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2009 February » Our Sustainable Home
Archive for: February, 2009

Bad Business: Premier Construction (PCMS), Hamilton, ON

February 28th, 2009

When we started this blog we said we were not going to name the individuals or companies we were working with, so we would have the freedom to be critical without getting into a war with someone over the specific details of any given situation.

While that policy generally stands, we’ve decided to change that policy for any contractor who, say, does thousands of dollars of damages to our and neighbouring properties, then takes off without completing the job but keeping all the money that’s been paid to them.

It’s our opinion that Premier Construction and Maintenance Services Inc. / PCMS (of 107 Gertrude Street in Hamilton, Ontario) is such a company and we don’t think anyone should be doing business with them. We think Premier Construction is a bad company, with bad business policies.

Maybe they have a side to this that we haven’t considered. All I’ve really heard from head office is that they think they did a good job and met the requirements of the contract. (They don’t say they completed the work they promised, only that they aren’t legally obliged to do more than they’ve done.)

I should add that all the employees I dealt with on site were always polite and reasonably easy to get along with, even when we disagreed. My major problem with this company is that I don’t think they completed the work they were legally obliged to complete, and I know they didn’t complete the work we asked to be completed from the beginning.

The history:

Read the rest of this entry -»

Posted by Colin
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Horror Stories

February 27th, 2009

Sadly, today I have added a new category to the site called “Horror Stories” because of everything that has happened with the demolition/excavation company. I’ll be filling in stories behind this one with what’s happened over the last 3 weeks when I have time. Hopefully on the weekend.

Stay tuned folks — it’s getting interesting.

Posted by Colin
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An underground shed house?

February 8th, 2009

An interesting idea occurred to us this evening.

Since we have the basement walkout in front of the house, why not build a room underneath the front porch, also accessed from the stairwell, that can be used as a shed house (bike storage, gardening equipment, etc. (See newly posted “Elevations” drawing in the Galleries area to see the area in question.) It also means changing the front porch from wood to concrete. The porch itself would become the roof of the room below it.

We’re really not keen to spend the extra money, but it’s not the sort of thing we could really do after the fact.

The demolition guys will be excavating any day now so if we’re going to do it, we’ll have to decide fast so we can tell them where to dig, and how deep.

[UPDATE: We can’t do it. Yes, we can use the area under the front porch, but only for a cold cellar accessed from inside the house. External access to the room is not allowed.]

Posted by Colin
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Contract Signed. Demolition Delays.

February 8th, 2009

We finally got our contract with our builder signed last week. That probably should have been done much earlier or we could have been left with an empty hole in the ground and no builder. It helps that he comes recommended through our architect (and is in all ways an extremely nice and smart guy) and so we felt could be trusted at his word. In general however, it’s good to remember: “Verbal contracts are not worth the paper they aren’t written on.”

With the temperature swinging into positive digits for the rest of this week, we were really hoping to have the hole dug so the footings could be set while it’s a bit warmer out.  The footings are the only tricky piece of our build as far as building through winter goes. The ICF walls are self-insulating as they are poured so the concrete will have no problem setting properly (slowly).

But if the ground is frozen or we failed to keep the footings warm enough, it could cause problems with the curing process. Our builder plans to be on site as soon as the demolition guys have cleared the ground so he can lay down hay. This will apparently prevent the ground from freezing.

Unfortunately the demolition team is now saying “Friday at the latest” for their completion date, which seems like a really long way off considering the amount of work remaining. We’re now 3 weeks behind schedule just for the demolition.

The builder still feels like he could be finished his part by the end of May. 😯

Posted by Colin
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Demolition Progress and Contract Negotiation

February 3rd, 2009

The demolition crew are now removing the rest of the debris from the lot and are simultaneously moving into excavation. My summary of our interactions to date: A really nice group of fairly unreliable guys.

For example: they were supposed to recover several things from the construction site:

  • The kitchen cabinets: Countertop was broken and disposed of before we could say “we’ll take it anyway”. We did reclaim the rest of the cabinets.
  • The wrought iron arch from the kitchen: Smashed. Large pieces missing. It’s inconceivable what their strategy was for removing it that resulted in *any* damage to it, never mind this.
  • 100 year old solid wood 2×6 joists, 2×4 wall supports, up to 1×16″ planks on the walls: “It was all rotted by termites and water damage. We saved what we could.” That was a about 1 dozen *new* 2x4s from the latest addition to the house. It almost makes one wonder how the house could stand if *everything* else was rot. (It also makes one wonder what the value of 2nd hand 100 year old wood is. :-\)
  • All power outlets and light switches: This is weird because I was half done the job. They seem to have thrown out what I had collected up to the time they showed up on the first day.

We did get to keep the front & back doors, breaker box & breakers, and the main power-connection point for the house.

Another oddity: constant contract renegotiation.

They initially wanted $6,500 up front and then a series of payments during the job. We argued that given the widespread corruption problems of their industry, we would be foolish to hand over $6500 — they may just not show up (as is common practice). We have no security.

They, on the other hand, can lien our property for $25 and 10 minutes of their time at city hall. They can lock up our biggest asset if we even hesitate to pay them. Plus since this is the beginning of the build process, they can’t be worried that we don’t have enough budget to get through demolition.

They ultimately agreed to a structure whereby they would be paid in 3 stages as work was completed: Removal of ground floor, removal of basement & foundation, excavation. This was all fine and well until they were partway into the job started hitting us up for early payment.

To make a long story short: they kept offering up factually incorrect reasons why they should be paid early, and blaming the ‘head office’ for making them ask. We ultimately agreed to give them partial payments for the portion of the work we thought had been completed.

In part I really like these guys, but another part of me considers the possibility that we really are just one poorly considered payment away from them running off with what money they have and abandoning the job.

I kept feeling like by saying ‘no’ we were just pushing our interpretation of ambiguous contract language and therefore it was somewhat unreasonable for us to refuse their interpretation. But that wasn’t even close to reality. Our contract could not have been more simply worded, or more clearly defined about when payment was due. It was in no way due.

e.g., it stated debris is to be hauled away before payment. There were 6 (!) bin-loads of debris awaiting removal when they were demanding payment.

You should be prepared to feel like a jerk even when you’re completely in the right, and consider the possibility that holding back payment is the right thing to do, even when the case isn’t so clear-cut. This is another reason why it’s so important to clearly define the work and payment schedule.

Everyone in this industry wants their money early but for 100% of cases where people get scammed, early payment was the crucial mistake.

Posted by Colin
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The return of the surveyor

February 3rd, 2009

Our surveyor from way back at the beginning of this project returned today to mark the “outsets” (I think that’s what they were called). He puts stakes around the property noting how far from each stake the house begins. This includes one marking how far down the bottom of the footings need to be.

The footing depth is absolutely critical for several reasons:

  1. If the house is too deep, the outging sewer connection will not flow properly. (It won’t be installed at all, actually.)
  2. If the house is too high, we’ll be in violation of the building code which limits the height of a house to 10m above grade at the front wall of the house.
  3. The footings must rest on undisturbed soil. There is no acceptable way to recompress the soil once it has been disturbed. If the footings did sit on disturbed soil, the house (especially one made of concrete) could tilt and/or sink.

The surveyor marked the bottom of the footings based on traditional building practices because the documenation we provided didn’t stipulate exactly what was going on beneath the surface of the basement floor.

For our project, we have some extra height requirements because our footings are 10″ deep (typically 6″), we have 2″ of insulation between the ground and our basement floor, and our floor itself is 4″ instead of 3″ thick. The net result is an extra 7″ of depth to the bottom of the footings.

Posted by Colin
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