Friday, August 26, 2011

The choices you have for fireplaces in your new home

Installing a fireplace in your new home or renovation.
If you do it right, a fireplace installed in your new home or renovation can make all the difference.
A fireplace that is the right size, shape and look can take a normal room and make it a gathering place.
Fireplaces have been used as a gathering point for over a 1000 years. Fire is a very primitive thing to humans, it draws us together. On that cold December morning when the house feels cold because you just got out of bed, sitting beside the fireplace looking out the window at the blowing snow, you get this warm content feeling, this feeling of home.
A wood burning fireplace can be as detailed as 20 ft of horizontal stone around it up 30 ft through the roof with a giant mantle, to a simple drywall with a gas fireplace that looks like it is floating in the middle of the wall.
There are several different types of fireplaces these days:
Wood Burning fireplace:  This is original fireplace, it burns wood and requires a chimney to vent smoke and create draw to help the fire burn. There are so many different wood burning fireplaces these days. Contrary to popular belief wood burning fireplaces do not create air pollution. If you were to leave the tree that was cut down to feed your fireplace in the forest to rot, it would give off the same chemicals into the air that you release when burning it. Also there are new air tight wood burning fireplaces that recycle all smoke back through the firebox eliminating almost all chemicals from the smoke.
Wood burning fireplaces require more work to install properly. Depending on the kind of fireplace you decide on this will dictate the amount of work required to install. Also wood burning fireplaces restrict where you can install them. Because they require a chimney they usually have to be placed on an outside wall, or a room without a second story. This can cause design problems and most be thought about before the building of the house starts. The bigger the fireplace and surround the bigger the foundation you will require under the floor. This means that you will need footings under your basement floor to carry the weight.
Wood burning fireplaces need to be professionally cleaned every year or every couple of years. This depends on the amount of use. You will also have to handle firewood, kindling and matches. Either you cut and split your own wood or you hire someone to do it for you. You will also require a place to store the wood that will keep it relatively dry, this can be either inside or outside. The kindling should be kept dry. These days of paper flyers make it easy for people to have material to start fires, I find that the Wal-Mart flyer burns rather well. Since you need to handle the wood, there is always dirt and dust that comes with it. So if you can’t handle any kind of dirt in your home then maybe a wood burning fireplace isn’t for you.
Gas Burning Fireplaces:  Gas burning fireplaces have come a long way in the last 20 years. There are so many different versions and varieties of gas fireplaces now it is entirely up to the person’s taste in what they want.
There are gas fireplaces that are used as heaters, they come with built in fans to help move the heat created by the fireplace to warm the room up. There are gas fireplaces that do not create any heat when they are on, they are only there as decoration and all the heat they create is removed out the chimney.
Gas fireplaces require venting as well; there are two different kinds of venting for gas fireplaces. The first is the typical chimney that vents out the roof into the air above the house; this means that you can place your fireplace anywhere that allows you to vent the fireplace up and out the roof. Gas fireplace chimneys are not as large as wood fireplace chimneys and require a lot less space.
The second is called direct vent. Direct vent vents straight out a wall behind the fireplace requiring no chimney. It does require that you place the fireplace on an outside wall.
Gas fireplaces are not just placed in the living anymore. People now install gas fireplaces in their bedrooms, basements and dining rooms. They even install fireplaces now in their bathrooms next to the bathtub so that you have a little romance in the tub and some heat when you get out. There is actually no room in the house that can’t install a gas fireplace. There aren’t that many limitations, only your imagination creates the limitations.
There a lot of places that you can’t have a gas fireplace because you don’t have access to natural gas. These places will require you to install a propane fireplace. This will do the same thing as gas fireplaces, the big difference is selection and you will need to install a holding tank on your property to supply the fireplace with propane. This will require inspections and for it to be annually filled.
Electric Fireplaces: Electric fireplaces have come a long way in the past ten years; they are becoming a nicer piece. There are still the cheap versions out there, but the higher end electric fireplaces are starting to resemble real fireplaces. They also can be installed anywhere in the house and do not require any venting. They do produce some heat, but not a lot. There are some nice features about them, they work well in small spaces, they are a cheaper alternative to wood and gas. You can install them yourself and there is no actual flame in them.

So when you are thinking about a fireplace first choose the type of fireplace that you want, then where you want to put it. After that it’s all about your personal taste and of course your budget.

Rob Abbott
Operations Manager
Village Builders inc.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hiring youth in the construction industry

Investing in the youth of this Country
In Village Builders Inc when we use to hire for the labour position we use to hire someone that was between 30 and 50 that had a lot of construction experience. These people are called career construction labourers. This worked well for our company for many years when the company was small and we were able to keep a close eye on everyone. But as the company grew and the amount of employee’s increased the close scrutiny of these employee’s waned. The responsibility was transferred to the crew leaders or the lead carpenters. The operations manager then relied on reports from the crew leaders on how the performance of his crew, attendance and overall attitude were doing. What we realized over time was that the older construction labourers brought not only their skills to the job but they also brought all there bad habits as well.
Bad habits like drug and alcohol addiction that cause the employee to miss the same day of work more often than not. These days are usually the day after they get there check, or a Monday after the weekend or the day after cheap night at the bar. This practice has been learned after a decade or more of doing it with the whole crew from different places they were employed. These habits can actually pull other people in your company that work with the labourer into that lifestyle. It’s also a health and safety issue, if the guy is stoned or even hung over at work he can put his fellow workers and himself in danger. He can damage company tools and private property all because he is not paying attention.
Other bad habits are taking short cuts on the quality of work to get the job done quicker when the boss isn’t looking, stealing of material and “borrowing of company tools” for side projects after work or on the weekend to bring in extra income. This type of employee will even go so far as to steal work from the company by doing work for existing clients on the weekends and at night for cash.
So what we started doing when the company grew to a certain size is we started interviewing and hiring for labour position before we actually needed them. This allowed us to sit down and interview every single candidate. We designed a simple multi question and answer sheet to ask the candidates. What I found with the more questions I asked was that I was trending toward the younger candidates, a lot of them with less experience then there older candidates. What set them apart were a couple of things such as energy, eagerness to work and a willingness to start anywhere in the company at any rate of pay.
What I found in the field was that other then the younger people being less skilled because of lack of experience they listened more to the crew leader and followed instructions. They compensated for the lack of skill with an over abundance of energy and work ethic. They showed up every day and called if they were not going to be able to make it into work or if they were going to be late for work. They also asked permission to leave early if they had an appointment they must attend too. Young people that come into a job like construction with no experience, also come into it devoid of bad habits. This means that after a short adjustment period there learning curve increases over an older more skilled labourer. The one thing that we had to make sure of was that the crew leader had the patience to deal with unskilled labour and was willing to take the time to teach the young employee instead of yelling at them all day long.
A couple of the main questions I always ask a candidate are “do they want a career in the construction industry?” and “Do they want to be a carpenter one day?”  These are important questions because if they answer yes then you know that they are willing to be trained. You can then enrol them into government sponsored apprenticeship programs. In Canada carpenter apprenticeship programs are great for the apprentice and the business that employ’s them. The business is given tax breaks for every apprentice that they employ and the benefits to the apprentice are wonderful as well.
Apprentice carpenters have to go to school 3 times over three years for 8 weeks each time. When they are at school they are paid unemployment, travel, babysitting (if they have children) and are given cash bonuses if and when they pass the course. After they take the three class room workshops they are eligible to challenge the carpenter exam. The only condition is that you need a certain amount of hours to qualify. Usually a person working full time doesn’t have to wait too long after their last class to accumulate the amount of hours that you need to challenge the carpenter exam. But the amount of hours you need is about 4 years of full time work in the construction industry as an apprentice.
In the construction industry most carpenters that I employ are over the age of 50 and are within 10 years of retiring or at the least ready to move out of the field into a more supervisory role. This means that there is starting to be a real shortage of skilled carpenters in the construction industry. It takes 5 to 7 years for an apprentice to attain enough skill to be left to build a house on their own; therefore a lot of companies that do not hire apprentices are running out of time to replace their aging staff. In the future they will have to go out and hire a younger carpenter away from another construction company. This is going to be difficult because that carpenter will have strong ties to the company that trained them and gave them a profession. They are going to have to over pay to bring them in to the fold.
There is about a 50% atrissin rate when you are hiring young people to become apprentices. This might seem high, but I have found that even with all the interviews and checks that you do before you hire someone there are always other factors that affect their employment. From not getting along with existing employee’s to problems at home you end up losing 50% of your apprentices before they ever become carpenters.
Another thing that happens to young people that you hire is that they turn out not to be the right fit to be a carpenter. A lot of people can’t handle being in charge of a crew of people, one of the reasons that you are hiring and training is so that you can build leaders in your company. Some people will never be able to do that, there is nothing wrong with this and there are jobs in construction companies for people that are highly skilled but need to be told what to do. There are carpenter helpers or just carpenters. They work with master carpenters on big projects or they do a lot of small jobs for you that do not require big decisions. This can become a very good long career for certain people as well.
So if you have 4 or 5 carpenters that you need to replace in the next ten years then you need to start now. If you hire 10 apprentices in the next 5 years then when those 5  older carpenters start retiring you will have skilled employee’s that are home grown to replace them. Don’t ever make the mistake to think that you have too many apprentices, as long as you can keep them employed and keep training them then you should never worry about having too many carpenters 7 to 10 years down the road.
Right now we are still struggling with rising out of the worst recession since the great depression. In 7 to 10 years the economic bounce back could be huge. That would mean that you have all of this trained skilled labour available right during a construction boom.
So when thinking about hiring labour’s for your construction business, think about trying out a younger person. Invest in the youth of this country and they will surprise you in the end with what you get back. The down sides are small but the potential return is massive for you and the people that you employ.

Rob Abbott
Operations Manager
Village Builders Inc.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Custom homes: some do's and don't when designing and building your home

Some do’s and don’ts when building and designing your custom home
Don’t make the mistake of designing your new home around your existing furniture.
Many people these days make the mistake of designing their new home around there existing furniture, instead of designing the furniture around there new home. I have witnessed people spend thousands and thousands of dollars having plans redrawn and buildings changed when they are being framed so that their existing furniture will fit. This is people not seeing the forest for the trees. You’re building your dream home so that you can live in it for the next 30 to 40 years. Your furniture usually will not last that long. With changing trends and with overall wear on furniture items it doesn’t make sense to spend any extra money when the house is destined to outlast the furniture. Especially these days when there is countless custom furniture makers that can make you whatever you want if you can’t find it at a normal retail outlet.
Don’t micro manage a custom home build when you have a contractor. If you did your proper research and due diligence on your contractor then they are the right company for the job. They do not require you helping them organizing things. They need you to make decisions on a timely manner and pay your bill when asked. As long as you’re happy with the quality of their work then they really don’t require you to show up on the job site everyday to oversee them. This can be a major distraction for the employee’s working on the project; it can actually cost you money because you could slow them down. Most foremen on projects have been trained to stay with the client the whole time that they are on the site. This is so that the foremen can answer any questions the client might have and it is also a safety issue. Construction sites can be very dangerous places when you don’t understand what is going on. You can not only put yourself in danger but the workers too who have to keep an eye out in relation to where you’re standing.
Don’t assume that the contractor knows everything that you are thinking about. Make sure to ask questions. Questions are what contractors like, they would rather you asked a question when you don’t know something, then having you make an assumptions that could be wrong. Good contractors will strive to educate their clients, the more the client learns about how their house is put together the easier the building process becomes on the homeowner and on the contractor.
Don’t always settle for the normal product. In today’s fast evolving construction world you need a contractor that is comfortable using new products that they deem worthy of your project. If you want to build the walls out of concrete instead of wood, find a contractor that is comfortable doing that. If you want bamboo floors instead of North American hardwood then you should be able to work with the builder to find the right kind of bamboo. As long as you understand that sometimes the materials you want can take longer to get and might cost you more money then you first budgeted then you should be able to have it.
Do try to hire a contractor that has an interior designer on staff. If you unable to do this then hire an interior designer that you believe can work with you and the contractor. This can be very important because it can take people months to pick plumbing fixtures. Without someone to help weed out what you do not need or want in your house you can end up lost in the plumbing fixture world not knowing what you should choose. Also your interior designer should know the boundaries of what she has been hired to do. A lot of interior designers believe that once they have been hired it is there job to manage or oversee the project. This can cause major problems with contractor. I have seen the interior designer make major changes to the house that cause the home owner thousands of dollars just so that they can put their personnel stamp on the project. You have to make sure that when hiring a designer that you define the parameters of what they are being hired to assist upon.
Do make sure that you have a financial budget that reflects what you can afford. A good contractor will present you with either a bid or a budget for the project, but that doesn’t mean this will be the total cost of your project. There are a lot of factors that come into a major renovation or home building project, factors that the builder will not be able to foresee. So there will be extra’s depending on certain things like ground condition and design flaws. Also its human nature to change things, so when the average house build takes 8 to 12 months your mind will change on a lot of things. A lot of these things will be upgrades on what you originally choose your budget. From more expensive flooring to upgraded kitchen appliances. These chooses raise your budget from the original cost to a new higher budget. You do not want to end up in the situation where you can’t afford to finish the house because you didn’t borrow enough money.
Don’t get over focused on one part of the house to the point of down grading the rest of the house. If you are solely focused on having high end finishes in your house, so you down grade on the insulation and the overall construction of the house. High end finishes look nice but if you cheapen out on everything else like the insulation, heating system, windows and exterior finishing’s your house will not look that good after a few years. Also you will have higher maintenance costs and heating and cooling costs that could add up to massive amounts of money over time. It also will affect the resale value of your house in the future. Especially in a world where energy costs keep going up and up. Make sure that you balance your budget so that you get a house that you can save you money in the future. It’s easier to upgrade the finishes later. It’s not easy to upgrade the insulation in the walls later.
 Don’t get caught in the cycle of keeping up with the neighbours. If the neighbours build a house that is 4000 sqft that doesn’t mean that you have to build a house that is 5000 sqft. Many a person have ended up house rich and cash poor because they convinced themselves that they needed to keep up with the neighbours or friends. A lot of people end up with overly large houses and can’t afford to finish the house inside to what it deserves. If you want to spend a million dollars on a house you don’t have to build a 5000 sqft house. You should be looking at what you want to pay per sqft that will tell you what size of house you have to build. If you want an amazing house with the most expensive of everything you could end up spending 400sqft! That means that your million dollars only builds you a 2500 sqft house. So figure out what you want in the house and then you can figure out how big the house should be.
These are just some helpful  do’s and don’ts to help people and their contractors get you what you really want, your dream home!
If you are looking for a contractor or want to see what we do at Village Builders Inc then go to

Rob Abbott
Operations Manager
Village builders Inc.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Properly waterproofing your house foundation

Waterproofing one the most important parts of your foundation and one of the most neglected by contractors.
It’s neglected because they either don’t know any better, or they do not want to spend the money to do it right.
Waterproofing is in the building code and it requires an inspection from the local municipality, but that doesn’t mean that it is done the proper way.
First things first, I’ll explain how you go about creating a watertight basement or crawlspace and the products available.
Once the foundation has been erected you need to waterproof the walls.
Now most contractors these days still use the old method of tarring foundations. Now this works but tar dries out over time and will eventually start to leak in a wet area. Lately the trend is to install dimple board over this because they think this will help. The only thing that this does is protect the tar on the wall. Tar will dry out in less than 20 years, depending on how wet the area is and what type of backfill is used around the house the tar could fail almost immediately. Tar is considered in most circles to be a “damproofing” product, not a “waterproofing” product.
2. Dimple board
Dimple board alone should never be used as a waterproofing. But people are installing this on their foundation because big box stores tell them too.  Dimple board is a plastic sheet with raised bumps on it, it is designed to protect the waterproofing behind it and allow any sediment that works its way behind the dimple board to pass down to the footing and back into the soil below. This product should NEVER be used on its own regardless of what the company tells you. What you will be told is that once you tape the joints the dimple board is waterproof. Now you are relying on a thin tape that is buried 8 ft in the ground to protect your basement.
3. Rolled on waterproofing
Rolled on waterproofing is a superior product too tar and dimple board. But it is labour intensive and it is only as good as the people installing it. Rolled on waterproofing is a waterproof membrane that comes in rolls about 3 ft in size by about 50 ft. It has an adhesive that bonds to the foundation wall that is already applied to it in the factory. All you have to do is peel the protective layer off the back to reveal the adhesive. The membrane should be installed top to bottom, with the membrane covering the footing at the bottom. Since it is only 3 ft wide you need to overlap every piece 3 inches. This gives you a very water tight wall. If you’re applying this to concrete or block walls you may need to use an additional adhesive to get it to stick depending on the weather and temperature.
Some people stop there, but you end up with the same problem as when you install tar, if a rock rolls against the membrane during backfill you could end up with a penetration and that will lead to a leak. So you should install dimple board over top of this membrane, this will give you a protection so that the membrane is never penetrated.
4. Sprayed on membrane
This application is the most superior product that you can find for residential construction. It is a rubberized membrane that is installed over the foundation walls. It is sprayed on usually by a professional waterproofing company. This membrane usually comes with a limited life time warranty. Because it’s made from mostly rubber it’s flexible and extremely durable. Most professionals will then install dimple board over this to protect it from rocks and tree roots. To put this in perceptive it’s like installing a pool liner to the outside of your house. This is the most superior waterproofing product but also comes with highest price tags.
Now that you have the waterproofing on the exterior foundation walls you should install drainage around the outside of the foundation. This is covered in the building code and once you are done requires an inspection from the building inspector. You lay a 4 inch drainage pipe around the foundation. The pipe most be perforated to allow water in and must have a filter cloth around it to keep sediment out. The pipe is installed at the footing level around the whole foundation. If you have an attached garage the pipe most pass through the footing or concrete wall along the house wall between the house and the garage. The pipe will continue around the foundation until it reaches the sump pail, the sump pail is installed in the basement of the house. All water will travel around the foundation to this sump pail, the sump pail most have a sump pump installed in it to remove the water from the pail and deposit outside away from the foundation.
Over top of the pipe you most install 6 inches of clear stone, usually ¾ crushed stone. It most cover the drainage pipe and be slumped against the foundation wall. This will allow all water sitting against the exterior of the foundation wall to migrate to the drainage pipe.
Remember the basic rule when doing all of this; water will flow to the area of least resistance. So if you give the water a place to go it will follow that path.
You most backfill the house with clean fill, usually sand or gravel, do not backfill with clay or large stones. This could cause major problems in the future.
On the inside of the foundation before you pour the concrete basement floor you should install 5 to 6 inches of crushed stone and a couple drainage pipes that run to the sump pail to take any water that makes its way under the foundation. Then install a vapour barrier of plastic on top of the crushed stone. Caulk all joints with acoustical caulking; this will help direct all water to the sump pail. Then you can pour your concrete floor over top of it.
A couple more things to help you with your waterproofing. Controlling the water before it gets to the house or when it arrives at the house will help the waterproofing and the humidity in your basement.
Here are some helpful hints:
-          Install a French drain at the level of your weepers. A French drain can be as simple as crushed stone installed with a filter cloth, or it can be a pipe that is connected to the foundation drain that allows the water to flow naturally away from the foundation without the use of a pump. This only works if you have enough slope away from the house to allow the water to run.
-          Proper grading around the house. If you properly grade around the house so that there is sloping earth away from the house this will allow surface water to naturally drain away from the building.
-          Have your gutters clean and working properly. Also have the gutter exhausts drain away from the house, the farther away the better.
-          Your landscaping can do a lot to help handle the water around the house. Having trees planted to close to the house can cause leaks in the future when the tree roots start to come in contact with the foundation walls and the drainage tile. Also planting a lot of plants and scrubs next to the house will help control water flow and help absorb water before it ever gets into the ground around the house.
-          If living in a high ground water area, where during certain times of the year you have unusually high water runoff then you should install a second sump pump in the sump pail. This will give you insurance if the water overwhelms the first pump or if the pump fails.   
-          When digging the foundation keep an eye on how much water runs into the hole, this will tell you how much water will naturally be around the foundation walls. If there is a lot you should keep the house as high up as you can. If this means only going into the ground a couple of feet then so be it. Remember you can always grade up to the house.
-          Make sure all window wells have a drainage pipe that runs down and connects to the drainage pipe at the footing. Then install 6 to 8 inches of crushed stone in the top of the window well and keep the window well clean of mud and debris. If you do not water can become trapped in the window well like a pool and can even end up leaking through your basement windows.
If you have any questions or comments about waterproofing please feel free to email me at
To see pictures of waterproofing go to and look at current projects you should find pictures of the waterproofing on the latest house project that we are building.

Rob Abbott
Operations Manager
Village Builders Inc.