Vapour barriers


Now that the weather is quickly becoming more comfortable indoors than out, this is a great time to discuss indoor air quality.  We will start with vapour barriers (VB’s).  There are several approaches to vapour barriers; a generation ago there was a huge effort to implement VB’s in homes.  NRC Canada through R-0000 series made it very clear that VB’s were extremely important. Since then much has changed and come to light regarding this integral part of any building envelope.

In the 70’s it was clear that heating and vapour flows in building were integral, and that controlling them was key to a comfortable indoors.  VB’s also helped keep precious heat from escaping.  Today the average track home builder doesn’t really believe in a completely sealed vapour barrier. Many builders feel that VB’s should be installed and that the transition from one floor to the next or from the basement to the ground floor shouldn’t be continuously sealed. For them the building should breathe and that completely sealing a VB’s leads to sick building syndrome or at least a build up of unhealthy air in the home.  Couple continuously sealed vapour barrier with agglomerate based furniture and petroleum derived carpets and the air content in the home becomes overwhelmed with V.O.C.’s.  When your vapour barrier is properly sealed these gases have nowhere to escape and the air in the home can become unhealthy.  Builders usually only include very simple mechanical systems with new homes.  The only line of defence is a home owner that will flush the homes air on a regular basis; unfortunately you cannot rely on individual monitoring of indoor air quality. This is another reason why GC’s don’t seal VB’s properly.

Commercial buildings have the solution to this issue, in them VB’s are permanently sealed, but these buildings have sophisticated mechanical systems that are monitored. This is the solution to a properly sealed VB.  Your mechanical system has to be properly designed and monitored to avoid poor indoor air quality. There are several additional pieces of equipment that are required to properly monitor indoor air quality. First an air exchanger is required with a heat recovery unit.  This will allow the system to change the air in the home and recover the energy stored in the air before flushing it. Second, you need a monitoring system. This has to be designed into your mechanical system and co2 sensors should be placed in every zone to monitor the air quality.  This is included in the latest national building code.

It is recommended that your home be divided into as many zones as possible to allow for proper response to climate requirements. The issue is cost; sophisticated mechanical systems are pricey and can significantly add to the overall cost of the home. The trade off for high upfront equipment cost is reduced energy cost over the life of the system. When you do the math, these systems pay you back in savings not to mention increased comfort and a healthy indoor environment.

If you need a permit we can help call 514-839-3138.

Grandfather clause


j-a-macGrandfather clause is a term used to explain the right a building has related to when it was built.  Our landscape is full of buildings from different eras. The laws applicable at the time of construction change over time so in consequence if you live in an old row house with a non conforming stair; that stair can remain, as dangerous as it is; because it was built in a bye gone era and its ‘grandfathered’.

The building code under its current iteration is transforming itself into an instrument to be interpreted. Since the building code is a series of laws the code itself is now being interpreted as law and can be argued as such.  Jurisprudence is being implemented and it puts the odes on the stamping consultant to interpret their judgment should a dispute arise.

I bring this up to clarify something many folks don’t understand but will become clear.  If you have a grandfather clause building and you undertake a major renovation you in effect lose your grandfather clause and likely will be required to bring your building up to the current code and local bylaws.  It’s simple, if you maintain your building with regular scheduled maintenance you are fine but if you start moving walls and proposing new stairs, you cannot build the new stair like the old. You will have to follow current building codes for design.

This is essentially the reason many folks just leave older buildings for new. It’s simply easier to build from scratch rather than to adapt an old building to new standards. This phenomenon is also known as filtering of the building stock.  Old buildings are usually considered to be filtering down towards the bottom of the housing stock as their designs become obsolete.

At the moment many of Montreal’s inner city boroughs are experiencing a reverse filtering. That is they are being renovated to be resold as condos and they are finding many eager families willing to undertake the expense to convert old buildings to current standards due to the value of a pied a terre en ville.  This type of activity creates tension in boroughs that had a homogeneous population demographically and then all of the sudden has wealthy families inserting themselves into the landscape creating pressure for neighbouring properties to be renovated and low income residence being displaced.

The Montreal metropolitan area is very clear in its promotion of public transit and taxing of Montreal car drivers.  The message is clear; tolls are coming to bridges that access the city; like most US and European cities. We should all use public transit. With this kind of policy Montreal’s dense core is being favoured and predictable consequences are ensuing. Montreal’s inner city is a hot real estate market. Many European and American real-estate businesses are well routed in Montreal’s hot urban scene. There are few economies as potent as Canada’s in the current world economy.

If you need a permit we can help call 514-839-3138.

Canadian design rules


Architecture can never surpass the vastness and absolute majesty of the Canadian landscape. So in consequence architecture, in Canada, is irrelevant; architecture from a design point of view.  So there! I said it, now what?  This rule is irrefutable and what it leaves you with is architecture of modesty.  If you are designing a home it should be quite modest and simple.  Your home shouldn’t be a reproduction of anything or a copy or gaudy temple.

So where do we go from here? Simple we draw from Canada’s past for inspiration. We look to farm houses, WW2 veteran’s homes, grain silos, train stations, fishing shacks, hockey rinks, aboriginal design and above all WOOD construction. It’s the only thing we have that is truly ours. The world has Masonry; Canada has wood and lots of it so celebrate it. Just don’t put it on the outside of your home because it will be a maintenance nightmare. Seriously just use it to build your home and above all use it inside your home. There’s nothing like aged oak paneling in a foyer or a birch kitchen, don’t forget hard wood floors with radiant heat of course.

Today you can mix design like a DJ mixes music; a la carte and with little resistance. It’s funny how some folks think MODERN is a minimalist box. How is that modern when it was invented over a hundred years ago?  Some would say modern is mixing landscaping with architecture like plant filled envelopes and green roofs, but even that’s been done.  Berm homes and ivy have been around long before this trend came around again. And so there you have it; design is nothing more than fashion.  It comes and goes and there is very little that is truly modern. If modern means something new anyway.

If your home should say anything at all it should say nothing. It’s you and your family that should say everything and the house well you should try to be out of it as often as possible.  Be in perpetual motion because you can and because if you can you should. Get your heart pumping don’t rely on your car, rely on your bike and above all plant a vegetable garden and dig in the dirt.  If we remove ourselves from the earth we loose our soul in silly irrelevant things that don’t matter in the end.

Your home should be enough to shelter you and to carry you over until the weather is hospital or at least tolerable. Excess is unhealthy and creating spaces that promote sedentary behaviour is not in your favour.  In the end you should maximize your time outside and covet a comfortable space that can shelter you when Mother Nature is cranky. Once you maximize your savings by building an adequate home. Spend your savings on ski lift tickets or ice fishing, my favourite is at Saint Anne de la Parade, bring the family and friends and have a blast in February.

If you need a permit we can help call 514-839-3138.

Do you need a permit?


You may be wondering what kind of work around your home requires a permit.  Here is some information regarding city issued permits.  First and foremost if you are wondering if your project needs a permit always call the city to discuss your needs.

Most work around homes usually falls under the category of maintenance.  The city won`t issue a permit for that type of work.  An extreme example of maintenance; you have a wood porch that leads to your front door.  It includes steps, a roof and a railing.  It is falling apart and you wish to rebuild it exactly as it stands without changing anything.  That is considered maintenance. You do not need a permit. Now let’s say you take the opportunity to improve its design or you don`t like the position of the stairs. You wish to move them from the side to the front.  These design modifications require a permit from the city.  You must submit drawings to the city for them to consider your changes and assure respect of building codes and local bylaws.

The above examples are for the municipality of Montreal and not necessarily for its boroughs.  Four boroughs come to mind when it comes to maintenance that requires a permit; Outremont, Westmount, Town of Mount royal and Old Montreal and a fifth to a lesser extent Plateau Mount royal.  In these districts changing your windows may require a permit.  Now it has been my experience that in these places if you deal with a recognized manufacturer installer the permit is fast tracked and little to no documentation is required.  Also in these subdivisions interior renovations require permits.  If you start putting toilettes and demolition debris on your front lawn for pick up, a city inspector will most certainly come a knocking and ask what work you are undertaking. Again in these neighbourhoods there are strict bylaws that govern such things as the material used for plumbing; Cast iron is a standard for drains.

Projects that almost always require a permit are stair projects.  If you are proposing changes to a stair the city wants to make sure they conform to the National Building Code and local amendments to the NBC. This goes for outside and inside stairs.  Building a stair without respecting the code can be uncomfortable at the least and dangerous at worst. That`s were a service like ours shines.

An extreme make over to your home will most certainly require more than drawings submitted for a permit.  If you decide to paint your home exterior or make drastic changes to the front facade it would require that you go before a local committee for review and approval, again this depends on your borough.  CCU meetings (Comité Consultatif d’Urbanisme) or Planning Advisory Committee  can delay your renovations because they are held at regular intervals.  If at your first meeting your project is refused and changes requested you would have to wait until the next meeting to resubmit, sometimes it can take 6 weeks.  Check your local CCU`s schedule for a fit with your plans.

Let us know how we can help you get a permit; call 514-839-3138