Bring the best of the world to my home reno!
May 24, 2016 7:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm a Canadian doing a large scale home renovation. I know Japanese-style toilets, and German-style tilt and turn windows, and they're amazing. But what else am I missing? Can you recommend any other game-changing home innovations from around the world that aren't common in Toronto, Canada?

For what it's worth, the reno will mainly be two kids bedrooms, a master bedroom, 2 bathrooms, a living room and a home office. However, if you have any great kitchen tips, I'd love to hear them too...

And if there's Canadian or US-centric novel ideas that are simply uncommon, please suggest away!
posted by evadery to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
Bidet showers are a low-key (and, I'd argue, cleaner) version of full bidets. Very common in Asia and the Middle East.
posted by redlines at 7:12 AM on May 24, 2016

This isn't about international home features, but you should still check out this AskMe.

Home office: Standing or walking desk.
Kitchen: Sink that turns on with foot pedal for when you have chicken hands.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:13 AM on May 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

A drain in the bathroom floor.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:15 AM on May 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've always wanted a bathroom with an ofuro in it. I like kitchens that have the plate-drying rack just above the sink or, alternately, just a plate cabinet. I don't know if Canadian cities have the mud room tradition as much as we do in the country but having a place for coats, boots, jackets, hats, winter gear and wet/dirty gear so that stuff doesn't go all the way into the house is a real game changer for me.
posted by jessamyn at 7:35 AM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Baseboard vacuums!
posted by ellieBOA at 7:38 AM on May 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

Drying cabinets are the best thing ever. I don't know if they actually are rare outside Finland or if the other European kitchens I've used have been poorly equipped.
posted by hannala at 8:00 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Power points with switches. Though if you're not used to them, they may be more hassle than they're worth.
posted by kjs4 at 8:00 AM on May 24, 2016

I designed and built our basement bathroom. My favorite thing I did, and people who have seen it love it:

Where the washer and dryer are, I built it with just half of a wall -- the upper half. The lower half is open. From the bathroom side, it looks normal. From the back side (the electrical room), you see the back of the washer and dryer.

This way, you put the appliances in place first, then hook them up. It makes cleaning the dryer vent a breeze. I replaced a sensor in the dryer without having to move it.

posted by yesster at 8:14 AM on May 24, 2016 [12 favorites]

USAians have in-sink garbage disposals as a common thing -- I saw them in the most pedestrian apartments there -- I think I've encountered maybe one in all my years in Canada. I don't really miss having one, but people in the States seem pretty happy with them and unclear on how to get along without one.

Heated driveways are an astonishing luxury. Flick a switch, forget shovelling -- it feels Jetsons-esque.
posted by kmennie at 8:15 AM on May 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

Heated towel rack for the bathroom. (Are these already a thing in Canada? they're not in the US but they are everywhere in the UK).

A ceiling-hung Kitchen Maid for drying clothes. Traditionally, they hung in the kitchen, but over the bathtub may be more convenient for a modern house.
posted by penguinicity at 8:38 AM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Structured cabling is pretty rad, if perhaps slightly superfluous in the modern world unless twitch reflex online gaming is your thing.

Underfloor heating is lovely & frees up wall space that would otherwise be taken up by radiators.
posted by pharm at 8:42 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

For the kitchen, you can get toe kick drawers, which seem pretty awesome to me.
Ugh. Can't get the phone to link anything. Here is a sample site with some pics:
posted by SLC Mom at 8:44 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

USAians have in-sink garbage disposals as a common thing -- I saw them in the most pedestrian apartments there -- I think I've encountered maybe one in all my years in Canada. I don't really miss having one, but people in the States seem pretty happy with them and unclear on how to get along without one.

"Toronto, Ontario has banned garburators altogether, because in the oldest parts of the city, homes have combined water and waste sewers. High nitrogen levels create problems when food waste ends up in the lake."

Please put your food waste in the compost bin, not your sink. Those people in the states probably don't have compost bins. Speaking of compost bins, any sort of built-in-ish slide in/out solution for garbage, recylcing, and compost is useful in a kitchen.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:45 AM on May 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

California cooler for the kitchen. An insulated cupboard with vents to outside.

Compost toilets and a greywater system.
posted by aniola at 8:47 AM on May 24, 2016

Heated floors in the bathroom! I can't express how lovely it is to step onto a warm floor after a shower in the winter. Our cats love, love, love it too.

Those little deep Japanese tubs above are super great to use. If I ever renovated a bathroom, I'd use one instead of a regular long tub.

A sunroom. I'd love one.
posted by john_snow at 9:00 AM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

A Pattern Language is a book (you can find excerpts online too) with lots of ideas of varying scales that make spaces liveable. I have visited a house built using its guidelines and it was AMAZING- at once comfortable, intimate, energizing, welcoming, private, and versatile- everyone loved it.

Airing cupboard- make use of the warm space around the furnace by creating space to hang-dry laundry more quickly. Drying clothes like this also acts as a natural humidifier in the winter.

Very wide windowsills are nice- great for plants and pets.

Don't design bedrooms that adjoin each other, or that adjoin another person's bathroom. Put closets between sleeping spaces, to help buffer noises.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:08 AM on May 24, 2016 [14 favorites]

- Instant hot water. You can also get shower fixtures (right here in TO) that have two dials: one is to set your favoured temperature, which you then basically leave alone forever. The other is on/off. This makes for magical shower experiences.

- Multi-head showers, especially if you do an overhead rain spout, create something luxurious

- Keypad locks on all external doors. Lock automatically behind you, never worry about forgetting your keys again.

- Where possible, run wiring (e.g. audio, etc) behind detachable baseboards. Makes replacement easy.

- Might be personal idiosyncrasy: blinds & curtains in TV room that BLACK OUT EVERY PHOTON FROM COMING IN. Seriously, I cannot stand glare on TV screens, and I love my blinds--they block out virtually everything.


- wall mounted oven separate from cooktop. Because everything's at a better height, it's much safer reaching in. Less strain with the bending and twisting and turning, also.

- Fridge/freezer drawers if you do a lot of cooking at home. Use drawers for quick access stuff, ideally situated beside or under your main cooking prep area.

- Baseboard vacuums are especially useful in kitchens.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:53 AM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, here's a kitchen to salivate over, if you're looking for ideas.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:12 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I saw this in someone's house and have such envy: a closet in the finished basement that's tall enough to hang up sleeping bags for storage, so the down stays nice and fluffy. Any closet should be that tall, but this had the hooks in the right places, was dry, and wasn't full of other stuff.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:51 AM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Good sound isolation between rooms.

You don't have to do everything they do, but sealing all door edges, having light insulation in internal walls, resilient flooring, using 5/8" drywall... will go a long way.
posted by flimflam at 12:01 PM on May 24, 2016

One thing I'm doing in my house is to separate the functions of the bathrooms so that multiple people can use them at the same time, which I find to be a better solution than having a whole bunch of bathrooms in the house. So for example the toilet gets its own small room (in essence a small powder room), the sink and counter (ie the tooth brushing area) is in a separate room with a door to a wetroom. In the wetroom there is a changing area, shower and bath. So someone could take a shower while someone else is brushing their teeth and a third person is going to the toilet within a total space that is much smaller than 3 separate bathrooms but still provides space and privacy.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:04 PM on May 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

If you're tall, consider raising your kitchen counters. (Julia Child was over six feet, and her counters were I think two inches higher.) I am 6'1", and modern under-mounted kitchen sinks leave me reaching down almost to my knees when doing dishes. :7(

Make sure your kitchen cabinets run all the way to the ceiling.

Put in more lights than you think. Use LEDs so your energy budget stays modest and so you can stop throwing away lightbulbs. But be picky about the fixtures and dimmers, because a lot of them cause barely-audible buzzing in various combinations. :7(

If you already have walls open, run some network cabling so you can add a second wifi access point at the far end of the house from your current wireless router, bridging the network too spaces that were under-served before.

Window seats, if you have dormer windows or stairway landings. Love the look and the extra storage.

Add extra outlets with USB ports to make a dedicated charging area, probably located in the corner of the kitchen nearest the rest of the house (like every other north American kitchen these days).

Make sure to have a flat wall in the kitchen where you can hang a whiteboard, chalkboard, or big-ass paper calendar for organizing everything. We recently re-did our kitchen & dining room, and the whiteboard now hangs out of sight (though at least the paper calendar is still there). This has had a negative effect on our Getting Shit Done, and I am still trying to figure out a solution. :7( Some people rig up a cool one-way glass with a computer display behind it to show stuff like the weather and that day's schedule, but simpler stuff works fine for us.

Kitchen sink faucets with a pull-out nozzle are cool, but when you can turn off the water with the same nozzle, it's awwwwwesome.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:04 PM on May 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

On/off switches on the outlets. They do this in Australia and New Zealand.
posted by aniola at 1:24 PM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

If your renovation extends to changing out the floors and the heating system entirely, I absolutely loved the sub-floor hydronic heat in the house I lived in when I was a kid.
posted by mskyle at 1:48 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

We have bathrooms currently, that are divided up by use like mentioned in a previous comment. To me, without a window or skylight these tiny spaces are hideously claustrophobic, almost unusably so. I don't reccomend them.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:26 PM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

A laundry room with one washer and two dryers. Streamlined!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:01 PM on May 24, 2016

Oh! Huge tip!

Put your washing machine and dryer on the second floor. Almost all laundry lives on one floor, yet we haul it up and down multiple flights of stairs. Friends of an ex had a small laundry room in the hall outside the master bedroom. Genius.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:01 PM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

A walk-in shower without a door or threshold (can be done if you have at least a 4'x 4' nook in the bathroom.

A Nebia showerhead. Not yet generally available but saves 70% of shower water usage.

An Ecodrain grey water heat exchanger. (If you're doing multiple bathroom renovations, separate ALL your shower drains from soil pipes and have them all drain through an Ecodrain. Saves you 50% of the cost of shower water heating. Combine with Nebia, you save 85% of shower water heating cost.)

A heat-pump water heater. Twice the efficiency of standard electric water heaters, so combined with the above this gets you to 92.5% savings — practically free hot water for showers.
posted by beagle at 6:53 PM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

An AGA for the kitchen, two or three pieces of Clei Furniture and lighting by Fortuny.
posted by little eiffel at 7:23 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

aniola: "On/off switches on the outlets. They do this in Australia and New Zealand."

You'll want to be selective with this in Canada because of cost. Not only are integrated switch devices more expensive to buy; harder to wire and therefor more labour intensive; they also don't count for code mandated receptacles so they will have to be in addition to regular duplex receptacles.
posted by Mitheral at 1:00 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

In our master bath, the toilet is in a small room by itself. Which means multiple people can get ready in the morning at the same time... and the germ-cloud created by flushing a toilet is separated from where I keep my toothbrush.

Also, the exhaust fans for the room are mounted so the fan is in the attic, not right above the room, so it doesn't make any noise. Easy/cheap/nice touch.

Could be neat:
I would love to have infrared heaters built into the ceiling of my bathroom, so that when the shower turned off, the room stayed *toasty*.

If I was redoing a lot, I'd put an on-demand hot water heater near/next-to the main shower. It takes me 5m to get hot water from garage to the second floor now, and saving many gallons/day would be a damn nice touch.

I'd put a charger into the drawers of the cabinet under the sink, so I could charge an electric razor that didn't need to be on a countertop.

If I was redoing the shower, I'd build in a lot more shelf mounted storage that didn't pool water, so that not everything had to sit in an add-on shower caddy and/or on the floor.
posted by talldean at 4:12 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

talldean: "If I was redoing a lot, I'd put an on-demand hot water heater near/next-to the main shower. It takes me 5m to get hot water from garage to the second floor now, and saving many gallons/day would be a damn nice touch."

You might want to consider a motion activated on-demand recirculation system. It'll bring hot water to your 2nd floor bathroom without wasting water and without you having to wait or at least not wait as long. And you won't need to install a heater next to your bathroom. It's debatable whether you'll save much money and they can be more expensive than just letting the water run but you'll reduce the annoyance of waiting for the hot water.
posted by Mitheral at 5:25 PM on May 25, 2016

What I miss from my Brazilian apartments:
-hammock hooks in the bedrooms
-hand-held bidets
-fully tiled bathrooms and kitchens with a drain in the floor
-flash-heated showers
-ceiling-mounted drying racks (on a pulley system) for line-drying clothes
posted by wallaby at 7:52 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Toilet paper holders that are fastened at one end and rest like Lincoln Logs on the other end. To change the roll you lift the unfastened end up, take the old roll off, put the new one on, drop the end down again. It's really easy to change, you can do it with one hand, no fine motor manipulations, and no strength, but once you drop it back into place it won't budge and the toilet paper never accidentally slides off. Here's a random example from one manufacturer, for people who are visually inclined.
posted by anaelith at 2:38 AM on May 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

My friend has one of these soap things over her bathroom sink and I love it. She says the soap lasts forever and it's particularly great with a little kid.
posted by Cuke at 5:09 PM on May 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

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