To Renovate…Or Not To Renovate

Is it a good time to Renovate?  Will Materials drop?  Have Housing Prices finally topped out?


There are plenty of reasons to do renovations now. Cheap money, rising property values and an economy supported by government injections. Let’s face it– they can’t just turn off the tap without the whole thing grinding to a screeching halt. 

Will it last forever?  Of course not, what does?  


Here in Canada we are welcoming 400,000 newcomers each year. They have to live somewhere right?  Rental Housing gets more and more pricy as they come. Barrie Ontario is the most expensive rental market in Canada presently. 

Rental gets expensive, houses look cheaper–especially with the cost of borrowing so low. 

In the US–They don’t even know how many people are coming in through the southern border. I’m not sure they are counting. 

All the major renovations that were pent up during early Covid are still working through the cue. As material prices went up, and shortages happened, many projects were put on hold. Most builders in the US are still pretty busy. Here in Canada, things are easing.


They are not going to get cheaper any time soon. Why so sure you ask?  

  • Fuel prices have doubled in the past year due to green energy policies–That will not change soon.
  • Shipping costs have exploded. From a shortage of drivers to equipment shortages, to supply chain issues to get repairs done. Fuel costs more–and due to a shortage they have to pay their drivers more. There are other logistics issues that I won’t get into. 
  • Tariffs were increased on Canadian Lumber–which means producers are moving south of the border and they are idling other operations  due to shipping issues.  As these producers ship less to the US, they have to make up numbers here in Canada. 
  • People are fleeing the cities, and, there just are not enough country homes to fill the demand. As they sell their city homes to Hedge Funds at the top of the market, they just keep buying up all the building materials because the price really doesn’t matter to these folks.
  • Inflation, if calculated the same way we did in 1985 would show somewhere between 25-30%. This means Wages paid to lumber men, drivers and laborers will have to increase. These folks need to be fed and clothed and housed, so, they need a raise. 
Cost of Lumber
Lumber Futures 2/18/22


If the renovation you are planning will increase the efficiency of your home this might be the very best time to renovate. 

If you have a rural property and heat with propane, the price has increased by roughly 40% in the past year. They are also ramping up the “Carbon Tax”.  That means if heat costs you $500 a month– and prices keep increasing at 25% per year, your renovation could be done with money you would otherwise give to your propane supplier in the next $25 years.  Using that math, if you make your house twice as efficient you could save $25k in the next 5 years. (But, using those assumptions–and heating more than doubles in the next 5 years we will have bigger problems.)


This year we are finding more builders that have space in their schedules. Last year you had to scrape the barrel a little to find any builder that would even look at your project. I expect that this is due to the government checks slowing down. When self employed builders were getting those steady checks it was viable for them to sit at home and collect a wage. 


You think materials prices will come back down…

Compared to 3 years ago materials are crazy town!  Maybe this inflation we are seeing will be transitory. Maybe things will be cheaper later. Hey, we could be on the brink of the “Great Depression 2”. 

Have housing prices topped out?  Maybe. I have heard that commercial space, (previously office space for large companies) is 50% empty presently. Maybe they will retrofit those as lower cost rental space. All it would take is rezoning and a pile of renovations and demand for rental housing would plummet. 


Are interest rates going to go up dramatically?  If you can borrow now and lock in your rate for a few years– It may be worth doing. 

If you are in a perilous career and high interest rates would crush your career– maybe increasing your debt level is imprudent. Car dealers, commercial realtors, commercial property investors, middle managers and Realtors often get pinched when the economy crashes. 


Not as many people wanted to move during Covid, especially during the first year. There was a shortage of listings. The stock market was gutted early on and Corporate interests as well as Hedge Funds got into real estate since the price was going up. It looks to me like part of the reason for the price exaggeration. 

Recently though, due to the housing crash in China, Chinese investors have been pouring into the US and Canadian market for safety as well as the investment. Their housing market has been gutted. In a communist country there are few opportunities for investment– they have banned crypto currency. 

Search for China Ghost Cities for hints as to what happened to their property market. The average property investor has about 5 homes– many in empty crumbling buildings in the middle of nowhere. 

A Chinese man needs to own property to attract a bride. Often the whole family puts money into the investment. As their properties plummet, those lucky enough to get out with any nest egg at all are optimistically investing in North American real estate. 

Whether or not you should invest in a renovation depends on your situation. If you have cash set aside it makes sense to feather your nest a little, or, if you have a stable career with extra left over and you are finding that you are spending more time at home of late then it makes perfect sense. 

Consider your position, then, pull the trigger. 

If we can help you design your renovation– Please get in touch. 


You can see some of our recent designs (click here)


engineering permits residential design

There’s something wrong at the Barrie Building Department

Try to get details stamped by an Engineer in Barrie Ontario– Call 15 and you might be lucky to actually speak to one. The only way to make a project happen is to find an Engineer in the outskirts that has not been subjected the local building department.

Rail details for building department

We’ve been working with the Barrie Building Department for decades and there are some really great people there that are truly a pleasure to work with. The inspectors are a breath of fresh air– exchanging information with us freely. 

This isn’t meant to be axe grinding, it really is our way of bringing attention to the issue. We witnessed this first hand, and, in our humble opinion this needs to be fixed. 

I have spoken to a couple of building inspectors and off the record they confirmed that there are major issues, but they wouldn’t elaborate further and would not name names. 

It is likely that Barrie has a hard time keeping staff due to this issue. 

Permit/ Planning in Ontario / BCIN Rules

Here’s how it works.

BCIN (Building Code Identification Number), was instituted for a couple of reasons. Building departments were being sued for accepting/approving details that later were found to cause injuries and failures. It was also taking too long to determine whether the details were inferior or not. 

They came up with a scheme to standardize construction details, (that we find lacking), to expedite the approval process. The legistlation also set out time constraints for approvals if you abide by the process. They have since come up with ways to delay that process and rather than a week or so, we see delays of upto a year in some areas. 

They also wanted to offset liability upon the designer– so, they came up with a training program to teach these dumbed down details and allow these designers to purchase their own liability insurance. It’s a Win / Win system for the building departments. They avoid liability and make their job easier. 

In order to understand the issue between the Barrie Building Department and local Engineers you need to understand how the system works. The final section will explain the issue, so read on. 

BCIN Basics …

Here in Canada the system is based upon “English” law. One of the oldest prcepts is that “your home is your castle–and you have the right to do what you will to your own castle”. This is the cornerstone of our legal system. 

Engineers also quickly howled that their rights and responsibilities were being trampled upon, and, they had errors and omissions and liability insurance already. Being seen as the experts in the field, they had every right to specify and invent suitable details for any project. 

They quickly developed 2 exclusions to the system. 

  1.  Homeowners would be permitted to accept responsibility for their own projects without BCIN Certification. 
  2.  Engineers were exempt from requiring BCIN Certification. As long as they stamp it– That would suffice. 

BCIN designer form

3 Options to Apply for a Building Permit in Ontario

  1. You may apply for a permit accepting responsibility for the design as as the homeowner. If you are doing it yourself and you are confident in your abilities this is fine. Typically, you are doing basic things like replacing windows, moving a non-loadbearing wall or building a simple deck. You accept responsibility for your plans so that they can’t be sued for use of the details. 

    If you contract a private designer, it needs to be somebody you have confidence in. Keep in mind, when you do it this way the building department will critique what you apply and steer you towards the standardized details. This is why they typically publish the details on a website for you to work from. 

    They see sketched details on paper all the way through slick plans like we produce. You still need to provide all the details they expect. Elevations, site plan, details etc. If you are doing something different or they question how you are doing it they will ask for an engineered stamped drawing… this is where it can get expensive. Many of our clients hit this wall, and that’s often when they come to us. 

2.   Contract a BCIN Certified Designer– They know the rules and many simple jobs like renovations they will help you plan the project. That doesn’t mean you won’t need  to contract an Engineer… it all depends on the project. 

3.   Contract an Engineer to help you plan the project. For residential work a good majority will steer clear. The number of lawsuits they open themselves up to would make your head spin. When you mention the project is in Barrie– that’s another reason they may decline the project. 

The Crux of the Barrie Building Department Issue

The Barrie Building department has created a number of their own rules, which, on their own is not a bad thing. They are working towards solving problems they see commonly, and, they are avoiding lawsuits.  

This isn’t so much of an issue, so long as they are willing to mark these on each plan as they are applied for. As the designers absorb the nuances to their local building department, they will include these details automatically. 

The issue is with Engineers and how they deal with them. 

Engineers are Professionals. They have earned this due respect through years of schooling, hard work and attention to details. 

When Plans Examiners without an Engineering Degree are questioning their judgement the Engineers get their backs up. Personally, I think that this reaction is entirely justified. 

There isn’t enough time in life to deal with ridiculous, insulting and disrespectful conduct by a building department. 

We applied for a deck permit last year– it took 9 months. They bounced things back and forth with the engineer squabbling about details for months. At the end of it, the Engineer asked us not to call him if the project is in Barrie. 

Engineers are deferred to due to their expertise. When they are disrespected– they avoid getting into that situation. 

Finally I understood why I couldn’t get a call returned by any Engineers in Barrie. 

This is also why we have to let people know, if your project is anything but standard detailing in Barrie– there is a 2-10k premium on the project. We will not know how much until the Engineer involved does his final billing.