Footing prep and pour - rowhouse project

With very warm conditions the rowhouse footing will be the beneficiary.  Perfect day to pour and have the concrete cure in warm temperatures.   Getting this foundation done and backfilled will be a huge relief for the builder.  



You cannot understate the importance of getting this right...   

and a few hours later the trucks arrive and $5000 worth of concrete fills the forms.

and a few hours later the trucks arrive and $5000 worth of concrete fills the forms.

Killarney rcg land use change verdict

Council nearly unanimously voted for the rcg application on 26a st in Killarney.  This is the first, to my knowledge, of a location in the centre of the community to receive the approval.  The builder intends to do a four unit rowhouse and a modifier was embedded in the process to restrict height to 10m and remove the permitted use of secondary suites. 

It was an interesting debate and the opposition from local residents that appeared a little on the nimby side was generally ignored.   A member of the Killarney community association planning committee led the advocacy against the application and attempted to gather a petition and represent the entire community. I felt the choice of language, while perhaps innocent enough, was highly inappropriate and incorrect.    

It looks like the new council has digested what rcg is and does, and wants to amend and improve the category.  Administration is working on this soon and a report will be prepared for Council.  I’m in favour of this and pleasantly surprised how much policy and ideas have changed on this matter over a short time. Congratulations to the new small business row house builder homes squared and welcome to 26a st (site of my current semi).  


Land use public hearing - the Killarney rowhouse council vote

Council meets tomorrow and the meeting will slog painfully through twenty or more  secondary suite applications. Once that is done, who knows what time it will be, council must then deal with substantive planning matters throughout the city.  This could be well into the evening or possibly Tuesday morning.  

The rcg application on 26a st will be decided at that time.  It is very hard to predict the outcome of this vote, and not because four on council are new.  I’d suspect the new councillors will view this application favourably. What isn’t clear is how much community opposition there will be and how effective it is.  The applicant appears to have done a good job collecting support for the application and the community association avoided the nimby type reactionary oppposition.  This certainly changes my original prediction from the spring where I estimated the chance of success to be low. 

I’ll attempt to watch some of the webcast on my cell phone. Attending the meeting to watch in person when you can’t tell what time it will start is really disruptive to my work day.  Once the vote is over I will attempt to post as much detail from the results as possible.  



The public hearing notice is posted on the property and online. Unfortunately they can’t tell you what time to watch the webcast.   

Building is hard, the rowhouse foundation edition.

The rowhouse project foundation, as I predicted, isn’t easy to build. All attempts I made to ward off problems preemptively were not successful.  The issues tend to deal with translation from computer screen to paper plan to a large hole in the dirt.  The surveyor is meant to be the translator in the critical step from drawing to dirt. Unfortunately the footing contractor determined (too late) that the survey points were inadequate leading to much debate and consternation about how to proceed (over a weekend). Have I learned my lesson in how to make sure a foundation is surveyed properly?  Should I not know by now what details must be on the plan such that the cribbers can do their job?  You’d expect so considering the number of houses that I’ve built over the years.  Hopefully this job site suffering can teach me some more lessons on what not to do that I can benefit from next time.  



the footing form work is underway.   



Some of the unfortunate details that needed deal with before work began.   

Pace of work - project to project comparison

At the outset of this project I decided to focus (even more) on having the structural work done faster. During the last project we encountered severe winter conditions and the framing contractor had some personnel matters that slowed work.  As you will see from the numbers below, work pace was drastically impacted. 

previous project - Footing to Shingle total build time 90 days. 

current project - Footing to Shingle total build time 40 days.

All of this 50 day difference, which is a tremendous amount of time to save, is due to contractor selection.  The current project contractor was so fast I was having a hard time keeping up with material delivery and had to bring in both lumber and the windows at an accelerated pace over what I had planned.  Cumulative cost to build to date including land on the project is high, we are likely over $775k in expenditure.  That is a lot of money to be tied up unproductively for 50 unnecessary days due to the pace of labour.  If the time cost of the project works out to $200/day, which is a reasonable assumption given the utilities, taxes, fence and toilet rental, insurance, etc, the faster crew saved $10k in cost.  40 days is by far the fastest build I have been involved with to date.  

The remarkable productivity of the framing crew puts them to the top of my current 'favourite' contractor list.  Each project I re-evaluate the small businesses that best deliver for me and I sole source them work the next time.  Those crews get contracts without having to do any marketing and I can make a more accurate schedule, and we all benefit.

You can't start the shingle until the framing is done.  This makes the time from pouring the basement footing to starting the roofing a good metric to evaluate pace of work.

You can't start the shingle until the framing is done.  This makes the time from pouring the basement footing to starting the roofing a good metric to evaluate pace of work.



Shingle details

the roofers are dealing with some hideous weather by blowing off the roof and working on the warmer days. We’ve specified a duration shingle that claims to resist the wind storms that have blown off less brands.  We also have some W shaped flashed valleys on top of the usual ice and water and membrane layers.  Each stairwell features a skylight so those have been flashed with the factory kit.  Let’s hope these efforts lead to a roof with a long life.  


These shingles have the reinforced nailing strip so advertise better wind resistance.   

These shingles have the reinforced nailing strip so advertise better wind resistance.   


Weekend progress

The framers were back and started framing out the basements.  This will allow the following trades to compete the basement as if it is part if the first mobilization rather than a second project.   

To the builder, going from a dirt basement floor to a heated and cured slab with a framed product in a week is really fast.  At this pace we will be through plumbing, mechanical and electrical in a month ready to inspect and start drywall. 



The temporary stairs are still useful.  Landings and basement treads are ready to be built.   

Dirt management and the rowhouse excavation

I hired my favourite excavator to dig the row house basement. I knew the rowhouse would be extra tricky given the sunken patio and walkout cut.  All of this means more excavation, more accuracy and more backfill.  The sunken patio took an extra day to dig. I’ve already complained that my cribber is charging me the same price to crib the tall walls of the sunken patio as the remainder of the three basements.

Next we underestimated the volume of dirt to come out of the hole. The city has restricted dumping at landfills such that the only available dump zone was the south Calgary health campus.  That would be a huge commute.  We decided to dump the surplus dirt at my other Killarney house so we could retrieve it later.  This saved the round trip commute of 10 gravel truck loads.  That may have saved 20 hours of travel time that was better invested in digging than trucking.  

The excavator was still digging as the surveyors arrived to mark out the footings.  Enough was marked out such that the footing crew can begin right away.  We’ve got the cribbers lined up to start as soon as they finish another Killarney row house only 10 blocks away.  Sometimes I get lucky with scheduling and other times it is a total fiasco. Today was definitely on the lucky side to have a free dumping zone and to have the surveyors and footing supplies arrive at the proper time.  Now we need a little luck with the weather ...



a lot of dirt and nowhere to put it. We need a lot of backfill so we left dirt in the front yard and back yard, and even at my other site.  

Window install

The framers have the advantage of a man lift with a railed platform on it. That makes window install way easier.   This is the first install I’ve done under the new code with the peel and stick membrane, fortunately my framers seem very familiar.  All the windows should be done tomorrow and we’ve arrived at lockup.  This is a good thing as we can control access a little better.  Some idiot arrived at the site late one night and tried to drill the lock on the framers lock box.  I didn’t realize the kind of person who would do that owned a drill.   Likely they stole the drill from some other job site to continue their life of crime.  There is no shortage of these idiots around the inner city.  The police have no way to deal with these people so we didn’t file a report.   



The framers have a four wheel drive elevator. The productivity gains here are significant  


this is the peel and stick membrane that is put on the window jamb before the window goes in.  

this is the peel and stick membrane that is put on the window jamb before the window goes in.  

Liberal lies and broken promises related to rental housing

Frequent readers of this page will no doubt be familiar with the regular diatribes against all levels of government incompetence and lies that the good people of Alberta must endure.  The latest example is the broken promise of the liberal government.  The liberals like to grandstand as protectors of the lower economic classes and other such nonsense.  What they really do is just the opposite (i.e the finance minister business dealings).

There is perhaps no better technique to increase the supply of rental housing than to tax it less.  Less tax would make more builders build, and rents would be that much lower to benefit the tenants as supply and competition grow. The liberals know this and used some nicely placed lies to help get themselves elected.  Now they are breaking yet another major promise to remove the gst on rental housing.

Rental housing is a service provided by landlords to tenants.  Yet it is not subject to GST.  However, when built, the feds receive a huge windfall of cash on new rental housing.  On a small building the feds will earn $50-$100k, that is a lot of money.  The landlord will have to recoup that GST over the next few years of rent.  It takes a lot of rent to raise $50k to give to the government.  Rather than collect GST on new rental housing and then waste it on useless initiatives and pensions, perhaps the liberals will reconsider its broken promise and actually do something to help renters live more affordably (I doubt it) like they promised during the last campaign.

Here is the liberal figurehead, and primary broken promises maker.

Here is the liberal figurehead, and primary broken promises maker.

Adverse weather slab pour

We got out the heaters and hundred pound propane tanks.   That is the cheap way of getting the basement heated so we could properly pour the slabs.  Total cost about $200 plus cobbling together some tarps and plastic to cover the windows and stair well which was more work than I’d like it to be.  Fortunately the coop gas bar near Killarney has a propane fill station so tank fills are possible.   



the slab has cured nicely.  By framing the basements soon we can stay ahead of the trades. I also resent hanging the furnace and trying to pour the slab later.  With the radon sealing rules we don’t want to be doing that.   This way we can be more confident that the radon pipe will be the only significant penetration in the slab. The next job for me is to seal the perimeter with caulking and all the pipe stacks.  Lumber is ordered so we should be having those basements framed soon.  

Window delivery

With windows and shingles on site ready for install we are nearly at lockup stage.  Getting the building snow proof is a huge plus.  Shoveling the inside of the project last year was a lot of work and a waste of effort.  



Ready to go. Some nice and large windows need to be installed soon. 

Stair install

We ordered two sets of the integrated landing stairs from a really good carpenter.  Not surprisingly they went in well and look great.  It pays to have the guy who installs the railings make the stairs as well. This way he’s compelled to make the stairs in such a way that the railing job will be easier later.  Overall accuracy is improved and the treads and riser dimension will be identical.  



Back in business

Now that I have returned from a poorly timed vacation, there is substantial work to tackle.  A lot of progress was made on the semi detached site while I was gone, basically it was fully framed and the basement slabs prepped for the pour.  Thanks to my new manager Cornell for dealing with stuff while I was away.  I've got the schedule revised and a lot of deposits and payments made for the next stages of work.  We are ready to pour the slabs, frame the basements, install the upper stairs, install the windows and load the shingles.  The plumber is on notice to start and the HVAC crew is attending the site to prep it.  That is a lot of stuff for Novemer.  My fourplex DP was irrevocably approved, and my rowhouse basement has started excavation.  So the construction business is looking good.

Leaving Calgary is a chance to look at best practices, or just different stuff from other places.  Here is a favourite from Maui.  I'd like to build houses in a place that is always summer.  That'd sure beat the Calgary winter.  Pouring a garage pad in January would make projects here a lot cheaper and more predictable...

Really neat strip mall development near the airport.  Not the mall, the siding.  Where can I get this material? Fortunately my suppliers in Calgary sell something similar.

Really neat strip mall development near the airport.  Not the mall, the siding.  Where can I get this material? Fortunately my suppliers in Calgary sell something similar.

Jeep interior after two weeks of abuse, not the washable floor kind of Jeep either.  The trunk was worse but more easily cleaned out.  Kids found it to be hilarious that they made this much sand mess...

Jeep interior after two weeks of abuse, not the washable floor kind of Jeep either.  The trunk was worse but more easily cleaned out.  Kids found it to be hilarious that they made this much sand mess...

Fourplex development permit is approved

My shaganappi fourplex project has been approved and no appeal was registered.   This is a significant step forward in proving the viability of the project.   

The design work encountered a major hurdle thanks to some irrational exmax requirement for a huge rear setback.   We were feeling squeezed between attempting to be contextual with the 60 year old neighbourhood frontal setback and then we were told the alley had a large setback as well. Without moving the building forward we’d have been left with little buildable footprint. That worst case scenario would be a distaster for a two building fourplex on a56 x 110 ft lot.

Fortunately the planning staff came through with some very progressive thinking and we relaxed the front setback.  I also met with the neighbours to gain support for the relaxation and this actually worked out better than I had hoped.  This all unfolded over a year long process.  It could have been quicker but for reasons I’m going to forget about we needed all this time to get to the finish line. One of my builder friends describes this process as a form of brain damage.  I’ve heard the process described elsewhere similarly (and it is much worse in Portland Oregon, a jurisdiction I find endlessly amusing for its hideous infill policies). This fourplex was much less brain damaging than other similar processes I’ve endured. For example the row house process was vastly worse. I’m still recovering from the row house project brain damage.  I’ve yet to determine if the brain damage accumulates or dissipates over time.    

This ends my development permitting for 2017 and possibly next year too. I’m currently too broke to be buying more land.  Ideally I will take a huge break from permitting once this fourplex has a bp and of course the dssp remains. This is going to be another storm water adventure as I struggle to contain the costs.   This project is on the back burner for now, I’ve got to get some building done and a few houses sold before I start a new one.



No appeal on the fourplex. What a relief.   

Roof install

The framers are getting the roof installed, this allows us to plan some of the next trades.  Windows, shingles, and basement slab pour will get us to the lockup stage.  



Radiant heat - basement slab

The basement plumbing passed and the plumber returned to install the network of pipes on the insulation.  Once finished, the circulation of hot water inside the slab will make for a very warm and comfortable basement living area.  finishing the radiant heating system in the basement remains a costly endeavour.  It is a supplementary system to the forced air furnace, thus is totally optional to do.  Like many other materials that go into the job, cost has give up.   It will be interesting to compare the price of these systems with the one I did on my house in 2014.  



Framing progress

The semi detached framing project is proceeding nicely. If the roof can go on next week we will be nearing the lockup stage.  Shoveling inside the house is never fun so ideally we won’t need to (again).  




Second floor walls are almost up.   

More cynical commentary from your builder - the Banker edition

In my experience these bankers are all alike.  It is so hard to get any money from them and recently the risk threshold of the banks has ratcheted lower.  They constantly ask for more and documentation, personal guarantees, and drag out an application process that is doomed to fail.  This is making it nearly impossible to finance excellent projects (like mine).  My projects that get rejected would actually be successful and lead to repayment.  However, due to the scale and fees involved, the bankers are suckers for the bigger operators.  The banks would prefer to make one 100 million dollar loan rather than 100 one million dollar loans.  The route of this seems to be the banking system is lazy and smaller businesses are frowned upon by internal policies.  

Every once in a while these big loans go sour.  Today’s jackass award goes to royal bank.  Let’s hope they lose their shirt on this massive loan and maybe reconsider making some smaller loans to small builders ( that’d actually be paid back rather than defaulted on).  




how much of the 64 million dollars will royal bank get back?  Hopefully they lose enough to maybe consider offering small builders loans.   

Dumb government = dumb policies

the province finally got around to its latest confiscation scheme - builder licensing.   This useless and wasteful program will be yet another anti business program put in place to take money and offer nothing in return except a false sense of security that the government is going to take care of you. 

Here is the latest salvo in its relentless scope and fee creeping scheme to extract more money from the productive minority of society and transfer it to those with defined benefit pensions.