Alberta builders accept some blame for leaky condos

Alberta builders and developers are beginning to accept some of the fault for Calgary's leaky condo problem.

Leaks and Losses

CBC News: Calgary at 6:00

9 years ago
The final installment of our week long series on Calgary's condo problems. 3:09

Alberta's homebuilders are joining the call for more homeowner protection in this province.

Greg Christenson, past president of the Canadian Homebuilders Association, agrees that there is a significant leaky condo problem in Alberta and says the province should require builders to offer a five-year warranty on the building envelope, as well as 10 years on structural problems and two years on workmanship.

Christenson also thinks a building envelope engineer should be involved in the design and construction process.

"You'll find that a building envelope technician as part of the building process will go a long way and increasingly  you're seeing a requirement for what we call a rainscreen," he said. 

"You put an airspace between the stucco siding and the building paper or the sheathing. Those things together should go a long way to solving the leaky condo problem."

The province has known for several years that Alberta's homes and condos are leaking.

Survey conducted

Five years ago, Alberta Municipal Affairs and the City of Calgary, conducted a building envelope survey.

They looked at 15 single family homes and five condos — all of them recently built — all of them known to be leaky. 

They also looked at a random sample of new construction. Not a single building was up to code, including both the completed ones and the new builds. 

About a year later, Thomas Lucaszuk, who at the time was the parliamentary assistant to Municipal Affairs, made some recommendations: the construction industry needs to be more accountable, consumers needs to be better protected, trades need to be better trained and certified and inspections need to be tightened up.   

Those recommendations were made in 2008, but nothing concrete has happened since then.

In June 2011, the Stelmach government promised that it would make new home warranties mandatory, that it would extend the warranty coverage on building envelopes from one year to five years.

So far, that hasn't happened.

Discussion ongoing

Mike Ball is a building envelope engineer with Morrison Hershfield and has been part of the discussions at the provincial level.

"This started back in 2007 or 2008. At that time, they were suggesting a six month turnaround to get some legislation, but the ministers keep changing, the process keeps stalling," Ball said.  

"But I did sit in on one roundtable last summer and people were still relatively unsure of what they were going to do."

What the homebuilders industry is suggesting is not that different than the British Columbia system, at least in terms of warranty protection.

Since the leaky condo crisis of the 1990s, B.C. has required mandatory third party warranties that were supported by an insurance company.

If you are a builder, you can't get a building permit unless you have an insurance company willing to guarantee your building for two years for labour and materials, five years for the envelope, and 10 years for structural problems.

Since the insurance companies have a financial stake, they often send their own inspectors to check on the building process.

Tony Gioventu is the president of the Condo Homeowners Association of B.C. He says the changes have made a big difference in the construction standards in his province.

"Compared to what we had in the '90s, we have an overwhelming improvement in the system — there are peer reviews, the construction standards and codes have changes; all of those things in conjunction give us a better system today."