Sewer and water install prep

The decision was made to proceed with the sewer install during the winter season. Unfortunately the deep frost and overall difficult conditions add a lot of cost to the already expensive install.  With heavy machinery arriving on site we’ve removed two very full dumpster bins and cleaned the front yard so the crew can work tomorrow.   

 

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The huge bucket is useful for scraping the street.   

 

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Another load of drywall scrap is removed from the front and placed in the new bin. Sewer install prep is complete.  

Level 5 ceiling at the semi d project

The tapers were back to tackle the flat ceiling on the main floor. Once taped and sanded a heavy primer is applied to the ceiling to create the flat look we are after.  

 

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Jiggi and jp are some of the best tapers in the city.  They’ve been tasked with finishing the flat ceiling.   

Rowhouse framing part 6 - the roof

With exceptional weather this week the crew is setting up the majority of the trusses.  Once again I am grateful to the framing crew for overcoming some terrible cold and for having the lifting machine that adds so much to their productivity.

With the roof advanced this far we now have to deal with the last of the firewall pours.  The framers set up a series of planks to allow the cribbers very easy access to set the last of the forms.  With some luck we can have this done quickly and the roof can be finished completely.  

 All the heavy sheeted gable trusses are quickly lifted into place and fastened.  With framers on the ground assembling the pieces, and one on the roof installing the trusses, progress is made.

All the heavy sheeted gable trusses are quickly lifted into place and fastened.  With framers on the ground assembling the pieces, and one on the roof installing the trusses, progress is made.

 The first of three roofs is complete.  

The first of three roofs is complete.  

Inner city design ripoffs

One of my construction frenemies likes to follow my projects around and ripoff the best ideas.  I can't say I am completely innocent of the same strategy, however I am a little less overt in the execution.  

This is the same builder that reneged on a land deal we had agreed to previously so I was already a little aggravated with him.  So I didn't get the land, and he stole my designs.  Bad deal!

 Fourplex built in 2013.  Original creative work.

Fourplex built in 2013.  Original creative work.

 Fourplex under construction 2018 - copied design work.

Fourplex under construction 2018 - copied design work.

Making Changes - deviating from the plan

Making changes to the framing during the process is another of my construction peeves.  The plans should be perfected before work begins such that changes are not necessary.  

Practically speaking, once the building starts to take shape, it always looks different than the preconceived notions of the builder.  To the client, who'd generally be much less versed in the translation from computer screen to framing than a builder, the actual framed project could be a disappointment.  More often it goes the other way, the framed building looks better than the client had expected on paper, but for sure we make errors.  How to react to the decision to make changes is key.  

1.  make the decision as early as possible - it is a lot easier to make framing changes before the framers have left the site.  Don't leave it until wiring, plumbing, etc are in.  That would compound the error and add cost.  

2. draw out the change precisely - by drawing it on a page or screen, at least unintended consequences can be considered before new work is ordered to execute a change.

3.  don't be afraid to change it twice - if the first change is not good, revert back to the original, or do something different.  You only get to build a house once, so better to spend a little extra time and money to make the layout as good as possible. 

I am the builder and the client on the rowhouse - so I can make changes by consulting myself, this is the best scenario.  Indecisiveness is likely worse, because the decision will drag on indefinitely.

 Now that the framing is done enough to get a good feel for it, it didn't feel right.  Changes will be made according to the red ink.  The challenge with building a new plan is it may not be as good in three dimensions as it appeared on the computer screen months earlier.  With three units, all three will be changed, fortunately only one of the three was very far along.  I will learn some lessons here and apply it next time.  Learning the hard way is usually the best way in construction, the school where everything you do wrong is the tuition cost.

Now that the framing is done enough to get a good feel for it, it didn't feel right.  Changes will be made according to the red ink.  The challenge with building a new plan is it may not be as good in three dimensions as it appeared on the computer screen months earlier.  With three units, all three will be changed, fortunately only one of the three was very far along.  I will learn some lessons here and apply it next time.  Learning the hard way is usually the best way in construction, the school where everything you do wrong is the tuition cost.

Rowhouse framing part 5 - stairs

this is the time of year when everyone should have a lot of extra sympathy for outdoor workers.  A few days this week were too cold for the framers to work, but some effort was made and the stairs were produced and delivered.  Next week the forecast is very good so expect a big push to get the roof on.  

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this always makes site access a lot more convenient (once installed rather than piled in the snow)  

 

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and in they go.  The temporary set is in the background and no longer needed once all four pieces are hung.   

We bought a house

Circumstances came together unexpectedly and I was able to close a deal on another house with two venture partners. 

In my experience it is more fun finding and buying houses than it is investing six months of constant effort to get them built properly. However, this is an exciting project and I’m going to make the build as fun as possible.

The lot is a different type of semi detached property as it is laneless. This offers both the positives and negatives of a front garage. Watch this page and, when the dp is approved, I will post many of the project details.  I don’t see a lot of attached garage projects in my building career ahead so we’ve got to make the best of this one.  

 

 

 

 

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here is the new site.  We are super keen on this location and the build.   

Drywall begins - Pace of construction comparison

With drywall underway, we are now moving into the finishing stage of the project, always a happy milestone.  The interesting comparison to make here is the time lost vs the last project from inspections to starting drywall.  Unfortunately we have now lost much of the time advantage over a previous build.  The weather, holiday season, and some permit delay cost us almost two weeks.

Previous project inspection to drywall - 5 days

Current project inspection to drywall - 22 days.  

While extremely frustrating to lose so much time (a lot of it between dec 20 and Jan 5th), the current project is still ahead of the previous project.  

Previous project footing to drywall - 104 days

Current project footing to drywall - 96 days.

So the pace of construction has now narrowed, unfortunately if we had been a little quicker and luckier the drywall would have been complete before Christmas.

 Drywall going on the ceiling, a lot of work has gone into the project to date, 96 days to get here.

Drywall going on the ceiling, a lot of work has gone into the project to date, 96 days to get here.

Overcoming winter

Farmer fixes and natural gas distribution, not two items commonly associated together.  At minus 20 celsius, the builder needs to get creative when it comes to heating up the sites.  Further complicating the matter is a gas main in the alley too short to connect gas to both of the houses without a gas main extension, and even an absence of a gas meter on the second house.

Work arounds included rental of a 75 ft x 1 inch natural gas hose and purchasing uncommon flared 1 inch fittings, making use of the T at the meter and running the gas hose from the first meter into the second furnace, and hooking it all up.  This immediately allowed us, along with help from the mechanical contractor, to fire up both furnaces.   

With insulation done, drywall delivered, and crews ready to start we faced a second challenge, lack of disposal of furnace condensate.  When heating up a house the furnace combustion byproduct is water, and lots of it. The floor drain can't be used as we don't currently have the sewer hooked up, so without some solution, the water coming out of the furnace would flood the basement floor. That could be 5 gallons over a 24 hour period.

Another farmer fix was then deployed to deal with the condensate, a laundry basket.  5 gallon pails are too tall, especially given the low condensate pipe on the furnaces.

 The final farmer fix for the day is emptying the condensate into a laundry basket and tossing it out the basement window.  Until the sewer is connected, there is no way to manage the large volume of condensate.

The final farmer fix for the day is emptying the condensate into a laundry basket and tossing it out the basement window.  Until the sewer is connected, there is no way to manage the large volume of condensate.

Rowhouse framing part 4

Framing progress to date includes the top floor interior walls and trusses now going on. With the changing weather it looks like the truss project will slow.   Layout gets the thumbs up from the builder for the two bed two bath plus loft and laundry arrangement.   

 

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The first of many trusses are Installed.  

Metal siding part 1

We are working with a new siding product.   So far it isn’t going on as nice or easy as we had hoped.   Typical of new product, it looks better in the sales brochure than when it hits the site and needs to be put on the wall.  Despite the difficulty in getting it on, the product look is exceptional.    

 

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Nothing compares to the metallic luster of metallic product.   The corner trims are fastened last to complete the look.  

The monster firewall continued...

The rowhouse framing project is moving again now that the new year arrived with extremely mild weather.  The second floor firewall was set up and poured by the cribbers yesterday, and the forms are coming down now.  What we are left with is another 10 ft section of wall (total of 30 ft), but it is still too short to be as high as we need.  So yet another pour will be necessary, this time it will mimimc the shape of our roof trusses plus 6 inches, however that ends up.  

 Mild conditions allowed for another pour without additional tarping or heating.  The wall itself is a barrier to movement within the building for those building it, quite a pain as well to deal with.  

Mild conditions allowed for another pour without additional tarping or heating.  The wall itself is a barrier to movement within the building for those building it, quite a pain as well to deal with.  

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This is the look of the massive concrete firewall once it was stripped. Second floor walls are progressing nicely.   

Flashing and siding detail

I took delivery of some really exceptional siding material.  The flashing component and measuring quantity was a challenge I almost certainly screwed up.  The good news is I hired someone really capable to install it.  It should be going an the wall shortly. Until the work is done,  here is a corner trim piece profile that illustrates just one of many methods to detail this product.  

 

 I really want this to work out.  It is one of those new products that could look exceptional or be a nightmare.    

I really want this to work out.  It is one of those new products that could look exceptional or be a nightmare.    

2018 - the prediction edition

Hi everyone and happy new year.  It is January 2nd, the first construction day of the year and time for me to make some predictions.  I think this will be a very eventful year, and possibly hard to predict what will happen.  In December I will review my predictions, and see how I did.

1.  The City internal process to modernize infill building standards will be long, difficult, and controversial, however, at the end the outcome will be worth it because it will reduce contextual front setbacks among other changes, and deal with many parts of the bylaw that are no longer useful for the builders, communities, and the planning department (this is a highly optimistic prediction because of the political nature of this work, even so I am hopeful that much needed changes will happen).

2.  Killarney land prices will moderate or slightly drop in 2018 - I was wrong about land prices last year, or perhaps just focussed too much on the outliers.  Even so the run up in land value over the past year or two was remarkable, given the economy has really just stabilized vs. improved.  So I will again predict the land values will not be higher than in 2017.  

3. Government meddling will impact new home sales - This is an easy prediction to make, because by making it harder to borrow, even for really well qualified buyers, the new home industry usually would take the hit.  This is a toxic prediction for me to make because I am building new houses right now for sale in spring 2018.  Perhaps the inner city product will prove more resilient than the deep suburbia, we will see.

4.  The spring market will be very good - the all important spring market will bring massive quantities of buyers out to the show homes in Killarney.  I think the amount and similarity of the Killarney product deluge that is now underway will be interesting to watch, and a lot of buyers will be drawn to the generous selection.

So there you have four predictions for 2018, I hope everyone has a healthy and productive year.

2017 - the prediction review edition

Regular readers of this site will know that I am not particularly shy when it comes to making predictions and offering 'opinions' on events that I find worthy, especially the villainous characters that populate the industry.

I made a couple predictions in 2017, so lets review them now.

1.  My bet was that Killarney land value would stall at the summer high point of $683500 for a 50 ft lot which sold in a bidding war to a builder.  

outcome - wrong - A deal was closed in december at $685000.  I did comment that I thought the buyer was nuts.  I will stick with that prediction, despite being wrong about the price I am really glad I did not pay that much for that property.

2.   During the lead up to the vote for the re-desigation of a Killarney property to RCG from Rc2 I predicted that the council would vote overwhelmingly no, however I was uncertain at the time what would happen with the newly elected Council.  

outcome - wrong - The Council overwhelming voted to proceed with the RCG re-desigation, and went as far as tweaking the zone to create site specific restrictions. I am bothered by the restrictions as I don't think they were thought through carefully enough, and I don't want to see an avalanche of new tweaks and clauses to an already complex set of rules.   Despite this, I later theorized that Council has undergone a structural change to favour this type of project over often irrational community opposition.  But I was still wrong about the vote.

3.  the real estate board that regulates realtor behaviour would do something about terribly unethical realtor behaviour that I documented and sent to them (on a platter).

outcome - wrong - totally got the brush off.  What a waste of time.

Looking back on my predictive success for 2017, I didn't do too well.  My next post will be a 2018 future prediction edition, hopefully I will be more accurate this year.

 There is no limit to what people seem willing to pay to acquire development land in Killarney, but there is a real cap on what newly built homes sell for that is far more volatile and fickle than the land market.  These two markets, one would think, are inextricably linked.  That they operate independently is just another puzzle of inner city building.

There is no limit to what people seem willing to pay to acquire development land in Killarney, but there is a real cap on what newly built homes sell for that is far more volatile and fickle than the land market.  These two markets, one would think, are inextricably linked.  That they operate independently is just another puzzle of inner city building.

Website summary stats, 2017

I created this website in mid 2016 during a slow period where I was really frustrated with my lack of progress on acquiring viable development land.  Later that year I started a semi detached build which kept me busy and it featured heavily on my news page, as well as updates related to rezoning my rowhouse site to RCG from RC2.  

Throughout 2017 I continued with the regular updates (about 280 posts which is hard to believe), and met lots of interesting people through the contact page.  I also shared a lot of valuable info (at least I think it is) on inner city building and current events, from my admittedly biased perspective.  Now we have completed the first full year and it is time to review the website stats.

5926 - total page views in 2017

810 - highest page views in single month (June)

3510 - most popular content page (news)

51.15% - desktop viewership, 45.36% mobile

2017 is now 'last year', and I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to check out my site, leave comments, and email or call me with special requests and for bringing me hot drinks on cold days.  I find inner city building to be a fascinating topic, and it seems like many others do too.  While we had more than 5000 page views, I'd bet that 1000 of those came from just a couple IP address repeat offenders.  So thanks to you guys (especially Max) for showing so much repeat love to the site.  Keep it up in 2018.  I'll be back at work tomorrow pushing for a productive January to get the semi-d rolling again, so feel free to stop in and say hi.

 

 

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2017 year in review - everything else

This is my annual summary of development related topics at the micro level, right here in Killarney, and also a broad review of governments, realtors, and any other villains I encountered throughout the year.  There is a lot to report from 2017, both highlights and lowlights.  Can I be fair?  Is this supposed to be my annual comedy entry?  I guess the reader can decide.

The good, the bad and the ugly.  Let's start with the bad and the ugly.

Ugly:

Realtors - Without trying too hard, I just stumbled on so many instances of realtors blatantly misrepresenting property.  I even noticed a single realtor so chronically guilty of lying about development potential, it simply cannot be accidental.  I had other realtors forwarding me links to the lies of other realtors!  Then we'd discuss the outrageous claims and laugh.  The Calgary real estate board, wow, what a total farce.  If those are the 'good guys' watching out for the public, beware!

Bad:

The election - the civic election was such a dud.  How can public debates be held and no meaningful positions be put forth by incumbents and supposedly desperate challengers? All of the incumbents, including the dead weight were somehow re-elected (here's to you DiCU).  The four new members on council seem pretty good thus far, perhaps only elections should be held when incumbents resign?  The election financing is so utterly corrupt and hasn't changed in decades.  You now have builders giving four to five donations to the same candidate while important land use votes are taking place before and after the campaign.  Goodbye Councillor Chabot, we wont miss you!

Good:

Secondary Suites - progress on this important issue of personal and property rights has to make everybody's Calgary top 10 list (except for the four remnant corpses and dinosaurs still on Council).  The rest of us are still suffering brain damage from the last decade of secondary suite trauma.  

Excellent:

NIMBY's on the run? - Small change over many years on Council has suddenly had a cumulative impact and we find ourselves in 2017 passing main streets initiatives all over the City, with mass land use re-designations of hundreds of properties (that would have cost $20k each to do individually).   With the new four on Council, I've seen a major improvement, and community resistance based on fear and protectionism seems to be ignored by the voting members and mayor (the only votes that count).  Class and race based prejudice that bubbles just below the surface of many land use debates is being called out as 'insane bigotry' and 'dog whistle nimby'ism' by those on Council with conviction to modernize how we rebuild the inner city.  To me this is a welcome change.  

Ugly:

Government at all levels, at its worst, meddling, screwing stuff up, adding layers of cost and bureaucracy on business owners.  It is impressive how the parasitic class in our society grows, and how little of value it produces, and how much subtle and insidious harm it can cause.  This year the government gets an ugly rating, for the ridiculous farce of the licence program, the mortage rule meddling, and the fee hungry thievery.  Can 2018 be any worse?

Ugly:

The political correctness run amok has yet to really appear in development debates, which is very peculiar, especially given the homegrown prejudice that is so rampant in the hardened opinions people have on these matters.  I guess now the face of a middle aged white male who refuses to use bizarre pronouns can be pasted on a kid at Halloween as a ghoulish mask. No store bought costume needed!  The bizarre case of the univeristy TA made major headlines.  https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/yw5dbg/wilfrid-laurier-exonerates-lindsay-shepherd-we-can-all-move-on-now .  I am hoping NIMBY'ism can become the next shameful 'ism' along with racism and sexism so that development debates are more meaningful.   Maybe 2018 will become the year where we can have a rational debate on how to rebuild our City by excluding the NIMBY'ism perspective.  Once we do that we can make some good land use decisions.

Bad:

The City staff drafted a document proposing changes to the RCG zone, and it isn't very good.  Two of the three proposals would be seriously negative for rowhouse projects.  I am hopeful in the new year this can be fought off and the City will back down.  There is also a project to look at wholesale changes to how inner city contextual development proceeds. This would be such a welcome process if it actually includes input from builders and designers with ample weighting to other perspectives.  Stay tuned for updates on this one.

Bad:

Bankers - we've complained about lenders who won't lend before, and we are doing it again.  I've never felt so rejected! Poor me.  I had a banker offer to lend me $200k if I gave them $200k in a cash deposit.  That was really bizarre. I guess they'd take my $200k and give me zero interest, while lending me the same sum back at a higher rate.  That's the bankers idea of a good deal.

Good:

Oil - the price of oil ended, by my review of oilprice.com at $60.  That is a lot better than I had expected last summer when it hit $42 in July.  Natural gas is still really suffering though.

So there you have my overview of 'everything else' that is going on locally and on up to the provincial and federal level.  I think 2018 will be a fascinating year in the evolution of our society and hopefully us builders will benefit from a better local economy (and somebody will sell me a good development lot next year too).

 

 

2017 year in review - the business

2017 was a good year, certainly better than 2016 for the business. There are many successes to report on and many internal milestones achieved.  We even had some really complicated and unpredictable design work result in exceptional outcomes that should help us next year.  In no particular order, here are some of the wins:

1. Finishing the 41st project - the homes turned out very nice, and both sold quickly.   The only problem was running out of homes to sell in the spring market.  The market was so good that I could have sold dozens more of the same model.

2. Permitting the rowhouse project - this was on the verge of spiralling out of control into some bureaucratic wasteland, and despite the slow process, in the end I was able to get the project I wanted approved, in full.  

3.  DP on the fourplex project - once again, we encountered some tough obstacles that could have crushed the project, or suffered cumulative setbacks leading to a full redo.  While it took a year, we did everything correctly (myself and design crew), and in the end we have something really good.

4. Starting the Killarney semi d - After closing on the land in July, and doing some preliminary work right after the deal was signed, we were able to start the project in the fall.  Unlike the multi family projects, this means we don't have the costly delay of a year or two until building.  This could be a project where the investment and sales all occur within 12 months.  That'd be a record for me.  Having the capital only tied up for 10 months would be such a fine way to boost the business forward.  Low volume and slow turnover has been absolutely killing this business and there just did not seem to be a way out of that ugly cycle of slow permits, major delays, lengthy costly permit requirements, and slow land title office condo registry (other than by doing simpler projects I guess).

5.  Starting the Rowhouse - while the entire warm building season was lost due to City staff foot dragging, the rowhouse is being framed right now.  Once we are at the lockup stage, the rest of the build should proceed very nicely because I will have total control over the pace of work.  It looks like we can get to that stage by the end of the first month of 2018, what a relief after 1.5 years of struggle and delay. 

6. New framers - I latched on to a new set of guys to frame my buildings. They've literally saved me months of frustration over some prior work I have had done, and the pricing is very reasonable.  I am very hopeful the crew will continue to be available.  

7. New partnerships - I'm doing a project with a new investing partner and it is going well.  Not being exposed to the full risk of the project and having someone to contribute funds to the land and build is a nice change.  Hopefully this can continue and grow into some more volume as we get to know each other better.  

8.  Controlling costs - Some progress has been made here and it has become even more essential to lower labour costs given other cost headwinds.  The dollar value, the fires in B.C, trade wars, all of this is killing the builders (not that the government on any level cares about business owners that build houses  and employ dozens of contractors).

Of course we also had some setbacks throughout the year, but nothing that has really prevented a good year.  Here are a few to consider:

1.  Costly road fees/offsite levy fees - I can't believe I have paid so much this year and how badly the City is treating builders on these fees is truly shocking.  

2.  Possibly supply/demand challenges in 2018 - there always has to be something to worry about in a small business , and right now the trendy worry is overbuilding of similar semi detached product in the inner city communities. We know what the supply is six months in advance, but what will the demand be?  So much can go wrong here.

3. Financing - not much to say here other than how can the banks make so much money when they refuse to lend me any?

4. Paying warranty premiums on my own project - I could not find a way to weasel out of paying $4500 to buy my own warranty coverage for my building.  I guess when something breaks I will know who to call to fix it.  This year seemed like the all time best year for wasting 10's of thousands of dollars while not building anything to qualify for unnecessary government programs.

So that is my review of 2017, I have some great plans for 2018 and I am excited for the projects we have in the ground today.  2017 was strong for the business with two homes sold and five started.  That's seven houses in one year, my best to date.  My land supply has dried up so I have just the fourplex to start next year and I guess will be hunting for land deals all winter.

Sean.

    

Rowhouse framing part 3 - the concrete monster and second floor structure

We snuck in the firewall pour and it was a timely bit of progress, as the weather is truly hideous for the foreseeable future.  The framers were back at it today to try and salvage a little progress this week, and installed much of the second floor structure on the third unit.

The cribbers returned and stripped the forms, stacking them for re-use later on once we are ready for the final pour. With Christmas break upon us, I think this will be my last progress update until we get through the inspections at the semi-d, or somehow the framers work through the cold after boxing day.  I will also be composing a year in review type post, and that will be it for 2017.  Merry Xmas everyone!

 The second floor joist package is going on now.  The mass of the building is starting to take shape, for some reason this one looks different than how I'd imagined it.  I must be a terrible 3d visualizer.  This will be an interesting building once I get the finished exterior work done.  I'm attempting to get over my cowardly nature when it comes to building colour.

The second floor joist package is going on now.  The mass of the building is starting to take shape, for some reason this one looks different than how I'd imagined it.  I must be a terrible 3d visualizer.  This will be an interesting building once I get the finished exterior work done.  I'm attempting to get over my cowardly nature when it comes to building colour.

 The concrete monster is 2/3 complete.  Words can hardly describe how awful this wall is and how much worse it will be once we get to the top.  

The concrete monster is 2/3 complete.  Words can hardly describe how awful this wall is and how much worse it will be once we get to the top.