Tornado image1

Story and Photography  by Patrick Langston

When tornadoes swept through Eastern Ontario and Gatineau last September, the destruction was massive: families displaced, neighbourhoods mutilated and insurance costs that skyrocketed to almost $295 million, most of it on the Ontario side, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Six months later, many homes remain uninhabitable, their windows boarded up, “no gas, no hydro” scrawled on plywood sheets across front doors.

Surprisingly, it’s all had little impact on the lo- cal renovation industry. That’s despite some fears at the time that resources would be drained away from kitchen upgrades and new en suites as people with damaged homes tried to put their lives and dwellings back together.

Tornado image 3“It hasn’t had a real impact. (Specialty) restoration companies are doing most of that work,” says Roy Nandram, president of renovator/custom builder RND Construction and incoming president of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association.

Others agree.

Herb Lagois, owner of Lagois Design-Build-Renovate, says he’s not doing any tornado-related work.

And OakWood president John Liptak notes that he’s “not experiencing any labour shortages above the normal because of the tornado.”

Restoration companies doing the work in tornado affected areas like Dunrobin and Arlington Woods include Promus Ottawa. However, president Kirk Haw says he has about 10 “quite substantial rebuilds” that have been held up by factors like overly busy insurance adjusters and, especially, a brutal winter.

“We would have been done all ours if not for this winter,” says Haw, who adds that some anxious homeowners in the tornado areas have turned to sources other than restoration companies for repairs. Steve Barkhouse, president of Promus’ sister company Amsted Design-Build renovators, has a handful of tornado-related projects on the books, but says he’s also been stymied by insurance delays. “We haven’t done a stitch of work on any of them.”

Bad as that is for tornado victims, it’s reassuring for other homeowners wanting to get on with renovations in the coming months.

Also reassuring: reports from local renovators that the labour shortages plaguing the housing industry in many cities across Canada aren’t a big factor in Ottawa. At least, not yet.

“It’s always a concern, but so far, knock on wood, we’ve been blessed to have good trades and long- lasting relationships,” says Lagois.

However, Nandram says that the shortage does mean tradespeople are spread thin, labour prices are up and some projects delayed as a result.

toronado image 2A study published last fall by the Business Development Bank of Canada gives cause for concern over the longer term. It found construction was among the sectors in Ontario facing the strongest labour head- winds as baby boomers drift toward retirement and not enough new employees line up to replace them.

The situation could get especially dicey if, as predicted, the renovation industry continues to see high demand. The real estate services company Altus Group, for example, has predicted that the $75-billion -plus Canadian renovation sector will grow by a further 2.7 per cent this year.

Nandram agrees that the demand for renovation continues to grow. He says everything from the high percentage of older housing stock in Ontario that needs upgrading to millennial’s taking up residence in their parents’ basements while they try to save enough for a down payment means plenty of demand for renovators going forward.

Where are those renovation dollars likely to go? Kitchens, bathrooms and basements will remain popular and, according to RE/MAX, are a good way to add value to a home. A remodeled basement, for instance, can mean not only extra space for home- owners or a place to live for a millennial or in-laws, it can also be rented out for supplementary income.

In fact, the City of Ottawa actively encourages the creation of such secondary suites as part of its densification drive.

Renovations can also offer payback when selling your home. According to Remodeling magazine’s annual “Cost vs. Value Report”, remodeled kitchens can bring a 60-80 per cent return on investment and bathrooms up to 67 per cent.

The top reno investment for the second year running? A decidedly un-sexy garage door replacement, with an incredible 97 per cent return on investment.

Other reno trends include double kitchen islands such as the award-winning design by Nathan Kyle of Astro Design Centre, along with lighter wood floors, and warmer colours everywhere.

If you are considering a reno this year, don’t expect it to happen overnight. For instance, a properly planned and executed kitchen makeover at $40,000 will take anywhere from three and a half to several months start to finish, according to local renovators. Some of those renovators are already booking into the fall.

Patrick Langston

Patrick Langston

“My advice is, don’t rush for the sake of rushing,” says Lagois. “We get excited about something and it’s, ‘We’ve got to get this done right away!’ That’s when regrets happen. Take your time.”

Patrick Langston is co-founder of, Ottawa’s only comprehensive source of unbiased information on buying, renovating and maintaining your home. He has covered the local housing industry since 2007 for several publications, including the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Magazine.