The Complete Guide to Renovating a Toronto Home

The Complete Guide to Renovating a Toronto Home

Renovation is expensive and complicated, but it’s a project that can pay dividends if you do it right.

To help you do just that, we put together a guide for Toronto homeowners renovating their properties. Here, we’ll discuss everything you need to know, from building permits to professional help.

We also covered the costs of common home renovation projects as well as a plan outlining general renovation processes to follow.

Obtaining a Building Permit 

Let’s start with the permits. A building permit is necessary to ensure that your renovation project is consistent with the Ontario Building Code, municipal zoning, and other applicable laws.

The permitting process involves five steps that you must complete to earn your permit. These are:

  1. Investigating if your project is compliant with ​​zoning and other applicable laws.
  2. Either hiring professionals to draft plans for you or drafting them yourself.
  3. Applying to the City of Toronto to get a building permit.
  4. Calling for building inspections and starting renovations.
  5. Calling for a final inspection to close your building permit.

When You Need a Building Permit for Renovation in Toronto

In general, a building permit is required here if:

  • You’re building a new structure larger than 10 meters squared or 108 square feet.
  • You’re building an addition to an existing structure (e.g. an attached garage).
  • You’re making structural or material alterations in your renovation project (any renovations that will affect compliance with building regulations: electrical, mechanical, plumbing, etc).
  • You’re demolishing all or part of a building.
  • You’re installing or altering an existing plumbing or electrical system.

If you’re a bit confused about which rule your project falls under, the list below shows all the work requiring a building permit:

  • Adding an attached garage or carport
  • A new opening for a window or door (or if an existing one will be enlarged)
  • Drain repair
  • Green roofs and other environmental building developments
  • Constructing of a deck/porch/balcony (only if the structure is over 60 cm or 24 inches above the ground.
  • Creating a pool fence enclosure
  • Installing of a backwater valve
  • Recladding with brick or stone veneer
  • Building of exterior basement stairwell or entrance
  • Renovating interior parts of a building including
  1. Basement finishes
  2. Altered or new plumbing or mechanical systems
  3. Additional second suits or accessory apartments
  • Installing a backflow prevention device
  • Installing or reconstructing a chimney or fireplace
  • Changing a building’s use and purpose (e.g. from residential housing to commercial office)

Note that there are certain types of work where you’re not required to get a building permit. Still, you have to be compliant with the Zoning Bylaw to ensure utmost safety.

How to Apply for a Building Permit

Residential permit applications are often sent via email. Note that there are various requirements depending on the specifics of your renovation project.

In general, you’ll need to complete all necessary forms and attach all required drawings (site plan, floor plan, construction details, etc). Of course, you’ll also have to pay the applicable fees, still depending on the type of work you’ll do.

Next, you can email all the documents to [email protected] or drop them off in person at Toronto Building customer service counters. For a residential home, the timeframe for a permit is 10 days.

Cost of Common Home Renovation Projects in Toronto and Professional Fees

Now what about the cost? Well, it obviously depends on a lot of factors. 

For starters, you have to look into the scale of the project, the materials involved, and the level of expertise and labor necessary.

In general, it starts anywhere from $275 to $450. If you’re doing a full renovation at a hypothetical 2,000 square feet home, that will land you at a total of $550,000 to $900,000.

To narrow down your calculations, here are some work-specific estimates based on the most common renovations done in the city:

Exterior Renovation Work

ItemPrice per Square Foot (unless stated)
Aluminum siding$2.40 – $4.80
Hardboard siding$3.60 – $7.20
Wood siding$3.60 – $7.20
Exterior stucco$7.00 – $10.00 (sand and cement)

$7.00 – $10.00 (latex-based)

Brick Installation$7.00 – $10.00
Asphalt driveway construction$1.00 – $1.25
Concrete driveway construction$4.00 – $7.00 (plain)

$7.00 – $10.00 (stamped)

Concrete patio$6.00 – $10.00
Wooden deck installation$1,200.00 and up *fixed price
porch or deck flooring replacement$3.00 – up
porch stairs replacement$200 and up (wood)

$300 and up (concrete)

Retaining wall$20.00 and up (wood)

$30.00 and up (concrete)

$25.00 and up (rock basket)

Exterior basement stairway installationStarts at $4,000.00
Exterior basement stairway restorationStarts at $1,500
Detached garage constructionStarts at $10,000.00 (single)

Starts at $15,000.00 (double)

Detached garage demolition and removalStarts at $2,300

Interior Renovation Work

ItemPrice per Square Foot (unless stated)
Drywall installation$1.50 – $$3.00 (over existing plaster)

$7.00 – $9.00 (over unfinished area)

Ceiling tile Installation$2.50 – $6.00 (suspended)

$1.50 – $5.00 (acoustic)

Wood floor installation$5.50 – $12.00
Ceramic tile installation$10.00 (supply and install)

$5.50 - $8.00 (labor)

Windows$140 and up (low-end)

$1,200 and up (high-end)

Doors$750 - $2,000 (based on type and size)
Full kitchen renovationStarts at $7,000
Central vacuum systemStarts at $800
Interior paintingStarts at $1,500
Interior Renovation Work

Roofing Systems

ItemPrice per Square Foot (unless stated)
Metal roofing$23,000 - $45,000
Asphalt shingle$10,000 - $12,000
Cedar shingle$22,000 - $44,000
Slate roofing$34,000 - $35,000

HVAC, Electrical, and Plumbing Jobs

ItemAverage Cost Per Job
Boiler System$3,500
Air Conditioning$1,700 - $3,000

$8,000 - $15,000 (independent system)

Electronic air cleaner$500 - $1,000
New Breaker Panel$700 - $1,200
Exterior outlet installation$250 - $400
Light fixture installation$100 - $250 (interior)

$175 - $250 (exterior)

Water heater replacement$550 - $1,200
Toilet Replacement$300 and up
Vanity & counter replacement$300 and up (single)

$500 and up (double)

Professional Fees

ItemPrice per Square Foot (unless stated)
Architect$2,500 - $4,500.
Building Inspector$17.16 per square meter *for the permit

$2,642 (Municipal Road Damage Deposit permit - does not apply to those who qualified for the FASTRACK program)

Contractor$110 - $255 per square foot

How to Get Started With Home Renovation

Planning a complete home renovation or just want to overhaul certain parts of your home? Here’s a general approach to home renovations that you can apply to any project:

Contact Professionals for Planning and Design

Obviously, you need to start with the bare bones of your renovation project. This includes basic planning, organization, budgeting, and of course, applying for your building permit.

As per the design of your home, you can start with a simple sketch that you’ve begun yourself. However, it’s more advisable to connect with a general contractor to help, especially if you have a strict budget.

These contractors essentially do everything for you, from core design choices to material sourcing to permit application. All you have to do is sit down with them, share your ideas, and stay posted during the entire process.

At this, you should also consider reaching out to other design professionals, if you find it necessary. For instance, you can connect with an architecture firm if you’re planning extensive exterior work or reconstruction.

Start With Bigger, More Complex Tasks

By big and complex tasks, we mean the parts of the renovation that will require intense labor hours and those that will news structural alterations. This can include installing new roofing systems or fixing weakened walls.

The reason you’d want to start with those is that they can pose serious safety risks during renovation. So, they’re not jobs that you’d want to put off last or in the middle of another ongoing project.

The other consideration is the time and budget. Large-scale jobs tend to be more demanding of time and money, so you need that timeframe in case something out of plan arises and you have to come up with adjustments as a result.

Organize HVAC, Plumbing, and Electrical Work First

Any renovation that involves modifying your HVAC, plumbing, or electrical system needs to be prioritized. This is because the process includes stripping down your walls, its reinstallation, and thorough cleanup.

Simply put, it’s a lot of work that may even require you to leave your home for a while, depending on its scale. Plus, this series of jobs call for the expertise of various professionals so clear organization is necessary.

For example, fixing your boiler system requires HVAC contractors to deal with the job. But if it’s an electrical issue, then obviously, you’d have to call licensed electricians to address any changes.

Install New Windows, Doors, and Flooring

Windows and doors can be a tricky project depending on the change involved. For example, if you just want to replace them, then you can easily get new windows and doors and have them installed.

But, if you want these points of entry enlarged, then that already involves structural changes. So now, it counts as a complex project which you have to deal with as early as possible.

As per flooring, it really isn’t a demanding upgrade – you can even do it as the final stage of your renovation. What matters is that you select the right material, in the right texture, and in the correct color that matches your home.

Finish Interior Touches

Once you’re happy with all the renovations, touch up the interior with proper finishing, because this can make the difference between something that looks professional and something entirely DIY-ed. This can include painting your interior walls and sealing trims.

There are actually some contractors you can hire to help you out with this stage too. If you go to a decent contractor, though, they can often provide finishing services themselves, from detail painting to finish carpentry.

It may be advisable to consider the interior designing phase at this final step of the actual structural renovation. Doing this means you’ll have more room for additional changes in case you don’t like your first setup.

On that note, hiring an interior designer isn’t a must but it does help too. It can help you keep your final results cohesive and in line with what you truly envisioned when you began your renovation.

Things to Inspect Post-Renovation

It can be hard to pinpoint hidden issues during the renovation. During your post-renovation inspection, make sure to look beyond the surface and look underneath to address unexpected issues.

Specific problems can deteriorate and pose a threat to your safety over time, so you do not want to skip this step. Make sure to look into the following once your contractor completes the job:

  • Signs of water damage 

Serious and sneaky. Sometimes, there aren’t even any physical signs that illuminate this damage. It can be anything from leaks in the roof to busted pipes in the kitchen and bathrooms.

Look out for dark and wet spots and pooling water underneath pieces of wood. If your home starts smelling kind of damp and moldy, that is usually a telling sign that there’s water damage.

  • Foundation cracks on walls

If the cracks are as thin as a strand of your hair, you don’t need to worry at all. What you want to look for are horizontal cracks that usually run at a 45-degree angle with a slightly jagged formation.

Once you start seeing these, it means that there is severe foundation shifting going on or serious water damage. Depending on the damage, your wall might need some reconstruction – basically putting you back to square one.

Also, look out for cracks that look like a flight of stairs (cracks that run in both horizontal and vertical directions). This is usually a sign that the cinder block foundation wall is starting to crack so focus on your unfinished basement to inspect for these signs.

  • Outdated electrical work

Any electrical work that can’t keep up with modern electronics is a definite fire risk. Obviously, electrical work has to be up to par with current codes and standards as prescribed in the city’s building regulations. 

The wiring in your home must have a ground-fault circuit interrupter or GFCI. In the event of a ground fault, this will automatically cut off your power supply, erasing any risks of fire.

How to Deal With Unexpected Issues Post-Renovation

If you find any alarming problems about the renovation, here are some solutions to try:

  • Appeal to your contractor

Issues like these are often linked to contractors being lousy with their obligations. Start by taking photos and videos of the issues and writing a document describing the problem in as much detail as possible.

Once you’re done, appeal to your contractor and present the pieces of evidence you’ve collected. A reputable and trusted contractor will mostly take the matter back into their hands and provide solutions as agreed in your initial contract.

  • Call professional help

Another alternative is to contact professionals to deal with a specific issue. This is recommended if you have minor problems that need fixing ASAP.

For instance, if you have broken pipes, you can call in a plumber to prevent further damage. Just make sure that they have solid warranties on both parts and labor so you can hit them back in case the water turns rough again.

  • Share your thoughts online

Opinions are currency these days and clients’ feedback matters more than company promises. If you find poor and faulty work in your home, go online, share your thoughts, and listen to tips that other users may give you.

Of course, you have to tread carefully so it doesn’t seem like a baseless accusation to your contractor. Try to be as detailed as possible and upload the pictures of the issues too – much better if you one to the reviews forum of the contractor’s website.

Cleaning Up and Moving Back

Let’s imagine that everything went perfectly. You’re happy with the renovation and now it’s time to clean up and move back home to start anew.

So, where should you start first? Focus on the following steps to get things back on track:

  • Clean up and remove junk

If you have a contractor, they’ll do most of the post-work clean-up for you. But if that’s not enough for your preferences, you can always contact a cleaning service for some serious deep cleaning.

Of course, you can always do the cleaning yourself if you feel more comfortable with that arrangement. As a rule of thumb, always start from top to bottom and clean first before you disinfect.

For any remaining junk, it’s advisable to get junk removal services because these involve big items. This will allow you to get rid of your broken appliances as well as pieces of furniture that you won’t need anymore.

  • Moving back to your home

During your renovation, you might need to book a short-term rental somewhere else to stay. Now that the work is done, it’s time to move your things back to your home.

Ideally, if you only had to bring pieces of clothing with you, you can simply drive back home with your family. But if you had to bring large items with you (appliances, furniture, etc.), you might want to get a mover for that.

Movers keep an inventory of your belongings for you as well as the packing and overall logistics. It can be quite costly, yes, but it can save you back pain and time.