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  • Writer's pictureMarc S. Tremblay

Construction update

Updated: Sep 24, 2023

Since the house was delivered to our lot by Nickel Brothers on June 13, we've been busy moving things along, patiently waiting for various local authorities to review and approve our building permit applications.

The house is a 2-bedroom rancher. To take advantage of our sloping lot, and to provide more living space, we decided to put the house on a yet-to-be-built lower foundation that will allow for a lower level - a walkout basement if you will, but not a true basement. We worked with Hudson Bronson to design the lower level of the house and tweak a few other items in the existing house.

Since each floor plate 1,622 square feet, we managed to include a sizeable storage area, a mechanical room and a legal 1-bedroom suite in the lower level. The suite will be 646 square feet, which is the maximum allowed under the local bylaws. Hudson also added a staircase to access the lower level and he repurposed the former attached garage to a home office for two.

House plans for the Grove on Mayne Island
Plans showing elevations. The deck and walkout sides faces down lot, towards the ocean, visible through the trees.

Click the images to expand them

The next step was to hire a structural engineer to design a foundation plan that will be able to support the load from the upper level. As part of the house-moving process, Nickel Brothers had hired a structural engineer to do an assessment on the house, including making sure the roof structure can withstand the snow load at the proposed location. He also reviewed the wall and floor structures and provided a detailed report for the moving process, which was shared with us as the buyers, and also for the authorities to consider in building permit application process. To save time, we decided to hire the same engineer to do the structural foundation plan since he was already familiar with the house.

While this is happening, we're still trying to find a few contractors. We also made a point of maintaining, or hopefully strengthening, relationships with those that already agreed to work with us, by keeping them informed - in the loop, so to speak.

We have Steve Pike who will work with his crew and others on the ICF foundation and framing; we will work with Kyle Montgomery from G&S Electric for electrical work; Jeff Arnolds for plumbing, and "Square-foot Charlie" for the concrete slab.

We hope to get James' dry wall crew (playing phone tag!), and a crew to potentially replace the exterior cladding (we may decide to skip this and fix/replace the damaged aluminium siding); and we're still reviewing quotes for the wood stove and heat-pumps. Oh, and we likely will need someone for tiles and for bathroom finishing.

For the kitchen in the 1-bedroom suite, we're in discussions with Pacific Rim Interiors to provide a quote for kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities.

While working on the above, we completed and submitted our plans and applications to the Islands Trust (IT).

The IT's role is to ensure all new developments conform with all local bylaws. Things like respecting zoning bylaws, including the set-back distance from the property lines, height restrictions, the total footprint of the house, whether the project is on, or close, to cultural or ecological sensitive sites, etc.

Our initial application was rejected because we did not include a "water catchment system." We knew this could happen because our house plan include a legal 1-bedroom suite, but we didn't submit one because the wording of the bylaw is ambiguous about when to submit that, how to build it, and more importantly, for what purpose other just collecting rain-water:

Bylaw 13.13 (3) (d)

A building permit shall not be issued for a secondary suite until the building that is to contain the secondary suite is equipped with a water catchment and storage system for the storage of rainwater. Minimum cistern capacity required for a building containing a secondary suite is 13,640 litres (3,000 gallons).

Not all new development applications require a water catchment system, but because we're planning on having a legal rental suite, a bylaw requires us to have a rainwater harvesting system, but it provides no information or guidelines on what we're supposed to do with the 13,640 litres of water once we "catch" it. The way the bylaw is worded, we would meet the requirement by just installing water tanks, collecting the water, leaving it in there, and letting it overflow when it rains. Of course that would be silly, but so is the bylaw's wording and lack of direction on how the water should be utilized, or without consideration of our exiting well's water production.

Seems like this bylaw and its related policy were only half-developed, or maybe I'm missing something. Or maybe the IT Trustees opted to give owners more flexibility on how to add the rain catchment system. But regardless, it is a significant added expenses for owners who are trying to provided much needed additional housing on Mayne Island, estimated at $8,500 to $25,000+. Photos below show the rain catchment system designed by Gord Baird of Eco-Sense Rainwater Harvesting, which falls at the higher end of the cost spectrum.

Rainwater catchment for house on Mayne Island
Rainwater catchment system for 13,640 litres of water

Potable holding tank for house on Mayne Island
Potable holding tank for 6,530 litres of potable water

The collected water will not be potable, even if filtered and UV treated. It would cost quite a bit more to make this water potable, since we would need more expensive tanks, conduits, a new metal roof, with stamped and certified drawings and plans from someone who has a certification from an ASSE Rainwater Designer & Installer, which Gord has.

We're going to use the water to flush the toilets, wash clothes and have water available for the garden. We're also going to have an fire department connection, if ever there's a need for fire suppression.

While we're at it, we decided to add a holding tank for the our well water. This will provide a ready supply of 6,530 litres of potable water. The advantage of having this buffer tank is that it reduces the strain on our well in periods of heavier use, as it produces 4.5 litres of water per minute.

So, at a great additional expense (for designing the system, the cost of excavation, the equipment and installation), we resubmitted our application and the IT approved it. With this approval in hand, we could then shift our attention to preparing and submitting our building permit application to the Capital Regional District (CRD).

There are many, many items that need to be submitted along with the building permit application. As a non-construction person, the labyrinth of hoops and files and steps to complete is dizzying.

And to make matters a bit more complicated, as of May 1st, the BC Building Code changed to increase the energy efficiency of all new Part 9 dwellings (residential, single and multi family, up to a certain size of building).

Now, all new single family dwellings have to be constructed to Step 3 of the BC Energy Step Code, which is 30% more energy efficient than the original Building Code. In concrete terms, it means more insulation, better windows and doors, more energy efficient appliances, including heat pumps, maybe a heat recovery ventilation unit (HRV) and an "airtight" building envelope. The airtightness of our lower level may be a challenge, but we'll cross that bridge soon enough.

The new building code is so new, and so complicated, that even the CRD folks couldn't answer some of our questions, and even the government officials initially couldn't provide guidance for our project.

To be fair, our project is not your run of the mill single family construction project - we're taking a house that was built in 1978, under a very different building code, and placing it on new foundations and a lower level, that must adhere to the new building code. It's complicated.

So we submitted our building permit application with what we could provide, knowing we were missing some pieces. The idea was to get the ball rolling and hope we'd benefit from the building inspector giving us a bit of guidance as to what else we needed to do.

And that's exactly what happened.

On September 14, about 4 weeks after we submitted our building permit application (faster than expected!), we received an email from the inspector with eight items that require more info, or are missing. and so now we have a road map... And 24 hours later, we've got all items submitted, or in the process of getting completed and returned to the building inspector.

Hopefully, we'll receive our building permit in the next week or so and we can start on building the foundations, which will allow us to lower the house on the lower level.

In closing, I am grateful for the quick turn-around and follow-up communications with the development and building approving authorities, Islands Trust and the Capital Regional District, respectively. Slowly but surely, one step at a time, we will complete our dream home project.

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