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.

Ecolog Home Construction Cost and Timeline

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Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building A Log Home, EcoLog | Posted on 11-09-2018

One of the most asked questions I get is: “How much does it cost in total to build an Ecolog home?”.  And the next common question is “How long does construction of an Ecolog home take?”.

Construction Cost

Both of these questions are not easy to answer in a general way, as they depend on may factors specific to a building site and particular home to build. But I like to give our readers a few “rule-of-thumb” figures, and some background information on what factors contribute to lower or higher cost.

Ecolog Construction Site

Ecolog Construction Site

A general estimate for construction cost is based on the size of the building, in North America typically based on “square footage”: Calculate the total amount of “above ground” living space in square feet. Add the basement if you are planning to cully finish the basement. If the loft is only “partially” usable space (like the steep roof lofts in an Ecolog home), take the usable amount of space.

The cost for a turn key home, including allowances for simple, basic excavation, simple utility connection, and all labour and material to build the home, is in most areas between $250 and $300 per sqft. This is for a

Building Code conform 4 season home with “typical” (not high end) finishing choices.

Example: If you want to build a 24’x40′ Ecolog home with an unfinished 8′ high basement, and a fully finished loft, calculate your cost as follows: 960 sqft on the main floor, appr. 700 sqft space in the log, gives 1660 sqft finished living space. Total building cost for this home should be budgeted between $415,000 and $498,000.

The following factors can increase the building cost:

  • Smaller buildings (less then 700 sqft footprint) have a higher per-sqft-cost, where bigger buildings (>1500 sqft footprint) have a lower per-sqft-cost
  • Finished basement adds to cost, but by far not as much as the cost for the main floor. Using space in a well finished basement is a great way to create more living space for less money
  • Building on remote islands or in other remote areas increases cost. Transportation and expenses will be higher.
  • Finishing choices: Obviously “the sky is the limit” when it’s about finishing choices. You can spend as much money as you want to expensive light fixtures, flooring, tiles, etc.

So how can you reduce your total building cost? Here are a few ideas:

  • Sweat equity: One of the biggest cost elements in building a home is labour. If you or your family can help during construction, you can save a lot of money. Even unskilled workers can be of great value for many tasks like sanding, staining, painting, cleanup, moving material and much much more.
  • Reduce footprint, use space more efficiently: If you keep the design as simple as possible and use the space on each level to its maximum, you can save a lot of money. In practical terms this means:
    • Finish your basement, use it for bedrooms, office, etc. Using ICF walls maybe even in combination with in-floor hydronic heating, and big windows or patio doors can create wonderful comfortable and bright living spaces in a basement
    • Reduce number of bathrooms: Every bathroom adds a lot of cost to your home – not only for the fixtures, but also for plumbing runs, size of your hot water system, required space, etc.
    • No or minimum amount of dormers in the roof: While dormers look really appealing in an Ecolog home, they also increase construction cost due to the required framing, more complex roof insulation and more complex roof finishing with lots of valleys. If you design the loft to have 2 big rooms with stairs in the middle, the gable walls can provide enough light for each of these rooms. And even in a 24’x32′ Ecolog home, this will result in 2 fairly big rooms.

Construction Timeline

And now to the 2nd question I want to address in this post: How long does it take?

I normally start “counting” that time after a contract has been signed between Vanisle Ecolog Homes and the customers. At that time we can start working on the detailed design with our drafts person and engineer. The process to create these detailed building plans with various feedback-rounds with the customer typically takes between 6-8 weeks.

Once the plans are done, the customer can apply for the building permit. Depending on the municipality, this takes between 2 and 4 weeks.

Ecolog home with covered porch

Ecolog home with covered porch

Now construction can start. The contractor can now building the footings, basement and subfloor. During this time we will work on assembling the Ecolog kit. In most cases the Ecolog kit gets delivered to the building site at the time when the subfloor is finished.

Assembly of the Ecolog shell typically takes about 3-4 weeks. This means erecting the log walls and adding the roof trusses. Now the roof has to be sheathed, insulated, dormers and gables to be built… typically another 4-6 weeks.

After adding the roof finish (metal or asphalt shingles) and installing windows and doors the house is at the “lock-up” stage. The minimum timeframe from signing a contract to get to this stage is probably about 4 months.

Finishing the house can take another 3-4 months.

All these timelines depend on how many people are working at each step, how many changes are encountered, unplanned difficulties like hitting water during excavation, and much much more.

Hopefully the numbers in this article will help you to plan for your own project.

Wood Buildings Make a Happy Planet

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Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in EcoLog, Energy Efficiency, EZLog Cabin/Cottage Kits | Posted on 23-04-2014

A recent article in the renown GBA (Green Building Advisor) summarized the benefits of wood buildings over steel, concrete or any other “high energy” materials. Log buildings and cabins not only feel better then any other buildings, but they are also a great benefit for our planet.

Read the full article here on the GBA website.

 

Building a Summer Cottage or All Season Home?

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Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building A Log Home, EcoLog | Posted on 07-05-2013

Are you planning to build a cabin or cottage for quite some time now?

Are you overwhelmed by the huge amounts of products you find during your online search?

Don’t you wish you could just snap a maEZLog Cottage Constructiongic wand, and swoooosh, your new cottage is done – ready to use at your building site?

Ok, you don’t need a magic wand, but Vanisle Ecolog Homes can help, as we now offer you a complete we-do-it-all-for-you service. We start by visiting your property, analyzing your requirements and then talk to your municipality to find out if your plans match with their by-laws and regulations. Then we will suggest one or more possible cabins or cottages which you can build. After “zeroing in” on one, we can then create a custom quote for all the material and services you need. If you want, we can do it all – like the magic wand. But if you want to save some money and help with certain parts, we can leave that for you.

Our package deals for prefabricated cabins and cottages make it easy for you to plan your budget, and give you peace-of-mind. Check out the EZLog Europa model to find some sample packages.

It’s challenging to generalize bigger building projects, as each property is different, municipal requirements are different, and of course each customers has different requirements. That’s why we cannot tell you how much YOUR project will cost without seing your property and talking to you. But the following packages give you an idea about the services we provide, and what typical package costs can be for a given situation.

Summer Cottage

Let’s assume you have found a nice property on Vancouver Island, and now you want to build a seasonal 2 bedroom cottage mainly as a summer-getaway for your family.

Mari A 100 sqft cottageA so called seasonal structure does not require a heating system, and there are no minimum insulation requirements. Therefore you can use a prefabricated building kit like the 20’x24′ EZLog Europa with 58 mm thick walls. Apart from purchasing a building kit, what else is required to have a ready-to-use cottage?

  • Planning and permits: If your municipality requires a building permit (check out this blog article to learn more about building code and permits), you will need a whole set of building plans, potentially a lot survey, septic field permit etc. We normally guide our customers through this process – or even get the permit for them – as this can be quite challenging for “regular” (non-trades) people, who don’t speak “building code” and “by-law” lingo.
  • Build a proper foundation: The simplest way is a slab-on-ground, but for very little more money you will have more flexibility by building a crawlspace. Both of these options require proper framing and pouring concrete, and most people will hire trades people for these tasks. A typical 30″ high crawlspace with subfloor costs between $8,000 and $10,000 (that’s without excavation and backfilling, and the price depends much on the price of concrete in your area).
  • Once the foundation is in place the cottage can be erected. A prefab building kit like the Europa can be setup in about 200 “people hours” (maybe a bit longer if you do this type of work for the first time). No crane or other machines are needed for this – muscle power, some good ladders and some basic tools like hammer and drill will do.
  • EZLog kits don’t include the roof finish, as people have different tastes and requirements for a roof. The two most common choices for EZLog cottages are asphalt shingles or metal. Both can be installed pretty quick. If you have no experience in roofing, this should be done by professionals, so that all the right flashing is installed and your roof doesn’t leak.
  • Now the cottage needs to be stained or painted, to protect the wood from moisture and insects. We recommend using water based stains, which are very high quality today and last a long time. Stain or paint on the inside is optional. You can leave the natural wood exposes if you don’t mind some discolouration in areas where the wood gets exposed to the sun.

At this stage the cottage is at what we consider “lockup stage” (the windows and doors have been installed during erection of the walls). If you just use an outhouse and water from a well or river, and don’t require electric, then you seasonal cottage is done.

All Season Cottage

A seasonal log cabin on Vancouver Island could occasionally be used in the winter with no problem. Most areas don’t get so cold that a wood stove or small electric stove can’t heat such a cabin. It might not be the most energy efficient thing to do, but it works for the occasional weekend visit.

Europa CottageTo create a vacation or backyard cottage which can be permanently used all year around requires the building to have a proper heating system and to be fully insulated. Depending on the type of structure you build, the BC building code offers various possibilities to prove “proper insulation” and an “energy efficient building envelope”.  More details on that can be found in my earlier blog post on this topic.

To insulate EZLog cottages in compliance with the BC building code, we suggest (and implement) following solutions to customers:

  • The roof gets insulated with 4″ – 6″ of Polyiso foam, attached with Z-bars on top of the T&G roof decking, which is part of the EZLog kit. The foam comes in 2″ or 3″ thick 4’x8′ panels, and most contractors are familiar with its installation. A Tyvek membrane on top of the foam protects the foam and ensures an airtight roof structure. The metal roof can then be easily attached on top of the foam held by the Z bars as well.
  • The outside walls get insulated in following ways: A Tyvek membrane on the inside of the wall wraps from roof to the floor and into the window and door opening. This forms the air barrier of the home. Now the building attaches 2″-6″ XPS foam panels on top of the tyvek. The panels are installed using vertical 1″x2″ strapping, attached with (countersinking) screws into the log wall. Now a layer of 5/8″ T&G boards it attached on top of the strapping. After installing trim around doors and windows, this “second wall” looks exactly the same as the “thick” outside wall and other interior walls.
  • Insulating a concrete slab is optional and should be done before pouring the concrete. The subfloor above a crawlspace also gets insulated with 2″-4″ XPS foam attached to the bottom of the floor joists.

The amount of insulation and type of windows (double or triple pane, type of filling and coatings) needs to be carefully chosen based on the location where the cottage gets built. Going “over board” with too much insulation doesn’t hurt, but increases the building costs unnecessarily. Vanisle Ecolog Homes uses the Hot200 software from Natural Resources Canada to calculate energy models, which help customers decide which insulation options are appropriate and most cost effective.

In addition to insulation, all season buildings require plumbing, electric and a heating system. Our sample Europa package includes basic plumbing, which in consists of a small hot water tank installed in the crawlspace, and rough in plumbing for a kitchen and bathroom into the subfloor. The electric installation package included in this packages consists of a 100 amp panel with basic light fixtures and plugs and baseboard heaters as a heating system.

For sustainability minded customers we recommend to install LED lights, a hot water tank with built-in heat pump and a “mini-split” heat pump, which provides a very energy efficient and comfortable heating and cooling system for a reasonable price.

 

Log Homes for the Eco-Conscious

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Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in EcoLog | Posted on 24-01-2012

Brian Hartz wrote a nice article about Hermann Thoene and his new Vanisle Ecolog Homes business for Douglas Magazine. The article was published in their Nov/Dec 2011 issue.

Brian did a great job in summarizing the background and current status of our business.

Thanks for Douglas Magazine to allow us to allow us to make a copy of the article available for interested people.

Have a Laugh: New videos from EcoLog-Homes.com

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Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in EcoLog, Fun Stuff | Posted on 05-03-2010

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