Another day, another inspection. This one was a PDI for clients.
This house was an energy star “compliant” home.
Retention of energy was the name of the game. After all, it had a Drain Water Heat Recovery Unit (DWHRU) fitted to the waste stack. Oh wait, did I say “the waste stack”? I meant one of the waste stacks. Yep, one of the two recovered heat from the waste water, the other one? Nada. Why the difference? The builder said that the waste stack with the DWHRU on it had toilets, baths and sinks emptying into it. The other one only had toilets, sinks and showers emptying into it. No hot water there then! Here’s the first inconsistency, the builder goes to all the trouble to install a DWHRU system but then does a half-hearted job on it. What do the codes say about it? One’s good enough to get a check in the box.
Saving energy by not blowing it outside – for some of the year.
Then again, it had a Heat Recovery Ventilation unit. Sucks the air from the outside, exchanges some of the energy with the air from the inside, and then blows the stale air out through the wall again. This ensures the HVAC system uses as little energy as possible to heat/remove heat from the interior air during cold/hot seasons respectively.
While HRVs do an excellent job of ventilating a house, there are less expensive approaches: either an exhaust-only ventilation system or a supply-only ventilation system. Thousands of super insulated homes successfully use one of these two approaches.
The main advantage of an HRV is that it recovers some of the heat that would otherwise leave the building with the exhaust air. However, an HRV is an expensive gadget, needs electricity to run and is only really efficient during the winter months. Saves energy on cooling (check), saves energy on heating (check) saves energy doing it (oops). Oh well, it’s to code.
Wasting energy trying to blow up a balloon.
Upstairs on the second floor, four bedrooms, 3 return air ducts. Sucks to be in the bedroom without one with the doors all closed! Can anyone say high pressure closed system!
Here’s the inconsistency. A return air duct is required to balance an HVAC system (air out = air returned = balance) but when you close the bedroom door with no return air duct (air out + no air return = no balance = no flow = no heating/cooling) Building code recommendations? Bupkis!
Now you see it, now you don’t.
Back in the basement, light switch at the top of the stairs. Go down 12 steps and no light switch. No wiring rough-in and the switch that is fitted at the head of the stairs is on a finished wall at the outside of the home.
That’s OK, it’s daylight and there’s light streaming through the windows. Now imagine it’s night, you are in the basement and some donut turns the light off at the top of the stairs. No light switch at the bottom. no way to see to climb the stairs.
Here’s the inconsistency. If the basement was finished a 3-way switch would be required to ensure that anyone in the basement could turn the light on to see the stairwell before going up the stairs. Yep, the OBC recognizes that if the basement is finished someone might be in the basement when someone at the top turns the light off. Yet it hastens to disbelief that this could happen in an unfinished basement.
Note to all man-cave dwellers! Ensure you have a flashlight in the basement because you won’t be saved by the Ontario Building Code from an irate partner who deliberately shuts off the light on you as a reminder it’s time for bobos!
The pièce de résistance.
This home had a beautiful front porch with a flat roof. Along the edge of the flat roof was a decorative handrail. Looked very pretty. Only 20 inches high but in keeping with the home’s design.
This however presented some problems in my mind.
First the handrail did not go around the whole flat roof. There was a gaping great gap at one end that gave complete and unfettered access to the edge of the balcony. To make matters worse the drainage sump ended short of the rails giving one sufficient capability to clip ones tootsies on the lip and successfully launch oneself if not into orbit then certainly across the top of the woefully low railing and into oblivion (or at least the front yard!).
“Oh no!” I hear you say, Oh yes! The railing did not comply with the requirements of height for railing on raised decks. But that, according to the Ontario Building Code is quite alright.
“It’s because it’s a roof” was the builders retort when questioned on it. And check as I could, I couldn’t fault him on his incredulous exclamation.
There is nothing in the OBC or the Tarion Construction Performance Guidelines to stop him putting a part finished railing on an upper flat roof, with a 3 metre drop to the floor below. Yet the roof was wholly accessible by a casement window from the front bedroom. A small bedroom. The sort of small bedroom you’d put your kids in.
Now I’m not for the nanny state type scenario where we legislate the hell out of everything just because people haven’t got the common sense to protect themselves, but come on!
If the building code can legislate that a handrail and balusters are required around a deck 3 feet off the ground, and it can legislate for the height of an electrical wire going over a flat roof (in case someone stands on it) then you’d think it would regulate for a handrail and balusters around the perimeter of a flat-roof/balcony accessible by a small child through a bedroom window.
You would think that……but you’d be wrong.
Love hate relationship.
Most of the time I love my job.
I get to advise people of any deficiencies in their existing or proposed selection in a home. I get to advise them on what might be wrong with the house, sometimes, when I know, how to fix the problems or what profession to call in to fix them. How to save money and increase the investment potential by regular maintenance, or how to make their homes safer. I get the feeling I’ve really helped someone, and this shows in the testimonials I am given.
Sometimes, like today, I hate it.
I get to tell my clients that the $500,000 they are paying to the builder (plus the $65,000 tax they are paying to the Government plus the $2-3000 they are paying for a Builders Warranty) is not enough to ensure their home is truly safe, and there’s nothing they can do to get the builder to fix it. I have the builder laughing at the impotence of me to report something that forces them to fix the safety issues. All this just because the Ontario Building Code, lobbied for by the builders, has inconsistencies in it, that allow builders to do stupid things like this.
No matter how much my clients appreciate me and my skills for what I have told them, it’s frustrating to know that they are going to be forced to put more money out to fix something that common-sense says should not be built that way in the first place.