a health perspective, you will really appreciate a properly finished basement because the house is much easier to keep clean and less prone to mould, and dampness.

Regardless of timing, finishing a basement is a big project and will require a great deal of planning. You must decide what will be the purpose of the rooms, and what will be the layout of the entire area. Bathrooms and kitchens will require extra consideration. In addition, you and your contractor will have to address issues such as heating, cooling, airflow, and dehumidification.

Flooring is an important matter. Ideally, a basement floor should have a wooden sub floor on top of the concrete, then a healthy flooring material applied on that. This will ensure a warm and dry floor for the living area.

Ceilings are another interesting topic for basement finishing. As mentioned, drywall is the least expensive and most attractive finish. However, it may not be the right way to go in the basement of your new home. Once drywall is up, rearrangements of water pipes, electrical wiring, central vacuum, ductwork, and telephones, all become much more complicated. A good quality suspended grid system with sound absorbing ceiling tile is another alternative. Also combinations of drywall and suspended ceilings in basements, can be attractive as well. Bedrooms under bedrooms are probably not going to need much rearrangement, so their ceilings could be done with drywall.

Building material is continuously increasing in cost, as is labour. If we use a conservative 5% as the year over year average cost increase, we see that what costs $1000 now will cost about $1276 in 5 years. So a 1000 square foot basement, at $23/sq.ft. will cost about $23000 to finish today, but $29,348 in 5 years.

Whatever you decide, get 3 to 5 estimates, personally verify numerous referrals for each contractor, make sure you have a contract, and obtain all necessary building permits. Finally, be vigilant in your selection of contractors.

Some Useful Links

Basement Finishing ideas at Eran Building and Remodelling Company

Basement Ideas

Wood flooring

2. Attached vs. Detached Garage

Consumers building a home have a number of considerations to take into account when making a decision if they should add an attached garage to their home or if they should consider a detached garage. Design specifications, intended use, code requirements, cost, air filtration from the garage into the home, and city bylaws are some of the major items to think about. We will explore each of these areas in this short newsletter. If you would like more information, the web sites listed at the end of this article can provide you with additional detail.

Design Specifications
If you are planning an attached garage, generally the exterior design will fit the design of your home and you need to make decisions about the interior of your attached garage. Items such as size of your garage, single or multiple garage doors, garage door opener’s, number and location of electrical outlets, work areas, central vacuum outlet, telephone outlet, lighting especially if there is a work area involved and amount of storage space that you will require. Detached garages will have all of the same issues, in addition to exterior design, location of the garage relative to your home and access to the garage from the street. Utilities such as electrical and telephone will need to be connected to your home and placed in protective conduit between your home and the detached garage.

Intended Use
Most garages, attached or detached are used for parking the owner’s vehicles, yard storage and sometimes a small work area. If you plan something more ambitious, such as vehicle maintenance, major hobbies, then these should be taken into account when deciding on the type of garage you will select as well as interior design.

Code Requirements

The majority of cities and towns in North America have developed code requirements covering the construction of attached and detached garages. The reader is strongly encouraged to check with your local officials for building code requirements and also any permit requirements you may need. Your local builder can also generally assist you with city bylaw requirements and all inspections as well.

Cost of your Garage
There are many factors, which will determine the overall cost of your garage. You may decide to hire a general contractor or manage the construction yourself. If you have an attached garage, then your house contractor will likely manage the addition of your garage. If you decide on a detached garage, you may need quotes for excavation, form setting, concrete, carpentry, roofing, electrical, bricklaying if applicable, siding installation etc. Building your attached garage can provide reduced cost for construction of your garage, since one or perhaps two of the walls will be interior walls of your home.

Health Considerations
Attached garages have a health consideration that is not generally found with detached garages. Studies have shown that fumes from various items stored in the garage can infiltrate the home from an attached garage. Gasoline for yard tools such as lawn mowers or snow blowers, chemicals for gardens etc can find their way into your house, both into the basement as well as into the main living areas of the home. If you are susceptible to any kind of pollutants, then this may be a major consideration you will take into account when deciding on a detached vs. attached garage.

Some useful links to check out

Planning your Garage

Example of Detached and Attached Garage Requirements

Air Infiltration from Attached Garages in Canadian Houses

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3. What are the Dangers of Building in Cold Weather?

Builders and homeowners alike are concerned about construction during winter months, particularly in cold climates were the temperature routinely is below freezing for much of the winter. This article will cover issues surrounding the pouring of concrete foundations in cold weather.

If the proper building construction techniques are not followed, concrete will not cure properly causing potential problems later on such as cracking and dusting to name two concerns. Not only will you reduce the strength of the concrete, dusting may occur and cause possible indoor environment problems later for the homeowner. We also recommend to homeowners to seal any exposed concrete walls with a good quality concrete sealer to reduce the effect of concrete dust on household air quality. This article will discuss some of the steps homeowners should look for when considering having a home constructed during the cold winter months. We have also have provided a number of web sites for those who require additional information and detail as a reference.

The Basics
In order for concrete to cure properly, temperature minimums and moisture levels must be managed during the curing cycle to ensure proper 28 day strength characteristics are achieved. Cold weather concreting requires special steps to ensure that the concrete does not freeze and also does not dry too rapidly during cold dry winter months.

Prior to pouring concrete in winter months, builders must plan for proper equipment, manpower, weather protection, and appropriate concrete mix with accelerating admixtures and heated mixtures to help develop early concrete strength. All snow an ice must be removed from concrete forms and the sub base prior to pouring concrete and all items that come in contact with concrete should be not be below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Special Requirements

Concrete pouring and curing must be managed in cold weather situations. The cost of winter construction with the additional requirements identified below must be compared to delays until warmer spring or summer temperatures. Special attention must be given to the following:

  • Ensure concrete has cured and do not allow concrete to prematurely dry out
  • Keep Ice from forming, which stops hydration and seriously impairs strength
  • Use insulation blankets or heaters
  • Avoid direct contact with heaters, that may cause soft dusting
  • Ensure heaters do not run out of fuel and avoid fire hazards
  • Remove heat protection in a manner that prevents rapid cooling of concrete
  • Triple insulation at corners and edges of walls
  • Leave forms in place as long as possible to prevent rapid drying
  • Ask your builder to explain the step they will take to ensure a high strength properly cured concrete foundation and floor for your new home.

Municipal Code Requirements
Many municipalities or state agencies have specified technical requirements for cold weather masonry construction covering temperature conditions below specific temperatures, often at 41 degrees F, or 5 degrees C. Your concrete subcontractor should be well aware of these requirements and should be able to demonstrate to you the steps they will take to ensure that these requirements will be met.

For more detailed information, we have provided links to several web sites that provide addition information about concrete in general as well as about pouring concrete in cold weather conditions.

Some useful links to check out

NRMCA – About Concrete

Cold Weather Curing

Cold Weather Concrete Tips

Cold Weather Concreting

4. Thought For The Day - Generosity

If there be any truer measure of a man than by what he does, it must be by what he gives.
--Robert South

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