Renovation & Design

'Modern' is great -- if the basics are solid

Postmedia/Making modern changes to homes, such as adding bigger windows can undermine the structural integrity and cause potential heat loss/gain. Choosing the right products and materials can help counter that.

A lot of homeowners say they want a "modern" home, but what does that really mean? Is it a modern look or a modern build?

When most homeowners think of modern, they're usually concerned about the finishes -- state-of-the-art appliances, the latest and greatest in bathroom and kitchen fixtures, lighting, flooring, and so on. This is fine, and I get it. If you have the money, why not?

But what I don't get is homeowners spending all their money on "modern" finishes and not thinking about the construction that protects everything -- including the fancy finishes -- and makes it last.

The building and renovation industry is always changing. New products, materials and practices are constantly being introduced. Even the building code changes, reflecting changes in the environment and the conditions in which we work and build.

Modern also means new, so not everyone is going to know about these new products and how to use them properly. So choose your contractor carefully. That means doing the research, talking to the right experts and asking the right questions.

Bottom line: Anyone you hire -- whether it's a contractor, designer, builder or architect -- should be helping you make smart decisions for your home.

Big windows are a big trend in modern homes. They let in the light but they can also cause potential heat loss or gain. The bigger the window the more important it is to make sure it's properly insulated, sealed and the structure around it can support it.

The good news is "modern" big windows are better made than old ones. You can get windows with low-e, triple-glazed glass and argon gas between the panes to help stop heat loss or gain.

I'm also seeing more curved walls in newer homes. Constructing a curved wall is more labour intensive, which means more money at the end of the day. And if you have a wall that bends, the baseboards and crown moulding will need to bend too. Can it be done? Yes. But again, it requires more work and it will cost you.

A modern home nowadays has more open space and fewer walls. That means using the right materials and proper structures that can carry the appropriate weight along long stretches. The best are steel beams, but they are very, very expensive, especially the long ones.

So what some contractors will do is use LVLs (laminated veneer lumber) or TJI floor joists to carry that weight over longer spans, so you don't need as many walls. The downside is that LVLs and TJIs tend to burn quicker because of the adhesives in them. I'm not saying they shouldn't be used, but your contractor should tell you what you're getting and why.

Another thing to remember is modern can also mean trendy. If you choose to do a modern reno, you might want to change things within a few years -- especially if you're thinking of reselling. Construction and trends don't mix, unless you have boatloads of money. Not to mention all the extra waste it creates.

To me, modern building is about protecting your home better, making it last and using the right products and building practices to help do that -- old and new.

Your home shouldn't just look good, it should be good. You should learn what it takes to get the look you want and the protection you need.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Catch Mike Holmes in an all-new season of Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit For more information on home renovations, visit



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