Saturday, December 20, 2008

Flywheel - Hot tubs and decks

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If you have recently installed or are thinking of installing a hot tub on your raised patio or deck the following may be of interest to you. Decks that are above 24"(600mm) from finished grade (ground level) are required to have a guard.

In a recent ruling (BCAB#1651) from the Building Code Appeal Board has reversed a Building Officials decision to require additional guards for a hot tub install.

The hot tub had been installed in the exterior corner of the deck about 24" form the edges and guard of the deck. The height of the outer edge fo the hot tub is about 40" above the deck's floor surface. There are provisions for seating around the outer edge of the tub. When not in use, the tub is provided with a rigid cover.

The Building Official stated that do to it's proximity to the balcony guard and the height of the hot tub outer edge with respect to the height of the balcony guard, that a slip or fall that may occur in or on the tub, would render the existing balcony guard ineffective. The Building Official requested an additional guard height of 42" above the top surface of the hot tub. The specific code reference - Sentence requires every surface to which access is provided for other than maintenance purposes shall be protected by a guard on each side that is not protected by a wall for the length. The minimum guard height in this situation is 1070mm (42").

In it's decision the Board decided that in practical terms it made sense to prevent people from falling backwards over the existing railing system, the Building Official can not request the additional guard height as the hot tub edge was not considered a walking surface.

Contact Flywheel Building Solutions if you require clarification on a code reference.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Flywheel - Building codes - ABC’s of Avoiding Claims

If you have built, are building or planning to build there are likely times when you have wondered why building departments do the things that they do. Local jurisdictions that elect to handle building permits, yes you could live in a home that never had building permits and inspections, face the challenge of protecting the pubic safety and health (and now reducing the carbon footprint) as well as protecting against future liability. After the leaky condo crisis many municipalities have written bylaws and improved internal policies to reduce risk (some have not), which have led to builders and owners getting frustrated on the amount of red tape to work through. In future newsletters we will discuss the importance of codes, bylaws and keeping proper records and taking more responsibility as the owner. But for now we will start with a list prepared by Frank Cowan Company Ltd (who specialize in risk management for municipalities), which outlines what a Building Inspector should do to avoid claims and it may shed some light on why they do the things they do or could do better.

Avoid acting as a consultant

Be aware of changes to construction, which may require revised plans.

Communicate to potential new buyers any outstanding orders or open permits.

During inspection, document deficiencies, issue orders when necessary and follow-up to ensure compliance.
Ensure drawings are sealed by an architect or professional engineer where appropriate.

Files and records should be kept in accordance with the Statue of Limitations.

Get to know your builders. Which ones will follow the building code and which ones will take short cuts.

Have procedures for consistent plan reviews.

Inspections completed today will need to stand the test of time. Remember the subsequent owner.

Judges rely on documentation to formulate a decision. What will your documents reveal about the inspection?

Keep you documentation consistent and objective. Checklists will allow you to do this. It is also an excellent tool to ensure a complete inspection.

Liability for negligent building inspection arises at the plan approval stage and the on-site inspection stage.

Municipalities that make a decision to conduct building inspections are at law, held to owe duty to the individual property owners, future property owners and the public at large to properly review plans, issue building permits and conduct inspections.

Never admit liability.

Owner acting as the Builder is a potential red flag.

Plans submitted should be detailed enough to carry out a proper review. Do not expect less.

Qualified persons are required to prepare plans for building permits.

Remember to follow up on deficiencies found during permits.

Safety of the present owner, future owner and potential visitors to a property must be considered, particularly associated with an occupancy.

The building code is your bible. Refer to it when in doubt.

Understand that by the time a claim is made, the municipality may be the only defendant left to sue. Other parties may have gone bankrupt, may not exist or may not have liability policies that will respond.

Verify that all required documentation has been received before issuing a permit.

What length of time do you allow inactive permits to remain open? Why do you allow them to remain open?

X’pect a red flag when the contractor is working outside of his usual expertise or is a new builder.

You have the power to order work to be uncovered when it is covered before you’ve inspected.

Zero in on the aspects of construction within the Building Code that are related to health, safety and structural stability.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Flywheel - Secondary Suites - Penticton

After 13 years since the allowance of secondary suites in the BC Building Code. The city of Penticton has opted to recognize that secondary suites are a necessary evil in today's housing market. Until recently, like many municipalities Penticton had turned a blind eye to the growing number of suites acting on a complaint only basis for bylaw enforcement. But with the growing price of housing in the area, there is little chance a first time home owner could carry a mortgage without a suite. There is also a growing trend for Baby Boomers to help their children out by sharing a single family home or having someone live in their 2nd residence as they travel abroad or go south for the winter. As most financial do not recognize legal or non-legal suites, this has forced many to go under the radar or flat out lie to inspection departments and finish the suite area off after final occupancy inspections have been granted for new homes. Some municipalities have blurred the lines by allowing "in-law" suites but many have been phasing this abused option out as well such as the City of Kelowna.

As someone who rented for 12 years in the Lower Mainland and was an in inspector in the Coquitlam, one of the first municipalities to legalize suites in BC, I've seen the need to make affordable rental safe for both tenant and land owner.

But before you get too excited, there are a number of catches, particularly with adding a suite to an existing single family home. Besides the additional permit fees, including $100 to register the Housing Agreement at Land Titles ( This is prove that the owner of the property of the home lives in the house containing a suite). There are some weird provisions for maintaining the look of the existing home as well as restrictions to adding onto the home once a suite has been installed. It appears additions to the home are not permitted to add a secondary suite or it may not be allowed to update the exterior of your home when adding a suite. It is unclear if it it would be allowed to add to your home one year and make a suite the next. Secondary suites are not allowed in detached buildings often called "carriage homes".

The city of Penticton planning department is in the process of reviewing some of the suite requirements and can be reached at PENTICTON SECONDARY SUITES or contact us for more information or a free on-site consultation at Flywheel Building Solutions - 250 859 6062

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Flywheel - Green Code - Okanagan requirements

The new green requirements in the Code come into effect on September 5, 2008 and will apply to all new construction and renovations in BC. The new requirements will apply to building permit applications submitted on or after September 5, 2008. These changes revolve around new Building Code requirements to increase energy and water efficiency.

But what does this mean to us here in the Okanagan and are they enough?

Unless you are building commercial or high-rise projects, there is little change to what is required under the basic provisions of the 2006 BC Building Code and local Building Bylaws.

Energy Efficiency

Increased engergy requirements for residential projects under 5 storeys have only seen an increase for Attic insulation values from R40 to R44.

Water Efficiency

As most jurisdictions have already adopted measures towards water efficiency - 6 litre flush toilets. It should not be a large leap towards meeting the maximum flow and flush cylcles required by code. These would include:

Maximum Flow Rates

Kitchen & Lavatory - 8.3L/min

Shower Heads - 9.5L/min (I am not sure how multiple head shower stalls could be considered "green")

Maximum Flush Cycles

Water Closets (Toilets) Tank Type - 6.0 Litres

Water Closets Direct Flush - 6.0 Litres

Urinal - Tank and Direct Flush - 5.7 Litres

Ensuring that your builder, suppliers and sub-trades have the corret information and product on hand will be the key factor to ensuring you meet the new green codes. Do I feel that these changes will make a significant impact - NO. But at least we are moving in the right direction.

Details on the new requirements are available in the Summary and Text of Code Changes.

If you are wondering what is in store for more improvements to green codes you may want to look at the City of Vancouver's Building Bylaw.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ken Kunka - To Code or not to Code

Unless you are replacing flooring, changing fixtures, painting or moving some cabinets around your project will likely need a permit and must meet code and local bylaws. It’s important to review when a permit is required with your local jurisdiction as most have fines for works started without permits and there could be costly delays with Zoning or improper construction repairs. Understanding the do’s and dont’s when it comes to codes and bylaws will save you time and money in the long run. It is the fundamental building block of an organized, safe and quality project.

Why are codes so important - they are a set of regulations that establish minimum standards for Health, Safety, Accessibility, Fire and Structural protection and protection of the building from water and sewer damage. Codes ensure that the materials you buy and the way they are used meet minimum approved standards. Permits and Inspections aid in creating a level playing field for contractors and offer another set of eyes for the contractor or owner to avoid costly mistakes. In short they offer all parties a level of assurance that what they are building will be safe, comfortable and last a reasonable amount of time. To quote a famous Canadian renovation personality - “ building to code is the bare minimum. It’s the worst that you’re allowed to build”. So if your not even building to code then what are you really getting?

Building and Land Use bylaws in most jurisdictions regulate when and what type of permits are required, regulate unique requirements within a local area such as snow loads and ensure a standard level of quality of life within your neighbourhood. Yes they may seem like a pain but I'll post some pictures of projects without regulations and it will make your hair curl. Bylaws assist neighbours to ensure their rights and investment are being protected!

Codes, Bylaws, Standards and construction practices continually change and even good designers and contractors can not keep up with them all. Inspectors have always been a source of information to the permit holder and builder and in most cases the price of a permit does not cover the wealth of information and service your local inspection staff can offer. Use them but don't abuse them. Their main job is to regulate not act a your project manager. The more organized the permit application and construction project the happier the plan checker and inspector and the smoother the project will turn out.

But, unfortunately mistakes can happen or personalities clash and it is important that the permit holder is educated enough to communicate and resolve issues in a timely manner. Ultimately you are their client and they are getting paid by you for their services - know your rights! Also, most jurisdictions have limited inspections so don’t assume every part of your project is being looked at and approved. Again educate yourself on when at what type of inspections are required.

Next post - how does code work in the design stage

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