Friday, April 25, 2014

Why You Should Not Buy That House

Would I Buy That House?

Ok, I wrote a post to let you know if you were asking yourself the question  "Should you buy that house?" there was help available.

Here I am going to describe some common scenarios some of my investigations uncovered. My advice, you don't buy that house, or if you do want to make an offer, you need to factor in the risk of owning a non-compliant, damaged, or failing home because of the following reasons.

Location, location, location and your emotions aside, your decision to ignore the "tells" of a property may be very costly.


Take a look at this property.  The setbacks for the rear yard are indicated in red, the exterior side yard in tan, the front yard is yellow, and the interior side yard is blue.  The outline of the house is in dark brown.

The only setback not impacted by the location of the existing structure is the front yard.  Adding to the complication of this scenario is the detached garage owned by the neighbour towards the rear of the property. Their garage encroaches onto the property.

If you wanted to add to or modify the house, there would be a great deal of non-conforming issues impacting your ability to develop a plan or design easily. The cost to address the existing issues would probably be equivalent to building a new home.

The only reason to buy this property would be to demolish the existing house and start new, and build within the available allowable area defined by the setbacks.

Would I buy this house to live in?

I would, but the offer would just be for the value of the lot.


The foundation of this home has been so neglected and plagued by water issues over the years, it's starting to fail.  You can trace how the water flows along the outside of the foundation wall with the wettest area located at the window for some strange reason.

The damp conditions in the basement would make it unsafe to store anything down there since it would just become smelly and rot - perfect mold food. The moisture problems plaguing this home's foundation make it a serious risk to both the occupant's and home's health.

To fix this problem properly would require the demolition and replacement of the foundation at a cost of nearly $120K CAD.

Don't get me started on the rusty cast iron downspout or the wooden floor joists embedded in the concrete foundation wall either.

Would I buy this house to live in? No, but I would buy for the value of the lot only.

Structural Issues

There are some really weird structural issues out there.  Check this interesting scenario out.  What attracted my attention to the "beam" were a few things.  The first was it was bare, meaning unprimed, then there was the missing lateral support, and finally the rather odd shape to it too.

Upon closer inspection I was surprised to discover the "beam" was not your typical web and flange style configuration, instead the thing I was looking at was a salvaged train rail.

Then there is the questionable floor framing in the background for the stair opening.

This house had a great deal going for it, until you took the time to look at it just a little closer.

If I were to go ahead and renovate the basement later and have an inspection performed, as the owner I would be liable for the costs involved in making the floor structure compliant, and you can bet the pads for the posts are not adequately sized either.

This would be too risky a proposition for me unless, of course, the offer made discounted the risk I would be assuming as the owner.

Would I buy this house? Maybe, but there would be a big write-down in price because of the non-compliant framing and use of a non-approved building material.

Buyer Beware

These are just three examples of different houses with very big yet different issues.  If you are looking to purchase a property, be aware that the charm and uniqueness of the building also may also have its fair share of challenges and encumbrances too.

Before making an offer, determine the risk associated with the non-compliant work or failing infrastructure. 

If you are unsure what the risks are, then ask someone, like me, to help you find them.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Should You Buy That House?

Location, Location, Location

"Location, location, location..." is the mantra realtors often cite when talking about a desirable

The prospective buyer needs to be thinking "What if, what if, what if..." when looking at a home they are serious about purchasing.

As someone looking to purchase a home you need to wonder and ask yourself:
  • Is the house safe?
  • What renovations were done in the past without a permit?
  • What is the first thing in need of replacing?
  • What's the real cost of yearly maintenance?
  • How difficult will it be to do what I have in mind?
Knowing the answers to these questions is something every prospective homeowner would like to have, and they rely on a Home Inspection to provide them with some insight. Both realtors and seasoned building professionals know the limitations and constraints applied to an inspector when they're conducting a Home Inspection.

Testing for the presence of hazardous materials, determining if a building conforms to municipal zoning by-laws, or if there are hidden deficiencies such as inadequate structural components or a persistent water problems hidden behind finished walls or stacked boxes in a basement corner are beyond the scope and mandate of a Home Inspection to find and report on.

Yet these are the conditions that result in many non-disclosure lawsuits against previous owners and realtors.

There are other limitations to the Home Inspection.  For example, as a prospective buyer the Home Inspection will not let you know how big an addition to the existing home can be, if the kitchen is in a good location or needs to be moved, if opening up the floor plan is out of the question or a feasible option, or determine how the house can be altered to suit your lifestyle.

The Home Inspection will provide you with insight about the various elements of the home and whether they have reached the end of their service life.  The Home Inspector will also be able to let you know what items are red-flagged when it comes to needing repair.  The Home Inspection provides you with a snap shot of the condition of the house as it is today.  You may be looking for a detailed scope of work outlining how the work will be done, pricing, or identifying the risks associated with purchasing the property when looked at from the context of a future project.

In other words, you need more information.

Whether your intent is to evaluate the existing conditions or challenges faced for the future growth and expansion of the house, what you may find you need are answers to describe how feasible your future plans for the home would be.  Your focus is more on the future of the house and how the current state of the house impacts those plans.

If you or your clients are looking for honest answers and clear, professional advice and direction for the evaluation of the structure and condition of the house, where pointing out both immediate and future concerns or limitations are needed, feel free to contact me.

A 10 minute conversation will allow us to determine if your requirements and this type of service make sense, and if it does, we'll both decide what the next steps will be.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Keep It Dry. Keep It Safe.

Include This, Exclude That

Plans for finishing a basement are typically filled with lots of stuff to include. Maybe you want to include a media center, fitness studio, or a basement apartment for an aging relative.  These are important items to consider but even more important is what you need to exclude.


To help you do this you need to manage:
  • Surface water
  • Ground water
You have to admit, it's a small list, and if ignored or overlooked, the negative consequences for you, your family, and the health of your home are huge. Ensuring the exterior of your basement walls and floor slab are as dry as they can be is a big step in the right direction.

Your Mission - Impossible

Considering how impossible it is to keep your foundation walls and floor slab absolutely free from being exposed to wet or damp earth, wind driven rain, sprinklers, melting snow, or other interesting sources of water, accept the fact your foundation walls and floor slab will always be moist or contain some amount of moisture.

This means you also need to provide your walls and floor slab the opportunity to dry out, somehow.

That's Interesting

Enough talk about the exterior.

You've done what you can to manage surface and ground water to the best of your ability.  Let's take a look at the interior now. Are there major sources of moisture you need to manage there?

Surprisingly, enough, there are. There is one huge internal moisture source in your home you've probably overlooked and is a major reason you may have a moisture problem, if the bulk water systems are properly managed.

This major source of moisture is: air.

Unfortunately, because air is moist:
  • Cold surfaces will form condensate when exposed to warm moist air
  • Air is warmer than your concrete foundation wall
  • Air is warmer than your concrete floor slab
So now you not only need a strategy to manage exterior water, but somehow prevent warm moist air from coming into contact with cold surfaces too.

There Is A Way Forward

Don't Do This!
How do you do that?

Simple, use thermal insulation.

How you implement or build this system this will either be a good thing or a disaster.  In other words, there is a right way, and many different wrong ways to do this, and it's up to you to decide which method to use. Fortunately for you and me people have made it their professional career to figure this out for us.

Unfortunately, most of the contractors or renovation "experts" are not those professionals which means you're likely to be told how to do things the wrong way, like the way this basement in the photo is being finished.  The end result of this project is you end up with a warm damp basement making you and your family sick.

Your next step is to discover what materials and methods are needed, how they need to be installed, and how to minimize or eliminate warm moist from contacting the cold surfaces of your basement's foundation walls and floor slab.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Your Project's Scope Of Work

A project's Scope of Work has often been mentioned in my discussions and you may be asking yourself "Just what, exactly, is a Scope of Work and how it can help me with my project?"

You may also be wondering how big does a project need to be for a Scope of Work? Does the Scope of Work apply to really massive jobs as well as small jobs, like installing a new light fixture for example?

You bet it does. 

The Scope of Work concept is quite simple. It's used to accurately describe:
  • Who is responsible for what work
  • How will the work be done
  • What is the work
  • When is the work finished
  • How will you measure the work's completeness
Most people have the strange concept that any contractor given a set of drawings or project will approach the work in essentially the same way to create the desired result.  This couldn't be further from the truth.

If you're a contractor you're probably thinking, "I don't have time to write out a Scope of Work for every project I bid on!"

You know what? You're right.  The responsibility for creating the Scope of Work rests with the owner of the project.

So how do you convince the project owner they need to provide you with a Scope of Work before you invest the time and effort to price out a project?  I mean, the typical homeowner is probably thinking the Free Estimate is a pretty good deal right about now.

No hassle, pick up the phone, call, someone comes over, and then a few days later appears with a polished proposal.  Who needs a Scope of Work?  Want the job, give me your price.

Well, times are changing, fortunately, and more homeowners are now beginning to understand the difference "quality" makes, and it all starts with the project documentation prepared for the project.

What A Scope of Work Describes

Imagine, as a homeowner, or a contractor, you have the means to describe milestones, reports, deliverables, and end products for every phase and aspect of the project. If there is a dispute about the trade not performing to speed, it's because that speed was defined and identified prior to.  If the documentation says the agreed to crew size is one lead carpenter, an apprentice, and a laborer and just the carpenter shows up Day 1, as the customer and contractor you know your project's milestones are not going to be met.

If you're a contractor, the days of yelling into your phone, throwing your hard hat around, and being an ass and expecting an increase in performance as a result of your temper tantrum are over.  Same goes for you, the homeowner, who's hired on trades to do the work.  You can change the rules and demand more but understand this, the expectation is everyone has to agree to the change, how to implement the change, and what the impact is on the project in terms of compensation, deliverables, and milestones.

What A Scope Of Work Includes

So, what should a complete Scope of Work include?

These are the recommended components:
  • Glossary
  • Problem Statement
  • Goals of the Agreement
  • Deliverables
  • Administration
  • Timelines
Kia Ricchi, a Blogger for Fine Homebuilding wrote an article about how to Create A Scope Of Work. Some of Kia's points "are the description is accurate, detailed, and includes all the work and materials you will provide. Excluded items and additional work that the homeowner might assume to be included should also be noted.  In summary, a good scope of work should tell a prospective client exactly what is, and what is not, included in your bid."

Read more at: and be sure to check out my comment under my username misturfyxit. The comments made by me and others back in 2011 are still as valid then as they are today.

Who Prepares the Scope of Work

If you're the project owner, it's your responsibility to prepare the Scope of Work. The problem is, the typical homeowner is unaware of how to prepare a Scope of Work or who they need to talk to do so.  If you're replacing light fixtures, building a deck, or a new home, the Scope of Work varies, as does the expertise needed.

The question now becomes, who do you get to write your Scope of Work? Are there resources out there for you to use?

Fortunately, the resources are out there.  It's just a matter of getting them to all mesh together.

Disclosure And You

As the seller of your home you may be asked to sign a Seller Property Information Sheets or SPIS. In some locations they are mandatory, but in Ontario, they are voluntary.  So what is the purpose of a SPIS anyway?

The current law is that a vendor is not under obligation to disclose glaring or apparent defects of quality.  So, if you as the seller of the property are aware of quality issues such as product performance, you don't have to let anyone else know about it.

If you do chose to go ahead with a SPIS for the property, the question now is do you have the knowledge necessary to accurately answer the questions? What happens if there there is a latent defect that makes the property unfit for living in or dangerous after you sign the SPIS? Are you required to disclose that too?

If you as a buyer walk into a property and discover the seller did not want to sign or provide a SPIS for the property, your first and last thought needs to be what is it they're trying to hide?

One of the criticisms about using the SPIS is you probably don’t understand many of the questions let alone know the correct answers to provide.

So, to help you out let's take a look at couple of the questions to see what information can be provided.

Encroachments, Registered Easements, or Rights of Way

Here are some definitions to help you out.


"A situation in real estate where a property owner violates the property rights of his neighbor by building something on the neighbor's land or by allowing something to hang over onto the neighbor's property. Encroachment can be a problem along property lines when a property owner is not aware of his property boundaries or intentionally chooses to violate his neighbor's boundaries. This is also known as structural encroachment."

Registered Easement:

"An easement is an interest in another individual's land or property. Easements are typically created by express grant, by implication, by prescription or by necessity. Additionally, easements are classified as negative or affirmative. A negative easement gives the holder the right to prevent another individual from doing some act. Possessors of affirmative easements are entitled to go onto someone else's property for specific purposes."

Rights of Way:

"Right of way is when someone gets approval from someone to travel across their property. It gives that person a type of easement, so that they can use the owner's land to access public places on certain areas of his/her land."

How do you determine if there are any encroachments, registered easements, or rights of way?

Get a property survey prepared.  The property survey will show you where the easements and rights of way are, where the location of the building is on the lot, and other features such as a driveway location, for example. Once you have the survey, be sure to have a professional examine it to determine if there are any issues you need to disclose.


For the Province of Ontario, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing defines your zoning by-law as:

"A zoning by-law controls the use of land in your community. It states exactly:
  • how land may be used
  • where buildings and other structures can be located
  • the types of buildings that are permitted and how they may be used
  • the lot sizes and dimensions, parking requirements, building heights and setbacks from the street."

You can read more about zoning by-laws here or download Citizen's Guide 3 Zoning By-Laws.

Some may say these rules are too restrictive and you, as the property owner, should have the final say as to how you use your property.  That's all fine and dandy if you're a sociopath and lack empathy, but you have neighbours and they also have expectations for their quality of life and enjoyment of their property too.  The zoning by-law describes what type of buildings, business activities, and lot coverage are allowed for you and your neighbours.

To find out information about your property's zoning by-laws, phone your municipality and ask for the Planning or Land Use Department.  They will be happy to provide you with the information, especially if you have plans for building.


It's common law you are not allowed, under any circumstance, to drain surface water from your property onto another privately owned piece of property. Period.

If you build a fence, mound up dirt, or do other "improvements" to your lot, you may have impacted the drainage plan for your property.

To prove the drainage plan and your existing property are still as one, a topographic survey is required.  The information for the topographic survey can be combined with the property survey.

Moisture and/or Water Problems

The scope of this questions pertains to the building envelope which is composed of the roof, walls, and foundation.  Anything that gets wet from weather or ground or surface water is impacted.  If there was a leak with any of these systems and it was repaired, it needs to be disclosed.

Considering the vast majority of lawsuits involve leaky or wet basements, it might be worth it to acknowledge if you have a basement and just like every other basement, it used to be a wet, damp, and moist environment.

Buyer and Seller Beware

I'm often surprised to walk into homes people have recently purchased to discover a number of defects waiting for them to deal with. The number one issue is always a leaky or moist basement, closely followed by zoning or encroachment issues, then by hazardous materials in building products.

The first thought that comes to mind is why didn't the previous owner disclose the problem? This is followed by how can the previous owner or buyer be so unaware of how serious an issue this can be?

As a building professional, there are a number of scenarios I've seen that really made me upset for the owners of the property.  I remember one case in particular.

It was a young family who had purchased a property in a part of the City that is now being gentrified.  Their intention was to purchase the home, renovate the areas needing repair, and live there for quite some time afterwards reaping the rewards of their being the first into a neighbourhood in distress.

They showed me the existing kitchen addition they wanted removed and replaced.  Their hope was to reuse the foundation, extend the basement into the area under the kitchen, and make the kitchen the heart of the home.

When examining the existing structure it became apparent the foundation was non-conforming, as was the plumbing, wiring, and framing too.  A number of red flags were thrown.

Then I asked if they had a property survey, to which they replied, yes they did have one. I took one look at the survey, walked over to an area inside the kitchen, pointed at the floor and said "According to your survey, your property line is here, meaning, your neighbour owns this side of the room and all of that exterior wall too."

The reaction received was curious, in that the young mother picked up her child, sat down in a corner, and held the child up as a shield. The young father stood there looking at me dumbfounded as all the blood drained out of his face.

So begins their adventure in home ownership.

If I was a sociopath I would have signed them up for a renovation contract and bled them dry but instead I felt a great deal of sorrow for them. We discussed a strategy for them to pursue in order to become better informed.  What they needed to do was:
  • Have the state of the home (property, structural, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC) professionally assessed
  • Prioritize findings
  • Decide on how to move forward (move, renovate, or demolish and build new)
In Ontario, it's buyer beware, although there have been recent court decisions holding the seller and realtor accountable.  Here are a few to note:
  • Rampersad v. Rose, [1997] O. J. No. 2012 (Ontario Small Claims Court) 
    • A leaking basement case.
  • McQueen v. Kelly, [1999] O. J. No. 2481 (OSCJ) 
    • Another leaking basement case.
  • Stone v. Stewart, [2009] O.J. No. 1674 
    • Leaking basement again.
  • Riley v. Langfield   [2008] O.J. No. 2028 
    • A flood that had happened in the basement
  • Swayze v. Robertson, [2001] O. J. No. 968 (OSCJ)
    • Leaking basement
  • Gallagher v. Pettinger, [2003] O. J. No. 409 (OSCJ)
    • Hid evidence of moisture in the basement
  • Moore v. Page, [2002] O.J. No. 2256 (OSCJ)
    • Structural defects and water leakage
  • Kaufmann v. Gibson  [2007] O.J. No. 2711
    • Not being truthful about conditions of the home
  • Hunt v. 981577 Ontario Ltd., [2003] O. J. No. 2051 (Small Claims Court)
    • Ongoing obligation to report changes after disclosure was made
So, if you are in the process of buying or purchasing a property, take the time to educate yourself so both you and your family are protected. When looking at a home, forget about stuff like paint colour, whether or the carpet works for you, or if the kitchen looks dated.  That's emotional tug at the heart strings stuff and when the lights are out, meaningless.

If your roof leaks, your house encroaches into neighbouring property, or there's mold in your basement making you and your family sick, these are serious issues requiring significant time, energy, and money to repair.

Purchasing and selling property is a business decision and you need to be informed about what your obligations are to both yourself and family as a buyer or seller.  Be safe. Be aware.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Aging In Place

Like you, I want to stay in my home as long as possible and I've met many customers who feel the same way. The vast majority of customers who are concerned with these matters have or have a family member with a mobility issue, are faced with the challenges of housing an aging parent, or are proactively making the right decisions to help them make use or modify their existing space for the future. 

I want you to know that if you find yourself in this situation, you are not alone, there are others who have been here before, and there is help to get you what you need.

Health Canada has put together some thoughts on the matter and you can find them here at Thinking About Aging In Place.

I have to agree with their list of questions we, as individuals, need to consider as we age. I would also like to share many of my customers ask:
  • If I want to live in my current home as I age, what modifications could help me remain safe? (e.g., installing hand rails, a ramp, emergency response systems, etc.)
  • How will I maintain my home if I need help? Are there services available in my community? Do I have the money to pay for the services if I need them?
  • Do I need to move to a more manageable home or consider a home without stairs?
  • What are my housing options if my current home no longer suits my needs? What will be the costs?
The article also mentions you need to either move to or be living in an area where you are able to receive the support needed.  Selecting a neighbourhood, maintaining strong connections with family and friends, and staying healthy are wonderful assets as well, but if you have trouble getting up and down the stairs, doorways need to be made larger, or hallways are too constricting, you need answers today that work for you and enable you to stay in your home tomorrow.

It comes as no surprise builders of new homes design for young healthy people (and I plead guilty on that charge), and these homes will become hostile or unlivable for anyone who is older or has a mobility issue.  Considering 90% of people aged 55 today say they want to live in their home for as long as possible, changes are needed to make their existing home more livable.

Seniors Real Estate News says "the number of seniors requiring assistance is expected to double in the next 30 years, and some 10 million existing homes will need accessibility updating if those Canadians are to age in place." You can read the full article here.

Right now you probably have a number of questions about where to start and what plans to make to convert your existing hostile home into a supportive environment you can enjoy as you age. You may also be wondering what your next steps are if you do decide to go ahead and have some work done. Questions like: how do you know if you're getting a fair price for the work?

Well, there are resources and experienced professionals out there who care, and I'm one of them.

To help you, I'm going to do what I can here to provide you with the information you need to get solid pricing and service from building professionals you hire to do the work for you.

You deserve no less.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mold and Your Basement

There is a serious disaster in the making that is going to impact the majority of homes with finished and/or insulated basements. If you are considering finishing your basement, moving into a basement apartment, or are buying a home with a finished basement, you need to sit up and take notice.

You may be putting your health at risk.

"Fiberglass batt insulation, 2X4 wood or steel stud framing, and a poly vapour barrier is commonly used practice for insulating basements throughout Canada.  This however is a recipe for disaster."  This isn't just hype.

The U.S. Department of Energy has published a short article and describes recommended basement insulation systems to use, and they mention moisture problems are "compounded when an impermeable vapor barrier such as plastic is used on the interior because it will trap moisture in the wall."

This is unfortunate because most, if not all, new home construction in Canada since the mid 1980s use the fiberglass batt and framed wall or blanket insulation system featuring a well sealed 6 mil polyethylene vapour barrier installed on the warm side of the wall assembly.

The result of this construction methodology is moisture wicking through your foundation is trapped inside the insulated framed wall assembly. Due to the low drying potential of the wall assembly, mold starts to grow.

If you think your home insurance policy is going to come to the rescue for you, home insurance policies "typically do not cover water damage caused by 'maintenance' problems. These include slower, ongoing problems like continuous water seepage or repeat leaks, ongoing humidity problems, problems related to your landscaping or drainage on the property, or condensation" says Karla Kant in her article "Home Insurance Guidelines: Mold Facts and Coverage".

The "The American Society of Home Inspectors estimates that 60% of U.S. homes have wet basements. Even well built and sealed basements that would not have mold under normal circumstances can develop mold growth from high humidity" says Robert G. Miller, Forensic Construction Expert.  You can read more here about Basement Air Quality.

"Mold occurrence in new homes has become so endemic that builder's liability insurance coverage limits the insurance carrier's liability to a few thousand dollars, if it covers mold issues at all" says Mold Occurrence in New Construction.

The conclusion I make from having read the information provided in these articles is managing moisture and how it impacts the building is serious, because if ignored, the consequences to you, your family's health, and the health of your home will be disastrous.

How Accurate Is My Quote?

You've all learned why the Free Estimate needs to die.

With the Free Estimate gone, what fills the void vacated by all that Free Estimate foolishness?

A Quote or Price for the Project, that's what.

So what's the difference between a Free Estimate and an price or quote?

Well, to start with, creating a Price or Quote for a project requires you to work with someone who will spend time, use their expertise and understanding to assess the risks and challenges, and then determine the material and labor requirements required to make your project a success.  
Most customers are unaware of what the project costs are and would like to have the flexibility to adjust the scope so they can control the cost. Being able to move markers as the design progresses eliminates a condition called "Over Design" which occurs when the designer creates a product the customer is unable to afford.  
So how do you do that?  Price your project at intervals as the design process for your project matures.

Processes And Pricing

Your project documentation is used to define, clarify, and describe your project's scope, material requirements, and configuration.  Development of your project's documentation is a four step process and looks like this:
  • Concept
  • Schematic
  • Design
  • Construction Documents
You can have your project priced at each of these intervals realizing the accuracy of the pricing provided reflects the accuracy of the documentation provided for the stage of the process priced.
Process Pricing

To help you understand what I mean, refer to the Process Pricing image. The darker the color, the more precise the pricing provided.

For example, because more than one CONCEPT is prepared for your project, the prices here vary the most. Materials are guessed at as well as the scale and scope of the work. 

As you move from the CONCEPT to the SCHEMATIC, the pricing tightens up more as the scale and scope of the project become more defined.  Room sizes are known, some material decisions are made, and the location and size of doors and windows are provided.

The DESIGN stage of the process is quite a bit more accurate because you have cabinet layouts shown, flooring types identified, and elements such as trim and door style identified. (It's at this stage you typically sign a contract with a Design-Build firm to build your project)

The COMPLETED DOCUMENTATION process provides you with the more accurate pricing levels of all the processes because everything is specified, including how the work is to be performed. (It's a this stage where all the Change Orders are issued, before the project begins).

As you can see, as the your project's construction documentation increases in its level of detail, ambiguity, assumptions, and unknowns are removed. The accuracy of your pricing is directly tied into the completeness of the documentation you provide.

Free Estimates Need To Die

Free Estimates suck.

You want to know why? Because the scope, specifications, and other items associated with the project are unknown, and because these are unknown, the ability to price out the project is unknown too.

All around, the Free Estimate is a waste of time for you, your customer, and makes us all look like nincompoops too.

So what needs to be done to fix this?

Believe it or not, I have an idea.  It's a pretty simple fix too.

First, Free Estimates need to die, and the people advocating their reps to give them shown the door to someplace else. Pretty easy fix, if you ask me.

Information As An Image

Think of the information exchanged between you and the customer as an image.  In order for either of you to have the foggiest idea of what it is you are looking at, the image needs to be clear, focused, illuminated, have context, and be viewed from the right distance or perspective.

Let's take a simple project (and I'm not going to let you know what it is either) to show you what I mean.

First, we have the initial call.

First Information Exchange

Something is being described here and the focus is somewhat customer centric.  I want you to give me, this, that, and another thing, you to be here on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 PM because blah, blah, blah.  This conversation is going nowhere fast. Usually the Free Estimate thing is brought up. Now try to describe what this project is all about, and give me a price to boot.

The Conversation Continues

Things are getting a bit more clearer and you're both beginning to share information about what it is you're talking about.  There's still quite a bit of fog and stuff going on here so to help "educate" you, the client demands you come out to "see" what it is they're talking about. Oh, and maybe you can give me some design ideas while we talk about the Free Estimate? Right?

The Conversation Continues Some More

The project still lacks scope, focus, context, is not clear in its intent, and although the customer may feel this one wee image contains all the information needed to give them a Free Estimate, a detail doesn't define a project.

If you're a customer, your first step is to hire the right professionals to help you bring your project into a focused image. This will require you to spend time working on defining, creating, and clearly illuminating the project's scope and specifications so anyone can easily understand what it is you want to do.

What The Customer Was Talking About

New Home? Wait Before Finishing Your Basement

Using The Test Of Time

You've just picked up the keys to your new home and are anxious to move in.  First thing on the agenda, finish your basement.

Is that the right thing to do? Have you really thought this through? Maybe you need to wait, live in the house a little, to ensure all is OK.

Your best plan of action after getting the keys to your new home is to wait, watch, and wonder to see what, if anything, will happen.

Why Wait And For How Long?

If you just moved into a newly constructed home it's recommended to wait at least two years before finishing your basement.

Two years? Are you crazy!?

Umm, why so long?

Well there are a number of necessary reasons for you to wait.  I'll review the top three reasons here.

The first has to do with the thousands of pounds of water trying to evaporate out of the walls and floor slab of your new concrete foundation. Water always moves from a wet to dry area and since your foundation walls are waterproofed on the exterior side, and the ground outside tends to be damper than the air inside your home, the only avenue of escape left for water to use is towards the interior of your home.

Mold in an insulated basement wall

The second reason is new homes need time to settle and show how their systems perform. What if something as random as a shrinkage crack appears as the concrete cures? The time and effort needed to remove the material to gain access to the area needing repair is significantly lower if there are no finish materials to demolish and reinstall.

The third important reason is to dive you time to determine how well the surface water is managed around your home.  Displaced earth, such as the backfill used around your home has voids in it and with time, settles and does so unevenly.  As a result, low spots form, puddling occurs, and you now have a surface water issue you need to manage in the yard or alongside your foundation wall.

There are a number of other reasons such as getting to know how your family lives, changing family dynamics, or the need to create an income property.  These are important to consider but they are independent of the systems used for your new home.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Before You Renovate Your Basement

Evaluate First, Then Plan

More basement renovation talk because it's important.

Before you do anything, and I mean anything, inside the basement in terms of planning, calling up someone for a Free Estimate (which is really a waste of everyone's time and effort), or measuring out spaces to be developed, you need to ensure your bulk water management systems are up to snuff.
Bulk water management systems?

Yep, bulk water management and guess what, lucky for you there are only two primary sources for bulk water and they are:
  • ground water
  • surface water.  

Your Basement Leaks Like A Sieve - Guaranteed

So why is the management of water important to your basement renovation plans?  

Think of your basement foundation this way and you'll see what I mean. Imagine how effective your foundation would be as the hull of a boat. 

Ground Water Leaking Through A New Foundation

Well, your foundation would be pretty leaky because water is able to seep through anywhere there is a joint or connection. The image shown above is of a foundation just a couple of weeks old.  In fact, this house is so new the plumbing rough-in has yet to begin.

Since you know your basement foundation makes for a very leaky boat, to keep things inside your basement dry you can exercise one of two options and they are:
  • Build and bury a better leak proof foundation (which will cost you 10s if not 100s of thousands of dollars)
  • Keep water away from your existing foundation (which will cost you hundred or maybe thousands of dollars).
You pick.

Since your foundation leaks like a sieve (because it's built that way), the most effective way to keep the interior dry is to keep water away from your home. As a first step, evaluate your surface bulk water management systems before you consider renovating your basement.

Renovating Your Basement?

It Only Makes Sense

More often than the basement is an area homeowners are itching to tackle as a renovation project and why not? When it comes to creating affordable livable space, the basement has a great deal going for it.

You're starting off with a floor, walls, and a ceiling of sorts.  The challenge is to develop the space into areas you and your family can use and enjoy and make the transition from the existing living space above seamless with the space below.

Compared to building an addition of the same size, your basement renovation makes perfect economic sense too.  There's a real incentive to make the basement renovation happen, especially when you consider how it will free up cluttered space upstairs.

Not So Fast...

Before you begin to even contemplate renovating your basement, you need to ensure the basement is fit for development.  What this means is the space needs to be evaluated to ensure the time, effort and money poured into the project is worth it.

Doing the project the wrong way can have catastrophic implications, and I'm not talking resale either. I'm talking the structural failure of your foundation and replacing your foundation will cost you 10s if not 100s of thousands of dollars.

Image 1 - Foundation Walls

Image 1 - Foundation Walls shows a classic illustration of foundation walls that are in imminent danger of collapse.  Actually, these walls were so unsafe they were demolished and replaced at a cost of $120,000 CAD.  These walls indicate there has been a long standing moisture problem because of the efflorescence and spalling that's visible.

Signs of Trouble

Efflorescence on a wall of this age and to this extent indicates the wall is continuously cycled through soaking and drying off periods.  Efflorescence isn't harmful, it's just what's left of the dissolved mineral deposits that were dissolved in the water that evaporated. The white coating on the wall directly above the laundry tub gives a good indication of the soaking pattern for the water.

Efflorescence isn't harmful.  It's just salt or mineral deposits on the face of the wall, but what they do when dried out is cause a chemical imbalance within the foundation material.  When the wall gets wet once again, water rushes in to rebalance system with such force (in excess of 5,000 psi) the water blows off the surface of the wall off causing another condition called spalling.

Some people think spalling is due to the expansion of the crystals, but it's actually the pressure from the water rushing in to negate the chemical imbalance.  The long term impact of spalling is it slowly micro blasts your wall apart until there's nothing of any substance left.

So before you decide to invest in your basement renovation, you need to evaluate your basement to ensure the time, effort, and investment you make is worth it.  Seeing signs of efflorescence and spalling means there's work to be done  before you can convert your unused basement space into a comfortable healthy living area for you and your family.