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After the North Toronto house collapse – calls for better education of homeowners about the risks

Laura Pollard of Bravehart Building, a design/build contractor, is part of a group of Toronto area contractors trying to better educate homeowners about major structural renovations


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September 12, 2014 by Steve Payne

A 19-year-old construction worker was killed earlier this week when a 2-storey, 90-year old brick home in North Toronto imploded (a ‘pancake collapse’) into its own basement – where the young man was – reportedly – digging. The house was being extensively renovated – including underpinning- although there was work going on elsewhere on the site that may have impacted the collapse, too. An inquest will take time to sort it all out.

However, the disastrous event has sparked a lot of talk on our site about structural safety during renovations. Alec Caldwell of CARAHS shared this post from his own website, by Laura Pollard, Project Manager at Bravehart Building.

“Alec, your crusading for safety practices and prevention practices is admirable. The industry needs you and CARAHS for this and more.

“However, it is our view, that there is more to this unfortunate, preventable event than meets the eye.

“It is this: Consumers cannot tell the difference between General Contractors who say they can do a certain scope of project vs GCs who indeed have the training, the team, the processes and the Construction techniques in place to take on what we refer to as ‘Major Structural Project’ renovations.

“A small group of GCs in Toronto have been having ‘backroom meetings’ on this issue; engaging in discussions for over 2 years now- we are the GCs who undertake ‘major, structural projects’; the type of projects which require more than men and machinery (if you go to the contractor website in the North Toronto disaster, the verbiage talks about having machines available for jobs).

“Our group of concerned GCs has established a founding association – http://www.cgcconnection.org. Consumer-General Contractor Connection is dedicated to informing consumers that they require an educated, careful, considerate trained team of industry professionals dedicated to Major Structural renovation projects. And, more importantly, that the team undertake specific pre-Construction tasks and testing to determine the Site Conditions, before proceeding to the Design or Bid stage (let alone the Construction stage!!!!)

“Our goal is to establish a link to the consumer community (info@cgccommunity.org); to establish Best Practices for the larger structural renovations, and, in the future, to establish a professional certification program and designation for ‘Structural Renovations’.

“We believe governments, industry associations dedicated to Safety and other bodies can only go so far. It is up to we GCs who know the difference between a ‘somewhat cosmetic’ renovation and a ‘major structural renovation’ to speak up and create awareness of the ‘divide’ that exists for consumers today. So consumers can make the educated choice, the right choice for safety of their home and the workers on the site.

“For instance, in our Design/Build firm, we retain a GC who has civil engineering education and experience, and who has built towers and bridges, as our Construction Manager.

“We use the services of professional, certified soils engineers, structural engineers, and an excavation and concrete crew with experience in foundation work specifically – both old and new – and ‘tie-in’ foundational work.

“Last night, the CBC News interviewed our firm and… our goal was to impart to consumers that the TV hosts who talk about getting three quotes are misleading the marketplace.

“Our pre-construction test wells, geo-technical engineering reports, structural engineering reports and site visits by the team to confer in advance add both time and money to our bid process. So we have competed in many underpinning projects and not won them on price alone!!!!

“We need to create more ‘noise’ around how specific major structural projects are planned, vs who has the cheapest quote. Or we are all misleading consumers and risk the loss of young lives – and consumer’s homes – going forward.


Steve Payne

Steve Payne

Steve Payne is the editor of Canadian Contractor magazine
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1 Comment » for After the North Toronto house collapse – calls for better education of homeowners about the risks
  1. Joe says:

    Hi Steve
    We feel the same way
    Our company solely performs the following task
    Demolition, excavation, form and build at the same time

    We went from working from investors (home flippers) to end users

    Our clients know hand in hand, what the liabilities are before we start, and we communicate closely with them,
    Until the hazards are tamed,

    Yesterday’s poor building practises are just that poor

    There also old, which require extensive work when replacing

    I’ve never seen a home flipper, worry about safety

    I’ve seen excavations collapse, and the client will do anything to avoid the cost of shoring ( we also perform )

    I’ve been involved in res construction now 20+ yrs, we work closely with engineers on projects, I call a duck when I see duck
    ( which usually scares the client, and kills my opportunity in getting the job)

    An interior renovator, tackling a old Toronto structural renovation, is a recipe for a major disaster

    Maybe this is a city issue and can be regulated from an inspection perspective?

    We can t keep letting cheap labourers pay with there lives for the lack of regulations
    And thrifty investors