Bang On: President's Column

Watch out for counterfeit and other substandard products

  • Written by Sue Wastell

Familiar with the saying “you get what you pay for”? Or “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is”?

When you begin planning your new home purchase or home renovation, you quickly discover the marketplace offers an astounding array of products with an even more astounding array of prices.

With so much to choose from, how do you get the best value for your money and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you have made wise, informed decisions?

Product selection often begins with appearance and price: how will it look in your home and how much are you willing to pay? Beyond that, other aspects need careful thought: overall quality, reliability, durability, ease of installation, warranty and after-sales service.

Not all products are the same, and in some cases, they may not be what they seem. The majority of building products and materials meet standards for safety, health, performance etc. Some standards are mandatory according to building codes; others are used by manufacturers as a benchmark for quality.

However, recent years have seen an increase in counterfeit and nonconforming consumer products of all kinds, especially with today’s access to purchases online. While there is no evidence of a large-scale problem with building products, it is still prudent for consumers to be on guard against unsafe or substandard products, which can show up as:

  • counterfeit or fake brand name products
  • products with fake certification symbols, that is, fraudulent use of marks belonging to standards organizations such as Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Underwriters Laboratories Canada (ULC) and Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB)
  • nonconforming products, that is, those that do not meet accepted industry standards
  • no-name or knock-off products without any indication of performance, durability or warranty. Untested and uncertified, these products can, in the extreme, pose a serious safety risk. Less dramatically, they may simply be substandard — not dangerous, but not performing as they should.

As a homebuyer or renovating homeowner, what can you do to safeguard against counterfeit and nonconforming products?

One of the most effective ways is to work with an experienced and respectable industry professional. Reputable new home builders and renovators:

  • give careful thought to the best products based on cost, installation, quality, performance, durability, warranty and compliance with codes and standards
  • rely on brand-name products and suppliers and sub-trades they can trust
  • depend on approval marks or listing numbers by standards and evaluation organizations, for example, CSA, ULC and CGSB, to identify products that have been tested against required criteria for safety and performance
  • offer a warranty on their work, and many of the products they use are covered by manufacturers’ warranties, which are transferred to you, the homeowner
  • take a firm stance on not allowing products to be brought in that have not come through their network of trusted suppliers.

However, if you are doing your own work, here are a few pointers to help avoid disappointment and problems from the purchase of a counterfeit product:

  • Buy brands by reputable manufacturers
  • Shop in dependable building supply stores where you can exchange or replace a defective product
  • With Internet purchases, make sure you understand what you are getting, for example, check country of origin and distributor, installation and performance data, maintenance information, warranty and access to service
  • Be skeptical if a price is too good to be true or if you are asked to pay cash with no receipt
  • Be careful if you can’t find information about the manufacturer on the packaging or product. Manufacturers normally want you to know who they are, including name, address and website.
  • Check the product and packaging for a shoddy appearance or approval mark or misspelled words, which may be evidence of a fake
  • Visit the websites of standards organizations such as CSA, ULC and CGSB to check the legitimacy of approval or for product recalls and warnings
  • Report suspicions right away to the appropriate standards organization, the retailer or the supplier.

Sue Wastell is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.     

Be counter productive by choosing material wisely

  • Written by Sue Wastell

There are plenty of options to choose from for countertops in kitchens and bathrooms.

It is important to decide which material will hold up to your kitchen activities, and has a price your budget can handle.

And remember, your counters influence the palette for your room and can dictate other choices such as cabinets, backsplash, paint and even flooring.

Budget friendly

Plastic laminate: Although it’s sometimes looked down on by stone lovers, plastic laminate still has a serious fan base. The wide range of customizable edges and finishes means it can work in any design. Its affordable price makes it a winner for many. However, it’s not the most durable of countertop materials, and so it may not be best for heavy-duty cooks.

Tile: Also one of the more affordable counter choices, ceramic or stone tile is durable, and one of the few do-it-yourself countertop options. Maintenance can be difficult, though, with all that grout, but choosing a durable, dark-coloured grout can make things easier.

Wood: For some, wood and countertops just don’t seem to mix. But a high-quality wood with the right kind of sealant can make for a beautiful, warm and long-lasting countertop. The price varies substantially depending on the type of wood you choose.

Mid range

Granite: There are plenty of reasons granite counters are so popular — this natural stone has plenty of character, with unique grains, colors and customizable finishes. When properly sealed, it’s one of the most durable options out there. Prices can go up quickly with more exotic slabs and difficult installations.

Stainless steel: Professional chefs love stainless steel because it’s non-staining, heat-resistant and easy to clean. While it certainly makes fingerprints and scratches stand out, it’s a great choice for hardworking kitchens that don’t need a perfect look.

Zinc: Although not overly popular, this metal has warmth that has made it popular for centuries. Zinc’s tone darkens with time, adding patina. Its antimicrobial properties make it a smart choice.

Copper: While uncommon, a copper countertop is surprisingly easy to clean and maintain. However, it’s not for perfectionists — since it’s a “living” surface, it reacts to different substances, creating a blend of matte reds, browns and greens. But for those who love the look, the mid-range cost is worth it.

High end

Engineered quartz: Perfect for those wanting a custom look, engineered quartz comes in just about every shade imaginable. This product combines ground quartz, resin and pigments for a tough, non-porous material. Ecofriendly attributes makes it a safe bet for green homes.

Soapstone: Often used in laboratories for its resistance to stains, chemicals and bacteria, soapstone is a durable and natural choice for a kitchen. It might be expensive, but it can be a lifetime investment.

Marble: A a beautiful, classic look, marble always seems to be in style. For lovers of white kitchens in particular, a marble counter offers more variety than almost any other material. Marble is known more for the patina it develops with use than for its durability, as it’s a softer stone than granite, and can scratch and stain easily.

Concrete: Pigments, stains and dyes can create concrete counters with colour and visual texture. With the right sealant, a concrete counter can be well worth its cost.

Recycled glass and cement: Although itexpensive, this unique combination is a great way to add character to your kitchen. Ecofriendly, durable and customizable, this material is a top choice for featured areas, such as serveries or bar areas.

Whatever you choose, my last recommendation is to make your choice early in your decor planning as it will influence many other choices — from cabinets to flooring.

Sue Wastell is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.     

Reno misconceptions can be costly

  • Written by Sue Wastell

Our recommended steps for a successful renovation include tips on planning, selecting the right renovator and details that should be in a written contract.

It’s also important to address common misconceptions:

  • I can do it myself;  I don’t need a professional renovator; anyone can do it. If the work is simple and involves things you have done before successfully, you may well be right. But ask yourself: Do I know the current building code requirements? Can I protect my family against potential law suits because I understand current government safety regulations? Biting off more than you can chew is a major cause of renovation stress, not to mention the extra costs to have work redone.
  • I can save a lot of money by acting as my own contractor. If you’re an experienced construction manager, and you have the time, during the day, this may be the case. But remember, the contractor is responsible for managing everyone else involved in the project. Knowing the order of work to be performed and setting the standards for quality are essential, which means you have to a have a working knowledge of all components in the renovation.
  • It’s a small project, so it shouldn’t take long. It’s not necessarily the size of the job that dictates its length, but the number of steps and sub-trades involved. A quality job requires a realistic job schedule.
  • A professional renovator should be able to give me a good idea of price right away. For a simple project, a renovator may well be able to provide a rough  estimate. But for anything more complex, or where structural issues may crop up, or where costs depend on material or finishing choices you have yet to make, a more detailed plan is needed before costs can be estimated accurately.
  • I should get at least three bids (and more is better). Getting a large number of bids provides no assurance they are based on the comparable specifications or that the renovation companies are equal in skills. From whom you get bids is  more important than how many you collect. Focus on interviewing professional renovators, and look for the experience and qualifications that best match your project, as well as the personal fit between you and the renovator. Then, you can decide who to ask for detailed quotes, one, two or more renovators.
  • I am the best person to design my own renovation. True, you know your own house and what you want. But a professional renovator or designer draws on a wealth of experience and knowledge (about building code, structural restrictions and more), and can offer you ideas and suggestions, large and small, that you may never have thought about, adding extra value and living enjoyment to your home.
  • Cost overruns are usually the renovator’s fault. Extra costs almost always are due to extra work not included in the original plan, like having to replace old wiring in the walls. Often, homeowners add to the work: “While we’re at it, we may as well …” It’s best to add a 10 to 15 per cent contingency fund to the budget.
  • I don’t need a permit. Perhaps, but depending on your project, that may be illegal. Structural changes usually require a permit. A professional always will recommend getting all the necessary permits and inspections. Insurance companies usually require proof of permits as an indication work has passed inspection and is worthy of being insured. Also on resale, potential buyers may want to know about the renovations on your house, including whether you got permits.

A renovation isn’t a good place for on-the-job learning. Using a professional RenoMark renovator is always the top recommendation for bringing your dreams to reality.

Sue Wastell is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.     

Amenities constantly change with high-rises

  • Written by Sue Wastell

The main reasons for a move to high-rise homeownership are usually convenience and location. But amenities also play a major role in choice and could be the deciding factor between different buildings.

Understanding the importance of amenities keeps builders and developers constantly researching wish lists of features.

Thirty years ago it was card rooms for bridge tournaments and poker games. In the early days of the internet, business centres with computers that could go online were the hot ticket.

Those areas have now made way for many new features to try to stay relevant with the changing needs and desires of residents, including the following:

  • Yoga studios:Sometimes with pre-arranged weekly sessions.
  • Pet areas:Considerable thought and planning have gone into understanding the needs of not only pet owners but also pets. No time to go to the local park? No worries — some buildings feature outdoor dog runs, including fountains for pets to drink from. Indoor pet washing areas can be a major convenience rather than having to use a bathtub in a unit. All manner of accommodations are being made.
  • Fitness and aquatic centres:Along with an outdoor terrace and a gym, a desired amenity has always been a pool. The pool space might now also include men’s and women’s changing rooms, steam rooms and sauna.
  • Holistic wellness areas:These might accommodate physical or massage therapists who come directly to residents.
  • Covered porte cochere:No one wants to get out of their car in the rain or snow and have to make a run for the front door. Some building designs now include covered areas where residents can load or unload a car.
  • Underground parking:Security and convenience are factors here, especially in poor weather. We’re seeing garages include electric car charging stations for residents.
  • Food delivery:Toronto’s new Line 5 condo building has incorporated a dedicated lane out front for Uber and food delivery vehicles. If you’re running a few minutes late getting home, the building also provides a hot and cold storage area where the building concierge will accept pre-paid grocery and takeout orders.
  • Social spaces:Apartment living can sometimes feel like a lonely place where you don’t have many opportunities to interact with your neighbours. Today you can work from home, have food and shopping delivered and never need to leave the house. But people are now realizing the value of social interaction and we’re seeing spaces such as group kitchens, where you can have a large group over for dinner or hire in a chef and have a cooking class. Theatre rooms, games rooms, craft and hobby rooms and children’s playrooms are all popular.
  • Ceiling heights:Natural light, increased ceiling heights and oversized windows continue to be a must-have amenity for many.
  • Technology:It’s gone beyond having advanced fibre optics in the building. Condo developers are incorporating smart-home technologies that allow their homeowners to control lighting, temperature and electronics using their tablet or smartphone, even if they’re not home.
  • Guest suite:Can’t fit your overnight guests into your own apartment? Guest suites available for rent by residents are great at allowing your guests to stay close by in a hotel-type setting. They can also be an income-generator, which can help the condo association keep condo fees in check.

So it seems high-rise living can provide more than just a view.

Sue Wastell is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.     

Lots of decisions to make with paint: type, colour, finish

  • Written by Sue Wastell

Whether you’re building a new home or renovating a room, choosing paint can become a larger task than one might think.

Not all paints are created equal. Price usually is an indication of the quality. Good quality paint contains less water, more solids and a finer quality of titanium oxide and resin. These attributes mean more colour ends up on the wall, it maintains its look longer and provides a more durable surface. This can also mean less labour and less coats of paint to get a solid look.

The two most common types of paint are water borne and oil based. Water borne include latex, or acrylic-based paint. Oil based paints were thought to wear better, however, modern latex and acrylic paints have become almost as durable with less fumes, less yellowing and easier clean up with water instead of solvents.

More environmentally friendly paints with fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are available from all manufacturers. VOC content regulations were developed to help reduce emissions that produce smog and the formation of ground ozone. VOCs can cause skin and eye irritation, headaches, and respiratory distress in some people. If you want to tint the paint, ask about the VOCs in the colourant. Many colourants contain VOCs, which will defeat having chosen a low-VOC or no-VOC paint.

Sheen is something to consider when looking at finishes. In high traffic areas, you want a finish which can be wiped clean and is easy to touch up without repainting the entire wall. Eggshell finishes are a good choice in high traffic areas, as they have almost no sheen and are easier to clean than a flat finish.

Re-painting a white ceiling can be tricky, because it is difficult to see where you have painted or where you might have missed painting. Some ceiling paints appear to have a colour, such as pink, when they go on, but lose the colour when they dry.

If you are struggling to decide what colour to choose, there are tools on paint manufacturers’ websites that can help. They post their colour trends for the year, highlighting the top colour pallets their designers have put together.

There also is a colour quiz, where you answer a few questions about your personality and how you live and you will get a personalized palette for all design elements of your room.

You can upload a picture of the room you want to paint and many programs will show you what that room will look like in any colour you choose.

These tools and others help take the guesswork out of painting.

My final tip comes from Paul Guenette, owner of London CertaPro Painters franchise, who says “it is still important to see how paint swatches look in your home before making the final decision. The same colour applied to all of the walls in the same room may appear very different during daylight or with interior lighting at night.”

New paint can change the mood and look of any room in an instant.

Sue Wastell is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.     

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