From The Editor
Put power in the right hands
Most of us have heard about Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, co-founder and product architect of Tesla Inc. and Solar City. SpaceX is a company committed to exploring the possibility of “a true spacefaring civilization.” This brilliant entrepreneur intends to send humans to Mars by (at the latest) 2031 – his vision is to establish a colony on the planet by 2040 with a population of 80,000, to “reduce the risk of human extinction.”
Tesla Inc. produces electric motor vehicles – 2008 saw delivery of its sports car Tesla Roadster, the Model S sedan in 2012 and the Model X arrived on the market in 2015.
Solar City is forging ahead to help eliminate global warming through sustainable energy production. Solar City and Tesla are collaborating – electric vehicle batteries are being utilized to store solar energy.
Another of his proposals is a high-speed transportation system (Hyperloop) and a supersonic jet aircraft with electric fan propulsion – coined the Musk electric jet.
I am particularly proud of Musk given that he is a fellow expat South African, born in Pretoria and his high school education completed at Pretoria Boys’ High, the counterpart to the school that I attended, Pretoria Girls’ High. He moved to Canada, attended Queens University and then became a U.S. citizen where his entrepreneurial wings took flight.
The latest addition to the Tesla innovations is the solar tile for roofing applications. These tiles emulate the look of a conventional roof and will be available in four different glass tile styles: Tuscan, Smooth, Textured and Slate.
Made of quartz they are virtually indestructible – a high-efficiency solar cell produces energy and is overlapped by a coloured louvre film allowing the cell to blend into the roof and reduce the loss of solar gain. The last layer is tempered glass.
The jury is still out regarding the costs associated with installation of a solar tile roof but Musk is confident that these tiles will be a cost-effective solution for homeowners wanting to save money, increase the resale value of their homes or ensure that they have better control over their energy needs. This is estimated in conjunction with utility bill savings.
On the other hand, South Africa’s illustrious (tongue-in-cheek) Number One, President Jacob Zuma, is collaborating with the Russian power utility, Rosatom, to build at least 10 more nuclear reactors in the country – there is currently only one.
He has, thus far, been thwarted by the current Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, but there are rumblings that Gordhan will be replaced during a cabinet reshuffle to give Zuma, a compliant Finance Minister, to allow him to proceed with his ‘greedy’ nuclear power plans.
Apart from the fact that the country cannot afford the plants, I have to give my head a shake, the man leads the country and he must know how much sunshine and wind is available as an alternative, sustainable power source? Let’s hope that clearer heads prevail to prevent the installations.
Two men, both born and raised in South Africa, with one committed to clean, sustainable power sources and enhancing all of humanity, and the other hell-bent on installing increasingly obsolete (from a power perspective) nuclear plants and crippling a beautiful country.
Sustainable energy production is paramount to advance civilization and eliminate the future use of fossil fuels, and it is individual brilliance of Musk’s nature that gives me some confidence in the possibility that the human race will endure and thrive.
Issue 1, 2017
This small home option is a unique idea for affordable housing
I have always had a penchant for small houses – houses being the operative word. I am not keen on apartment, condo or loft living which also classify, for the most part, as small. My biggest bug-bear is the high-rise attitude of these structures. I don’t do well above four floors and prefer to keep my feet on terra firma or as close to it as possible.
In today’s world of spiralling utility costs (particularly Ontario’s Wynnesque-style increasing hydro bills) it makes sense to reduce square footage and, as an end result, the associated heating and cooling costs.
One area of ‘small’ house construction that has captured my interest is shipping container homes. Some of the homes that I have perused have been downright cozy and include all the amenities that one could possibly want in a small space.
According to my research, there are some 17 million empty shipping containers across North America and most are standard sizes of 8-foot-wide by 8.5-foot-high and either 20- or 40-foot-long. The cost of each container is approximately $3,400.
One 40-foot container can supply about 300 square feet of living space – put a few of these together and a good sized, small house can come to fruition.
One homeowner cautioned about making sure you view the containers prior to purchase – there are containers in good shape and others that have sailed the seven seas on one or two many more occasions and are dented and corroded.
It is essential to insulate these steel structures to prevent condensation, particularly in colder climates. As a general consensus it appears that spray foam insulation is considered to be one of the best forms of insulation although it is more expensive. Other alternatives are blanket (or roll) insulation or insulated panels. Both roll and insulated panels need stud walls assembled prior to installation.
There are some opinions that container homes could be ideal for infill or affordable housing especially in inner cities where land is at a premium.
However, some say that the cost of having to erect stud walls within the container to accommodate the insulation is similar to the cost of a stick-built home. There are also opinions involving compromising the integrity of the container when window and door openings are involved which could spike costs by having to include steel beams within the structure.
If you are considering this form of construction, take a look at our article called Spray Foam Facts that looks at the inner machinations of spray foam insulation. I think the seamless vapour barrier that the spray foam affords one probably outweighs the need to be frugal – rather save on other elements of construction.
Here’s to 2017 and all that it has and will have to offer us in the building industry.
Issue 6, 2016
Nesting at its Best
Investing in a home can make for a nice nest egg
Friends of ours bought their home in West Vancouver, B.C. in 1995, just prior to the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997. Many Hong Kong residents were buying up properties in Vancouver, pushing up prices and making it almost impossible for many average Canadians to purchase homes in that city (and its surrounds).
At the same time, we went prospecting for a new home in Vancouver, with the intention of moving to that part of the country, but returned to Toronto empty handed because we couldn’t purchase anywhere near the same caliber of home in Langley, B.C. for the price that we could sell our home in the Greater Toronto area. The discrepancy was that great.
The ‘hot’ Vancouver Metro and surrounding markets don’t seem to have slowed, with Chinese investors buying up residential properties, and reportedly pushing up prices, reportedly by 30 per cent in a year in some cases. In July the B.C. Labour provincial government imposed a 15 per cent tax on foreign owned properties to try and arrest the exponential increase in property prices in the city.
To date, even that tax doesn’t seem to have significantly slowed the demand in Vancouver, but it is early days yet and the impact may be more evident in 2017.
Our youngest daughter lives in Kelowna, B.C. and during my visits to her through the summer, I met a few couples who had ‘sold up’ in Vancouver and moved to Kelowna, purchasing a property of similar stature but costing a whole lot less than its Vancouver counterpart.
Consequently, prices in Kelowna have also started to climb but there is nothing wrong with retirees pocketing a few extra thousand dollars to pad the retirement fund and in such a magnificent part of the province.
My cousin just sold his home in Schomberg, Ontario for a hefty profit after only living in it for three years. I believe he realized a 30 per cent profit and has hedged his bets by purchasing a ‘fixer upper’ six bedroom log home just outside of Barrie, Ontario with the intention of renovating and flipping the home – it’s far too large for the three of them but he is looking at it as an investment.
I, on the other hand, am convinced that the bubble is going to burst and don’t want to be caught short by selling, buying ‘up’ and flipping a property. Maybe we should consider selling our home and renting something more modest to ride out the wave and see where it washes up.
The jury is out but, statistically, investing in property still seems to be a solid bet so we will probably sit tight and see what the New Year brings. It’s time to hunker down for the winter and enjoy the upcoming festive season.
To one and all, the Homes & Cottages team wishes you all the very best for the holidays and a wonderful 2017 – whatever it may bring.
Issue 5, 2016
Double Duty Doors
Doors represent much more than just decor
“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” — Confucius
One day when I was seven years old, my older sister locked me out of the house. Although I cannot recall why, I am sure I deserved it. We had a glass panelled front door and I furiously kicked the bottom panel until it fractured into a glass spider web. Our punishment was that we were not allowed to go to the pantomime Cinderella that night, and I have never forgotten the incident, nor kicked in another door again. I did, however, grow up with a love and appreciation of all that doors do and represent.
The doors of Quebec City are some of my favourites. Years ago I spent an afternoon photographing the most memorable ones and I have a couple of poster-sized images of doors in my home. There is something intriguing about doors and the many metaphors they represent. Closed door policy denotes intrigue and mystery. A revolving door shows a lack of permanence. When one door closes, another one opens, representing possibility. Wolves scratching at the door suggests poverty. Got your foot caught in the door — betrayal. A door is also symbolic of protection since it shields those inside.
I also enjoyed Alice in Wonderland as a child and was particularly intrigued by the small door in the circular room that was hidden behind a curtain. Alice had to unlock it and then shrink in size by drinking a potion to gain access to the enchanted garden.
Then there is the 1960s rock band called The Doors. Jim Morrison, the lead singer, was controversial and created songs that were dark, yet memorable and meaningful. Apparently the band was named after Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception and the title was a reference to a quote by William Blake: If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. You can see how this would have appealed to Morrison and influenced his lyrics.
During medieval times there was often a door within a door, called a wicket, to allow pedestrians through to the castle without having to open the grand double doors. This provided safety and security. Usually the door was just wide enough to allow only one person through at a time. The photo of one of my favourite wicket doors is shown here. This was taken at Cape Point Vineyards in South Africa and shows the rustic carving above the door and the wicket door positioned within the larger double doors.
The front door of a home is one of the first things that I look at when we receive images for a feature article. I think a front door is indicative of the personality of the homeowners. If you have a unique front door, please send me an image of it because we would like to showcase interesting front doors. Also include a description indicating why you chose it and what doors mean to you.
Fall is upon us so enjoy this time of transition and transformation — as we go through the door of one season and into the next.
By Janice Naisby, Editor-in-Chief