Author: Mike Burns

MRB Contracting, halifax nova scotia, contractor, builder,

03 Dec Inspiration | looking back to look ahead

The year is quickly drawing to a close. I think back to what we were doing a year ago and it seems at once near and far. On December 3rd, 2012 I wrote a blog post about a vinyl record we'd found stuffed in a wall of an old home we were renovating in the North End. The '45 was Lloyd Price's Who Coulda' Told You - an R&B single released in 1960. Singers and song writers play a big role in building our memories, as their songs become soundtracks to the seasons of our lives. As builders, we too help to build memories. The homes we build will provide shelter for people who will laugh and cry, love and lose love, and struggle and succeed. And if the house is built well, generations will experience their lives under the roofs we erected. This blog post is not about nostalgia. It's about remembering that we love what we do. And that although, as Mike Burns puts it, we are "hammers and nails," we're also dream makers, crafting living spaces where dreams can grow and families can flourish for generations. I'll indulge in a little nostalgia with Lloyd Price from 1960. ...

Read More

28 Nov Amos Wood | street view redo

Did you miss Amos Wood yet? The guys have been there all along, refining all the structural details that you'll never see but nevertheless play an integral role in the finished product. Aside from continuing the interior, the team ripped off the entire facade. The photo below shows an almost uninterrupted view of Agricola Street. The extra light allowed for better detailed photos of the interior framing. The place is beginning to take shape. Some of the interior walls are complete. New sheathing and a deck were added up top. Our usual window and door program was used here as well. Finally, a view of Amos Wood from across the street. It won't be long before the team starts cladding and then we'll really have something! ...

Read More
MRB Contracting, Diamondback Toolbelts

26 Nov Handmade | Diamond Back tool belts

First off we should say that this is not a plug for Diamond Back tool belts. We wanted to write about the belt company because we feel that their ethos and craftsmanship embody our own values. A few of us here at MRB have invested in these tool belts. I say invest because the bags are more expensive than what most carpenters use. Additionally, the wait time can be several weeks as each belt is custom made by a very small crew of people. As carpenters we carry a few pounds of tools and fasteners. Our jobs require us to climb, squat and scramble all day long, often carrying lumber and power tools. Wearing a heavy tool belt all day long can be tough on your body. And most tool belt systems are not designed with good ergonomics in mind, unlike other similar gear carriers like hiking backpacks, etc. These guys have taken the time to design a system that distributes the weight well, has all the bells and whistles, and lasts a long long time. Two of the guys here have had theirs for over 5 years and aside from dirt and glue, they are as strong and comfortable as the...

Read More
MRB contracting, Clifton St., ICF

21 Nov Clifton St. | ICF walls

In the last Clifton St. update we talked about the footings. Since then the team has been busy assembling the ICF blocks for the basement. Aside from a few days of heavy rain, the project has run quite smoothly. ICF stands for Insulated Concrete Forms. There are several key benefits to using ICF. [list type="check"] ICF acts as a form for concrete, reducing the use of lumber normally used to form concrete walls Minimal (if any) air leaks and significantly reduced heat loss High insulation R-value No thermal bridges due to the continues insulation Better humidity regulation - especially important for a basement Sound absorption [/list]   Each row of interlocking ICF blocks is reinforced with steel. The steel runs in a continuous loop around the wall with minimal 30" overlap. The styrofoam blocks can be easily cut with a handsaw. The photo below shows the plastic webbing inside the blocks. The webing serves as a stabilizer and a placeholder for the steel bar. The excavation crew came back to connect the sewer lines. After the walls are complete, a system of scaffolding/bracing is erected. This scaffold will allow us to walk around the wall to fill the void with concrete. It also helps us straigthen the walls to ensure that everything is aligned perfectly before...

Read More
MRB Contracting, beach cottage, modern architecture, kingsburg

19 Nov Testimonial | The Shoebox

We are always humbled when we get testimonials like the one below from Kevin and Jodi - owners of the Shoebox in Kingsburg. An artist with a painfully scrutinizing eye for fit and finish along with a registered architect and residential developer that has directly managed the creation of over 1500 homes squarely qualified us demanding clients. In addition, living in Vancouver meant that we would be building remotely. This set up our two main criteria for selecting the builder of our dream cottage:  1.Someone we could trust implicitly as we couldn't be there 2.Someone that was capable of digitally communicating every detail of the progress on the site, every day. 3.Someone that really understood modern architecture and the attention to detail . We investigated nine builders, interviewed four, then narrowed it down to two to provide initial proposals with their thoughts on budget and timeline. Ultimately we settled on MRB and we are very glad that we did.  MRB completely delivered on our expectations with respect to communication that included almost daily photographs, e-mails, and precise budgeting/invoicing. Through this detailed communication and the ongoing dialogue through the many design iterations and budget adjustments MRB ultimately delivered on our first criteria; trust.  With respect to attention...

Read More
MRB Contracting, renovation, amos wood, vaproshield

14 Nov Amos Wood | updates from Agricola St.

Back to business as usual. This time with some updates on our Agricola St. project for Amos Wood. In the last blog about Amos Wood the guys had begun interior framing. As you can see from the photos below lots has happened since. Fresh concrete meets ancient stone wall in the basement by the front entry. What's not to love about this unplanned aesthetic amalgamation. Spanking new plywood sheathing on the rear wall. Plywood is our material of choice for all sheathing applications for various reasons (check out our Plywood vs. OSB post). Photos often don't show how big things really are. Take this back door for example - it's about 9' x 9'. It seems like all of a sudden it's cold and the days are as short as they get. Nothing a set of industrial string lights and hot coffee can't remedy. As always, thanks for reading! Feel free to drop as an email or leave a comment....

Read More
MRB Contracting, renovations, decks, garage, contractor, halifax

12 Nov Inspiration | a case for urban density

As our home base is in North End Halifax, like our neighbours we are faced with questions around urban planning and urban density on the Halifax peninsula. From issues around parking permits and multi-residence structures, to the greater city planning vision, we see both the struggle and the opportunities for positive sustainable growth in our city. What exactly is urban density? Here's the Wiki definition: Urban density is a term used in urban planning and urban design to refer to the number of people inhabiting a given urbanized area. In his TED Talk, Jeff Speck talks about the ills created by unbridled suburban growth in the U.S. He goes on to talk about how promoting urban density can create much more vibrant and resilient cities. It's an interesting viewpoint at the very least, and a great starting point for a dialog on Halifax's current HRM by Design plan. HRM faces continuing urban sprawl, increasing the number of people who drive into the city each day for work. With limited space for cars, the dilemma is not an easy one to resolve....

Read More
MRB Contracting, Clifton Street, footings

07 Nov Clifton St. | concrete for the footings

Where were we? Yes right, footings. After getting the Form-A-Drain installed it was time to make some forms for interior footings. Then we  draped the Form-A-Drain in drain cloth to keep out silt and other debris that may hamper drainage. The photo below shows the footings before concrete. All the steel is in, and everything is braced and ready to pour. The only way to get the concrete all the way around the footprint of the home is to use a pump truck. Lucky for us it worked out. Otherwise we would have been there quite a while with wheelbarrows. Proper trowling technique is a must. Cory shows us how it's done. The next step is the Delta-Footing cloth. You can never take too many precautions when it comes to moisture mitigation. It's getting cold and we didn't want the fresh concrete freezing overnight. A blanket of hay does the trick. Warm and cozy. The next step is to fill the exterior and interior of the footing with gravel to both provide drainage and bring the grade up for concrete. The stone slinger operator had a great technique in spreading the raining gravel evenly across the house. Now it's it's time to prepare for the ICF installation....

Read More
mrb donation

05 Nov Community involvement | MRB table for Scott Jones

Our photographer friend Kelly Neil is currently holding an online auction to help raise money for Scott Jones. Scott is the victim of a violent attack that left him paralyzed. You can read more news about Scott and community support efforts on his website.   The MRB woodshop designed and built a one-of-a-kind Baltic Birch exposed edge hoop table veneered with high gloss white laminate, on top of custom walnut ply base. You can bid on the table a bunch of other cool local products on Kelly's website. Proceeds go to the Scott Jones fund. Click here to see the items up for auction and help support this noble cause....

Read More
MRB Contracting, halifax, foundations, formadrain

31 Oct Clifton St. | footings

Work has begun in earnest on the Clifton St. house. Since our last update the two old homes were demolished. The lot was excavated, service lines were installed, and space was made to build the foundation. Below is what the lot looked like after demolition and excavation. The black hose in the bottom of the photo is from a water pump. It's not uncommon for some groundwater to filter to the surface when land is excavated like this. It was a muddy mess. Generally the concrete forms for pouring footings are built with wood. For this project however we are using a hollow PVC Lego like form that's a "3-in-1 foundation solution that forms footings, provides an integrated drainage system, and can be easily adapted to vent radon." The hollow core in the forms allows water to drain away from the foundation rather than pool or seep into the basement. It's tough to make  sense out of what's happening in the photos. In the next post we''ll have photos of the completed footings and the footprint of the house will be clear. Lot's more to come on this project. Stay tuned....

Read More
mrb contracting, paralam beam, south end reno

29 Oct What ever happened to that 850lb. beam?!

Remember the recent blog post about installing the giant parallam beam? Since then much has happened on this project and though these are not the final photos they will give you an idea as to what the final outcome will be. As a refresher, here is what the room looked like before the new beam was installed. Here is what it looks like now. The rooms are being painted and the floors refinished. Keep checking in for final photos of this South End Halifax renovation. It's quite a transformation. ...

Read More
MRB Contracting, renovation, cedar shingles, vent grid, vaproshield

24 Oct Cedar shingles | why we love them

We love cedar shingles. Why? The aesthetic of cedar shingles is timeless and transcends many architectural genres. From ultra traditional Victorian homes to modern cubes, cedar shingle cladding provides a beautiful texture and an organic feel not achieved with other cladding materials such as vinyl. The other reason we love cedar shingles? They provide superior weather proofing and can last for a very long time. It's not uncommon to find perfectly dry sheathing under 50 year old shingles.   As with any wood cladding material, proper installation is a must. Cedar's natural weathering properties allow it to last for many years while exposed to the elements. Installation plays a key role in ensuring the longest life span. On this renovation project we were tasked with matching a dormer and wall with cedar shingles - matching the look on the rest of the home. The first order of business after removing the old cladding and trim was to install a house wrap and rain screen. For house wrap we used VaproShield. The black mesh seen here is the rain screen material called Ventgrid. Ventgrid provides a 1/2 inch air space between the house wrap and the shingles. This means that when water does make it through...

Read More
MRB Contracting, Agricola street, renovation, amos wood, North End

22 Oct Amos Wood | interior framing begins

A couple of weeks ago we started chronicling our latest North End renovation for Amos Wood. Since the last update the guys have been working hard re-framing some of the structural elements of the building. Temporary walls were erected to put in new LVL support beams. 2x6 studs are used to straighten and re-frame the interior walls. Often with old homes like this one the walls are curvy and out of plumb. Aside from the aesthetic problems, crooked main walls will affect everything from interior connecting walls to finishes, so this step is key. It's always interesting to see the old bones and the touches that previous owners added to the place. This purple fireplace door is no exception. Another view of the old walls. Here you can see the plaster seeping through the lath. This old doorway is still standing, but not for long. A view of the backyard from upstairs. Our lumber rack is full and the beams and floor joists are ready for installation. The neighbors pet owl keeps an eye on us. ...

Read More
MRB Contracting, fence, slats

17 Oct We build fences too

Summertime. What a better time to build a new fence in the backyard? Traditionally, fences were built to restrict movement across boundaries. In dense urban areas fences are a great way to add privacy. We designed this fence to serve both purposes. The slat design is a recurring theme for us and we've done various interpretations of it. This particular iteration uses the same dimension of wood and space to create a symmetrical viewscape along the property line. The only break in the line is the tree that straddles the  property line. We decided it was best to let nature be and work with the tree. ...

Read More
MRB Contracting, north end halifax, modern architecture

15 Oct Clifton St. -our latest North End Halifax project

We are super excited about this new family home. By the time you read this, these two old homes will be no more. In their place will be a modern family home that will utilize many advanced technologies in energy efficiency, rain water harvesting, and structural design. There are so many cool things going on with this new place that it's hard not to spill all the details. We can tell you that the gardens and home are designed in harmony. Stay tuned for more updates. ...

Read More
Kingsburg, beach house, MRB Contracting

08 Oct Kingsburg I revealed

Those of you who've been following our blog over the last year will remember the Kingsburg beach houses. We chronicled the progress of two homes from start to finish. Now we are pleased to show you the homes as they exist with their owners personal touches. Photos by Kelly Neil. First off is Kingsburg I, designed by architect Chad Jamieson, Halifax. We'll let the photos speak for themselves. ...

Read More
MRB Contracting, south end halifax, renovations, parallam

03 Oct How to install an 850 pound beam

Creating an open living space in an older home is often one of the key facets of a renovation. While on the surface it can seem straight forward - [take out that wall and those posts and patch the ceiling], the reality is that often there are structural demands that require an engineers input. This South End Halifax home had three posts dividing a large living room. A previous addition to the home extended the living outward and the posts were installed to support the beam. In order to remove the two middle posts, an engineer specficied installing a 22' x 18" x 7" parallam beam to span the room. Easy right? Yes and no. We built two supporting walls on either side of the old beam, both on this floor and down below in the basement. These temporary walls will provide support while the old posts and beam are removed. Steevo  uses a sledge hammer to remove the old posts. The old beam was sandwiched between the old floor joists and the newer ones from the previous additions. The red pipes are from the in-floor heating. In the photo below you can see the empty space between the floor joists. The area was widened...

Read More

01 Oct Amos Wood | in the beginning

Recently we unveiled our Agricola Street renovation project for Amos Wood. Since then, the demolition crew  stripped the inside so that we could get started on our end. Not ones to sit around, we saw it fit to dig out the backyard to cast the supports for the new deck. Because Agricola Street homes are really close together, the only way to dig was by hand. Angus, never too shy to tackle hard work, toiled away for quite some time to get this thing dug. Chester dog was there on this drizzly day to provide moral support as we prepped the forms for concrete. Site forman Scott is meticulous to a fault. Here he is setting up a string line that will act as a control line to measure the 8 concrete supports for the new deck. Scott too doesn't shy away from heavy work. Below we  see him blurring time with his aggressive root chopping pick axe style. Meanwhile, across the back fence lived a prolific apple tree - right in the middle of Canada's largest city east of Montreal. Back to the task at hand, six of eight concrete forms are braced and ready to pour. And voila! It seems as if four-foot-deep stepping stones landed...

Read More

26 Sep A happy winner!

Mieke stopped by the office this week to pick up the table her husband John DeWolf won in our giveaway a few weeks ago. Congratulations guys! We hope you enjoy it. For more information about our tables and custom furniture visit the our shop page on our website. ...

Read More