Bang On: President's Column

Owning a home builds benefits

  • Written by Peder Madsen

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s an old adage but more often than not, it rings true.

For instance, I was raised hearing my parents talk about home ownership as one of life’s most important achievements. I can’t say I thought I would ever be of the same mindset; you see I did have experience with my life goals not always being in alignment with my parents’ views. But when I was twenty and thoughts of being on my own were actually possible, I did start to see the benefits, and did turn to homeownership.

My first realization was that a home could be my own personal safe haven and I did revel in that freedom. Over the next few years as an apprentice carpenter, I became interested in understanding how my home worked, or at times didn’t work. In short, my home became the testing ground for new materials and methods of construction. It gave me a solid understanding, so much so, that at a recent LEEP Retrofit seminar whose objective was to evaluate the energy efficiency of exterior building envelope assemblies, I’m proud to say that the wall I designed was chosen as one of four most worthy of further research.

Along the way, I also realized my home was a solid financial investment that would support me well in the years to come, which brought me right back to my parent’s view of homeownership as an important life achievement.

Proof that this thinking is not unique to my family, is validated in RBC’s annual Home Ownership Poll, where 2,000 Canadians of various ages, provided insight – specifically:

  • homebuying intentions were marked as the highest levels since 2010;
  • 32 per cent of Canadians advised they were likely to buy a home in the next two years, up seven percentage over last year; and
  • Millennials (aged 18-34) expressed the strongest of those home buying intentions (50 percent).

The main influencing factors were reported as a resurgence in confidence in Canada’s economy and a lessening of anxiety about employment. This confidence was despite the Federal Government’s recent new “stress test”, to which 55% of those who were aware of the test, indicated their purchase decisions were impacted. Actions taken to qualify were either making higher down payments, delaying their home purchase, buying a less expensive home or a less expensive one in a different location or a growing number also indicated having to rely on their family for financial assistance with their downpayment.

The report also offered solid tips to overcoming the biggest challenges of finding the right property and understanding your financial capability, to which we would agree and expand on:

  • access on-line mortgage calculators to determine your level of affordability and to do your own stress test by using the posted or higher interest rate; make sure you consider your future – car purchase, starting a family or a business etc.
  • identify areas of the city that support your lifestyle - close to family, work or facilities most used; also identify adjacent areas as often driving a few minutes either way can make a big difference in home prices;
  • determine the type of home and ownership - detached, townhouse or high-rise; standard freehold or condominium form of ownership;
  • lastly, develop a list of needs and wants making sure you are honest about both – the number of bedrooms is likely a need, as would features or layout related to mobility restrictions or health; luxury finishes though would be more appropriately on the wants list. Systems or materials that boost energy efficiency warrant discussion. They might not be as visually appealing as hardwood floors for example, and they may be an extra expense in a home purchase, but they can reduce operating costs, leaving you the option of then directing more budget towards your mortgage or for those luxuries.

Once you have completed the above, you should be ready to start your search.

While houses change in size and form, and technology and the building code make significant impacts on homes, the drive to own your own personal paradise remains a wise one.

Peder Madsen is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Vice President of CCR Building and Remodeling in London.     

Condo options abound

  • Written by Peder Madsen

Condominiums might have been around for 50 years, but they are now finally becoming accepted and even sought after. What has made the difference, is that this type of ownership is now available in all forms of housing. Condos are not only apartments in highrises, but also low rise and attached or detached single and two storey homes. A detached condo complex can look very much like a regular suburban subdivision.

It is this versatility that has caught the attention and wide adoption by all age groups – from retirees, to young professionals and even young families.

The busy pace of today’s lifestyle has also raised the importance of being able to maintain a live / work balance, making the freedom for leisure time activities all about quality of life. Being able to enjoy your home without having to worry about snow shovelling or grass cutting or tending to gardens is very appealing.

The condo environment can also provide enhanced security both on a day-to-day basis or for those who are away for longer periods of time. Again providing a solution to one of today’s concerns.

Many condominium developments also offer a wide variety of amenities that are available for exclusive use by the residents. Swimming pools, hot tubs, saunas, workout equipment and even golf simulators are appealing amenities that provide relief from the stress of a busy life and opportunities to socialize with other residents.

There is obviously a cost associated with the benefits provided by condominium living most commonly in the form of a monthly fee. Depending on the amenities, fees can vary from condo to condo but generally they cover grounds and facility maintenance, funding for a reserve fund, insurance and a variety of other items.

Design trends for condos closely parallel new homes and renovations, which puts ‘adequate’ storage as one of the top priorities. Every square inch needs to be fully utilized.

In the kitchen, built-in or cabinet pantries, islands and extra height cabinets can be included; deep pot-and-pan pull out drawers in pantries and lower cabinets as well as a wide array of convenient storage solutions can provide easy access to otherwise hard to get at spaces.

In the laundry room, stacking washer / dryer units conserve precious floor space; plus incorporating the laundry into a rear entrance / mud room adds extra convenience.

Closets now normally include double hanging rails, but can be further customized to fit precise storage needs.

Most new urban highrise condominiums now even provide bicycle storage. Also trending in highrise condominiums are generous sized balconies or terraces that can provide space for barbequing and entertaining.

Flex space is becoming more prevalent as a practical planning concept. Everyone’s lifestyle is different and a floor plan that works for one person may not work for someone else. Flex space allows the owner to decide how the space is divided. People who enjoy cooking may devote more floor space to the kitchen than those that do not. People who entertain may opt for a formal dining room rather than a den. Or an alcove at the end of a living room, could quickly be turned into needed guest accommodation with a convenient sliding panel.

The care-free lifestyle of condo living can be a boon for many. I know that not having to shovel snow sounds like a luxury to me. For those considering this lifestyle, the many types of homes now available, make it easy to find exactly the right fit.

Peder Madsen is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Vice President of CCR Building and Remodeling in London.     

Storm Management ponds have work to do

  • Written by Peder Madsen

Designed to be an attractive feature for residents, but with an environmental benefit, storm water management ponds (SWMPs) can be found in many residential and commercial areas throughout London. The ponds are to collect runoff from the local storm sewer system following a rainfall or snowmelt event, or from activities such as watering lawns and washing cars. SWMPs are built to temporarily hold water, provide treatment to remove the pollutants, and then slowly release it back to our waterways.

In a natural landscape, rain water or snowmelt will soak into the soil, be absorbed by trees and other plants, evaporate into the air, or travel over land to receiving streams, lakes, rivers or wetlands. In developed areas where driveways, parking lots, buildings and roads cover the soil, water cannot be absorbed. As it flows over these surfaces, the runoff also collects pollutants such as dirt, fertilizer, oil and debris such as grass-clippings and trash.

SWMPs have two functions. They clean the water and control the flow. Run off water is collected in storm sewers and delivered to the pond. It enters the first half where the contaminants are allowed to settle to the bottom. Clear water then moves to the second half and is allowed to flow into streams and waterways at a controlled rate. Without these ponds, large amounts of dirty water would enter a stream all at once, causing flooding and eroding soil from the stream banks. 

SWMPs are an important factor in keeping our waterways clean by allowing pollutants and sediment to settle before it enters the stream or river.  In addition, the buffer areas around the SWMP are landscaped with dense natural vegetation and grasses that also help to filter sediment from water entering the pond overland.

Routine maintenance of the pond is required to remove debris in and around the pond and provide general maintenance of the vegetation. This includes removal of invasive vegetation, and maintenance of structures. Weed control including the use of pesticides is not required or recommended. Grass cutting is also not recommended in order to maintain a natural environment.  Additionally, a clean-out of the SWMP is required approximately every 5-10 years to remove accumulated sediment. This involves drainage of the pond as well as soil sampling to ensure proper disposal of the sediment removed.

As attractive as they are, ponds are not designed for recreational use. They might seem calm on the surface, but due to the nature of the pond construction, there can be rapid water level fluctuations. Swimming, skating, boating, and fishing are also strictly prohibited. Safety / warning signs are placed around the pond to inform the public of prohibited activities. Parents living in neighbourhoods with storm water management ponds are encouraged to visit the pond with their children to review the warning signs and impress the importance of safety to them.

SWMPs are not typically considered good mosquito breeding sites since the water level is continuously changing and exposure to wind is high. Therefore, SWMP’s do not create any greater threat of west nile virus than would already exist.

To ensure our SWMP’s remain healthy, residents with property near or abutting such ponds, are encouraged to:

  • take care in disposing of trash, grass clippings and leaves to avoid accumulation in and around ponds
  • minimize the use of fertilizer on their property
  • prevent swimming pool discharges or toxic substances from entering the storm sewers that lead to the pond
  • not plant trees, shrubs or flowers around the pond and
  • avoid disturbing the naturally vegetated areas.

The City of London recently updated their website to include a handy section about how residents can help ensure the ponds continue to provide a great habitat for birds and animals – check - https://www.london.ca/residents/Sewers-Flooding/stormwater/Pages/Living-Near-Stormwater-Management-Ponds.aspx

Peder Madsen is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Vice President of CCR Building and Remodeling in London.     

Pool safety measures worth expense to avoid tragedy

  • Written by Peder Madsen

While summer isn’t anywhere near here yet, this is the perfect time to start planning for it.

It is estimated that there are over 10,000 private backyard pools in the City of London. Swimming pools can definitely turn even the most basic backyard into a luxurious oasis, but they can also become areas of horrific tragedy if not properly protected.

According to the Canadian National Lifesaving Society, private backyard pools are the number one location where children 5 years and under drown. By far the greatest risk factor to this age group is the lack of supervision by parents and caregivers. Lapse in supervision, even if only momentary, can prove to be fatal nonetheless. Although the onus is on parents to ensure that their children are properly supervised at all times when around a swimming pool, other preventive measures also have to be put in place to limit access and protect children.

The City of London has strict regulations in their Swimming Pool Fence By-law (PS5), that require every homeowner with a backyard pool to have a permit for fencing. It sets out clear criteria that pool fencing must meet. The bylaw don’t regulate the construction of the pool, but it does regulate and enforce the fences that enclose them. 

A swimming pool in London is defined as any structure capable of containing water designed for swimming or wading with a depth of 75 cm (29.5”) at any point and has a surface area of more than 1 square metre (10.8 square feet). It may come to many as a surprise that a number of the larger “blow up” pools now widely available fall into this category. Although hot tubs and landscaping ponds do not require fencing under the bylaw, it is strongly suggested that they be enclosed. Locking covers for hot tubs are also a very good idea.

Applying for a permit is straight forward and can be done at the Building Division at City Hall on the 7th floor. Along with the application you will need to provide a plan showing the pool location as well as all entrances (gates) and where any pool equipment is located. Permit fees are reasonable starting at $50.00 or $9.00 for every $1,000.00 of reported construction value of the swimming pool, whichever is greater.

Under the by-law any pool must be completely enclosed by a fence. A wide variety of fencing styles including wood, vinyl, chain link and iron fencing are available and can all meet City requirements. Fences must be no less than 153 cm (60”) in height with a ground clearance of no more than 10 cm (4”). Chain link fencing should have openings no greater than 3.8 cm (1.5”) to discourage climbing. Don’t assume all chain link meets the criteria as 2” is also very common. All other types of fencing such as wood or iron cannot have spacing or gaps between the vertical uprights of more than 10 cm (4”). All gates must be self closing and latching as well as lockable. It’s always a good idea to lock your gates when away for extended periods of time.

For more information go to the City’s website http://www.london.ca/residents/Property-Matters/Property-Maintenance/Pages/Pool-Permits.aspx By-laws vary from one municipality from another so if you live outside of London contact your local building division.

Meeting these requirements is critical. By not doing so a homeowner is subjecting himself to a fine, or worse, is setting the stage for a preventable tragedy. Make your pool safe.

Peder Madsen is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Vice President of CCR Building and Remodeling in London.     

Remember environment in renovation plans

  • Written by Peder Madsen

There are many ways to make your existing home into the home you always wanted and still give the environment a break. Much of the ‘dream’ part of a renovation includes updating the style and visual appeal of a home. Updates to kitchens and bathrooms rank as the most sought after improvements. But this doesn’t have to exclude also making your home more energy-efficient and environmentally responsible.

It’s actually easy to “green” a renovation. Energy-efficiency measures can be included in your current renovation plans, or you may decide to expand your plans to take advantage of rebate and incentive programs. Currently, the Ontario government is offering incentives for home energy efficiency upgrades through the Green Ontario Fund - Green ON program - www.greenon.ca or 1-888-728-8444

Open for registrations now, this program offers steep rebates:

  • $1,000’s in rebates for insulation and high-performance windows
  • Up to $20,000 to install home geothermal heating
  • Up to $5,800 to install air-source heat pumps
  • Smart thermostat $100 rebate
  • Free impartial energy saving advice

Armed with this knowledge, the next step to take, even before you begin planning your renovation is to get a home energy assessment from an independent certified home energy evaluator. This will identify how your home uses energy, where it is being wasted, and how to improve the comfort of your home, and cut heating and cooling costs. The assessment report will be very useful when you and your renovator sit down to plan your renovation.

To find a certified energy evaluator in your area, visit the Natural Resources Canada Office of Energy Efficiency website at:

http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/residential/personal/home-improvement/service/contact-advisors.cfm

Doing this research gives you the base understanding about the current performance of your home, which will then allow you to start developing a plan with a professional renovator. They know how to put it all together, how to match old and new, and how to integrate state-of-the-art technology with the existing structure of your home.

There are three important steps you and your renovator need to work through to green your renovation project.

Increasing the energy and water efficiency of your home

Of all the green options, by far this is the most important one because the decisions you make today will have a big impact on the environment, and your wallet, for many years to come. Heating equipment, windows and water-consuming fixtures have a lifespan of decades. Options include:

  • replacement or upgrading the heating system to high efficiency equipment
  • if your project includes opening up exterior walls or re-siding your home, then take the opportunity to include additional insulation
  • when installing new windows, choose higher performance Energy Star certified windows (double or triple panes, galled filled, low-e coating)

Ensuring clean indoor air

A poor indoor environment can affect your family’s health and can also cause premature deterioration of the house itself. High humidity levels and excess window condensation can lead to mold problems and allergy issues related to dust, pollen or other pollutants. These need to be checked out thoroughly and dealt with.

A healthy home also needs proper ventilation throughout the full home to bring in fresh air and get rid of stale or moist air, chemicals and other indoor pollutants. A heat recovery ventilator will deliver fresh air without adding extra heating costs.

There are also a wide variety of materials, products and building techniques that can contribute to keeping indoor air clean:

- Hard-surface flooring (pre-finished hardwood, ceramic, stone, marble tiles)

- Wool or cotton rugs or carpeting with latex-free backing

- Low- or no-VOC paints, adhesives or water-based finishes

- Solid wood cabinets and vanities

- Sealing of exposed particle board and medium-density fibreboard (MDF)

- Range hoods vented to the outside

- Sealed combustion furnaces and hot water heaters

- Sub-slab depressurization system to prevent entry of radon and soil gasses

- High-efficiency (HEPA) air filters

Choosing resource-smart materials and products

There are a lot of options when it comes to resource-smart products and new items are making it into the marketplace all the time. Here are a few examples of the type of products that are better for the environment:

- Materials made from recycled waste. Paper waste is used in insulation, fibreboard and many other building products, even kitchen counters. Recycled glass shows up in glass fibre insulation and tiles. Plastics are reused in carpeting, pavers and decking materials. Interior trim is made from wood cut-offs or wood dust. And so on.

- Products made from easily renewable or well-managed sources. Flooring made from fast-growing bamboo and sustainably harvested wood are prime examples.

- Natural materials that involve less processing

- Locally produced products lessens energy-intensive transportation.

- Durable products that will last longer, such as 40- or 50-year roof coverings.

A green renovation not only reduces your impact on the environment, it means a better home—a healthier and more comfortable living space, lower monthly operating costs and increased value. A home to enjoy, a home to be proud of!

Peder Madsen is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and vice president of CCR Building and Remodeling Inc. in London.     

 

Scammers spoil things for everybody

  • Written by Peder Madsen

What are the magic words that will resonate with homeowners and make them understand how to protect themselves from scammers? It's a big question and our industry is not alone in wondering what the magic answer is, or if there is one.

A quick tour of the Better Business Bureau’s website lists an alarming number of cautions –identity theft, debt relief, government grants, Nigerian / foreign money exchange, crypto currency, sweepstakes or prizes, back to school shopping savings, imposter employment scams and even the moving industry has been targeted. Unfortunately a sold sign on a lawn can be an alert to such scammers. There is even a new study listed that shows a rising number of fake on-line pet sellers, with up to 80% of sponsored advertisements possibly being fake.

Our kudos to the Better Business Bureau for their focus on consumer protection alerts on all manner of these scams and we thank them for including our industry, because like so many industries, we have also been targeted by unscrupulous characters. We too work to educate homeowners, referencing the federal government’s Get It In Writing program or the Dangers of a Cash Deal (www.lhba.ob.ca/en/renovating), so we appreciate the support of the BBB. I just learned a new term - storm chasers. I thought these were people who were thrilled by filming storms, but on the BBB site, it refers to scammers who flourish following a major storm, flood, or other weather event when many homeowners are trying to repair their houses.

It’s a mystery to legitimate residential construction companies, that people are so trusting of someone who happens to knock on the door and starts the conversation with “We’re working in the neighbourhood, would you like a free on-site inspection? Unfortunately a lot of people say Yes. Before they know it, they’re handing over money, sometimes with a quick order form completed on an invoice pad that doesn’t even have a company name on it, sometimes even with only a handshake.

Legitimate business doesn’t operate this way.

Legitimate businesses in our industry, have offices, make appointments, show their customers proof of their insurance to protect the homeowner from workplace injury claims, provide written contracts with specifications of the materials to be used, the timing of the project and the overall cost. They also don’t pressure homeowners to act immediately.

Legitimate business works hard to show they are trustworthy. They join associations like the London Home Builders’ Association, Chamber of Commerce and/or the Better Business Bureau. They take courses to educate themselves on the latest technologies and building science, and they comply with government requirements, including building permits.

We were happy to see the provincial government recently take action. As of March 1, 2018, the Consumer Protection Act 2002 (www.ontario.ca/door-to-door) requires that businesses may only agree to a contract in a consumer's home if the consumer has invited them ahead of time, for the sole purpose of entering into a contract. Businesses will be required to keep a record of how their contracts with consumers are made, offering substantiation when it is requested. They must also provide consumers with clear information about their rights.

Is part of the problem that people are just too trusting? The BBB Trust Sentiment Index indicates Millennials and males have an inclination to start with trust when engaging with a business for the first time - 72.5% of 18-34 year olds, versus 62.5% of those aged 55+. Females have a trust rating of 62.5% versus 70% for their male counterparts.

We’re not suggesting people become skeptical. We just don't like our neighbours and friends not being protected or not getting their expectations met and we dislike our industry being tarnished by the conduct of underground scammers. The criminals who engage in this activity are not part of our industry. Please educate yourself on the proper processes to engage our industry!

Peder Madsen is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Vice President of CCR Building and Remodeling in London.     

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