Countdown to construction

Friday, 11 April 2014

Blog vs Journal

I just want to give a heads up to regular readers of this blog that I will be reserving future posting for the more in-depth postings regarding materials, processes, and Building Science.

I will be making the more regular (hopefully daily once I start building) postings, describing my day to day struggles of building my own house, to the project journal at

You can subscribe to this journal page if you want to automatically receive the updates.

I want to thank you for the amazing support you have all shown by being regular visitors of this blog.  When I first started it, I would have never imagined I would receive over 1000 visits a month.


Looking to borrow a copy of the Canadian Wood Council's ENGINEERING GUIDE FOR WOOD FRAME CONSTRUCTION 2009 from someone in the Lower Mainland Greater Vancouver Area. 

Hopefully Saturday AM.  I have ordered a copy but it will be a week or so coming and I would like to get a handle on Part C over the weekend if possible. 

If you have a copy I can borrow, please contact me at

Many Thanks

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Death of Part 9 construction?

Never would I have guessed that the Building Permit process would be the biggest stumbling block in building your own house.  I know the building code quite well and had ensured my design complied with it.  What I did not allow for, and what may shut me down, is bureaucracy.

It seems that there is a general movement in Municipal building departments across the Lower Mainland to 'opt-out' of Part 9 construction now that this part of the code includes 9.23.13 Bracing to Resist Lateral Loads Due to Wind and Earthquake.  Whether the motivation of the Municipalities is based on fear (many may not be adequately trained on the new requirements that were enacted just last December), or from a perceived workload concern - I am not sure.  It may also be an unjustified fear of liability perceived present if they are responsible for ensuring a dwelling meets the new Part 9 requirements.

Whatever the motivation, the outcome may very well be the death of Part 9 construction in parts of BC and the significant increase in construction costs as a result.  With the added costs of an 'engineered' approach to the Lateral Load design expected to be somewhere in the $20K - $30K range )most of this would be for the added Simpson hardware utilized in most engineered designs), this 'component' has gone from $0 to one of the most expensive components within the home, on par with a high end window, cladding, or HVAC package.

For me, the removal of my ability to generally design and build my own house is similar I am sure to how some Americans would feel if your tried to take away their guns.  I have always felt it is my right to design and build my own house via the prescriptive path of Part 9 in the BC Building Code.

Yesterday, I was informed that this right is being taken from me.  The DNV building department manager has informed me that my architecture is 'complex' and as a result, they will require that the entire structure is engineered including the lateral bracing requirements.

"We consider your proposal combining part 9 prescriptive design with part 4 structural components inadequate in providing lateral support against high wind and seismic forces.

We consider this as a complex design and as such we, the Authority having jurisdiction, decided not to accept the design path and therefore require you to have a Structural Engineer design and provide signed, sealed drawings for the entire structure."

Many of you will be saying, we have combined Part 9 and Part 4 design for decades and you would be right.  In November of 2013 it would be very common to have a primarily Part 9 designed dwelling that also included manufactured components designed to Part 4.  These components would include manufactured floor joists, beams, and roof trusses.  

What changed?  Well the building code introduced lateral bracing requirements in high wind and seismic zones.  This includes the Lower Mainland of BC and the Southern Vancouver Island region.  The requirement became effective in Dec 2013 and right away a controversy developed.  APEGBC in their infinite wisdom decided that the Part 9 lateral bracing prescriptive design was inadequate to resist high wind and seismic loads.  Now of course we have decades of experience showing otherwise, but they have drawn their line in the sand and refuse to budge.

So while engineers are allowed to design to the rest of Part 9, they are specifically not allowed to use 9.23.13  and must instead design the lateral loading using the Canadian Wood Council guidelines or utilizing a 100% engineered approach (Part 4). And the problem with these approaches (granted based on my limited exposure) is that it is a LOT more expensive to build in this manner as it usually includes significant volumes of manufactured Simpson Strong-Tie hardware.  On a house under construction that I often visit, I was quoted a cost of $16K for just the anchor bolts.

Whether this controversy has influenced the building departments, I do not know, but based  on comments made by the DNV manager, many Lower Mainland building departments are getting out of the Part 9 business.  

Personally I question if this is an abuse of the Municipalities power over the code implementation and feel the need for Victoria to step in and mandate Municipal support for Part 9 design and also introduce a detailed frame work that identifies the conditions that must be present in a design before the AHJ can deem that design as 'complex'.  In short, I believe it is time for a major overhaul in how the Building Code is implemented across the Province to ensure a consistent and fair application across AHJ.

In the meantime, I urge you to specifically ask your Municipality what there requirements are going to be while you are still early in the design.  I was notified of my Municipality's unwritten policy after the design was complete during my building permit application meeting.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The End?

This has been a particularly poor day.

You can read about it on the build websites journal

In a nutshell, it appears my dream to build a Part 9 affordable structure is coming to a close without too many options I can afford.

Really not sure what my next steps will be and ironically, my services were disconnected this morning and I do not even have the opportunity to move back in.

Time to go for a walk - Sorry for the downer but thanks for letting me vent!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Variance Approved and Website Launched!

Wow, a lot has happened since my last update. 

For starters, we have moved.  You can read about the first few days of the move over on my journal at It was a tiring and stressful time that I am very happy is behind me. Of course this was followed up by a week of sickness and a computer data loss that was the worst I have had ever experienced but fortunately I have been very lucky in this regard and so this was not crippling for me (just expensive - the whole affair cost over $1000 for data retrieval and the purchase of a second battery backup so both my Raid servers are protected).

The next piece of big news is that our Development Variance permit was approved last Monday night.  This was such a relieve after months of back and forth with the District.  They accepted my originally proposed upper to lower floor ratio of 87% (vs. the 75% required by the bylaw), but I had to redesign the roof so that I could lower it 12" and now only be 8" above the requirement of 26'.  This has resulted in the loss of my air barrier design utilizing a torch on membrane, so I will have to come up with a new game plan for creating a durable and effective air barrier at the ceiling location. Ideas anyone?

We have also been approved for our Construction Mortgage and I am thankful for the hard work put in by Tetyana Thomas at the Royal Bank.  They have really stepped up compared to most banks that would not loan to an owner builder. The challenge will now be to get to the first draw.  They will not advance funds until the foundation is complete.  This will cost well over $100K to get to with all of the permit and engineering costs built into this phase. I am still not sure where this money will all come from and we are going to need to do some MacGyving to get through this stage.  The ironic part is that they are then willing to advance 40% of the land value at the first draw which is ALL of the funds I will need to finish the project.  The appraised value for the finished structure is over $2M in today's market and they felt I should be spending over $800K to build.  I expect to spend less than half this due to my own sweat equity, salvaged materials, sponsorship, and a lower importance that both my wife and I share towards the 'lipstick' of a house.

Yesterday, I also received the final sealed drawings from the Structural Engineer and the GeoTech report.  This is the last part of the puzzle needed to apply for the Building Permit which I will do next week. Unfortunately the first appointment available was Thursday as I will be at a THERM training course all day Monday and Tuesday.

The gas/storm/sani/water services should all be disconnected next week and I will have Hydro swing the electrical service over to the new temp pole as soon as I finish installing it and call for inspection.  I hope to get this done this weekend.

But the greatest achievement was the launch of the project's website I cannot thank Honeycomb Creative enough for their work on this site.  It is first rate just like all of the other work they have done for me.  I invite you to stop by and browse through the information that is available including a full copy of the plans, building assembly descriptions, and lets not forget the 'live' (actually snapshots updating every 3-5 seconds) video of the build site.

As I get caught up, I will post more information on the Varriance process for those that may need to go through a similar process.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Pacific Northwest National Labratory develops a new Algae fuel ready in about an hour.

Diesel created by algae has been on the radar for a few years now but is still only available in low volume pilot plants and is heavily subsidized.  Once of the largest stumbling blocks has been the energy needed to create the dry algae used by the previous processes.

PNNL has created a process that can work with wet algae (80% water) saving vast amounts of energy and time.  Their new process creates usable crude in as little as one hour.  The process also allows for usable gas to be extracted from the waste water stream increasing the efficiency of the process even further.

This is a large step in the right direction in getting the process closer to the efficiency and scalability needed to compete with the fossil fuel market.

You can read more about this innovative process here.

The process starts with whole green algae slurry with water contents between 80% and 90% (Photo extracted from PNNL)
Under high pressure and temperatures that mimic the conditions found deep in the earths crust, the slime is converted into a light crude that can be refined in a traditional manner into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. (Photo extracted from PNNL)

Friday, 21 February 2014

Durisol ICF lowers the embodied energy of a dwelling.

Stuart Staniford at the Early Warning blogspot discusses the reduction in Embodied Energy a Durisol Foundaiton represents in a low embodied energy dwelling.  In his case study, the use of a Durisol ICF foundation over a conventional concrete foundation improved the "net carbon emissions" by 100%.

His analysis showed the the original carbon emissions associated with the foundation in the dwelling he modeled dropped from aprox 7.5 tons with no opportunity for sequestered carbon to just under 7 tons but now with the ability to also sequester close to 1.75 Tons.

Baseline with standard concrete foundations (
Utilizing Durisol ICF Block (