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Installing a Pax Wardrobe

The major parts of our renovation are finished, but we continue to work on little details around the house. Plus there are items that I want to complete in a DIY fashion so I feel like I built something in the house.

In the previous incarnation of our master bedroom, the closet was far too small, to the point where I kept my clothes in our son’s bedroom. The new master closet is quite large (not walk-in size), but it needed a bit more to make it functional. I installed some Ikea Pax units to organize the space.

The first constraint is that there is a fun “trap door” that passes from our son’s closet into our closet, and we couldn’t block that off with the boxes of the Pax system.


Secret path

This constraint meant I would have to customize the left-hand part of the closet

I elected to:

  • center a 40” wide unit in the middle of the closet. This unit will have a half-height clothes rail for shirts, etc, and pull out drawers below
  • the right hand side would be a 20” wide unit. It too will have a half-height clothes rail, and then shelves and a shoe rack.
  • the left hand side would be a full height clothes rail and not block the “secret door”

The Pax units are about 24” deep. Our closet is about 36” deep. Fortunately, our awesome contractor Tom offset the pot lights in the closet to the front, so that in this case the pot lights are not blocked by the Pax boxes.

One note: The Pax units are very heavy and awkward to lift. I had difficulty getting all the parts on the roof of my Subaru, and I like to think that I’m not a weak dude. Consider getting delivery if you’re going to install these.

I built the two boxes outside the closet.

Main box outside the closet

One thing I didn’t account for is that the Pax units are taller than the door. I realised this, of course, but didn’t think it through in terms of angling the units up and under the door header. Lots of swearing later, I got the first box in place. You may want to construct the box inside the closet to avoid this problem.

First box in place

The next issue I had is that I didn’t want to change the baseboard and trim. Some DIY Ikea Hack projects (e.g. ) will use a Dremel to cut the baseboard. Instead I shimmed the side and the back of the Pax units when attaching them to the wall to account for the 1” of space that the trim takes up. I used 1×2 MDF trim and slide it in place to hide the gaps.

Shim the back wall

Shims on the side of the wall

It also helps to break out the level at this point.


The Pax have cool hidden levelling feet that are good for getting everything square. And screwing it to the wall helps.

I did the same with the large box, and then screwed them together with particle board screws.

The next issue was the fact that the boxes don’t go all the way to the ceiling (if they did, I never would have got them into the closet!) I elected to build a bulkhead on top of the Pax using some 2x2s.





I then covered the front of the bulkhead with a ripped piece of painted MDF from Home Depot, and the bottom of the left side with an extra Pax shelf I bought and cut to size.
Left side shelf

Finally on the left side I built a shelf rail at the same height as the top shelf on the main Pax units and added the clothes rail at the same height.

I finished off the Pax units with the drawers and accessories.




I’m pretty happy with the way it worked out, and it’s given us a lot more storage that can be hidden behind closed doors. I think it cost a fraction of what a custom closet builder would have charged, and the result isn’t too shabby. It took about 2 weekends to complete. And it’s good practice for my next DIY Ikea Hack — installing built-in Billy bookcases.

Levelling the floor

Slightly out-of-order post here. I wanted to go back and talk about how Tom leveled our floors.

As with most renovations of older homes, we found that the structure of the house had taken a bit of a beating with renovations that had occurred over the last 60 years. In addition, in that time, the back of the house had settled at a faster rate than the front of the house, which meant that the second floor sloped by 2 inches over the span of the house. Fortunately Tom had a plan to fix both of these issues.

Tom’s crew ripped up all of the subfloor to get a better look at the structure of the floor. The floor was built with 2×8 floor joists, which now would be considered below code. However, the wood used in the past had a tighter grain as is usually considered stronger than current floor joists.

Old floor joists

Old floor joists

The much bigger problem is that the joists had been weakened by being notched to allow for plumbing and gas. In the photos, you can see some joists have had half of their material cut out! Not only is it dangerous, it leads to really bouncy and squeaky floors.

Tom fixed that problem by sistering 2×10 joints to the existing 2×8 joists. That basically doubles the strength of the floor and provides a level surface for both the second floor and the ceiling of the first floor.

Structural issues

Structural issues

But the really cool thing is that it also allowed Tom to level out the 2 inch sag from the front to the back of the house. At the front of the house (where the floor was high), the top of the new 2×10 is aligned with the top of the existing 2×8 joists, and the extra 2×10 material pokes out at the bottom. At the back of the house (where the floor had sunk by 2 inches), the bottom of the new 2×10 is flush with the bottom of the of existing 2×8, and the extra 2×10 material pokes up. So although the 2x8s have a slope, the 2x10s do not, and our floor and ceiling are level.

In this photo at the front of the house, (sorry, out of focus), you can see the tops of the new 2x10s aligned with the tops of the existing joists.

The tops of the joists are level.

The tops of the joists are level.

At the back of the house, you can see the 2×10’s rising above the existing 2x8s. This way, the entire floor is levelled. Also, at the back of the house, the joists tie into the steel beam that opens up the back of the house. Also visible in this photo is the fact that Tom found it faster just to rebuild the entire back wall of our house!

bottom level

Bottom of joists are level.

Keeping the Hot Side Hot

The insulation of the house was lacking, to say the least. After the previous owners had expanded into the attic, there was no insulation on the roof at all, and the only insulation on the exterior walls was some foam board added under the siding when the siding was bolted onto the house in the 80s.

Because we kept the third floor as usable space, we planned to use spray foam to insulate the roof. You can see in the following shots that we insulated the A-Frame part of the third floor using spray foam.

Not shown are the dormers, but they also have spray foam, so that the roof is entirely sealed with spray foam insulation to the correct R level for the roof. This is a huge improvement over the previous setup.

We also wanted to use spray foam in all the walls, and we were on budget to do so. Spray foam provides a tighter seal for the envelope of the house, and reduces drafts. However, we ran afoul of the building code.

Older houses in Toronto are built much closer to the property line than is allowed for new construction. The buildings are grandfathered into the rules, but you still need to meet fire code ratings on walls that are too close to the property line (and thus close to your neighbours). The North/South exterior walls are too close to our neighbours, and hence we have to use fire-rated insulation in those walls. The spray foam doesn’t cut it, and so we had to use Roxul and vapour barrier. As well, those north/south walls will have to have 5/8″ fire-rated drywall instead of the standard 1/2″.

The south wall can be seen in this photo. The bulk of the insulation is spray foam, where allowed, and the empty areas are to be filled with Roxul and vapour barrier.

The East/West walls, since they are not near to the neighbours, can be filled with spray foam, like the east wall of the kitchen.

And the west wall in the basement. This also has the advantage that the hot water for the radiators can be run in this exterior wall because it’s correctly insulated.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the insulation. I would have preferred spray foam through-out, but some of the cost savings with Roxul allowed us to add interior sound insulation in the inside walls. Cindy had felt that the house had been “echo”-y, so anything to improve the density of the house is good.

In The Walls

I’ve been trying to update the blog with all the details of the renovation. The problem is that I take lots of photos, but Tom and his crew are working so quickly that I don’t get a blog post up in time, and they’ve already moved on!

Here I will show some of the items that are put into the walls before the insulation and drywall go up. They have to plan to get the electrical, plumbing and heat recovery ventilation system installed and in the correct place before the walls can be sealed up. I’ll write a blog post about the insulation next, because we had some issues with the building code in terms of what types of insulation we were allowed to use.

Most of the electrical on the interior walls is pretty straightforward. Sam our designer worked with Jon and the electricians to come up with a lighting plan and a plan for the layout of plugs and switches. For the interior walls, they are just run to boxes. For example, here’s a plug on the knee wall on the third floor. The insulation will be placed on the sloped roof behind the knee wall.

For plugs and switches on exterior walls, the boxes have to be surrounded by plastic enclosures. This is to allow the vapour barrier to be tied to the plastic to minimize air leaks and drafts in the house.

The plumber put in all the feeds for our showers, which have pretty cool regulators built in. This is all done with copper, but then fed from the basement with PEX tubing. This is the head for the master ensuite.

And the feeds for the master vanity.

And a similar setup for the shower in the main bathroom.

On the interior wall of the main bathroom, we’ve centre mounted the taps for the tub. This allows us to sit in the tub looking out the window without seeing the taps at our feet, and also makes sure that the plumbing isn’t on an exterior wall. The red tubing is PEX tubing that feeds the radiators on the third floor.

In the main bathroom, we do have plumbing on the exterior wall. Jon built out a false wall with the plumbing so that the main existing exterior wall can be insulated behind and vapour-barrier-ed.

On the third floor bathroom, we have boxes for two light switches and the fan, and a box for the GFCI plug. The metal tube is the return for the heat recovery unit.

It was impressive to see the plumber and electrician get all the details right inside the walls. The level of planning is pretty impressive.

New Steel

We decided to go “above and beyond” with the roof for the new house.

The standard roofing material in Toronto is a 25 year asphalt shingle applied to the roof, possibly with ice-and-water shielding tar paper underneath the shingles. The shingles can last up to 25 years, but with wind damage, one may have to make repairs as soon as 10 years. Furthermore, the shingles are in direct contact with the roof, making a conductive heat connection to the house. This connection makes it harder to heat and cool the house.

Paul our architect recommended a different approach. He prefers a metal “galvalume” roof, which has the following profile:

The ridges mean that the roof is not thermally connected to the house, and allows for air flow to vent excess heat before it gets into the house. Paul also prefers the natural metal color as it has high solar reflectivity.

We went with Paul’s recommendations, because we agreed with his reasons:

  • The roof lasts for 50 years. It’s basically set it and forget it. We plan to never deal with the roof again.
  • The house is thermally disconnected from the roof.
  • The roof provides solar reflectivity
  • This should reduce the cooling costs of the house — when combined with the improved insulation, our cooling costs should be half of what they were before the renovation.

Paul recommended we go with New Steel Roofers from Hamilton, and they came in and did an awesome job.

They started by strapping the roof on top of the ice and water shield that Tom’s crew had placed over the entire roof surface (we had ice-and-water shield on the whole roof, even though I believe it’s only required 1 metre from the edge of the roof).

Roof strapping

They then installed the grooved Galvalume roof on top of the strapping. The roof is screwed in with lug bolts driven through the high part of the ridge.

More of the metal roof

Metal roof from the third floor window

The majority of the roof (on the gently-sloped part of the dormers and the A-Frame in the rear of the house) is done in the natural Galvalume color, for increased solar reflectivity.

More of the metal roof

In the front 1/4 of the house, that is visible from the street, we used the black metal roof. Although this is less “enviro” we thought we should keep the look of the streetscape consistent with our neighbours and the black trim details. Also visible in this shot is the Iron Grey “Hardie Board” siding that we used on the dormers. I think it looks great.

The roof from the street, along with the Hardie board

I’m looking forward to seeing the aerial shot on Google Maps with our new roof. It should be pretty distinct from the air.

The metal roof is also a great surface to install solar panels on top of, if we ever get around to that side project.

Finally, there’s the issue of the cost. This roof was about 50% more expensive ($5K more) than an asphalt roof. However, with the doubled lifespan of the roof and the reduced energy costs over the lifetime of the roof, we think we’re coming out ahead.


Let the Sun Shine In

Paul the architect decided to big up the size of all the windows in the house, and it’s really made a huge difference.

The house already got quite a bit of sun, based on its east-west orientation, but by making the windows that much larger, we’re going to get that much more light. We had to change some of the locations of windows to facilitate our new layout.

We elected to go with Marvin “Integrity” windows throughout the house, except for the main sliding door at the back. The Marvin’s look great and Tom the contractor says they perform very well. Cindy chose a black trim, and we’re already getting compliments on how good it looks.

At the front of the house, we had to move the window up to allow for the kitchen cabinets to get in under the window. The window will sit just above the kitchen sink.

Front window re-bricked

The brick masons did a great job of changing the size of the opening, and matching the colour of the brick to what was already there. Even so, we will have to paint the brick when it’s all said and done.

Still at the front of the house, we kept the triangle shaped windows that we had on the third floor, and the same bay window shape that we had in our bedroom. We replaced all the windows.

Third floor front window

At the back, the windows are in roughly the same locations, but they are much larger and more symmetric. In the bathroom, it really opens up the space, and we think it looks better from the alley behind our house.

Back windows

Also, with the dormers, we were able to add four small windows that bring in a lot of light to the third floor and to the stairwell between the second and third floor. Very happy with those windows. We thought about doing a hip roof here, but I think Paul was right, and the windows are better.

Finally in the back at the main floor, we put in a monster 16′ sliding glass door. We originally planned on two french doors, but Cindy saw this bad-boy in a magazine, and we thought it was fantastic. It required some tricky dealings (we had to add a steel “spaceframe” around it), but totally worth it.

Back windows.

This is the only window in the house that is not Marvin. It’s a Loewen, because Loewen makes a thin-profile patio door in this size, whereas Marvin only makes a french-patio style door, with thicker rails and styles.

The show piece


Tom’s guys, led by foreman Jon, have been hard at work beefing up the structure of the house. We knew that we would have to add some heft to the house, because our plan calls for opening up the main living space in the back, and the span of the second floor would be too big to do without a beam in the middle of the house.

That means steel!

Furthermore, we are adding dormers to the third floor, to get more usable living space up there. The space was used previously as an office, but we found out during the demo that when the previous owners expanded into the third floor, they didn’t add enough support to bring it up to code. So Jon and the guys revamped the entire third floor to modernize it.

We’ve gained a lot of new space up there.

The last piece of the puzzle is the big 16′ wide glass sliding doors that we are putting on the back of the house, to replace two sets of french doors that were there originally. Given the large amount of glass, we have to provide a way to prevent the shear force of the side walls from deforming the back wall. Tom and our engineer Ken created a “spaceframe” that will encompass the glass doors and provide the structural rigidity to prevent shearing of the back wall. Sweet.

And after framing the second floor opening, with space for the windows on the second floor.



Tom and his crew have started removing material from the inside of our house, and it’s quite a revealing process (see what I did there?) They say it’s going to take about three weeks, but they’ve already managed a lot of work in one. Amazing what four dedicated guys with crowbars can do.

When we were there on the weekend, they had done most of the work in the attic, and then moved on to the two main floors.

Half of the main floor has been removed, and some of the ceiling has been taken down. In the above, you can see they’ve removed the radiators (the blue patches on the wall) so that the rads can be reused once all the work in the walls is complete.

In the following, you can see that the support beam under the second floor joists wasn’t really up to the task, and the joists were beginning to sag a bit. Where the short 2×8 is, you can see the joists starting to flex away from each other. That’s why our plaster was cracking. This is all going to be beefed up.

On the second floor, they’ve worked through our bedrooms and what will be the master ensuite. Very excited.

Finally, we are reclaiming the space on the attic balcony and making it back into a room. So they’ve removed the decking and are preparing it to be “reclaimed” space.

Seeing the house in this state confirmed our suspicions about what was going on underneath, and we’re happy we elected to do it all in one go. Even though there are some issues in the house, the basic bones are still good and we’re happy that we can get the solid house we want without having to change the shape or characteristics of the house.

Finally Getting Going

It’s been a bit of a long haul. We’ve been working for a while to get to the point where our renovation was under way, and work has finally started. The major sticking points were finding the right contractor, getting the building permits, and finding a place to live during the reno.

We met with a number of contractors, all of whom came highly recommended. They were all great folks and gave very competitive bids. In the end, we went with Tom Cumming and his team at Severn Woods Construction. Tom’s a P.Eng and seemed to have a really detailed understanding of all the issues that go into a retrofit like our project. Plus he’s based in the area, and all of his references were incredible. Everyone likes working with him.

While our search for our contractor was ongoing, our architect Paul figured out how to get our building permits, just in the nick of time. There is a rumour going around Toronto that the "inside workers" union is going to be locked out by the City as a negotiation tactic. If that were to occur, no building permits would be issued, and our project (along with everyone else’s) would come to a halt. Fortunately, Paul and Donald got our permits to the City in enough time to get them issued.

Finally, we had to find a place to live. Our friend Margaret, who used to live on the street, bought a house and moved out at the start of February. The timing was perfect, as we were able to move into her (former) apartment on the same street, and get it with a month-to-month lease. As an even bigger favour, Margaret looked after our son for most of Saturday and Sunday so that we could supervise our move to the new apartment.

We’re all moved out of the house, and demolition has started. Crazy to see everything knocked down. Tom believes demo will take about three weeks. After that we should really start to see the project progress.

Getting The Kitchen Planned out

We met with Yoko our kitchen designer last week. She and Cindy had met earlier to get the basics covered, and Yoko came back with her first set of plans for our new kitchen.

The biggest change to our house (with the exception of the dormers on the third floor) is that we are moving the kitchen to the front of the house. Initially when Paul suggested it, we thought it was a strange choice. But now we think it makes a tonne of sense. The front of the house gets the morning light, the stairs go to the front of the house, and with the placement of the stairs, the back of the house is more open, and we can then use that space for a bigger living room.

Yoko’s design has a peninsula coming from one of the walls, a bank for the range top and wall ovens, and a series of pantries. We’re a big fan of the pantries, and of the design that doesn’t have any corner units. Also, this design allows us to put a thin desk under the front window that can help with the “house-management” aspects. The one concern with this design is that it may not have enough counter space.

Here are Yoko’s designs. We’ve already decided to not use a big range hood and instead have upper cabinets above the range top on the north wall.

Thoughts? Comments? We’re interested to know what we are missing.

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