Our house was built in 1911 and although there have been considerable modern upgrades to the interior, we dearly love its old style and want to preserve it as much as possible. We have never done major renovations before and we heard the usual horror stories about builders and contractors; which is partly why it took us many years to commit ourselves to a basement renovation. In fact, we went through the process of searching for a contractor twice – the first time about 10 years ago. Both times, we got about 5 quotes from different companies and both times we selected Mainland Ventures as our top choice.
Why did we decide to go with Mainland Ventures?
Right from the start, we really appreciated Paul’s manner and careful attention to our interests. We found contractors to range from aloof (as if they were too good for the job) or perfunctory (as if the job was nothing special). Although we have lived in the house for about 25 years, both of us immigrated from Europe and have nearly no knowledge of Canadian wood houses. Paul spent a good amount of time with us, going over our plans and wishes, explaining how the work would proceed.
Extent of the work
The basement renovation included gutting the whole basement down to its bare bones and re-doing major structural work. List of work done: repairing the concrete foundations; insertion of a supporting iron beam that stretched half the length of the house; replacing the supporting posts; fastening the house properly to its foundations; insulating the foundations and walls to code; replacing the existing windows and designing and building a new basement suite. The basement suite is legal and includes a separate entrance, one bedroom, a bathroom, its own washer-dryer unit and a kitchen - living room area. Plumbing and electricity were also re-done from scratch.
Other work included renewing the plumbing system in the whole house; installing an on-demand hot water system and new heating system; re-ducting the basement; installing a new electrical panel; replacing the stairs at the back and front of our house and replacing some of the siding (including the second floor dormers). Minor repairs and improvements were done on the main floor: repairs to the ceiling from previous leaks and installation of a washer/dryer on the main floor.
Our comments for the work of Mainland Ventures
We knew our project would take a long time (estimation 6 months) but when we discovered shoddy work and structural problems done by previous builders and owners, we had to fix them, and the time extended to almost 10 months.
We continued to live in the house throughout and were able to witness every step in the process. Paul or Conor patiently answered our questions when structural issues or previous inferior work was revealed. They never made us feel that we were asking dumb questions and we felt completely connected and updated with all that was going on. Despite the intensity of the work Conor was courteous and helpful and ready to explain any technical details. For each new problem, they offered us a series of solutions, including the Pro’s and Con’s of each, and didn’t push us into choosing the fastest or the most expensive. They were open and honest, and we were reassured and confident that the solutions we chose were the best options for us.
After the initial work of demolition was completed and reconstruction was under way, we began to appreciate the incredible care and attention that Conor and his excellent crew (Sean and Walter) took over every detail. Coming from Europe where we were used to houses built to last centuries, both my wife and I were initially apprehensive about the apparently flimsy nature of North American wood houses. We were extremely impressed with the way Conor constructed and assembled everything, from the solid concrete footings to the supporting beams and posts. Most of all, we saw that both Paul and Conor genuinely seemed to understand the need to maintain the essence of the old house and yet to meet modern building codes. On several occasions there would be a problem that Conor needed to solve, and he always came up with a substantial solution that not only gave us confidence but also respected the design of the house. The quality and craftmanship of their work were astounding. Conor is justifiably self-confident and while we, at first, didn’t understand why, we soon appreciated that he builds to exacting standards. Conor’s work is all about excellent alignments and perfect horizontals and he was able to fit this care within the constraints of the 100-year old building. In fact, a new measure of standard that has entered our everyday parlance when assessing quality of work is “is it Conor-worthy”?
As the project shifted into the later stages the type of work became even more precise and almost delicate. Although we wanted an awning over the basement suite entrance, we had no specific design in mind. After advising us to view online photos of awnings and to visit neighbourhood examples Conor took our ideas and carefully created something that fit the style of the house. The finished product is beautiful, immensely strong (solid) and looks as if it was constructed 100 years ago along with the house.
At the end of each day we would survey the basement for progress. The worksite was always left tidy and clean and it was satisfying to see the work completed and to visualize the work to come.
Mainland Ventures worked as closely to the schedule as they could – the old house thwarted us with some unanticipated problems and the schedule was extended by a good three months. Paul kept us informed and the project met the revised schedule. Both Paul and Conor gave us valuable advice and recommendations and it was always with an eye on the budget, best practice and in keeping with the rest of the house.
If you need customized and high-quality craftsmanship (structural or cosmetic) and want peace of mind, we wholeheartedly recommend Mainland Ventures. We were especially impressed by their problem-solving skills, their craftsmanship, their professionalism and the pride and pleasure they took in their work. They were open and honest and always careful to minimize disruptions to our life. We felt that we paid for quality work and that’s exactly what we got. After the work was completed and our neighbours had a chance to view the project, we noted that they all commented favourably about how hardworking the crew was and how well they interacted with and respected the neighbourhood. All in Mainland Ventures are also genuinely nice people.