Drawing Your Own Proposed Floor Plan

Sample of our approved proposed floor plan
Renovating the basement was something wifey and I were thinking of doing years down the road. At the moment, we don't have a pressing need for more space. We have one bedroom that is completely empty that we're using to hang dry some laundry and a two car garage with one lone car.

We also recently created our own private space to watch television in our bedroom. It's so cozy, we rarely frequent the living room anymore.

So what changed?

Wifey's mother (my mother-in-law) insisted on giving us money to renovate the basement. I guess she feels bad that she's living with us and we're not asking for any money from her*.

We resisted for a while, but she was very upset when we refused her generous offer.

In the end, we caved and started looking for quotes.

The first thing we needed to do was find some contractors and get quotes from them. Of course, wifey and I didn't want to take time off from work, so it was important the contractors were able to speak Mandarin as the in-laws would be home to supervise the renovation.

We'd usually get a quote in the $20,000 range. Then when we brought up that we wanted to get a building permit, we ran into a lot of resistance.

You don't need a building permit for the basement**.

You only need an ESA permit for the electrical.

If you get a building permit, it takes longer to renovate.

With a building permit, we need to do things to code. That will cost more.

And so on and so on...

One thing I learned from this experience, if you want do the renovation with a building permit, it's better to tell contractors right away over the phone before they come to look at your basement. If they have no interest in working with a building permit, they just won't bother with your business. This saves you and them time.

Well, wifey and I discussed it at length. I was 100% committed to a building permit. I've seen enough HGTV to know the disasters that would likely happen if we didn't get one. No vapour barrier, improper ventilation, dangerous live wires coming out of nowhere... it's all scary stuff. Most of the time, the homeowners need to pay just as much to tear down the original renovation and repair the issues.

Well, of the original contractors we brought in, only two of them weren't opposed to the idea of a building permit. They just commented that 99.9% of the time, people do a basement renovation without a building permit, but they would do the renovation with a building permit if we require one.

Of these two contractors, one of them was the son of the in-law's friend. They had visited their house where he renovated his own basement. According to father-in-law, it was done really well. That was settled. We (I mean in-laws and contractor) negotiated a price of $31,000 (HST included, since we're doing things by the book***). The price didn't include acquisition of a building permit. For some reason, not many contractors were willing to do this.

Well, I guess the next step was getting the building permit.

According to the Ontario Building Code or whatever, you need to hire a licensed architect or planner to draw up your floor plans. However, there is one exception to the rule. You can draw them up yourself if you are the owner of the home and if you're not making any structural changes.

However, we wanted to see what the rate was. Father-in-law make a few calls. He received quotes between $3,000 and $5,000. Yikes! No doubt, HST would need to be added on top of that.

We decided to try to go it alone. The contractor we hired said it was relatively easy to do it and I read some accounts online that corroborated his claim.

The City of Markham website was pretty helpful, it had some sample plans and it was more or less straightforward. I found a sketching program online, and started by making measurements and inputting them into the program.

The basic floor plan of our basement

Next was designing where the walls and doors would go.

Basement with walls and doors.
After that was complete, we took our plans to the City of Markham and applied for the permit.

Well, it wasn't that easy. Seems I was missing notations on what specifics were to be done. However, the lady was extremely helpful. She showed me some examples on the Markham website and told me that the plans were sufficient, just needed the notes for the inspectors to look over. Seems they WANT you to apply for building permits. Makes sense. Makes it safer for you and others in your neighbourhood.

Some examples of notes include mentioning how the washroom would be ventilated, how the walls would be put up, where the insulation would be placed, how thick the dry wall will be, etc.

Here's the blurb I wrote for the washroom:

  • 1/2" drywall
  • vapour barrier
  • installation of cement board****
  • 2x4 @ 16" OC*****

I wrote similar blurbs for most of the rooms and one week later we returned to submit our plans. This time they were accepted. After a quick calculation, we were to pay $266. Yes, after being quoted up to $5,000, we only paid $266 for the application of the building permit. Well, that's not true. We picked up the building permit two weeks later. However, we needed to pay an extra $54 because the initial estimate wasn't accurate as it didn't include the cost of the plumbing fixtures and the size was bigger than originally thought. So the final total was $320!

At most, I probably worked 5 hours on the floor plan. This includes the travel time to and from the Markham Civic Centre. Assuming an extra 5 hours for random thoughts during the work week on how to place the fixtures in the washroom, that's at most 10 hours of work that ended up saving us $4,680. Assuming we went with the $3,000 option, it would have saved us $2,680. At 10 hours of work, there are people earning $268/hour drawing up floor plans. Yikes! Good career.

The proposed floor plan we received back was annotated with notes and comments from two inspectors. They looked over the floor plans and added items that they thought were necessary.

Although, the building permit was approved in December, construction didn't start until last week (March 1, 2016).

We'll see what happens. We still have a ways to go until this project is finished. More updates to come.

*Seems she hears stories from her friends (in Canada and in China) that their kids are always asking for money to do such and such or whatever. She might think that we're too proud to ask for money, but the simple fact is we don't need the money since our savings rate is pretty high (42% in 2015).

**I checked with the City of Markham website and emailed someone in their building standards department. You definitely need a permit for a basement renovation.

***I guess another reason why contractors are opposed to a building permit are taxes. Seems a lot of contractors would prefer to do the job and not report the money they earned as income during filing season. Their chances of getting caught likely increase if they have to work with the city inspectors. Which doesn't makes sense to me, but whatever. I don't intend to cheat the system, so I have no worries either way. Of course, no one told me this. It was a simple deduction when some contractors mentioned that we'd need to pay HST if we followed the route of a building permit.

****No idea what this was, but I copied it from a sample plans online. Turns out, it's actually cement and fibers combined to make a water resistant board for installation in washrooms (for example).

*****I have since learned that this means those cuts of lumber that are 2" x 4" and are used as framing for the wall every 16". OC stands for on-centre. Interesting. Seems this is the building code requirement in Ontario. This is what some contractors meant by costing more. They would have skipped out on the extra wood because it was "unnecessary".


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