Presidential Appointee to the Canadian Home Builders’ Association’s National Executive Committee!

One great way to judge the abilities and talents of someone is to ask their competitors who they would choose to represent them. It’s that old adage – if you want to hire someone to do something for you, ask everyone who they would recommend aside from themselves. The name that comes up again and again is probably the best choice.

And now, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) is choosing Larry Clay to represent them.

The CHBA is a group that has been representing the residential construction industry since 1943 and is made up of more than 8,500 companies. They work together to ensure that both the government and home owners and buyers understand what the other wants and needs, all while protecting their industry.
The Executive Committee is a group of seven elected leaders and up to two appointed members, chosen by the President, that meet to oversee the operations of the CHBA.

This year, the President selected Larry Clay to represent the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association as well as the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of BC.

This isn’t the first accolade that Mr. Clay has received from this group. He was named the First Master Residential Builder in BC by the CHBA of BC. By completing all required courses that focus on residential construction in BC, he was able to become to the first person in BC to achieve this designation.

Mr. Clay has also won several Georgie Awards, which are awards handed out by the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association for excellence in home building and renovation.

If you’re looking for someone to talk to about your new home building project, why not talk to someone who’s at the forefront of the CHBA and is a leader in the home construction industry. Clay Construction is that company that other companies will recommend because they know they’re one of the best in British Columbia.

BC Housing

BC Housing – Licensing and Consumer Services: The Defender of Quality

Building a new home can be an exciting and rewarding venture. Support and protection to homeowners is offered through the government agency – BC Housing and its Licensing and Consumer Services branch. In addition, public for-profit companies provide 2/5/10 warranty for homes in BC.

The Licensing and Consumer Services (LCS) branch administers the Homeowner Protection Act and helps protect the consumer. When unethical builders and homeowners try to circumvent the law and get caught, they are subject to stiff penalties. See this link for disciplinary actions against disreputable builders and homeowners.

If a homeowner chooses to act as the contractor and build their own home, they are considered Owner Builders. As of July 4, 2016, anyone who wishes to build a new home in British Columbia as an owner builder must apply for an Owner Builder Authorization and pass an exam. The exam is designed to test an applicant’s knowledge and understanding of home building basics as well as the statutory obligations and requirements that owner builders must meet under the Homeowner Protection Act. This will help owner builders expand their knowledge, improve the quality of construction, and protect subsequent buyers of owner-built homes.

It is critical to note that it is illegal for an Owner Builder to hire another contractor to build their home using the Owner Builder exemption.

BC Housing – Licensing and Consumer Services

Formerly known as the Homeowner Protection Office (HPO), the Licensing and Consumer Services (LCS) branch of BC Housing, is the government agency responsible for licensing residential builders and administering Owner Builder Authorizations. They have the power to cancel the license of the builder and levy financial penalties. Ultimately, they protect the consumer by ensuring that new homes are covered by home warranty insurance. Wendy Acheson is Vice-President & Registrar of Licensing and Consumer Services, and also the person you will often see in the news. She is responsible for administering the Homeowner Protection Act, overseeing licensing compliance and consumer-service operations. Wendy has led important initiatives to increase the quality of residential construction and strengthen consumer protection. LCS also monitors the provision of third-party home warranty insurance.

Warranty Providers

Builders are responsible for arranging home warranty insurance through a warranty provider.
The warranty provider issues a 2/5/10 home warranty insurance policy when the home is completed or occupied and provides the following protection:
• One year on defects in materials and labour or violation of the Building Code.
• Two years on defects in materials and labour supplied for the mechanical systems, as well as for the exterior cladding, caulking, windows and doors, that may lead to detachment or material damage to the new home and violation of the Building Code.
• Five years on the building envelope includes the components that separate the indoors from the outdoors.
• Ten years for defects in materials and labour that result in the failure of a load-bearing part of the new home, and for any defect that causes structural damage.

There are four warranty providers in BC: Travelers, National, WBI and Pacific. It is illegal to build a house without registering the home with a warranty provider. Unscrupulous builders continue to ignore the laws and put at risk not only themselves but homeowners as well.

When looking for a builder, make sure they are licensed with BC Housing and one of the four warranty providers. It is illegal to build a home and not provide 2/5/10 warranty insurance.  Non-compliance with the Homeowner Protection Act and its Regulations can lead to a monetary penalty of up to $25,000 or imprisonment for a term of not more than one year, or both.

The English idiom, “A pound wise, a penny foolish” provides timely wisdom when choosing a builder. Ultimately, you get what you pay for. Happy Building.

Larry Clay
President of Clay Construction
Vice-President of GVHBA

New Home Myth

Destroying the New Home Myth

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” Benjamin Franklin

Sadly, too many people are taking possession of their brand-new home only to find that it is far from the perfect home they were anticipating. From the obvious poor quality of finishing and poorly thought-out features to the concealed mould behind the walls and inferior mechanical equipment, many new homes do not meet their expectations of excellence. New homeowners are routinely disappointed by the quality of their finished home. Are their expectations too high?

Comparatively, when purchasing a new car, we expect flawless perfection. In fact, whether the car is from Detroit, Toronto or Vancouver, we expect all cars to be virtually identical in their high quality. As well, there is an expectation homes that have been built to our BC Building Code/Vancouver Building Code and have passed inspections will reflect the same flawless perfection that exists in a new car. Why not? Unfortunately, this is not the case with most new homes.

To most people, the Building code is a high standard but in reality, the Building Code is a minimum standard. There is a comical expression in the industry that declares, “Homes built to code are the lowest form of building that you can legally build in Canada before being thrown in jail!” As one would expect, a home built only to code should not instill much confidence. Which High School student proudly announces to their friends, “Yeah! I earned 51% on all my subjects?” Why is this acceptable for builders? Inferior builders view the code as a high standard to achieve while first-class builders view the code as a minimum standard that needs to be exceeded.

The building code establishes standards that protect us and make our homes safer. For example, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors must be installed in homes and the bedroom windows must meet egress requirements to allow safe passage in the event of a fire. This code will also specify standards that increase the longevity, durability and efficiency of the home. City inspectors will ensure that there are no building code violations during their frequent inspections.

During the building process, homes are also inspected by third party engineers retained by the builder or architect. For example, for permit applications, engineers will specify how roof loads are to be supported down to the foundation. In addition, beams are specified to transfer loads from above and the foundation is engineered for the loads placed on it. At inspection, the engineer will make sure all requirements have been followed and the structure of the home has not been compromised by the mechanical trades. For instance, inexperienced trades may cut through trusses, joists and drill through point loads sacrificing structural integrity. Engineers will inspect to make sure all structural members have not been compromised.

Admittedly, without this building code, our homes would be even worse than homes built today. Without this standard, unscrupulous and unethical builders would find even more areas to eliminate and the quality of our homes would be dismally low. Critically, the homeowner needs to be educated by the builder on the value of building above code in strategic areas. This approach will improve the homes health, durability, efficiency and attractiveness while respecting the budget.

All homes are not created equal. Be wise and hire a builder who is professional, honest, and competent – these builders will not be the lowest priced. A German proverb states, “The cheapest is always the most expensive.” Lowest price produces lowest quality. Your new home will only be as good as the builder; so choose wisely.

Truth or Fiction?

They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To: Truth or Fiction?

Materials, craftsmanship and design might just make the new home of today, the character home of the future. More importantly, it is the engineering, building science and application of a minimum building standard that will result in our future homes being more durable, healthy and efficient.

Like most people, I hate to see these opulent character heritage homes removed from our streetscape forever. These homes have history and were built for influential people like judges, doctors and wealthy business merchants. They have a level of craftsmanship and quality of materials seen from only in the finest homes of that generation.

Truthfully, these magnificent homes are rare but do the vast majority of homes that are demolished have the same level of workmanship and quality of material? Are all older homes from previous generations quality, well-built homes? There is an adage, “They don’t make them like they used to.” Does this apply to homes as well?

The remainder of the article will be comparing average older homes with today’s average new homes. Let’s look at some facts and compare in several critical areas.

Remember the basement of your grandparent’s home that smelled musty and felt damp? These basements were never intended as living spaces. Damp proofing was minimal or nonexistent resulting in a basement that often-had moisture issues. Lack of insulation and vapour barrier under the concrete basement slab worsened the issue. The older clay draintile was inferior and prone to failure and floods.

Current newly built homes have a damp proofing spray applied to the exterior of the foundation wall with a plastic dimpled drainage mat secured over the surface of the damp proofing coating. This provides a drainage cavity for water to drain down to the superior PVC drainage piping protecting the basement from water infiltration. In addition, a poly vapour barrier is installed and rigid insulation is often installed under the concrete basement slab. This keeps the basement dry, warm and comfortable making basements more livable than their predecessors.

Older homes were not built to our current engineering standards. Foundations did not have steel and many had no footings which provide support to the foundation. This would cause uneven settling with one corner of the house or porch dropping several inches. Floor joists were undersized resulting in a floor that was bouncy and squeaky. Roofs were hand framed with no engineering and eventually the ridge of the roof would sag.

All new homes must be built to engineering specifications and inspected. Footings and foundations are larger with steel installed. Floors assemblies are engineered to carry the load from above and beams are correctly sized. Trusses are also engineered to withstand snow loads and not fail. New homes are much less likely to experience large amounts of settling, failure of structural members or squeaks in floors.

Climate change has necessitated more stringent standards for protection of homes from hurricanes, snow loads, and driving rain. We need to build the home to withstand the potential weather patterns in 50 years. The same applies to earthquake protection. More attention has been given to building homes that can withstand an earthquake which could level homes from decades ago.

In the past, fuel was either free or inexpensive; older homes did not need to be airtight or efficient. With the escalating price of fuel, it is not prudent to operate a leaky inefficient home. Current energy building codes are vastly superior over the homes build generations ago that applied few standards.

Asbestos, lead paint, formaldehyde, and mercury were prevalent in older homes. In addition, precautions were not taken to mitigate the deadly radon gas. New homes are healthier with products that have undergone extensive testing to be verified as safe. Albeit, time will tell which harmful products we continue to unknowingly place in our homes.

When an older home undergoes a renovation, we try to replace the old and dangerous knob and tube wiring or the aluminum wiring with the current code approved copper wiring. Circuit breakers are safer and less fixtures are installed per circuit. The same upgrades would apply to the plumbing, heating and ventilation as well as many other areas of the home.

In conclusion, the fabulous handcrafted character homes need to be protected but the same does not apply to the average older home. Builders are providing a service replacing dilapidated, unhealthy, unsafe and inefficient houses with durable, healthy, safe and efficient homes. Future generations will benefit from our advances in engineering, building science and application of a minimum building standard. Love your new home.

The EnerGuide Rating System – Think Energy Smart from the Start

We’ve all heard about building something “to code.” We hear that on construction and home repair shows all the time. These are a set of rules that builders must follow that the government has made so that a home owner knows that their home is safe and well-built.

But Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has also created an EnerGuide system that provides ratings for homes based on their level of energy efficiency. This system uses a scale of 1 to 100, with the average new home sitting at a 72.

More energy efficient homes are rated at an 80 or higher. Homes that are built with a rating of 80 or higher use better insulation, heating systems, air sealing, and in many cases, some form of solar energy usage. They will also have better indoor air quality.

An EnerGuide builder is someone who has been licensed and registered by NRCan to provide energy smart homes that rate higher than 80. While most builders have a hard time getting that 80 certification, Clay Construction has averaged over 85 on their most recent projects.

When you start planning out your new home, think about using an energy efficient builder. They’re properly trained and licensed to provide you with the most cost-effective home. You can feel better by building a house that uses less energy, lowering the effect you have on the environment around you.

But the biggest advantage to having a home with a rating over 80 is the financial one. First, you can get up to $3200 back from the government. Second, your energy bills will drop while you’re living there. And third, your home is now more valuable when you decide to sell.

Now that you’re ready to build a new home, think Energy Smart from the start and think about all the benefits you’ll enjoy.

Top Building Materials make a Top Custom Home

When you’re buying a new home, there are a lot of things to consider: location, price, design, number of rooms…

One thing that many people don’t consider is the building materials. What is your home made of?

If you’ve decided to build a custom home, that’s an even more important question because you get to choose just what goes into your new home. You’re not just deciding the look of the building, but also the “ingredients” that go into it.

Any good custom builder is going to recommend using the top building materials for a number of reasons. The first, and most obvious one, is that the better materials you use, the better the final product. How good is the waterproofing on your foundation walls? Living in Vancouver, your waterproofing better be the best you can find or you’re dealing with leaks and drips that could cause a lot of damage down the road.

Second, what kind of warranties do your materials come with? Does the manufacturer stand behind their products? Does the warranty actually cover what it’s claiming? For example, when choosing shingles for your house, just how long is the manufacturer’s warranty? It may say that it’s a “lifetime” warranty, but with the terms and conditions, that may not be true.

Third, has the material been third-party certified? It’s not enough for the manufacturer to say that it’s good. You want to make sure that the products have been checked over by a neutral third party who will guarantee that what the manufacturer claims is true.

And finally, how ecologically safe are the materials? Everyone wants to protect nature and the environment to make sure that these beautiful views will be around for the future. Does the cedar siding come from a sustainably-managed forest? Do the products you’re buying use recycled materials to reduce waste?

So talk to your custom builder and make sure that only the best is going into your brand new custom home.

Custom Homes for Unique Lifestyles

We are all different. We are unique. We say it so often that it has lost much of its meaning, it has become a cliché. But then, most clichés are built upon some basic truth, and when it comes to your home – the way you live it, the way your family inhabits it – recognizing that truth is a fundamental part of getting it done right.

One-size-fits all construction fits no-one. No family of four is just any family of four, no newlywed couple is a prototypal couple, nor is a retired couple, a bachelor or a single mother merely a generic set of data parameters.

We all have different outlooks, taste, habits and needs. They impact on the way we live, the things we seek for in a home, the needs we look to fulfill.

A Custom Home in Greater Vancouver, Just for You

At Clay Construction we have worked for many years from Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Lower Mainland creating homes that are custom build and designed specifically for their owners.

We know the first and most important part of our work is to listen to you. But our extensive experience have taught us that sometime listening is not enough: we learned to ask the right questions, to help you tell us things which you couldn’t have imagined you needed to tell us.

Our emphasis on consultation is an integral part of the entire process from design to finish. We begin by helping you fill an extensive questionnaire to outline your needs and desires. We will take you to see the homes we have built and show you our projects online to stimulate the flow of ideas.

At every step we will discuss with you the alternatives with an understanding but informed approach, so that you can take part in the decisions but never feel the burden of them. As the design ideas encounter the realities of the terrain, the materials, the regulations and the costs, you will have all the information and support you need to come up with the right choices.

At the end of the journey, you will have a house that you can call your home, in every sense of the way.

Dealing with VOCs

Volatile organic compounds (abbreviated as VOCs) are gases that emanate from some solids or liquids and  include a range of chemicals which may have short or long-term negative health effects.

A big problem is that the concentrations of VOCs are  consistently higher in the interior spaces. Up to ten times higher than outdoors. They are readily found in most homes, which most people think of as their safe place in the world, the sanctum-sanctorum of private life.

The number of products emitting VOCs run  in the thousands, and all them release VOCs not only when in use but also when stored.

Most people is aware that organic chemicals are widely used in household products, fuels of all types, varnishes and wax, cleaning and disinfecting products, cosmetics, degreasers and more.

However, many homeowners don’t realize how often VOCs are introduced to the home when it’s being built or renovated. Construction materials,  paints, and adhesives, among others, are high on the list of VOCs emitting products, and poor designs in terms of air flow often compound the issue.

According to the EPA some of the health effects of exposure to VOCs may include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination and nausea, damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals, some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.

The same source cites a variety of symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs, which range from conjunctival irritation, to nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reactions and more.

For these reasons, it is of paramount importance to make sure the reduction of VOCs in the household starts right at the beginning, with the planning and construction process.

Clay Construction in Vancouver, British Columbia, works with their clients to ensure this issue is taken very seriously at every step of the way. For this purpose they closely monitor the construction materials, and implement designs that permits for better ventilation in order to reduce harmful toxins and minimize their effects.

Air Quality Starts at the Foundation

To improve your home’s air quality, start at the foundation.

I received a call from a woman who had placed an offer on an expensive home in Vancouver. She wanted a renovation to this home, since she could not be in this home without quickly feeling sick. The home smelled musty, and she couldn’t bear the thought of living there. I concluded that a band-aid fix would not be satisfactory, considering her health issues.

I phoned my friend and ventilation expert, David Hill. David lives locally, yet his expertise takes him all over Canada and the U.S. for speaking engagements. He confirmed my suspicion that the smell and mould/mildew originated from the basement.

Nearly all new homes are built to the lowest common denominator – the BC Building Code. With respect to the foundation, let me show you what you get when you only build to code. We have two problems.

Firstly, traditional construction places the footing on dirt or clay. Footings, much like snow shoes, increase the surface area and spread out the load. The foundation wall sits on top of the footing. This footing, when sitting in water, can wick up 3 pounds of water per day per square foot. This moisture finds its way to the basement wall assembly.

Secondly, traditional basement wall assemblies are a victim of building science principles.

Allow me to illustrate my point.

Take one cold coke out of your fridge and put it on your counter. Take another one out of the pantry and put it beside the first coke can. Wait 5 minutes. What do you notice? The can out of the fridge has accumulated condensation on the outside of the can, while the other is dry. Moisture in the air condenses on cold surfaces.

Concrete is cold. Once moisture in the air gets past the vapour barrier, it condenses on this cold concrete wall. Furthermore, the poly sheeting prevents adequate breathing of the wall assembly.

What can be done?

Firstly, place your footings on a thick bed of ¾ inch free draining clear crushed rock. Water may wick up through sand and dirt through capillary action, but water will not wick up through ¾ inch clear crushed rock. Placing poly at the base of the footings will also prevent footings from making contact with water.

Free draining clear crushed rock and poly under the footings will prevent your foundation from making contact with water.

Secondly, choose a basement wall assembly that prevents air vapour from making contact with the cold concrete wall. Insulated Concrete Forms is one solution. Another would be to place rigid insulation on the interior/exterior of the foundation wall. Eliminate the poly vapour barrier and replace with a vapour barrier paint. This increases the breathability of the wall assembly.

foundation2

Insulated concrete forms prevent air vapour from making contact with the cold wall.

When building a custom home, you have one chance to get it right. Strategically, build above code. Spend a little extra money and build a home that is healthy, comfortable, durable and energy efficient.

Wall Assemblies: Have your Cake and Eat it Too!

When it comes to wall assemblies, you can have your cake and eat it too!

I grew up in a home built in 1911. Houses were different back then. This home had sawdust for insulation and single pane windows. As it got colder, we put more wood in the fireplace. There were days in the winter when the house was so hot that we kept the front door open to cool off the home. Neighbours would drive by and think, “There are those Crazy Clays, it is -20° and they have their doors wide open!” That was the past.

Conserving energy was not a concern, since we just put another log on the fire. Firewood was free. Insulating the wall and achieving air tightness was just not a priority.

Homes eventually made a move to oil/gas fired furnaces. This new fuel cost more than the wood, which was free, so energy efficiency became more important. Thus, people began to place a greater emphasis on putting insulation between the studs.

In the 1970’s, the energy crisis hit us hard. We increased the insulation levels even further, and improved air tightness. The vapour barrier poly sheathing became standard construction. While increasing insulation values and airtightness can be a good thing, it can also have some negative consequences. Remember the condo crisis with wall assemblies rotting from the inside out?

Allow me to share a building science principle.

Take one cold coke out of your fridge and put it on your coffee table. Take another one out of the pantry and put it beside the first coke can. Wait 5 minutes. What do you notice? Yes, the can out of the fridge has accumulated condensation on the outside of the can, while the other is dry. Moisture in the air condenses on cold surfaces.

One important objective of a well-built wall assembly is to warm up surfaces where condensation may occur.

There are three problems with traditional batt insulation:

 

  1. We can stuff only so much insulation between the studs.  There is a limit.
  2. Eliminate thermal bridging. While insulation has an R-value of 22, the wood studs have an R-value of around 6. The framing is about 23% of the wall. So 23% of the wall is only R-6. The wood promotes thermal bridging.
  3. Poly sheeting does not allow the wall assembly to breathe.
Is there a better way?

Dr. Joe Lstiburek is a world-renowned building science expert. He has been a proponent of the perfect wall assembly. This wall assembly reduces thermal transfer and keeps the exterior sheathing warmer, thus reducing the propensity for moisture buildup.

For greater detail on this wall assembly, see my article, The Perfect Wall.

By choosing the correct wall assembly, you will achieve the following benefits:

 

  1. Thermal transfer is eliminated.
  2. Inside of the exterior sheathing is now warmer reducing the propensity for condensation.
  3. Effective R-value can easily double.
  4. No poly sheeting allows the wall assembly to breathe.

 

A well-built wall assembly is breathable and free of moisture.

I speak to builders who remember the condo crisis. They make comments like, “I just slash the poly, so that the wall can breathe.” This is prehistoric thinking; there is a better way. Why sacrifice air tightness to improve the breathability when building science proves you can have both?

Homes of the future will be more energy efficient and air tight. This wall assembly will breathe and be free of moisture and mildew, making homes healthier. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too!