Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's not easy being green

While sitting in on a recent Green Building Code workshop this summer I felt this sickening feeling wash over me. It reminded me of the time I was trying to learn to surf in Australia. I was having a great time but getting a little tired trying to ride each wave I could. I turned around to see what was coming next and slam, I was run over by a rouge wave and was fortunate to bounce along the bottom and be washed up on the shoreline and not out to sea.

That feeling made me think of the huge wave of information washing over designers, builders, owners and regulators. We have been recovering from a serious case of new code blues and and now green codes. It seems like everyone is promoting "green" products. Love him or hate, Al Gore has opened the debate (that the David Suzuki helped start 30 years ago) on what we are doing to planet. Some now are sounding off against the "tree huggers" saying that it really is not so bad and it's a natural cycle. If you've seen the movie "the Inconvenient Truth", I would find it hard to think that this is "natural". But even if we are reading too much into this, I really believe, for my kids future, that we are better off erring on the side of cleaning up our act for the next generation.

So what do we do as a building industry and home owner. I think the most important thing is to become educated on the topic and research what is coming at us. Knowledge is Power! There are hundreds of organizations out there that are leading and other that are blurring the lines. Some of the good ones can be found on the Green Solutions page of our website.

Stay tuned for further discussion in later newsletters.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

What's up Dock - Environmental Update

In the spring of 2004 the provincial government introduced sweeping environmental changes that have greatly affected properties neighbouring creeks, lakes and ravines. This regulation known as the Riparian Areas Regulation, which came under the local enforcement in 2006, provides protection for the features, functions and conditions that are vital in the natural maintenance of stream health and productivity. In short is restricts property owners from building within 30m(100 feet) from the watercourse boundary or ravine without a lengthly and costly environmental review. This also includes landscaping.

While working recently with Jason Schleppe of Ecoscape Environmental Consultants Ltd of Kelowna he indicated that most property owners fail to research if there are any environmental regulations that could significantly reduce the allowable building area of their lot. It is not until they move into the building permit application stage that they become aware of the regulations. Most municipalities and regional districts are obligated to review and enforce the regulation and many have established mapping areas to indicate where environmental assesments are triggered. These maps are broad in nature and in some instances exemptions can be given if it can be determined that there will be no significant impact to the surrounding area.

Jason also indicated that new regulations pertaining to the construction of docks could also have a significant impact on lakeshore development. Maps have been produced to flag Yellow and Red zones as well as safe zones (no colour). Most shoreline properties from Kelowna to Vernon appear to fall within the Red or Yellow zones. These areas have been set up to further protect sensitive wetlands and spawning migration patterns for fish. Persons wishing to repair and construct new waterfront structures within Yellow or Red zones will be required to complete an environmental assessment which will be approved or rejected by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

For further information contact:
Jason Schleppe, M.Sc., R.P.Bio.
Natural Resources Biologist
ECOSCAPE Environmental Consultants Ltd.
4824 Parkridge Dr.
Kelowna, BC
V1W 3A1
Phone: 250.491.7337 ext. 202
Fax: 250.491.7772
Cell: 250.808.3474

Owner-builder regulations

If you are thinking of acting as your own General contractor (owner-builder) to build a single family home then please take notice.

As of November 19th, 2007 the Home Protection Agency (HPO) will implement the Homeowner Protection Amendment Act. This amendment will allow for easier access and information online but has created more stringent criteria and fees. The Act strengthens HPO’s ability to pursue and file legal action against persons abusing the owner-builder regulation.

The HPO was created in 1998 under the Homeowner Protection Act to enhance the standard of residential construction and to protect the homeowner. This was the result of the Leaky Condo Disaster of the mid 1990’s where hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and law suits brought the construction industry to its knees. See for more historical information. By the way BC was not the only area to experience this level of construction failures. Many areas of the coastal US, Australia and New Zealand had faced similar issues and in the case of New Zealand they have totally changed their codes and enforcement regulations.

In short the original Act created mandatory new home warranty insurance and builder licensing for single and multi family projects. All homes are required to be built by a licensed builder or through an owner-builder exemption. No building permits can be released until proof of HPO certification has been provided. But unfortunately HPO agents found that it was very difficult to pursue and charge violators under the original wording of the Act. This led to non-registered builders and owners to violate the intent of the Act and as a result buyers of owner-built homes did not have the same level of protection as buyers of homes built by licensed builders.

The major changes for owner-builder authorization are:

• Applicants are required to go through a pre-screening process
• Owner builder Authorization fees are $425
• Owner builders are expected to occupy the new home themselves for at least 12 months after obtaining an occupancy permit and are not permitted to sell or rent the new home during that one-year period.
• Owner builders will be obligated to provide a disclosure notice if they sell the home within a 10-year period. The disclosure notice will state that the home was built by an owner builder and whether or not there is a policy of home warranty insurance in place for the home.
• Owner builders who sell their home within the first 10 years are obligated to subsequent purchasers for defects in the home during that 10-year period. Owner builder obligations are now similar to the obligations of a Licensed Residential Builder under a policy of home warranty insurance. That is 2 years for material and labour, 5 for defects in the building envelope and 10 years for structural defects.
• Homes built after November 19th will be identified on a registry will notify potential purchasers if the home is owner-built or built by a Licensed Residential Builder.

Note any individual who has obtained authorization prior to November 19th can use the old forms until February 19th, 2008.

For further information on the Home Protection Amendment Act contact HPO help desk or contact us at

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Building during a Boom

You just have to look at the number of billboards from Osoyoos to Vernon advertising vacation resorts and condominium projects to get a feeling for the incredible growth the Okanagan valley has and will experience for years to come. So if you are a home owner looking to renovate you are likely experiencing some frustration in the availability of quality trades at a reasonable price. If you are new to the area and looking to build a new home then you are looking at some long waiting times and high budgets to pull off your dream. The Okanagan has an incredible number of quality builders, designers and trades but this has come to a bottleneck with many backed up for over a year or not taking on smaller projects. There is also the tendency for an increase in miscommunication leading to mistakes and fly by night contractors taking owners for a ride during these busy times

Looking at the 2007 economic profile prepared by the Economic Development Commission (EDC) . It appears that continued growth will buck the economic slowdown experienced in other parts of North America. The profile shows that the central Okanagan business sector is moving to diversify and confidence is at an all time high. This can only be bolstered from the recent announcement that the Kelowna Airport will be expanding capacity and lengthing their runway to accommodate direct International traffic, particularly from Europe. Did you know that 33% of Okanagan residents have ties to Germany! The main driver in the central Okanagan is and always will be the construction sector. Since the first wave of retiring baby boomers in 2003, the central Okanagan has experienced new starts exceeding the echo boom of Expo 86. Statics show that the Okanagan is the main Canadian retirement area and that more people are buying here to live rather than work. We can only guess what may happen in 2010 when we are introduced to mainstream international markets. But there has been signs of leveling off in some sectors. I believe this shows how our current market is affecting the “average” resident. The building trend has been offset by the high cost of development, lot prices and wage increases and skilled labour shortages. Building a single family home may be a luxury that most working families can no longer afford. If you were wondering the average new house price in the Central Okanagan has gone from $124k in 1990 to $225k in 2000 to a staggering $560k in 2007. My 35 year old home has nearly doubled in value in under 3 years. Projects are taking longer and costing more. The average renovation project is taking well over 12 months to complete. More and more home owners are being forced into running their own job and/or physically doing some of the work themselves to reduce time and costs or in fact just get their project started.

So what is being done to improve our situation.
• The EDC is looking a ways to import foreign skilled labour for short and permanent residence.
• Organizations such as the Canadian Home Builders Association and the Southern Interior Construction Association have been working with local and provincial bodies to develop local skilled labour.
• A number of businesses and construction methods have been introduced to streamline and improve the quality of construction.

But even with these improvements most owners will be required to be more involved in the process. The owner will have to educate themselves on the full process from lot purchase to codes and bylaws to the design and contracting phase. Stricter provincial regulations have put more responsibility on the home owner when it comes to building their Single Family Home. Having a better understanding of the entire process and taking the time in the planning process and hiring the right people to help you will greatly improve your chances at a smoother and economical project.