Build your Own Home as Owner/Builder in BC

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Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building A Log Home, Building Code, EcoLog | Posted on 28-09-2018

Vanisle Ecolog Homes is not a construction company. We design your dream log home, and provide you with detailed construction plans and a “shell kit”, which includes the material for all the log home specific parts. 

To erect our homes, most customers hire a builder if they don’t have the experience to build a complete home themselves.

Many years ago British Columbia introduced the Homeowner Protection Act, which mandates that all new homes should carry a Home Warranty to protect buyers of these homes from construction defects. Any builder who acts as a General Contractor has to be a “licensed” builder under this act and has to provide the Home Warranty to the home owner. Of course, this process costs significant money for the builder, which is then passed on to the home owner.

Small builders are often not able to provide this warranty, as the process is too time and cost intensive for them. Therefore they can only work as sub-contractor for licensed builders when dealing with new homes.

An exception to this rule is if people act as “Owner/Builder” to build their own private residence. In this case they can opt out of the government Home Warranty Program, and they can either buy a private construction insurance or decide not to have any insurance. It is important to note that homeowners who built their home as owner/builder are personally liable  for construction defects in their home for 10 years. And this even after they sell their home.

Why would you want to take the risk to become an owner builder?

Careful sign, clipart

As owner/builder you can hire non-licensed companies for your construction project, and often save quite a bit of money, as smaller non-licensed companies can operate with lower overhead, and don’t have to pay all the fees and administration overhead for the home warranty.

If you go through the process of becoming a owner/builder, you will better understand the whole construction process, and you can personally insure the quality of all aspects of construction.

How do you become a owner/builder?

To become an owner/builder in BC, you have to go through an application process and pass an exam at the end of that process. This process is administered by BC Housing, and all information how to get started can be found here.

The owner/builder exam has to be taken in-class, and these exams are offered throughout the year and many cities across BC. You have to answer 70% of the questions to pass the exam.

If you already have some construction background you could do all the training online, and just sign up for the in-class exam. If you don’t feel confident enough for that you can take some additional in-class training, which is offered in many cities by companies like CBT.

Make sure to allow enough time from the moment you start this process until the time you want to apply for your building permit. You will need the certificate you get after the exam to apply for your building permit. Depending on class schedules, amount of registrants and other factors this process can take 3-4 months or even longer.

When should you avoid building your home as owner/builder?

Be aware of the 10 year liability as owner/builder. If you plan to sell your home within 10 years after building it, it may be better if you hire a licensed builder to have the full home warranty. If you sell an owner/builder home you have to disclose this to future buyers, and it may be a disadvantage in the market to sell a home without home warranty.

To minimize such a risk and still have the advantages of building as owner/builder, you can look for a private insurance company yourself to provide similar coverage as the government program. 

Many consumers – and builders – are critical about the government enforced home warranty and think that it doesn’t really protect buyers or builders properly. Many people with valid claims have to file lawsuits to get the insurance companies to act, as some examples in this Global News article show.

Legalities Of Tiny Home Ownership In Canada

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Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building Code | Posted on 07-08-2018

The following post is a guest post from the Tiny House Society:

Many people are trying to reduce their environmental footprint these days, and one place to start is by going from huge expensive and resource hungry homes to smaller homes – in the most minimalistic way called a “tiny house”.

Building ToolsOne of the more popular tiny house questions people ask is: where can I build/park my tiny house? The answer isn’t as simple as one might think. There are all kinds of tiny home laws and conflicting answers that can leave a tiny house hopeful in the dust. Having to find a home for your home is very much a reality when it comes to this process, and it’s a good idea to do your research beforehand. Let’s take a look at the breakdown of legalities when building and locating a spot to put your tiny house. Keep in mind–these rules and regulations can change and vary from one area to the next, so it’s always best to check with your local municipality!

But first…

What is a Tiny House?

A tiny house, either on wheels or built on a foundation, is often a maximum of 500 square feet and focuses on a simple, minimalistic way of living without sacrificing quality. Highly popular amongst the eco-conscious, these tiny homes boast purposeful designs and stay far from wastefulness.

How to Build

Tiny houses need to be built according to local building codes. If you are planning on living somewhere remote or off grid, then it could be possible to build outside of these codes–emphasis on could be. The best way to go about this is to consult with a planner or to purchase an already built home to ensure the building is up to code. For example, parts of Canada do not allow lofts to be used for sleeping if the tiny house is built on site. This can be tricky, because many tiny house enthusiasts love the loft design, as it creates more ground floor space. Purchasing a tiny home that is pre-manufactured or comes from a certified company that specialize in tiny houses can eliminate a lot of hassle!Tiny homes on beach

In some parts of Canada, a tiny house on wheels is considered to be “a dwelling unit on wheeled chassis, greater than 12 square meters and less than 29 square metres, designed to be used as a full-time residence in this climate.” Additionally, some tiny houses that are built on foundations like standard houses can be qualified as an ADU or accessory dwelling unit. Both of these types of tiny houses can have strict building codes and regulations, so be sure to investigate thoroughly!

Where to Build

Finding a place to build your tiny house can be tricky. Owning a tiny house that isn’t on wheels means you won’t be able to just up and leave at the drop of a hat. This is why it’s even more important to consider your options and find out your local regulations. A few options on where to build your tiny house include:

  • In your backyard – You will need some land first. If you already own a house on the land, then it may be easier to live in because it still isn’t a “primary dwelling.”
  • In your friend’s backyard – Again, it will likely be easier because there is already a primary dwelling.
  • On a piece of land you bought – Lots of grey area here. If it’s out of the way of prying eyes then you might get by. Still, this is a risky choice because of the financial investment involved!
  • In a tiny house community – As the tiny house movement spreads, legal tiny house communities are popping up all over the country. Take a look at this community in the Ontario area.

Where to Park

If you are interested in a tiny house on wheels, then your options are fairly similar to the above. A different option available to the tiny house on wheels is the RV park. This could be a good choice because they often come standard with all of the hook ups such as water and electricity. Be sure to contact the owner of the park first! Technically, permanently residing in an RV (recreational vehicle) isn’t allowed, but many have found this is only an issue if there is a complaint.

Ask the right questions and search for great answers!

It’s important to keep in mind that each area of Canada may have different rules, so it’s a good idea to find out building codes and other regulations from your local municipality. A great way to ensure your peace of mind when building a tiny home is by contracting a tiny house specialist, or purchasing one of the many beautiful prefabricated options available. Luckily for us, Canada is a beautiful country for a tiny home if you are up to the challenge!

Guest Cottages, Granny Suites, Garden Suites, Accessory Buildings

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Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building Code, EZLog Cabin/Cottage Kits | Posted on 01-02-2014

There are many names for these secondary buildings, which people erect in their backyard to create more living space for themselves or their relatives and visiting friends.

EuropaMany people would also like to use granny or garden suites as rentals to supplement their income. A recent article in Victoria News reports that the rules have just been changed in North Saanich – the northern tip of the Saanich Peninsula. In 2011 North Saanich passed a bylaw to allow guest or caretaker cottages on any cottage bigger then 1 1/4 acre. In January 2014 the size of lots to allow for external suites was reduced to 1 acre, which will significantly increase the number of properties eligible for external rental buildings. Before 2010 the use of these guest cottages was very restricted, and only a caretaker or family member could live in them. But the municipality saw the need for more affordable rental places and therefore allowed garden suites and caretaker / guest cottages to be rented out.

Mari A 100 sqft cottageMany other municipalities in the Greater Victoria area and on the Gulf Islands allow for such secondary buildings often referred to by many different names: Carriage home, garden suite, guest house or guest cottage… No matter what you call them, such buildings are great for everybody: Owners can use them for visiting friends or family or increase their income (or pension) through rent.

Vanisle Ecolog homes offers many different solutions to build such buildings, from square timber custom log homes to very affordable ready-to-assemble EZLog cabin kits. The most affordable building types for external suites are EZLog cottage and cabin kits: They can be built on any type of foundation, from slab-on-ground over wood foundations to crawlspaces. Many people like them for their charming looks and their all-natural wooden interior.

One challenge many people see is to overcome the hurdles of permits and building these structures in accordance with municipal bylaws and the building code. They can be built as summer cabins if people want to use them as a studio or as extended living space mostly in the summer. In this case not much insulation is needed. But Vanisle Ecolog homes can also design these buildings to be very energy efficient to provide comfortable easy to heat all year living spaces.

Vanisle Ecolog homes offers customers complete service packages to take care of everything, and to guide them through the whole process, from early planning until they are proud owners of a nice guest cottage.

 

Will log homes be felled by modern building codes?

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Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building Code | Posted on 05-01-2012

A few days ago I was interviewed by James Bradshaw, who was doing some research about log homes and the National Building Code. I provided him with some of the information based on my Energy Advisor training and based on the research I did for my recent article about Building Codes for Cottage Magazine.

James researched the topic from many different angles, and came up with a great story, which was published in the Globe and Mail on the front page across Canada:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/will-log-homes-be-felled-by-modern-building-codes/article2291979/

I really enjoyed the reader discussion (click the “Comments” link at the bottom of the article) about this topic. Quite controversial, but most readers seem to be in favor of log homes.

 

Understanding Building Codes in Canada

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Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building A Log Home, Building Code | Posted on 28-10-2011

Eliminate construction problems and save money by knowing how building codes work

Construction of new homes in Canada is governed by province specific building codes. Each province can either create their own building code or adopt the National Building Code of Canada, which is a model code. The BC and Alberta building codes, for example are based on the national model code, with additions such as seismic requirements to suit each province. The main purpose of the building code is to provide detailed requirements resulting in safe buildings. Many recent building code amendments also address reduction of water and energy usage of new homes.

The building code is enforced by local governments and in most cases by a building inspection department of a municipality or regional district. It is important to know that the current enforcement system is discretionary: a municipality or district may choose not to have an inspection process but in the majority of cases, local governments regulate the building process and enforce compliance with the building code and other local by-laws. Most urban regions have thorough processes in place to ensure high building standards and compliance with all codes and regulations. But some rural communities often lack the resources for building inspections and are unable to enforce building code compliance. Some people look intentionally for such communities when they plan to build recreational cottages. Building a seasonal cottage without the need to fully comply with all building code requirements can make a big difference on costs.

One example of a “building permit free region” is the Powell River Regional District in BC, which includes Savary Island. As a result of the lack of building permits, Savary Island hosts a variety of fantasy structures, from rustic shacks over fort with palisades to multi million dollar mansions. Denman and Hornby Islands are also permit free regions.

The building code doesn’t distinguish between cottages, regular residences or seasonal buildings. If a building department enforces the building code for cottages in their area, even a seasonal cottage must meet the same standards as a permanent residence. The only exception is for very small structures: Some municipalities allow buildings of up to 100 sq. ft. to be built without a building permit, but may need a siting permit. In some areas, seasonal-use-only cottages may be exempt from some code requirements, but may require the owner to enter into a covenant with the local building department specifying that it will only be used seasonally. Converting from a seasonal residence to a legal full-time residence can be very costly.

The majority of residential construction in Canada is done as wood frame construction, where walls are built with 2” x 6” wood studs, and the cavities are filled with insulation. The requirements for this type of construction are described in very much detail in Part 9 of the building code, and therefore wood frame buildings are sometimes called “Part 9 buildings.”

Most experienced builders have memorized all key requirements of the building code, and know what the height and width of stairs must be, how much steel to put into foundations and how to frame and insulate walls and ceilings. At different stages of the construction process a building inspector will visit the building site to ensure all building code requirements are met. He or she can request changes from the builders if they didn’t build according to the code. Depending on the type of change, this can result in extensive costs for the homeowner. If the homeowner or builder refuses to comply with the requirements of the building inspector, the inspector can refuse to provide an occupancy permit at the end of construction, or add a note about potential construction deficits to the title of the property. It is important to note that building codes are a minimum standard and not necessarily the best.

When selecting a builder for a new home, make sure the outfit has a good knowledge of the building code to minimize the chance of change requests from your building inspections.

Log homes are a popular choice for cottages and cabins. While log homes also need to comply with the building code, there are no detailed descriptions how to achieve this compliance. That’s why engineers need to be involved in the design of log homes, and—depending on the building inspector—sometimes also into the inspection process.

Many people who want to build their own home or cottage know a few key requirements from the building code. As a log home supplier, I often hear the question: “What is the insulation value of your log walls, it must be R20 according to the building code, or?” It is true, that Part 9 of most building codes contains detailed tables prescribing insulation requirements for frame walls, basements, different types of ceilings etc. But these tables cannot be applied to non-frame construction techniques like log homes.

Some building codes have recently been changed to better accommodate non-frame construction: The BC building code has a new Part 10, which offers an alternative way to comply with energy efficiency requirements. The builder or homeowner needs to participate in an EnerGuide Rating System® (ERS) process and achieve a certain rating, which proves the overall energy efficiency of the home. The Ontario building code offers the same alternative, and starting in 2012 the ERS process is mandatory for every new home in Ontario.

Homeowners normally don’t need to know much about the building code. The BC Building Code, for example, is more then 800 pages and is at least as difficult to read as legal documents for non-lawyers. Most building codes are also quite expensive: A paper copy of the BC Building Code costs $320, and online access costs $200 per year.

If you plan to build a new home or cottage, you should be aware of upcoming changes in the building code. The national model code is updated every 5 years, most recently in 2010. The provincial codes normally follow with their respective update 1 or 2 years later. The next version of the BC Building Code, for example, will be published in spring 2012 and become effective in fall 2012. New homes of any type (frame or non-frame construction) will need to be more airtight, better insulated and conform to new ventilation requirements, which should result in a 30 percent or more reduction in energy use. If somebody plans to build a new home or cottage, it can have a big impact on construction costs if the home is built before or after these changes are in effect.

This article was first published in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Cottage Magazine by Hermann Thoene and Niels Anthonsen.


About the Authors:
Hermann Thoene, Certified Energy Advisor and owner of Vanisle Ecolog Homes (ecolog-homes.ca). He also designs and supplies square log homes and cottages.

Niels Anthonsen, P.Eng., owner of Building Energy Engineering, is a Professional Engineer, Certified Energy Advisor and LEED A.P. and specializes in Thermal & Vapour management and Energy Modeling for Single Family and Multi Unit Residential Buildings. (niels@BEengineering.ca)