109-Year-Old Home Renovation

By Fred Larsen – Special to SUNonline/Orillia

When Danny Borzellino bought the former Grant family home at the intersection of Laclie St. and Brant Avenue in 2022, he knew he was buying a piece of Orillia history.

The house was originally the home of Lewis and Daisy Grant who moved from England to Toronto in the early 1900s. In 1909, the Grants bought rural property (now the Couchiching Conservancy’s Grant’s Woods) in Severn Township as a summer cottage. Five years later the family moved to Orillia, into the house on Laclie Street.  The Grants enjoyed a wide range of interests, from film-making to languages and the arts.  Readers can learn more about their history and contributions to Orillia on the Couchiching Conservancy website.

Danny Borzellino was born in Toronto to a family from Southern Italy.  Danny’s father, a carpenter, taught young Danny to build furniture—a life-long skill that has been invaluable on this project. Danny attended York University and graduated in Business, before earning his Civil Engineer Technologist papers. He became experienced in the building trades and successfully led numerous projects, including the landscaping of the Millennium Trail at Panoramic Point in 2009, and was Project Manager for the landscaping at the OPP Headquarters in Orillia in 2017/18.

In 2018, a serious car accident changed Danny’s life and he was unable to return to his career. Seeking a fresh start and better quality of life, Danny fell in love with the former Grant family home in Orillia and purchased it in 2022.

What Danny didn’t realize at the time was that the home had fallen into a great deal of disrepair.  At this point, the story of Danny Borzellino and the Grant Home then became the story of learning about the deficiencies and challenges of living in a 109 year old house.  It also became the story of turning a century home into an efficient, sustainable and comfortable residence.

Danny moved into the house in September of 2022. In addition to finding water in the basement, the inspection done by Simcoe Muskoka Home Comfort confirmed that the house’s heating system was at the end of its life. Indeed, the furnace quit in October, leaving Danny with no home heating throughout a very cold November. With the help of a few cords of wood from a friend, Danny took advantage of an old fireplace to keep warm until the system could be replaced in December.

The home energy audit was completed in October with a second follow-up inspection. The long list of deficiencies, beyond the obvious HVAC and electrical, was estimated to cost between $150,000 and $250,000.  The first task necessary was with the gas works – furnace and appliances – which was completed by December. 

Danny Borzellino shows the thick exterior walls

The next priority was to insulate the building. The basement walls were outfitted with batting wherever accessible. This insulation was in addition to the almost two-foot thick walls of the original foundation. Through Enbridge Gas he applied for both a Greener Homes Grant of $10,000 for the insulation and a Greener Homes loan for $30,000 (10 years, no interest) and was successful in getting both the loan and a grant of $9,000, the latter of which covered much of the cost of the insulation.

The insulation made a significant difference. His gas and electric bills for December had been almost $2000 – for just one month!  After the insulation work was completed, Danny’s monthly heating bill was reduced by half. He was making progress.

His third priority became the windows. While some had been replaced over the years, others were still the original single-pane windows. He had them replaced—along with the sealing and trim around them.  It took close to five months through some cold weather, but with the new insulation and updated windows in place, by January of 2024 the basement was dry and the house had a tight seal.

Piping for radiant heating system

The house came with a 100 amp electrical service that could not support the home’s electrical needs, so Danny added an upgrade to a 200 amps to his list of jobs. In addition, Danny had a heat pump installed in November 2023. The gas boiler became a backup unit, along with an air handler to circulate the air throughout the house. Radiant heating in the floors of the kitchen and the bathrooms circulated heat through the flooring from the boiler. 

Danny took full advantage of all government programs, both federal and provincial, including the Ontario Renovates program, Ontario and federal assistance on his electrical rates, and, as mentioned above, a Greener Homes ten-year loan of $30,000 (which he is paying back at $240 per month—with no interest). He has also been fortunate to have had the help of many friends—Neil, Mike, Jennifer, Dave, Renato, Joseph, Megan, James, Aaron, Sandro, Nap, Alex, and son Gino among them. Their help saved Danny a lot of labour and expense.

The new heat pump

Danny is also appreciative of inspections and advice from local companies—Simcoe Muskoka Home Comfort, Mariposa Landscape Supply, TCC Contracting, Northern Insulation, Home Depot, Home Hardware, Crystal Air Solutions (the heat pump) and, of course, Enbridge Gas.

He did his homework, and his math. and today his monthly gas and electric expenses are just 25% of what he was paying when he first moved into the house.  As Danny’s gas bill goes down, his electric bill goes up somewhat; however, the overall cost of maintaining the home is way, way down. 

Next, Danny plans to insulate the attic with spray foam which will provide more living area. Fireplaces upstairs will be decommissioned and their chimneys capped. A pellet stove will be installed in one of the main floor fireplaces that Danny estimates will, if needed, heat the whole house. Though the roof was done in 2021, the flashing was incomplete, so this is also on the list.

All this work has come with a hefty price-tag. The cost of removing the deficiencies in the Grant House will reach $150,000 or more. However, reducing the cost of living in the house by 75%—heating, hot water, and electricity—has made a significant difference.  Although it will take some time to recoup his total investment (minus the program dollars he qualified for), Danny knows his monthly living costs from now on will be low and, most importantly, manageable.

Danny aspires to create an event centre at the Grant House—a place for social gatherings. With cooperation from the Couchiching Conservancy and advice from Orillia CDC, he will be hosting two events at the home for the Conservancy, the first on June 15th (Tour the Taste of Italy), the second on October 31, a Masquerade Ball based on the 1920’s Prohibition Era. These events will provide guests an opportunity to see the Grant House has become a home for the future.

Somehow, it’s possible the Grants, the family who originally donated their forest land to the Couchiching Conservancy for posterity, would be pleased with Danny’s efforts to make the best of a bad situation by upgrading their lovely old home. The home as it is now is the result of a community effort,  a collaboration between levels of government, local companies, and friends new and old. Danny makes clear he could not have done it himself.

And that’s the core message from Danny Borzellino’s story of the Grant House. There is a pathway to make the needed changes in a house- even one that’s more than 100 years old – to make it both energy-efficient and comfortable to live in.

(Photos Supplied) Main: Danny Borzellino showing Grant House renovations.


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