Warning: "continue" targeting switch is equivalent to "break". Did you mean to use "continue 2"? in /usr/home/usr/public_html/colinfoster.net/osh/wp-includes/pomo/plural-forms.php on line 210
Our Sustainable Home: A sustainable house construction project in Toronto
Most Recent Entries

Madawaska Doors arrive early!

June 25th, 2009

After searching for weeks for alternatives (none of which we liked) we decided to bite the bullet and get the fine folks at Madawaska Doors to build us a set of front doors. (Since sidelights are about as expensive as doors, we decided just to go with two doors.)

Unfortunately, by the time we ordered, the doors weren’t due to be finished until the early July but they knew we had some time pressure and were able to deliver them well ahead of schedule.

We’re going to need to seal them as soon as possible to avoid them coming into contact with the drywall dust, however; It’s apparently very bad for the door.

I should pass on a quick tip here as well for others on a restricted budget: Madawaska Doors has a clearance center in Schomberg where one can buy doors that are either slightly damaged or for some other reason returned by their former owners. They don’t come with any sort of warranty but are at least half price! We picked up a dozen knotty pine interior doors there. We’re going with a bit of a rustic look for the interior finishes so the knotty pine should fit right in.

The clearance center was probably also a contributing factor in our decision to have them make the doors for us. (After seeing HUNDREDS of beautiful wood doors, but none quite right to be our front door, it was hard to think of our front door being steel or *gasp* vinyl.)

We’re VERY happy with our purchases both at the clearance center and the front doors they made just for us!

At the moment, we’re looking at using raw Linseed Oil for the kitchen countertops, baseboards and doors, but will probably need something else (more weather resistant) for the exterior door.

Posted by Colin
§
§

Strike!

June 22nd, 2009

Well, this isn’t good.

Our inspector is amongst those who have gone on strike today. Before that happened he indicated a few areas that need to be changed in order for us to proceed with drywalling:

  1. The loft area needs the standard 45 minute fire rating between it and the neighbour’s house. (But that’s why we’re using 5/8″ drywall — the standard way in which a 45 minute fire rating is achieved.)
  2. The loft area is using spray foam insulation and he want to see it vented. (But it is commonly understood that 2lb, closed cell spray foam is its own vapour barrier and therefore doesn’t need venting.)
  3. Our HRV equipped bathrooms need a separate fan system. (But the HRV is a centralized fan system.)

So these are all things it would be great to talk about in case they were just misunderstandings. (I’m going to assume/hope they weren’t flagged to front-load the backlog of construction projects in the city before a probable strike.)

There may be ways around these (e.g., engineers reports) but I’m not sure. I’ll know more when our builder gets back from Cuba (he thought he could leave because drywalling was going to be starting for 3 weeks).

Posted by Colin
§

Plants for better indoor air quality

June 21st, 2009

I just saw a very short but fascinating TED Talk by Kamal Meattle called How To Grow Fresh Air.

It describes the 3 plants you need to take with you when living in a sealed bottle (or any other environment where you’d like to improve the air quality) and what they do:

The Living Room Plant
Areca Palm (Chrysolidocarpus Lutescens)

  • Converts Carbon Dioxide to Oxygen
  • You need 4 shoulder height plants per person.
  • The leaves should be cleaned once per week
  • It should be taken outdoors every 3-4 months.

The Bedroom Plant
Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevierio Trifasciata)

  • 6-8 Waist High plants per person.
  • Converts co2 to o2 at night

The Specialist Plant
Money Plant (Epipremnum Aureum)

  • Removes formaldehydes and other toxins

I’ll need to dig a little more into this but it looks very interesting.

Posted by Colin
§

Much Ado About Windows

June 19th, 2009

Generally, I’m not someone who takes any satisfaction from the acquisition of things (a car, new stereo, TV, etc. — they’re mostly just functional, to me).  The arrival of these windows, however, I find deeply satisfying. I feel really good about our windows.

Some background explanation is probably required here.

Rewind about 2 months and you’ll find us talking to the builder about ordering the windows. As with each new product being introduced to the house there were decisions to be made about colour, style, features, etc.  Because of budget restrictions Greg had (at our request) changed from fiberglass to vinyl windows, and had sourced some good quality vinyl windows.

There are areas where reasonable arguments could be made that vinyl is actually the best product for a particular purpose, despite the ecologically unfriendly consequences of manufacturing.

I’m sure you can do your own in depth research so just to hit the highlights: windows seem like an unwise area to be using vinyl because:

  • Seasonal expansion and contraction of the vinyl frame reduces the efficiency of the seals.
  • Vinyl is not a strong material. There are some amazing efficiencies to be gained by using a triple glazed pane, but over time, vinyl will struggle to support even a moderately sized triple-glaze pane.
  • Vinyl has a relatively short warranty period which makes it pretty safe to say, we’d be going through the expense of replacing all our windows much sooner than we’d like.
  • If it must be used, Vinyl is better as an outdoor material because of off-gassing issues. Most of the off-gassing is in the first month or so, but the idea that I’d, say, only be poisoning my 1 year old ‘a little’ isn’t in the least bit reassuring.

If you’ve ever been in a situation where you felt something wasn’t quite right, that’s exactly how we were feeling. Despite the pressure to get the window order in to keep the house build on schedule (which is critically important — construction schedules are the slippiest slopes you’ll come across) we started pushing for more time to do some last minute research.

The research felt somewhat pointless at first because we knew the reality was our project was already over budget. The philosophy used for of every other major component of the house was to select the highest quality product, as long as it paid back in time. Fiberglass windows are exactly such a product… but still have to be paid for in the present.

But then the alternative was to settle for vinyl and that seemed… unsettling.

We went back and reviewed who were the big/established companies in Fiberglass Windows, quality of the products they make, what sort of warranties they offered, etc.

One of our calls found us talking with the very amiable and excellently accented Steven Hall at Fibertec. He had reviewed the window plan I had sent over and prepared a quote for us that was, as we expected, astronomically out of our budget.

He then said something quite interesting: “I know you’re under a time constraint and if this window plan can’t change then there’s not much more I can do for you. But if you’re able spend some time working on this with me, I think we can do much better.”

This is already a long post so I’ll summarize by saying: there was about a week long process of discussion, revision, evaluation, hand-wringing, re-revision, more hand wringing and ultimately the stunning realization that together we had developed a window plan for the house that was:

  • far more sensible than our original design
  • would create a home that was far more comfortable to live in
  • maintained our home’s somewhat stringent ventilation plan (for cooling the house without AC)
  • and was now only “significantly more than we had planned to spend”

But we *could* do it! We could actually get these unbelievable triple-glazed, krypton filled fiberglass windows for our home! We wouldn’t have to poison the planet or ourselves (even if only ‘a little’) and our house would be a much more comfortable place to nestle down in, while the windows ever-so-gradually returned their purchase price (and more) to our pockets.

Fibertec Fiberglass Windows installed in the back windows.

From the moment we committed to buying the windows we felt great about the change. And now seeing them in place I have no doubt it was the right way to go.

Posted by Colin
§
§

Weblog Bankruptcy

June 18th, 2009

This blog has become woefully out of date as I desperately try to keep our house build on schedule (and help out with our young son, and try to hold down a job, and maybe, just maybe: sleep). Interesting and/or exciting new things are happening all the time that aren’t getting discussed here because I’ve been trying to find the time to fill in the older entries first.

That effort has been underway for over almost two months (!) and its simply not happening. So…

By this post, I hereby declare weblog bankruptcy. I will resume current coverage of the build starting today. I’ll be covering the past aspects of the build through discussion of current events.

Posted by Colin
§

How to excavate

March 3rd, 2009

This is what a properly excavated hole is supposed to look like:


not this:


Each excavator who came to quote on cleaning up the mess left by Premier Construction took one look and said “Who would do this?”

Excavations are not completed from outside the hole (which is what PCMS tried to do). The excavation equipment will go all the way to the back of the property, and begin to dig out a square and level hole, gradually moving forward to the front of the property. This makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Posted by Colin
§

Securing the site

March 3rd, 2009

Just a quick note about securing a site.

Orange plastic fencing is only appropriate when there is still a structure in place, or it can be positioned at least 4′ away from the hole. Otherwise you’ll want to source 6′ high metal fencing that you’ve probably seen around most construction sites.

We got ours from Fast Fence and we found them to be a really great company to work with from beginning to end. Their sales staff were really helpful on the phone working out just what we needed. The delivery guys were polite, and well mannered, and got everything unloaded quickly. Looking at our setup they left behind a couple of extra stands just to make sure we’d have enough. “Concientious” is the word, I think.

Our bill for renting fencing for the month was about $400. Most of that is delivery, which is understandable considering the size of the fence sections.

So Premier Construction failed to provide the correct safety fencing for our site (and put neighbouring children at risk) so they could save themselves $400. That’s just sad.

Welcome to the construction industry.

Posted by Colin
§

Demolition Recap and Alternatives

March 1st, 2009

I’m not sure how much worse demolition could have gone. It’s great that no one got hurt during this phase but in all other ways it was a disaster. I think I should have been more demanding of the demolition company and obviously less trusting of their expertise.

In watching tv shows like Holmes on Holmes, I felt that if something was ever being done incorrectly on our project I’d be able to spot it right away because it was always so obvious in the show by just looking at the poor quality of the work.

Looking back now, it does seem obvious that the site was out of control. But the strange thing is: at the time, I couldn’t see it. I thought this is the way it was done. I now think a responsible crew would have demolished each day, only what they could clean up by the end of the day. As it was, the demolition was so chaotic there was dangerous debris constantly overflowing to neighbouring properties.

We went through the standard process of taking bids and researching who each company was before making our selection so there is not much I feel we could have done differently to assure the company was a good one, except for one thing: we could have gone with a really big name.

Priestley Demolition was one of the companies we approached to bid on the demolition. At that time, they were thousands of dollars more than the company we hired. In retrospect, they would have been thousands of dollars less. They also would have completed the work in a week instead of a few months.

I believe that the demolition company we hired cut-and-run because they were over their head, and realized the job was going to be incredibly costly to complete. But if that had happened with a large company like Priestley, their reputation is far too valuable to throw away on one job. They would have bitten the bullet and finished the work that was started, no matter what.

The good folks at Priestley were even kind enough to spare us some of their time to discuss what went wrong with our demolition and give some advice, even though they had never been hired and were no longer needed at the point we were talking to them.

If you have a build of your own coming up, I would encourage you to strongly consider going with a well established company. They will almost certainly cost more than the no-name brand, but they will do the job safely and correctly.

What would you be willing to pay to not have your project endanger your neighbours and be put months behind schedule at the first stage?

Posted by Colin
§

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
§

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
§
§