Canadian Contractor

What’s On Manny’s Mind?!? Team Work

Any large renovation or custom homebuilding project needs to be a collaborative effort between everyone involved – the owner, contractor, architect, designer, and structural and mechanical engineers. Collaboration is not a nice to have, it’s a must have.


August 30, 2018
By Dave Gray

If everyone involved in a construction project isn’t on the same page, you might as well rip open the envelope

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Any large renovation or custom homebuilding project needs to be a collaborative effort between everyone involved – the owner, contractor, architect, designer, and structural and mechanical engineers. Collaboration is not a nice to have, it’s a must have. If everyone involved isn’t working with the same plan at the very least you’ll have arguments and blame getting tossed around whenever something doesn’t come together as expected. In the worst case, you can introduce issues that can effect the structural integrity of the home. This is particularly true when trying to balance various design goals with a seamlessly sealed building envelope.

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I know of at least one recent case that’s gone to court because of a lack of collaboration and communication. It was a beautifully designed home with lots of hips and valleys in the roof. But it’s failing. The owners were spending thousands on heating the place and still wearing their winter coats indoors.

If you want a funky design, you have to be really careful how you seal everything. But too often contractors are asked to do the impossible. It’s like we’re being given a Rubik’s cube that doesn’t have all the colours and told to make it work.

Building a square or rectangular box is easy. Protrusions are the villain. Once you start adding windows, beams, and all these other holes in the walls you start to get into trouble.

It should be pretty simple: you keep the cold out in the winter and it’s vice versa in the summer. But in Canada we design buildings to survive the winter, without really thinking about the summer. That’s creating condensation issues.

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Part of the process is educating the homeowners. To me, in terms of the building envelope, spray foam insulation is a bulletproof product. You’ve got a vapour barrier on both sides, so no issues with condensation. But many owners don’t want to pay for foam, and they won’t really understand and appreciate it until they start to see their monthly heating and cooling bills go down. Also, foam is the worst for sound transmission. So you need to talk to your clients about these issues, and offer some solutions. My recommendation is to use about an inch of spray foam and then fill the rest of the cavity with dense-pack cellulose.

Owners also need to understand that the building inspector can’t and won’t catch everything. It would take them days to inspect the entire vapour barrier to ensure that all seams and gaps around fixtures are sealed. The more complex the structure is, the more likely it is that something gets overlooked. Little issues start to compound. Older or poorly designed homes can have countless little gaps in the envelope that collectively add up to a whole the size of a basketball.

Finally, too many homeowners get fixated on trends in colours, design, and finishes. They should always consider the building envelope first. Trends don’t last, homes should.

For a project to be successful a lot of compromise is required. If an owner or architect is pushing for a design that raises red flags for you based on your experience, take the time to calmly and clearly point out the risks. But also use your experience and expertise to suggest some workable solutions.

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You need to have these conversations with the owner, engineer, architect, and designer early on in the process. You also need to recognize that it’s not a competition. It’s pretty much impossible to meet everyone’s needs. But it is possible to achieve most of the homeowners’ goals, in a structurally sound way, without stomping on the toes of the various professionals involved. It just takes some effort.

It’s a simple point but one worth repeating – if you don’t all get on the same page you’re not going to achieve a proper building envelope, or have a happy homeowner living in a healthy house.