Sunday, March 30, 2008

Flywheel Building Solutions -My Xeriscape Adventure

After spending money and time over the last three summers feeding, power raking and watering my front lawn to only see it go brown by July, I've decided that maintaining a green lawn is really not a good idea in the central Okanagan. This is especially true when you factor in the start of water metering in our local area in 2007. So I've decided to rip out my front yard and do something different. I thought I would put in rock garden but I've come across a relatively new idea called xeriscape.

XERISCAPE comes from a combination of two words: "xeri" is derived from the Greek word "xeros" meaning dry; and "scape, meaning view or scene, together they mean "a dry scene."

The term Xeriscape was coined in Denver, Colorado in 1978. Xeriscaping is landscaping with slow-growing, drought tolerant plants, allowing a conservation of water and nutrients. Xeric landscapes are conscious attempts to develop plantings which are compatible with the natural environment. Xeriscape landscapes need not be just cactus and rock gardens. They can be green, beautiful landscapes in which plants are maintained with water-efficient practices, and heavy mulching. Xeriscaping is not the same as Zeroscaping. Zeroscaping is using a lot of rocks and a few sparse plants to create low-water-use landscaping. Xeriscapes use a wide variety of native and other water-efficient plants to create an oasis of colour, interest, diversity, and texture.Much to the dismay of my wife I am planning on starting this as soon as the ground is good to work this spring and hope to keep you posted on a regular basis. I would appreciate any advice or information you may have on the subject.

I've found these sites that may interest you.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Greener kitchens

If you have not noticed, kitchen renovations seems to be the hot topic covered by many renovation magazines and TV shows. Our last article spoke on the problems involved in choosing the right kitchen ventilation system for your cooking needs and the size of your home. This article will touch on the green ideas and suggested links and literature to check out as you move through the design process. As always feel free to contact us at if you require any further assistance is sourcing information or contacts.

Canadian Green Product Suppliers:

Suggested books and magazines:

May 2008 issue of Fine Homebuilding – currently on newsstands or visit

2007 Kitchen and Baths – Fine Homebuilding – still on some newsstands

Good Green Kitchens – Gibbs Smith, Publisher

Suggested web links:

Green Kitchen Renovations

Green Kitchen design

Home Recycling centers
- video

Green counter tops explained
- video

Worm composting

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Understanding Land Title Searches

In my 14 years in municipal inspections this has been one of the most misunderstood portions of the design and building process.

A title search is a process where someone searches the public records in the city or town where a piece of property is located. The searcher will go through the grantor and grantee indexes and examine the documents recorded in the land registry concerning that particular piece of property. This is usually performed by a lawyer, notorary, private search agency or in some cases can be provided by your local building authority.

During a title search, several key things are examined. For instance, mortgages, real estate taxes, liens for sewers, roadways, sidewalks, and other municipal improvements, federal taxes, government claims, legal judgments, foreclosures, condemnations, covenants, and easements and liens placed on title by previous contractors. Many municipalities are turning to registering notices on title in the event that work has been done without permits or that there are outstanding permit issues that have never been resolved and may have significant structural or safety issues.

(For specific information on Title Searches contact your lawyer or local building department (if they are not too busy) or drop us a line at )

All building departments require a copy a recent copy of a title search at the time of application. This is to ensure that there are no legal restrictions, which would inhibit the proposed construction, and to provide proof of ownership and ensure that in the case of a new subdivision that the lots have been registered with the Land Registry Office . Some also have private building scheme restrictions, which will limit the style and look of you new home, or addition and set time limits to completion. If you are building in a rural area, then it is important to review if there are limitations to where you can build do to septic system covenants. Many home additions or pool plans have been squashed due to septic field locations. When you factor in all restrictions it can seem like you are trying fit a square into a round hole.

There have been many instances that lots are pre-sold and then the permit applications are made but the lots have not been legally registered. This process can be lengthy and it is important that the lot purchaser inquires if and when the lots will be registered by the developer. There may be amendments to the original documents that may put further restrictions on the proposed plans. Permit applications have been delayed by months and have caused much grief for building authorities and owners.

Another big whammy for some home owners are covenants revolving around geotechnical (Okanagan Geology Mar 1) and environmental issues and as we continue to develop up the hillsides it will become more predominant as local jurisdications protect themselves against future legal action. These covenants may create a safe build area, which may be smaller than the zoning regulations, drainage and retaining requirements and in some cases will require a soils engineer for the foundation design and site reviews. This can create a significant increase in the cost of construction and limit your home or renovation design. For some reason this is a major item that is not explained very well to potential home buyers of hillside lots.

Please take to time to obtain a recent copy of your title and to understand what is registered against your title.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Okanagan Geology - Don't build your house upon the sand

"He shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it."

For anyone familiar with this ancient parable you will understand it is a practical example of what happens when you do not build your home upon a strong foundation.

The Okanagan valley is an area of Canada both unique in climate and geology. Ranging from sandy/gravel soils of Canada’s only desert in Osoyoos to the massive silt and sand deposits around Penticton to the ancient volcanic features of Mount Boucherie and Dilworth Mountain in the Kelowna area. These unique features have been a major focal point to attracting people to the valley. But it also causes unique problems for construction. Clay and high sulphate soils have caused severe damage to foundations in the central Okanagan while improper drainage has led to sink hole development in the areas around Penticton. The Okanagan valley is rich in mineral deposits including uranium, which has caused water quality issues in some communities. Several fault lines also cross the Okanagan valley. The Okanagan Fault line is recorded as one of BC’s largest earth structures. These fault lines have resulted in areas in additional code requirements for commercial foundations in the Kelowna area. It has also resulted in the Central Okanagan having high potential for Geothermal heat development. These unique issues only become more relevant as we continue to build in areas that we would have never even thought of developing 5 years ago. Money is a strong motivator to overcoming land issues. That is why I would recommend seeking out the services of professional geoscientist (geotechnical engineer) if you are building anything larger than a garage or adding

Geotechnical engineering is the branch of civil engineering concerned with the engineering behavior of earth materials. Geotechnical engineering includes investigating existing subsurface conditions and materials; assessing risks posed by site conditions; designing earthworks and structure foundations; and monitoring site conditions, earthwork and foundation construction.

A typical geotechnical engineering project begins with a site investigation of soil and bedrock on and below an area of interest to determine their engineering properties including how they will interact with, on or in a proposed construction. Site investigations are needed to gain an understanding of the area in or on which the engineering will take place. Investigations can include the assessment of the risk to humans, property and the environment from natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, sinkholes, soil liquefaction, debris flows and rock falls.

A geotechnical engineer then determines and designs the type of foundations, earthworks, and/or pavement subgrades required for the intended man-made structures to be built. Foundations are designed and constructed for structures of various sizes such as high-rise buildings, bridges, medium to large commercial buildings, and smaller structures where the soil conditions do not allow code-based design.

For more information on geoscience and work undertaken by a professional geoscientists, see the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists (APEGBC) website: or check out Wikipedia – Geotechnical Engineering.

If you are interested in leaning more about the Okanagan, I would suggest picking up a copy of Okanagan Geology British Columbia