Talk the Talk: Part 3

Articles & Interest

In our previous two blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2), we explained the meaning behind key terms or concepts used by home renovators. Here we cover more common expressions to help you clearly communicate with your contractor and avoid any misunderstandings with your project.

Load Bearing

Load-bearing walls are ones that support the structure above them and, generally, cannot be removed. If your dream is for an open concept area that necessitates removing a bearing wall, it will have to be replaced by a wood, laminated, or steel beam.

It’s also worth noting that some walls may have things like ductwork, plumbing, and wiring running through them that will have to be re-routed if the plans call for their removal.

A Solid Foundation

True to the word’s meaning, a home’s foundation supports everything above it. In older homes, the foundation may be constructed of stone. Poured concrete – that is, concrete poured between temporary wooden forming – is the most common type of foundation material. Builders looking to maximize a home’s energy efficiency will use full-height basement insulation.  This can be provided in various forms including ICFs (insulated concrete forms). In this case, the concrete is poured into polystyrene forms (the polystyrene is the insulation) which remain in place and boost the R-/RSI-value of the foundation walls.

If you want to finish your basement but the ceiling isn’t high enough, you’ll need to excavate and shore up the existing walls. There are two options for extending basement walls deeper into the ground: benching and underpinning.

With bench underpinning (also known as bench-footing or just benching), the new foundation is installed just inside of the existing foundation. So, when completed, there’s a section that juts out from the original wall, leaving a “bench.”

With underpinning, the soil beneath the existing foundation is excavated – in small sections at a time – and the new foundation is poured directly below the old. This is the more expensive option, but the finished wall is flush.

Building Codes

The building code, typically shortened to “Code,” is a government document that explains in great detail the minimum rules and requirements for various aspects of constructing a home. For example, the code sets out the minimum R-value of insulation required in exterior walls and the attic.

Some provinces, such as Ontario, have developed their own codes. Others, including Saskatchewan, simply use the national building, fire, and energy codes as their guidelines.
Of course, on top of whatever Code your province uses, your local government will have its own municipal bylaws governing building permits and restrictions.

Grandfathered In

National, provincial, and municipal construction requirements are constantly being updated. Older homes that do not meet the new criteria are considered to be “grandfathered in,” which means that as long as you don’t make any major changes, you can leave everything as is – though renovating is a great opportunity to make improvements and can give the next buyer more confidence in an older property. The renovation that you are planning must meet the current Code requirements however, any sections of the house not affected by your renovation need not be updated.  Once you apply for a building permit, the municipality will look at your application to determine if your renovation plans meet the current Code requirements.


Sometimes renovation objectives and desires don’t line up with what is legally allowable. This may be due to zoning requirements or building code requirements. For example, not being able to meet the setback requirements – the amount of space required between your house and the property line – is a common issue facing renovations in older urban areas. You or your renovator would need to apply for a variance (an exception) to get approval for an addition that’s close to the property line. And, yes, there are fees to apply and payments are required if your requests are approved. In some municipalities it can take weeks or even months to go through the approval process.  

Change Order

During the course of any renovation, changes or adjustments to the project may come up for a variety of reasons. Some examples: a product can’t be ordered and a comparable one needs to be selected, something unexpected was found within a wall, or permits are delayed resulting in a change of timelines. A change order is a formal amendment to the original contract. It spells out precisely what new work or changes in scope are being requested and what they will cost. A change order should be used even if the scope of work is being reduced and the cost is going down.  Reputable RenoMark contractors will insist on using change orders to avoid any misunderstanding or conflict when it comes time to determine the final bill.

Click here and here to read the first two parts of our Talk the Talk blog.