Total Construction Duration to date

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Deadlines, Roadblocks, & Reality



We missed a major deadline last Friday, which in reality had no chance of ever being met.

In order to meet my prescribed schedule (get dry before Sept 30), I had identified Friday the 8th of March as the day I needed to apply for permits.  I had allowed 4 weeks for the permit process and anticipated starting to dismantle the existing dwelling in mid April.

A visit to the District Hall on Friday identified that this schedule was unrealistic on many fronts and will need to be completely rethought. Up until this point, I have had this naive assumption that everything would just fall into place as I progressed through the planning and build process. I was counting on good karma to be by my side and pave all the paths through the myriad of steps leading up to and through the build.

Well, it seems I have been optimistic on a laughable scale.

Things turned south the first time back in September of 2011 when I found out the District was not adopting similar measures, as surrounding municipalities have,  to promote energy-efficient building envelopes (more on this in a separate post).   I should have clued in then, that this would not be ‘easy’.  This led to a 1-year hiatus from active design while I pondered the way forward and advanced my knowledge in the science of building enclosures.  In September of 2012, I restarted the design with a goal to reduce footprint and harvest as much solar energy as practical for my region and lot.  I have put considerable effort into finalizing this design over the last 6 months ramping up over the last two months to 'full time' in order to complete the 3D model and 2D plans in time for this week’s permit application (something I was generally successful in doing).

But then a string of current setbacks made this timeframe impossible to meet, starting with the structural engineering which I had assumed would be straightforward and quick.  Earlier last week I had to part ways with the initial structural engineer I had chosen for the project.  Within the course of our first real day of activity on the design, it became clear that he was not the right person for the job.  I needed someone familiar with Insulated Concrete Foundations (ICF) and someone who was proficient with Part 9 construction of the building code and could think outside the box, because this is a fairly innovative design that will not have been seen by many people.  It became clear pretty quickly that neither of these needs was going to be filled by my original selection, and we both agreed that this was not the right project for him.  I had learned long ago to go with my gut when working with people, and was relieved at how quickly this situation came to a resolution.  Recently, I had witnessed a friend's build, where a gut feeling was put aside by them in selecting an architect, and that decision plagued the entire build, which further reinforced my conviction.   I vowed that I would not repeat this experience.

This left me with under a week to find an engineer and complete the structural design so that I could still submit for permits 'on time'. This turned into the second major roadblock as I was unable  to find any engineers familiar with ICF that were available on short notice.  This has been compounded by a lawsuit currently in the works (to the tune of $1M) involving an ICF project in the Lower Mainland where the dwelling had to be torn down after construction due to a faulty ICF foundation installation.  News of this lawsuit is spreading across the engineering community and I spoke with two engineers this last week who no longer design in ICF construction. In speaking with the engineer who is acting as the expert witness for the plaintiff in this case, it appeared that there were concerns with one of the major brands of foam ICF, and how the structural rebar is held in place (or not), and also a concern on the ability of the concrete to fully encase the rebar in this ICF design.  I am not proposing to use this foam ICF, or any foam ICF for that matter, and will try to pry an assessment of the system I would like to use from this individual over lunch sometime soon.

With any hope of engineering completion at least a month or more away, I went to the District Hall yesterday to enquire about the permit application process.  An engineer had mentioned I could apply for the permits without the calculations being completed and just submit the calc’s when needed during the plans review process.  This was not a strategy recommended by the District.  They advised that checking would not proceed without all required documents.  So I really need a complete package before submitting my application.  Realistically this would set the start back a month or more.

While at the District, I was also informed that the approval process was currently taking 6 weeks or more and that because I would need to apply for a variance, I could probably expect double that time.  So all together I was looking at around a 3-4 month delay in the commencement of the build. This would prevent me from getting the roof on and the place generally water-proof until Dec/Jan which is a build condition I am unwilling to accept.  It has been my intention from day one that I would not be doing exterior construction during the wettest and coldest months of the year in order to protect sensitive building materials like the TGI's from becoming saturated and because it just is not any fun building in the cold or torrential rains (I remember my first winter job site experience where we had to build a fire each morning to thaw out the pneumatic lines).

The final stumbling block presented by the District Friday, was an initial refusal to allow a holiday trailer to be parked on site, which I propose to live in during the build.  This is key to our budget, as rent in my neighbourhood is around $1600 for basement suites and $4000+ for upper floors of a house.  With the anticipated build time of 18 months, this would result in a $30K - $75K reduction in our available budget (10% - 20%), and a serious challenge to our cash flow. The District is concerned about site safety and the safety of their services which I totally understand, but I am confident that solutions exist for all of the concerns if we just think a little bit out of the box.

This all lead to a decision on Friday to delay the project start date by a year.  I will still work on completing the design, getting material pricing, solving the living on site issue, putting some much needed attention into the onside Building Lab project, and just generally getting better prepared for the build.  But I will hold off applying for permits until probably September.  This would give the approval process six months before we would anticipate breaking ground.

I am significantly relieved by this decision, as although I was ready for the building permit, I had not finished the electrical and plumbing design and would have had to work those out during the evenings as I was building.  This way I can thoroughly prepare all aspects of the build and be in much better shape next March.  This will also allow me to concentrate on some landscaping in the back yard this year, which will make neighbours very happy.  This also gives more time to get the project’s website up and running.  

On some levels I feel like I have failed, and I have.  But in a larger regard, I have succeeded to make the right decision to ensure the desired successful outcome, and for that I am proud.

I will continue to document my journey over the next year as there will be many decisions I can now research before making.  Does ICF make sense?  Why do I want to buy floor trusses from Quebec? Rain Water and Grey Water Heat Recovery, do they make sense?  How much of an existing structure can be diverted from a landfill?

I hope you will continue to visit, and I look forward to any comments or questions you might have.

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