Thursday, 21 July 2011

Breathing easy...

Whew....the guy just called about our indoor air quality tests and all is normal!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


A lot of people have asked "Doesn't your insurance cover that?"
Well, yes and no.  They will not cover anything due to negligence, which is how they define the builder's mistakes.  So they will not help to pay to fix the building envelope.  They will cover for damages to things inside the house due to the water infiltration.  Luckily we have had really no damage to flooring, furniture, etc.  I did have an insurance adjustor out, and he said they will help pay for repairs to the drywall etc.  However, we don't want to repair the inside until we fix the outside, so we will be in touch with the insurance company in October or November once we get to that stage.

Alberta government

Aside from the obvious responsibility of the home builder to produce a quality product, much of the responsibility for issues with leaky homes rests with the Alberta government, since the Alberta Building Code should ensure that homes are built to a reasonable standard.

At the recommendation of our "friends of friends", we wrote a letter to Ivan Moore, the Assistant Deputy Minister for Public Safety.  We got basically a form letter response, here it is:

Thank you for your June 28, 2011 email regarding problems with your home’s building envelope installation.  A home is the largest investment most of us will make and it should be built to the quality Albertans expect and deserve. I am able to provide you with the following information regarding the approach we are taking to mitigate similar issues in the future.
On June 7, 2011, the Government of Alberta announced the development of a regulatory framework for mandatory home warranty to address issues associated with residential construction practices.  A framework proposal is being developed for consideration by government later this year.  The standards for warranty will be more robust than current programs in Alberta, including longer coverage terms, while balancing the needs of industry and consumers.  Government will also consider increasing the fines and limitation period for violations under the Safety Codes Act, which would improve accountability in the construction industry.
In addition to these initiatives, work is underway in other areas that will further address these issues.  A building envelope training course has been developed that will be required for all building safety codes officers (inspectors) to maintain their certification.  This training will help ensure that safety codes officers are well equipped to identify issues with the building envelope at the time of inspection.  Further to this initiative, the Safety Codes Council is also conducting a review of the inspection regime to improve the inspection system throughout the province.
I am confident that these changes will help protect Albertans and improve residential construction practices in the future.  We will take your experience into consideration as we move forward on development of these initiatives.
Thank you again for writing. 
Ivan Moore
Assistant Deputy Minister
Public Safety Division

This doesn't help us at all, although it *may* help some people in the future.  I am not sure that the government is doing enough or doing it quickly enough.  We have heard about a lot of people with similar issues to us, but I am not sure that the government realizes how widespread the problem is.

If anyone out there has a similar issue, please also send an email to Ivan Moore:

In future posts, I'll be making some other suggestions about people to contact.

Indoor Air Quality

With mould in our home, we are obviously concerned about the indoor air quality.  So we had a guy out yesterday to do some testing.  He has a machine that basically sucks air in and catches "stuff" (mould spores etc) on a little slide, and then they send it to a lab to be analysed.  He took one sample on each floor of our home and one outside as a reference.  We should have the results on Thursday or Friday, but his initial thought was that we don't have a big problem.  Hopefully he is right!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The plan to fix things

The contractor we had working on the leak under the family room window has put some new building paper over it, and fixed it for now.  We have had a few good rain storms and it hasn't leaked.  But it's not really a permanent solution, and the rest of our house is still wrong and leaking.  The contractor we had is basically a one-man operation, and doesn't have the resources to fix our whole house.  So what to do?

We have gone through a lot of stages of how we feel about what has happened to our home.
Grief:  How could this happen to our home?
Anger:  How can the home builder get away with this?  Why isn't the government enforcing the building code?
Desire for revenge:  Let's sue them!  Call the newspapers!  Call the TV reporters!
Worry:  Is the mould in our home harming our health?  (especially with two children under 4 years old)

Now we have kind of accepted it (although we still have plans to "fight" this issue...more on that later...) and are trying to move forward with fixing the problem.

We found out that a friend of a friend went through a similar issue with their home, so thankfully they have been able to offer us a lot of advice.  They put us in touch with an engineer and a contracting company who does a lot work fixing building envelopes.  We met with the engineer and the contractor, and have decided that we will have to remove all the stucco from our home, replace the building envelope, and re-clad our home.  This will likely cost over $100,000.

We are "lucky": we bought our house before the Calgary real estate boom, so we have built up a fair bit of equity in our home.  We can afford to fix this properly.  This will not bankrupt us.  We worry that others in this situation may not be so lucky.  We worry that this may be an issue for many houses built in the last ~15 years.  For us, it is a major inconvenience, and means that we will have to delay other plans due to this large unexpected expense.  But we heard on the news about a leaky condo here in Calgary, and people having to come up with money to pay to fix it, and some were saying it would bankrupt them.  It's terrible that home builders can get away with this.

Some single family homeowners may just put a band-aid on the problem and sell the house, and leave it for the next person to fix.  We're not sure if the previous owners of our house knew about the problems or not.  We suspect they may have known about some leaks, but may not have know the cause of the problem or that it was so extensive.  We are planning to stay in this house for a long time, so we have decided to fix the issue and make sure it is done right - and in the process make the house look just like we want it to!  (trying to put a positive spin on things)

So we have a contractor and a designer, and we are in the process of choosing colours, whether we want stucco or siding, etc.  We have also decided to get new windows, since there have been a lot of advances in window technology over the past few years, and probably new shingles too, since they are only 15 year shingles and our house is 13 years old.  Things we weren't planning to do right now, but in the long run it makes sense to do while we are re-doing the rest of the house.

The contractor can't get started until (probably) late September.  It will take about 2 months to fix the outside of our house, and then we will have to worry about the inside.  If we want stucco, the house will likely have to sit over the winter with only the building paper, because they can't apply stucco in cold and/or wet weather.

In the meantime, our family room floor was down to the plywood subfloor....wating for the hardwood.  We don't want to put the hardwood in until the exterior is fixed, as we don't want to risk damage to the hardwood.  So we bought a cheap piece of carpet and "installed" it ourselves, and moved our furniture back into the family room.  At least now the kids have a place to play, and my husband has his TV back :-)

BBB Complaint

We made a complaint against our home builder to the Better Business Bureau.  We know this won't likely help anything for us, but it will go on their record at the BBB.

Here is their response, with names removed:

       <The homeowner's> concerns were taken into consideration by <Mr. X> (VP Operations), but there were several circumstances that led to his decision to dismiss her claim. It was difficult to determine the precise details of how the building envelope was applied from the photographs that <the homeowner> sent. They did use Tuck Tape, which was standard building practice in 1998. It was also standard industry practice at the time to apply one scratch coat and one finish coat, and City of Calgary Building Inspectors passed the homes with this method of application. As <the homeowner> is not the original owner of this property, we have no way of confirming what the previous homeowners may have done to the home or stucco that may have resulted in these issues.
       Much of this is difficult to substantiate simply due to the age of this home. <The Home Builder> only retains hard copy job files for approximately ten years, and at the time this house was built, all documentation was hard copy.  We were contacted by the homeowner in 2005, and gave them <The Window Supplier's> contact information (the window and door suppliers) but that was all, as the home was already well past the workmanship and materials warranty at that point.

Yeah right - the previous homeowners removed the stucco, put the building envelope on wrong, and put the stucco back on.
(a) why would they do this?
(b) several neighbours are original, and we have spoken to them and clearly someone would have remembered this!

We think the photos were quite clear - but we also invited the builder to come take a look in person, which they chose not to do.

They are just trying to make excuses.  We think that there are many problems with many of this builder's homes, so they don't want to help anyone as that would set a precident.

We responded to the BBB that we are not satisfied with the response.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

And what does our builder have to say?

So I called our home builder.  Now, I know our house is 13 years old, and long past any warranty, but still - you would think if the builder did something obviously WRONG and AGAINST THE BUILDING CODE that they just might want to fix it.  After all, they are a large builder and probably don't want to ruin their reputation, right?

So I called and talked to the warranty manager.  He said to email him some photos, which I did.  He said he forwarded them to the VP.  We had to wait a couple of days, and then they got back to us with this message:
Thanks for your time and patience,  the e-mails and phone messages.
Our VP has reviewed the pictures and we have discussed the stucco and windows issues, but our warranty is for one year and given that the home is 13yrs old,  <Name of Builder> is not in a position to help you with the repairs.

We are obviously not happy with this response.
How can they not accept responsibility for making such a big error on our home?

So what is causing the leak?

With evidence of mould on the drywall under the baseboard in the family room, we called around to try to find someone to fix the problem.  We finally found a contractor who specializes in leak issues, but he had other clients before us, so we had to wait almost 3 weeks before he could get started on our house.

First, he removed the mouldy drywall inside.  There was evidence of water damage inside the wall.

Mould on the back side of the drywall.

Then he did some water testing with a hose from outside.  Sure enough, water leaked in very quickly when he put a hose on the stucco just below the window.  He said that the only way to know what was really going on was to remove some stucco.  As soon as he took the stucco off, he immediately was able to tell us that the builder had done the building envelope incorrectly. 

Here are the things he found wrong:
  1. The white Tyvek paper that was supposed to come from the bottom of the window and lap OVER TOP of the black tar paper was actually BELOW.  Since stucco is permeable and some water will get through, the Tyvek and tar paper needs to be lapped correctly - kind of like shingles on a roof.  If it is backwards, it can act almost like a funnel, allowing water into your house.
  2. The tar paper looked to be very worn, and the contractor suggested that perhaps the house had sat a long time before the stucco was put on - a fact our neighbour later confirmed.
  3. The tar paper should overlap by ~4" where different pieces of it meet.  In one place it was only overlapped by 1" and in another place there was actually a gap that they covered with red Tuck Tape.
  4. The stucco was (at least over some of the house) not thick enough to meet the minimum 19mm thickness required by the 1997 Alberta Building code.
The brown tar paper is over top of the white Tyvek (outside, below the family room window).
The tar paper should be a darker colour - it is very weathered and deteriorated.

Tar paper only overlapped about 1"

The stucco should be 19mm thick but is more like 12-13mm.

The plywood of the wall under the window was so rotten that the contractor was able to just put his hand through it!  It had clearly been leaking for a long time.

The contractor took off the stucco below another window - where we did not have any apparent leaks - and the building envelope was done incorrectly there as well.

We took off the drywall inside in two other locations - below a window in the breakfast nook and the window in the living room - and found water damage and mould in both locations.

Mould in the wall under the breakfast nook window.

Mould and water damage in the wall under the living room window.

It is becoming apparent that we have a bigger issue than a leak under one window.  It looks like the whole house was papered wrong, which obviously is an error that the builder made when they built the house.  We now don't think that anyone was right when they said the windows were leaking, we think it was the building envelope all along.  Most of the time, with the amount of rainfall that we get in Calgary, the moisture was staying in the walls, so that we had no idea the problem was there.  Also, until you actually rip off the stucco, it is pretty hard to tell how thick it is, and that it didn't meet the building code.

Our house is leaking!

Hello and welcome to our blog! 
We have started this blog as a way to share the issues we are having, since it is becoming apparent to us that problems with leaky homes due to problems with building envelopes - on single family houses and condos - are becoming a bigger issue in Calgary.  Leaky condos seem to make the news more, since there are so many more people involved, but we think there are also many single family homes having similar issues.  Many of these issues arise due to things that home builders have done incorrectly - and in fact breaking the Alberta Building Code - when a house was built, and many relatively new homes are facing issues with their building envelopes.  We are hoping to encourage other single family homeowners to step forward to let the appropriate government groups know about this issue, to lobby for changes to the Alberta Building Code and it's enforcement, and to encourage home builders to be accountable for their errors.

We found out about a week ago that our house is leaking due to errors that our home builder made during the construction.  Here is the history of our house, as we know it...

Our house was built for a different family in the neighbourhood of Tuscany, in NW Calgary.  The builder (who shall be un-named in this blog so we don't get sued) is a major home builder in Calgary who is still in business. 

Sometime in the 1999 - 2002 timeframe:
Our home was sold to the second owners.

We bought the home - so we are the third owners.  It is a beautiful home on a beautiful pie-shaped lot.  A place where we intend to live for a very long time and raise a family.  Note that we DID have a home inspection done by a qualified home inspector, who did not find any issues.

We had a leak under the living room window.  We had a window company over and he said the window was leaking and he apparently fixed the issue.

This spring was one of the rainiest that Calgary has had in a long time.  We discovered some leaks underneath windows in our family room and breakfast nook.  One of our small basement windows was also leaking.  The garage ceiling was also leaking, and when we looked at it there was evidence of water staining, so we think it had leaked in the past. 

We contacted the builder and were passed along to the window company.  The window company came out and said that there was a problem with the window seals on several of the windows, and they replaced those under warranty.  We thought that had fixed the problem with the family room and breakfast nook. 

My dad noticed that the basement window had been installed upside down.  Windows have drain holes so that if any water gets into the frame it drains out the bottom.  Obviously these drain holes should be installed on the bottom of the window, but ours were on the top, which allowed rainwater to funnel into our house.  We contacted the builder, and to their credit they sent someone out to fix the window.  This was ok, except the parging around the window has ugly patches on it now.  This issue seems to be fixed.

The garage ceiling continued to leak.  One of the upstairs bedrooms goes out over the garage a bit, so it was hard to tell where the leak was coming from.

2005 - 2007:
We had several contractors out to look at the garage ceiling leak.  The roof people blamed the windows.  The window people blamed the roof, or the soffit and fascia.  No one seemed to be able to solve the problem.

We finally found a contractor who could solve the garage ceiling leak!  He removed some stucco off the wall of the house, just above the roof, and discovered that the flashing between the wall and the roof had been done incorrectly.  He fixed it, and it hasn't leaked since.  So we thought all our leaks were *finally* fixed!!!

Since we didn't like the peach colour of our stucco, we had the house painted and some stone put on the front near the garage.

We decided to replace the family room carpet with hardwood.  So in early June we had a flooring company come to install the hardwood.  They took off the baseboards and ripped out the carpet - and then I noticed mould on the drywall under the baseboard, below the big window in our family room.  So we didn't have them install the hardwood that day, and we started to investigate.
I will tell you about the problems we found in the next post...

Mould on the drywall below our family room window.