Monday, July 23, 2007

Building Code Aftermath

First the Leaky Condo Crisis and now this:
Firefighters blame lax building code

Firefighters said it was only a matter of time before a fire of this magnitude broke out in the area, blaming poor construction materials and lax building codes.

Damage could have been minimized, they said, if building codes required a greater distance between houses and required certain types of siding to be used.

"We're grateful that no one was injured.… However, we have devastated a community emotionally," said fire department spokeswoman Nikki Booth. "A fire of this size and this magnitude definitely creates tremendous trauma to the community and we'd like to see that those code changes come into place." emphasis mine

Building codes in Canada are another example of where politics trumps common sense. Does it make sense that what is reasonable to build in Ontario would withstand the environmental pressures in Victoria? Of course not. That's why we have a national building code that provinces use to base their provincial building code standards off of. But when provinces hell bent for development--of which, BC and Alberta, stand out--ignore the common sense ramifications of engineered product suitable for one climate and not another, we get debacles like the Leaky Condo Crisis.

What's interesting about that crisis is that it's not a Vancouver problem, nor is it limited to condos. It was a national building code problem that became an issue for moist environments: anywhere on the west coast fits this description; from Prince Rupert all the way down to Victoria. Sure condos get the attention, after all they are a loud collective voice. But houses were built using the same code. I know of dozens of houses in this town that have had significant structural "surgery" to fix moisture related damage to their "bones." I've lived in some and seen work done to others. I live in one right now.

The Edmonton Fire Service is blaming engineered wood products for a lack of ability to withstand fire. Apparently engineered joists and trusses go up a lot quicker than their solid wood counterparts. Fair enough. Perhaps not surprisingly, vinyl siding burns quicker and hotter than other products. And guess what?, when you build houses too close together, you increase the risk of one fire growing into two, or in the Edmonton case, 10.

This is where economics come in. In a time of astronomical housing price increases, developers build as fast as buyers buy, and quite often not as fast as buyers buy. The cheaper the cost to build, the bigger the profit. Real wood costs money. Engineered wood products cost less money. Common sense says we'll see much more engineered products in new construction and renovations.

Not to put 2 and 2 into 4 or anything, but I'm guessing with the current push to develop anything and everything into a wealth generating vehicle, from amateur condo flippers to publicly held RE development corporations, we're in for some nightmarish times in the next decade as consumers. Write your MLA. Write your MP.


Anonymous said...

HHV said:"I know of dozens of houses in this town that have had significant structural "surgery" to fix moisture related damage to their "bones." I've lived in some and seen work done to others. I live in one right now."

HHV, it's bad enough that when we (BEAR) renters are ready to buy, we are faced with buying new crap like the ones that went up in smoke in Edmonton. I hear you loud and clear. It's scary for those who bought new homes which were built during 2004-present. Mould traps waiting to happen.

However, we live in a 1950s house, great area, but total dump. We made it look OK, but when our landlord puts it on the market, the buyer is going to get badly burned. I feel guilty keeping silent, but how is a potential buyer going to know the secrets of this house?? Even if I tell the listing realtor, the owner will realize I squealed.

There was terrible black mould in one area, and although we don't SEE it anymore, after the Javex job, it still smells. Also, the landlord filled in a huge gape in a windowframe with grout. I'm talking a hole the size of a canteloupe. Window was not installed right.

A wood floor (covered w carpet) in one room is completely rotten, and smells bad. So, ingenious landlord had a strip of wood installed all around the outside, then painted over! You would NEVER dream there's anything wrong. It goes on and blockages, etc.

Pity the poor sucker, at $600k to $700k, who buys this. It is so sad that buyers jumped in sans inspection during the madness. How many of them are faced with huge repair costs now, regardless of house's age? I would love to hear some of their stories. I bet that many sellers were just thrilled to unload their crap to innocent people, without disclosure..

Anonymous said...

"...although we don't SEE it anymore, after the Javex job, it still smells."

Last summer I attended an open house in the Maplewood area. The basement had been converted to a suite, which was being touted as a "mortgage helper", of course. The whole suite was absolutely rank with mildew odour, to the extent that I couldn't stay there for longer than five minutes. I left thinking, "Who in their right mind would pay $560,000 for this?"

It sold in two days for over asking price.

LuckyLuke said...

A couple of co-workers of mine are currently dealing with the ramifications of leaky condos & a third with foundation issues.

The first guy unknowningly purchased a leaky condo 4 years ago in Victoria and 2 years later when this was found out, he was forced to pay an additional $87,000!!! to get it fixed up... his condo only cost ~$220,000 at the time. He had to take out a second loan that the government gave him interest free... but damn, that is a LOT of money. I'll be ahead of him for not buying for years to come.

The second guy, he sold his condo & bought a house. Since then the new owners of the condo discovered the condo was leaky & are trying to sue him, although he didn't know it was leaky at the time. He suspected it was leaky & during strata council meetings he repeatedly tried to get enough votes to have an inspection done over 10 years he lived there, but some guy (an ex-developer) who owned 25% of the building & had way more voting power, kept veto'ing it down... the result, my co-worker managed to get out of his condo just in time - though not because of a suspect leaky condo - his wife had children & they needed bigger place, but he was lucky as hell, and will also probably get away without having to pay a dime as there was nothing in strata meeting minutes that make reference to anyone knowing or suspecting the condos were leaky in the building.

Last story... A third co-worker of mine recently (2 months ago) bought a house in gordon head with 4 bedrooms (2 down, 2 up) which stated in the disclosure document that the owner knew it had "some" issues with the foundation. After paying an absurd $499K for the place he later found out through a multiplicity of engineering inspections that his house was build on top of rocks & sand with metalic pillars holding up the house... the Engineers (private and the city) that inspected the place had never seen such a thing in 20+ years of their career. It will cost my friend $30,000 to fix the house foundation + several months of inability to live there or have any downstairs tenants. And this was a 1940's house.


vg said...

Man those are scary examples of what can happen even when you buy low.
I see a condo project down the street from me that was a leaky condo and it is about a year now and it's just looking like it is getting close to being completed and it did not seem like an older building before they began. The worst would be the guy who bought at the top two months ago,painful.

You would have thought the guy in Gordon Head would have dug deeper via the home inspection,you have to be so carefull out there.

vg said...

By the looks of the stock markets tanking today on the high flying loonie and higher than expected retail sales today it is a given higher interest rates are coming beyond the next rate hike according to BMO.

jmk,I find that highly likely it will happen. ;)

olives said...

I wouldn't purchase any condo or townhouse built between the late 1980's and the early 2000's that has a stucco exterior. That said there are usually signs of leakiness - staining around decks areas, windows, vents.

I have heard that some that have already been remediated are showing signs of failure again.