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The Ontario Power Authority is offering up to $650 worth of incentives for homeowners to replace their existing furnace and/or air conditioning unit with new, Energy Star certified heating or cooling systems. According to the Power Authority, up to 60% of a typical home's electricity bill is devoted to heating and cooling. With the continual rise in energy costs and another hot, humid summer expected for Ontario, installing a new system can help reduce utility bills and the home's draw on our shared natural resources. The offer is valid only in Ontario between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011. For details, refer to the Ontario Power Authority's website.

 
 
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Aging-in-place is a hot topic these days. As baby boomers enter retirement, the government is bracing itself for the impending “gray wave” of elderly adults who will need access to specialized health care services and accommodation at the same time. Ideally, an individual will stay in their own house or condo as long as possible. There are many modifications – both permanent and temporary – that can be made to a home to achieve this. As there are many different considerations, this topic will be broken down into different parts, the first being dedicated to bathrooms.

Despite everyone's best attempts to age gracefully, the process is often accompanied by slowly diminishing capacities such as vision, hearing, balance, flexibility and strength. Washrooms that were once considered luxurious can become hazardous, but with simple modifications can be made safer and easier to use. A person can spend thousands of dollars retrofitting a washroom with permanent components. However; if on a budget, many temporary items can be rented, or found on Craigslist, Kijiji or other classified ad websites. Below is a list of considerations that incorporates both permanent and temporary measures that can make a bathroom more accommodating.

 
 
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Source: Masonry Heater Assoc.
The Masonry heater goes by many different names; Finnish Fireplace, Wood Heater, Kachelofen, Grundofen, Varaava Takka, Tile Stove and Ceramic Stove among others. All of these names refer to a large, specially-constructed fireplace that uses small amounts of fuel and is capable of heating an average family home. Although not always appropriate in a retrofit application, in the cold Canadian climate they are a sustainable home heating alternative in new home construction.

Masonry heaters first appeared in Northern Europe in the early 16th century. Historically, they were used in the kitchen, combining a stove, oven and seating areas. Located in the center of the home, they were fired twice daily for the preparation of meals and heating. The heaters were in all homes regardless of social status; however they varied aesthetically from white wash clay to ornate masterpieces.

 
 
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If you are in the market for a new home heating system, consider radiant heat. These systems come in different configurations such as under or in-floor, or the traditional radiator variety. The most energy efficient and cost effective systems are water based – or “hydronic” systems. Going from an existing forced air furnace to a different system may seem exorbitant, but if you are in the midst of a home renovation and have the opportunity to reconfigure your heating system, it may be worth the effort.

 
 
When starting a renovation or new construction project, knowing where to start and who to ask for help can be confusing. While a contractor or home designer can modify or adapt at your request, architects are trained problem solvers who can provide design solutions that take many factors into consideration. These include both pragmatic elements such as the cost effective use of building materials and the integration of all building codes, as well as abstract ideas such as natural light and air quality. Architects will ask questions and gather information about your lifestyle and specific requirements. They are trained to recognize and anticipate your needs – even if you don't know how to express them. The success of this process relies on communication. Space creation is collaborative; your architect can't do it without you. For as much training as architects have, however; if you begin a project without having done any of your own research or investigation, the process is more difficult for the architect – and more costly for the client – as the architect will spend many hours trying to determine both your requirements and preferences.

To facilitate this process, you can do some homework. Below is a list of items to consider and collect. They will help your architect quickly get an idea of what you are looking for and also help the architect refine their fee proposal and their own research on your behalf.