the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for design

VELD's Vrijdag Verses – 13

“good taste can elevate the moral fiber of the nation”

-James S. Ackerman, Architect. Villa:Form and Ideology of Country Houses


10 Cottage Design Must-haves

Well I managed to have a vacation last week with my 6-month old and husband. We stayed at a cottage near the beach in Ontario. And although I managed to avoid most work, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of design at the cottage we rented.  So here are some must-haves for your cottage design, or even questions to ask the owner when renting.

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1. Hose down area! If not for messy kids, then for your sandy feet. There’s nothing like having an outdoor hose (perhaps run over your roof to collect solar heat, so it’s not icy on your toes), with a rounded stone area for drainage to get all the dirt and sand off your feet and shoes before going in the house.

2. A clothes line. Especially if you are at a beach cottage. It should be located in the sun and quickly accessible in case of rain (especially during this summer). Nothing is worse than putting on a wet bathing suit, or one with an earwig in because it was damp over the porch railing!

3. A big deck. Hopefully located facing south so you can enjoy the sun. But see next must have…

4. Shade. Sun is great, but its hard to enjoy the outdoors if you and your children are burning up. Create overhangs , properly sized to reduce the hottest sun rays from 2-4. Or strategically plant some trees. No one wants to be cooped up inside the cottage on your vacation, because there is no shade.

5. Storage spaces. These can be for bikes, lawn chairs, strollers, firewood, etc, that don’t fit inside the small confines of a cottage but are essential to keep dry for use at a moments notice. Overhangs, back sheds, or garages work great and should be convenient locations on the property, hopefully hidden from public view and unauthorized borrowers.

6. Natural ventilation possibilities. Whether your burning supper or its ridiculously too hot to sleep, most cottages do not have the luxury of AC, so the strategic location of operable windows with screens is critical. Natural ventilation cools the house, and doesn’t allow the bugs in. Refer to number 4 to reduce the direct sun on the house and minimize indoor heating.

7. Windows towards the view. If you have a cottage site with a view, take advantage. Put big windows here, not small punched windows. Having a view when it rains on your vacation makes it that much bearable to be stuck inside. Too often I see houses with a great view and tiny little windows. It’s a shame, really.

8. Soundproof walls, and not for the reasons your thinking! We vacationed with two other couples each with a baby under a year. So when baby one wakes up at 3am , it is a relief that baby two or three can’t hear them and also wake up! Otherwise it makes for 6 very tired parents.

9. Protect your septic bed from vehicles. If your septic bed or tank is in  a location where someone might park (ie your front yard). Make sure you prevent this. Septic beds are not designed to hold the weight of cars and can be damaged if parked on. Use plants, fences, or other landscape features to prevent accidental parking. Do not plant large trees close to your weeping bed either, as roots can also damage the system.

10. A roof and comfy mattress! It is a cottage, but if you sleep good, and don’t get wet when it rains, it should be a good vacation!

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And one more bonus for good measure…

11. No carpets! Carpets hold beach sand very well, and who vacuums on vacation. Skip the carpet and go for easily sweepable floors. Lots of hooks around to hang coats, clothes, towels, etc. This should help keep clutter off the floor, couches, chairs, and tables.

"Do you do permit drawings?"

This is a question I get asked a lot, but sometimes permit drawings are not what a client really needs. Of course I do permit drawings; it’s a necessary part of the design/building process, but there is two things you should know.

1. there are thousands of decisions required to be made before a permit drawing can be made, and

2. permit drawings are different from construction drawings (and you probably need both to complete your project).
I  will elaborate.

It not as easy as just drawing up a set of plans. For every line that gets drawn a decision needs to be made; how big should this room be, what should the walls be made out of, what are the cost implications of this finish type, what does the building code require, how does this affect a users experience,what size of floor joist to use, post & beam or stud construction, how does this material connect to the next, where is the ductwork going to go, etc. Therefore When a client asks me “do you do permit drawings” there are many steps required to be made before getting to that stage. It like trying to plant a field before you’ve decided what seed, no-till or not, organic or conventional.  You need a plan to get there.

Everything is connected to each other, you want to put stone on the wall, we need to supply plywood backing and perhaps a bigger stud. A lot of decisions need to be made before arriving at a set of permit drawings, even if you come to me with a sketch. Many people can get overwhelmed by this as they just wanted permit drawings, but that’s why you hired the architect; to help inform you to make these decisions, that are the right solution for you.

After we have gathered enough knowledge and made enough decision to prepare some permits drawings it is important to understand the difference between a permit drawing and a construction drawing. A permit drawing contains information the building department is interested in like fire separations, exit distances, stair dimensions, sprinkler systems, etc. These items are very different from what your builder is interested in, how to construct a wall, how it connects to the foundation and the roof, is there a vapour barrier.  A set of permit drawings can be very simple, where a construction set can be very complex and detailed.

Permit drawings contain information that the building inspector at your municipality wants to see, to prove the building conforms to the Ontario Building Code.  Things the building department cares about are washroom sizes (ensuring they are barrier-free), fire separations if required, plumbing design, basic electrical design, and basic structural if required. The building department a basic permit set, with the minimum information.



Example of a page typically found in a permit set. Ontario Building Code Matrix and Washroom details

Permit Drawings Typical Contents:

  • Building Code matrix
  • basic floor plan
  • stair drawing
  • basic site plan
  • basic elevation occasionally



Example of a page found in a construction drawing set. Details of wall and bulkhead construction.

If your contractor uses a permit set for construction he would not be happy and would be calling me all day for dimensions and details. That’s because the building department doesn’t care about room sizes generally, doesn’t care about non-loadbearing wall construction, nor about finishes. So a construction set of drawings contains dimensions that help the trades layout stud walls, what colour to paint the walls, what the walls are made of. The other major difference between permit drawings and construction drawings are the details. A construction drawing set looks at some of the key intersections in the project and works through how they should be constructed.

Construction Drawings Typical Contents:

  • site plan and setout drawing
  • and sequencing, phasing, or construction related drawings
  • detailed floor plan layout
  • detailed elevations
  • detailed building sections
  • details of particular parts of the building (ie, window sills, door frames, beam connections, trim details, special features, details of wall assemblies)
  • structural drawings
  • mechanical drawings
  • electrical drawings
  • finish material selections and specifications
  • door and window sizes and specifications
  • millwork drawings (if requested)
  • interior elevations describing where to place lights, switches, outlets, trim, paint colours, etc.
  • warranty requirements



Example of a typical sheet found in construction drawings. Door schedule and specifications describing the types of doors the Contractor is to price and install.

Another important distinction between permit and construction drawings is the ability to obtain pricing.  A permit drawing set will not have sufficient detail for a number of contractors to quote and you to compare apples to apples. With a construction set of drawings there is enough detail that a contractor does not need to guess or assume anything about the project and can provide very accurate quoting. This allows you the client to obtain competitive pricing you can compare and select the best price.

But in short, “yes, we do permit drawings!”

For more information on permit drawings and construction drawings and other phases of design, please feel free to download our free guide. “7 steps to Realizing your Project: The Design Process”