Don’t let unheeded dangers ruin your holiday season

With the festive season set to start, including a school break for our children, I’d like to remind fellow parents that construction sites are not playgrounds. Snow might make a site look like a sparkling winter wonderland, but don’t be fooled, the dangers there are all too real.

Workers on construction sites are trained to recognize dangers in accordance with stringent rules set by the province. They also wear protective gear such as hard hats, steel-lined work boots, vests, harnesses, safety goggles and ear plugs.

Provincial legislation also provides that if you are not 16 years of age or older and wearing the appropriate gear, then you are considered a trespasser breaking the law if you enter a construction site.

The legislation is also explicit that builders and renovators post signs such as “No Trespassing! Danger – Keep Out!”

We all go to great lengths to dissuade entry by unauthorized people including fencing and taping off areas. Even new home buyers who want to view the construction of their own home require supervision by the builder and must be properly attired when they are on site.

Sadly though, tragic mishaps do occur, forever impacting the lives of the young person, their family and friends and members of the construction industry.

Whether you are visiting sites as you consider a new home purchase, you live in a new development that is still under construction, or are visiting with family or friends who live nearby a construction site, there is a good chance your child will come in contact with a construction site.

Please take the time to warn your children. Explain the dangers such as nails, rough materials and potential falls that could result in broken bones but could also be life-threatening. Perhaps explaining the safety gear required for workers and that it is against the law to enter a site might resonate with them.

Lastly, make sure you know where your children are going, and when they will be back and encourage them to take advantage of all the beautiful parks and playgrounds in London.

I also want to encourage everyone to pay special attention to their smoke detectors. Our London Home Builders’ Association renovators work with the London fire services to blitz London neighbourhoods, testing smoke detectors and replacing batteries or the detector where necessary.

It is surprising and disheartening to learn how many homes have expired smoke detectors or no detectors at all.

Results for our second blitz weren’t as bleak as they were for the first neighbourhood, but it was still well worth the time and effort for the renovators and firefighters.

Of the 256 homes canvassed, 124 homes were not available to be checked as no one was home. Surprisingly, entry was refused at an additional 16 homes.

That left 116 homes of which 3.5 per cent had no smoke alarm, 15.5 per cent of the smoke alarms that were not working and an amazing 19 per cent had an insufficient number of smoke alarms for the size and layout of the home.

The renovators and firefighters were happy to be able to supply 17 homes with new batteries and replace and install an additional 30 smoke alarms.

When you realize that all these numbers mean that in one small neighbourhood in London, that at least one in five homes were without adequate protection, it is unsettling to think of how many lives might be at risk across our city.

With the holidays fast approaching, why not take this as your opportunity to start a new family tradition: checking the expiry date and the batteries in your smoke detector. When you’re thinking stocking stuffers, don’t forget batteries.

Have a happy holiday season by putting an emphasis on staying safe.

Sue Wastell is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.     

Wood an alternative to concrete in mid-rise construction

Among the four- to six-storey mid-rise buildings under construction in London and area, you can see two different types of construction being used.

The traditional, most widely used construction material is concrete. According to the Ready Mixed Concrete Association, concrete has many benefits.

  • Concrete structures are designed to last for centuries. Concrete, unlike some other materials, gets stronger the longer it sits. It won’t rot, mold or rust, which makes maintenance minimal.
  • Concrete can be shaped into any design to achieve unique looks.
  • Insulated concrete forms (ICF) create walls that are reinforced with rebar which creates a strong, durable structure that stands up to fire, floods, and wind. ICF creates a solid wall with continuous insulation that provides increased energy efficiency.
  • Fire resistance is one of the most important considerations when building. Concrete’s fire resistance can even exceed building requirements.

Another option for mid-rise construction is wood construction.

In 2009, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to allow five- and six-storey mid-rise buildings to be made from wood. After years of study by technical experts with support from research organizations such as the National Research Council and FPInnovations, changes were made to the 2015 National Building Code of Canada.

Most people think of two-by-four framing, panels or flooring on single family homes when they think of wood construction, but with recent advances in wood science and building technology, there is now stronger, more robust and sophisticated product options for wood construction which allows for more choice for builders and architects.

According to Canadian Wood Products Ltd., there are many benefits of wood construction.

  • Mid-rise buildings made of wood are a less expensive construction option. With land prices rising, the changes to the building code allow safe, compliant buildings that would not otherwise be possible. The benefit of reduced construction costs can be passed on to home buyers or tenants.
  • With new economic opportunity, the construction of these units creates new construction jobs as well as supporting employment in forestry communities. Exports of wood products also could increase as other countries begin similar types of construction.
  • This new standard of engineering fully meets the same requirements of the building code as any other type of construction from the perspective of health, safety and accessibility. With growing pressure for building designers to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment, wood product based construction is a great choice, as it is a renewable building.

Researchers are continuously working on new innovations for both wood and concrete construction.

Sue Wastell is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.     

Watch out for counterfeit and other substandard products

Familiar with the saying “you get what you pay for”? Or “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is”?

When you begin planning your new home purchase or home renovation, you quickly discover the marketplace offers an astounding array of products with an even more astounding array of prices.

With so much to choose from, how do you get the best value for your money and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you have made wise, informed decisions?

Product selection often begins with appearance and price: how will it look in your home and how much are you willing to pay? Beyond that, other aspects need careful thought: overall quality, reliability, durability, ease of installation, warranty and after-sales service.

Not all products are the same, and in some cases, they may not be what they seem. The majority of building products and materials meet standards for safety, health, performance etc. Some standards are mandatory according to building codes; others are used by manufacturers as a benchmark for quality.

However, recent years have seen an increase in counterfeit and nonconforming consumer products of all kinds, especially with today’s access to purchases online. While there is no evidence of a large-scale problem with building products, it is still prudent for consumers to be on guard against unsafe or substandard products, which can show up as:

  • counterfeit or fake brand name products
  • products with fake certification symbols, that is, fraudulent use of marks belonging to standards organizations such as Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Underwriters Laboratories Canada (ULC) and Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB)
  • nonconforming products, that is, those that do not meet accepted industry standards
  • no-name or knock-off products without any indication of performance, durability or warranty. Untested and uncertified, these products can, in the extreme, pose a serious safety risk. Less dramatically, they may simply be substandard — not dangerous, but not performing as they should.

As a homebuyer or renovating homeowner, what can you do to safeguard against counterfeit and nonconforming products?

One of the most effective ways is to work with an experienced and respectable industry professional. Reputable new home builders and renovators:

  • give careful thought to the best products based on cost, installation, quality, performance, durability, warranty and compliance with codes and standards
  • rely on brand-name products and suppliers and sub-trades they can trust
  • depend on approval marks or listing numbers by standards and evaluation organizations, for example, CSA, ULC and CGSB, to identify products that have been tested against required criteria for safety and performance
  • offer a warranty on their work, and many of the products they use are covered by manufacturers’ warranties, which are transferred to you, the homeowner
  • take a firm stance on not allowing products to be brought in that have not come through their network of trusted suppliers.

However, if you are doing your own work, here are a few pointers to help avoid disappointment and problems from the purchase of a counterfeit product:

  • Buy brands by reputable manufacturers
  • Shop in dependable building supply stores where you can exchange or replace a defective product
  • With Internet purchases, make sure you understand what you are getting, for example, check country of origin and distributor, installation and performance data, maintenance information, warranty and access to service
  • Be skeptical if a price is too good to be true or if you are asked to pay cash with no receipt
  • Be careful if you can’t find information about the manufacturer on the packaging or product. Manufacturers normally want you to know who they are, including name, address and website.
  • Check the product and packaging for a shoddy appearance or approval mark or misspelled words, which may be evidence of a fake
  • Visit the websites of standards organizations such as CSA, ULC and CGSB to check the legitimacy of approval or for product recalls and warnings
  • Report suspicions right away to the appropriate standards organization, the retailer or the supplier.

Sue Wastell is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.     

Be counter productive by choosing material wisely

There are plenty of options to choose from for countertops in kitchens and bathrooms.

It is important to decide which material will hold up to your kitchen activities, and has a price your budget can handle.

And remember, your counters influence the palette for your room and can dictate other choices such as cabinets, backsplash, paint and even flooring.

Budget friendly

Plastic laminate: Although it’s sometimes looked down on by stone lovers, plastic laminate still has a serious fan base. The wide range of customizable edges and finishes means it can work in any design. Its affordable price makes it a winner for many. However, it’s not the most durable of countertop materials, and so it may not be best for heavy-duty cooks.

Tile: Also one of the more affordable counter choices, ceramic or stone tile is durable, and one of the few do-it-yourself countertop options. Maintenance can be difficult, though, with all that grout, but choosing a durable, dark-coloured grout can make things easier.

Wood: For some, wood and countertops just don’t seem to mix. But a high-quality wood with the right kind of sealant can make for a beautiful, warm and long-lasting countertop. The price varies substantially depending on the type of wood you choose.

Mid range

Granite: There are plenty of reasons granite counters are so popular — this natural stone has plenty of character, with unique grains, colors and customizable finishes. When properly sealed, it’s one of the most durable options out there. Prices can go up quickly with more exotic slabs and difficult installations.

Stainless steel: Professional chefs love stainless steel because it’s non-staining, heat-resistant and easy to clean. While it certainly makes fingerprints and scratches stand out, it’s a great choice for hardworking kitchens that don’t need a perfect look.

Zinc: Although not overly popular, this metal has warmth that has made it popular for centuries. Zinc’s tone darkens with time, adding patina. Its antimicrobial properties make it a smart choice.

Copper: While uncommon, a copper countertop is surprisingly easy to clean and maintain. However, it’s not for perfectionists — since it’s a “living” surface, it reacts to different substances, creating a blend of matte reds, browns and greens. But for those who love the look, the mid-range cost is worth it.

High end

Engineered quartz: Perfect for those wanting a custom look, engineered quartz comes in just about every shade imaginable. This product combines ground quartz, resin and pigments for a tough, non-porous material. Ecofriendly attributes makes it a safe bet for green homes.

Soapstone: Often used in laboratories for its resistance to stains, chemicals and bacteria, soapstone is a durable and natural choice for a kitchen. It might be expensive, but it can be a lifetime investment.

Marble: A a beautiful, classic look, marble always seems to be in style. For lovers of white kitchens in particular, a marble counter offers more variety than almost any other material. Marble is known more for the patina it develops with use than for its durability, as it’s a softer stone than granite, and can scratch and stain easily.

Concrete: Pigments, stains and dyes can create concrete counters with colour and visual texture. With the right sealant, a concrete counter can be well worth its cost.

Recycled glass and cement: Although itexpensive, this unique combination is a great way to add character to your kitchen. Ecofriendly, durable and customizable, this material is a top choice for featured areas, such as serveries or bar areas.

Whatever you choose, my last recommendation is to make your choice early in your decor planning as it will influence many other choices — from cabinets to flooring.

Sue Wastell is the president of the London Home Builders' Association and Owner of Wastell Homes in London.     

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