Tag Archives: construction


In Conversation With… Debbie Cosic, Founder & CEO In2ition Realty

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In Conversation With… Debbie Cosic, Founder & CEO In2ition Realty

New-home buyers, builders and marketers had big plans this spring. Then COVID-19 struck and things changed. Consumers went into a holding pattern, and developers and sales outfits had to figure out what to do.

For In2ition Realty of Mississauga, Ont., a prominent new home and condo marketing firm, that meant pivoting quickly to online and virtual sales. Founder and CEO Debbie Cosic explains how the company responded – and how she sees the market post-pandemic.

How’s the business of marketing and selling new homes and condos during these challenging days?

To say the least, challenging. All of our sales offices are (at press time) currently closed and have converted to online sales. We have been running virtual sales offices across the GTA, and at any given time we have about 20 sites operating.

Fortunately, we’re used to this, as we’re a pretty tech savvy company. This whole challenge has made us kick everything up a notch. We believe the online new home sales world is definitely here to stay. We’ve had to change our method of operations.

We’re still very busy internally with Zoom and conference calls, with developers a couple times a week on various projects. We had 24 sites to launch in 2020, and just before COVID started we basically got two out of the gate. So that means 22 still to launch. Will they all launch this year? We hope so. None of them have been cancelled. We’re hoping that these delays will just toggle things into a fall market, or some of them into the summer market, fall, winter or early next year.

How are consumers responding to virtual sales? Buying a home is obviously a very significant purchase, so to do so without being able to go to the development site…

Even during the shutdown, we have been doing deals consistently. Buyers may be a little slower to consummate the deal, but it always surprises me how technologically savvy everybody is. We’re all online with Facebook or LinkedIn or Instagram. Young or old, people are connected to the computer, they’re online shopping or reading the news every day. So, if you make it simple, which is what we’ve done, using Zoom or FaceTime, our team walks them through all the steps, and we have the presentations ready online. Sometimes it may take a little longer, maybe a second or third meeting, but we make it extremely easy for them to be able to navigate.

We all got some good news when the province announced that construction could resume on May 19. How do you think the market will react – will it quickly lead to renewed buyer interest and activity?

It will spur our whole industry to start moving. Everybody’s sort of gearing up. We have a master blueprint on how to reopen our sales offices safely when the time comes, such as following the government precautions for social distancing, and otherwise doing things to make them feel safe.

We have regular calls on the status of our developments, to get a pulse on the market and feedback from clientele. Some buyers are pushing us to open, we’re getting requests regarding particular projects and we still have people in the pipeline. Do 100 per cent of interested buyers still want to proceed? It’s a new normal now, so we just want to get out there and start selling, whether it’s 80 per cent volume or 50 or 20… We don’t know that yet.

When the restrictions are fully lifted, do you foresee buyers easing their way back into the market, or will there be more of a rush because there might be some pent-up demand?

It may take some time, but I believe things will return to a normal marketplace. In 2019, we had a banner market with 76,500 pre-construction sales in high- and lowrise combined. The first couple of months of 2020, we launched two projects and we basically blew through them, and within a couple of weeks we sold out beyond our construction thresholds. That, we are not expecting, and our brokers are not expecting either. We just believe that we’re going to return to a normal balanced market. And we’re fine with that. Instead of us selling out a development in a couple of weekends, it may take six or nine months or even a year to get to preconstruction thresholds. We’re fine with that.

We’re anticipating a new normal, even in the way we conduct sales, in that we’re not going to be able to have big groups in our sales offices, and these big events that create a lot of hype. We know that it’s going to be a more tempered sale because only smaller groups can come in. As long as you manage expectations, we’re all happy to go back to work and start doing some sales. That’s the important thing.

How do you think homebuyer intentions may change? Do you foresee people buying smaller homes or buying condos instead of lowrise homes or buying more with friends and family?

I think intentions are going to change differently for different segments of the population. Some buyers may enjoy being closer to family, or they’ll prefer a multi-family residence, or a loft upstairs from their parents, or splitting a home with a sibling.

Some experts believe there will be a notable and growing segment of buyers who prefer the bigger homes, larger lots and more space, given everything the pandemic has taught us about being apart from others. Supply and affordability issues in the GTA may preclude that, but areas outside the GTA – Kitchener-Waterloo or Hamilton, for example – may represent opportunities. What are your thoughts?

Definitely. In recent years, areas outside the downtown core have become more desirable…the 905s and some of the 519 areas and even in 705, and that will continue to grow.

I also believe others will migrate back into the city because they will not want to endure public transit, because of concerns over the lack of social distancing.

Do you see any other fundamental changes either for builders or buyers? For example, working from home may become more prevalent, so will home designs further change to accommodate more places people can work separately in the home?

I definitely believe that. Just in my own experience, I have a house with a den, and I have a desk in my bedroom, each of the kids have a desk in their bedrooms, and it’s still not enough. They’re being schooled from home, I’m working from home, the other adults in my house are working from home… We’re all looking for that quiet space, whether it’s a room in the basement, a den in their next house, or a flex space or solarium in a larger condo.

There will also be a portion of population that will want to age in place, so we’ll have to have housing that can accommodate that.

New home supply in the GTA has long been a very serious issue. During the pandemic, governments have clearly shown that when they want to, they can act quickly. How hopeful are you that such legislative agility – clearing red tape and shortening development approval processes – can extend beyond COVID-19?

I’ve been preaching for years that a lot of the legacy supply has been sold off, especially in lowrise and midrise homes. But governments really need to look at the way they’re allowing approvals to occur – not just the speed, but the type of product they’re allowing. They should be allowing more multi-family residences in our subdivisions and communities. I’m not saying we should turn a whole subdivision of 40-ft. lots into triplexes, but you should allow some of these build forms, because they’re desirable, affordable and something we really need.

Instead of a 3,000-sq.-ft. home, why not build a 2000-sq.-ft. home with 1,000-sq.- ft. loft or secondary suite? That kind of thing. Some of this is allowed, but I really think it has to be speeded up, and fast, so on a dime, a developer can change a planning application to have these different types of build forms woven into these communities.


And on a personal note …

If I wasn’t in the new home and condo marketing business, I would: Be working on Wall street as a venture capitalist. I love the energy and challenges of that industry, and I love NYC.

My greatest inspiration in this business is: My life partner Ralph, who has taught me to believe in the power of the universe and the power of positive thinking. He has the attitude of “some will, some won’t, others always do.” And if something bad happens, don’t fret over it, learn from it and let it go. Something bigger and better is around the corner.

My greatest reward is: Spending time with my loved ones and surrounding myself with the wonderful group of people who work with us. I’m also grateful this industry has given me not only the financial means but also the time to help people less fortunate than I am. I love and thrive on our charitable endeavours.


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Groundbreaking at Kingdom Developments' KSquare Condos in Scarborough

Kingdom Developments breaks ground at KSquare Condos in Scarborough

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Kingdom Developments breaks ground at KSquare Condos in Scarborough

Kingdom Developments Inc. has broken ground at its Canadian flagship, mixed-use condominium development, KSquare Condos, just a month after launching sales for the project.

“We’re thrilled with the opportunity to start construction just one month after our sales launch,” says Eric Jensen, Kingdom Developments’ vice-president, projects. “This speaks volumes to the success of KSquare Condos and the significant demand the project commands from both end-users and investors who recognize the incredible value and ownership opportunity that KSquare presents.”

KSquare Condos is located in the heart of central Scarborough at Kennedy Rd. and Sheppard Ave. E., an area currently experiencing a major transformation in new city planning and rapid development growth.

Major transformation

“As one of the first major developments in the city’s most dynamic neighbourhood, KSquare Condos is an exciting addition to Scarborough, an area that’s naturally poised for a residential density boost,” says Ward 22 Scarborough-Agincourt Councillor, Jim Karygiannis.

With more than 485,000 sq. ft. of planned development comprising of retail, office and mixed-use residential, KSquare presents a strong investment and ownership opportunity, the company says. Over the next decade, KSquare Condos is expected to kick-start rapid growth in population density and spur new job opportunities in this already fast-growing neighbourhood.

Groundbreaking at Kingdom Developments' KSquare Condos in Scarborough
Groundbreaking at Kingdom Developments’ KSquare Condos in Scarborough. Left to right, Raymond Chau, sales and marketing manager, Kingdom Developments; Danny Tito, executive vice-president, Skygrid; Jacob Ma, president, Kingdom Developments; Jim Karygiannis, councillor, City of Toronto; Jason Heidman president, Skygrid; Gary Chen, senior project manager, Kingdom Developments. Photo: AGI Studio

Across the rail corridor from KSquare, the City’s ambitious plans for Agincourt Mall will create retail and office jobs in a dynamic community of new shops, restaurants, cafes, offices, parks and a public square. With 10 million sq. ft. of office space, Scarborough has seen impressive job growth over the last decade, and is home to the head offices of top Fortune 500 companies including Toyota, IBM, Compaq, BMO, HSBC, Sony, Volvo and Lenovo.

‘Kennedy Central’

Dubbed “Kennedy Central,” this area between Kennedy Rd. and Hwy. 401, will soon benefit from improved planned transit service with the proposed $5-billion plan to build a three-stop subway extension in Scarborough with stops at Lawrence East, Scarborough Town Centre and McCowan Rd.

With the existing Agincourt GO station to the north and projected SmartTrack and Sheppard East LRT stations nearby, residents will be able to connect to downtown in minutes. Drivers will also appreciate easy access across the GTA via Hwy. 401, which is directly to the south of KSquare Condos.

Designed by IBI Group with interiors by Tomas Pearce Interior Design, KSquare Condos features two sleek, elegant glass towers rising 36 and 39 storeys above a shared seven-storey podium.

Eric Jensen, vice-president, projects, Kingdom Canada
Eric Jensen, vice-president, projects, Kingdom Canada

KSquare features a wide range of suite types and sizes including one-, two- and three-bedroom layouts. Prices start from $372,900 and early buyers can also take advantage of a free parking space included in their purchase price.

“We have a really diverse group of condo units and sizes,” Jensen told Condo Life. “On the one end, we’ve got the students at (University of Toronto Scarborough) that are looking for a small one-bedroom, but at the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got a number of three-bedroom plus den corner units for full families.”

Signature amenities

KSquare will not only be home to Toronto’s largest private condo library and study area, residents will also have access to amenities such as two private music rehearsal rooms, state-of-the-art gym, pet grooming spa, kids zone, 24-hour concierge, an expansive party room with two dining areas and a rooftop terrace offering panoramic neighbourhood views.

“The real highlights are… the seventh-floor outdoor terrace is spectacular, it’s really like having a taste of a forest or High Park that you can just step out into,” Jensen says. “The private library is probably the crown jewel of them all. The versatility that this type of space offers… you can go there to study, there are breakout rooms, quiet spaces… it all ties into the library, and we’ve got moveable panels to open up spaces.”

Construction now underway at Kingdom Developments' KSquare Condos in Scarborough
Construction now underway at Kingdom Developments’ KSquare Condos in Scarborough

“The lobby itself is very unique, if for no other reason than its size,” Brian Woodrow, senior designer, Tomas Pearce, told Condo Life. “It’s almost a full double height, has a fireplace lounge, a business/tech lounge, so its broken into two areas and its meant to draw people together in a work, live and communicative environment.”

Kingdom Developments gave Tomas Pearce the freedom to execute its ideas, Woodrow says. “They came to us with these ideas… I wouldn’t call them prerequisites because they gave us a free hand, which is very unusual, and allowed us to develop these thoughts and notions from our design standard point of view.”

The KSquare community will be surrounded by nature and greenspace. Bordering the building, South Linear Park boasts over half an acre of parkland and trails and the building’s grounds will also feature lush landscaping that will weave into a central courtyard to the east of the main entrance.

Register at ksquarecondos.com or visit the Presentation Gallery located at 2035 Kennedy Rd., open Monday to Thursday noon to 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Fridays.


KSquare Condos is the flagship of Kingdom Canada coming to Agincourt

Luxury condos coming to Scarborough with KSquare Condos



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Restoring a Heritage Home

Restoring a heritage home – old, yes, but not forgotten

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Restoring a heritage home – old, yes, but not forgotten

Transforming a heritage home into a real estate jewel through a renovation or restoration is a labour of love – it requires a commitment to architectural character and a willingness to meet the challenge of unexpected surprises along the way. If your client has hired you to preserve the look, but update certain areas, the following are five broad categories that you’ll want to investigate.


Age, general architectural style and condition

Learn as much as you can about the history of the building. The historical society can be a good resource. Also, check archives for any old permits, drawings, photos, or newspaper articles about former owners. Learning about the lives of the people who built and lived in the house can help with restoration decisions. Many styles of architecture have played a role in our history, from Queen Anne, Victorian to Colonial Revival. Occasionally, you might also find a true Arts and Crafts style home too. It’s worth documenting the details of the home and checking books at your local library (or on the Internet) to determine its exact style. By learning the age of the home, who its former occupants were and its architectural style, you’ll be able to more easily piece together the “historic” puzzle for your client.


Structure, electrical, plumbing, heating-cooling and drainage

As far as condition goes, it’s worth investing in the services of a home inspector who is knowledgeable about historic architecture. He or she will be able to create a report that identifies potential problem areas and suggest viable, cost-effective solutions.

Problems with infrastructure can range from knob and tube wiring to clay pipes in plumbing. Foundations can be problematic as well, as old concrete can settle and crack, causing the building to shift; a pencil or a marble placed on the floor may well provide you with a heads-up. Any horizontal cracks in the concrete indicate severe settling and could mean costly repairs. If you suspect any underlying issues with the structure, it’s best to have it inspected by a structural engineer.

Envelope, roof, insulation, walls, windows and doors

Before changing any of the elements that make up the envelope of the building, ensure that replacements or repairs will maintain the architectural character.

Windows and doors on old homes can be problematic due to rotten wood and energy inefficiency. Luckily, most historical boards recognize this and let owners replace them with more modern choices as long as the general character is the same. However, if you are fortunate enough to have windows with stained or art glass, consider hiring an expert to restore them.

Many older homes were originally insulated with horsehair or newspaper. Newer homes, but older than 1990 may also have vermiculite insulation which likely contains asbestos. In most cases, an investment is needed to remove the old insulation and properly insulate the walls, the attic and the roof. Energy rebates may be available for this.

Interior furniture, fixtures, materials and decorative trim

The interior design of a heritage property can be very detailed, and it’s important to decide which characteristics contribute to the value of the home. Ceiling details and interior trim — such as door stiles and rails, wainscoting and any decorative motifs — can be extremely valuable and worth preserving or restoring to its original state. Wallpaper patterns can be replicated and heritage paint colours are available.

Door and window hardware is often bronze, copper or crystal. Sometimes missing fixtures or ornate lighting can be found in architectural salvage stores.

The fireplace was the focus of many older homes. Oftentimes, mantel and hearth details were spectacular and included carved wood or marble. Make sure the home inspector is a bit of a detective as well and removes bits of paint in inconspicuous areas to see if you own a hidden treasure.

Landscaping, hardscape, plantings and style

The landscaping of a historic property can’t be overlooked. Many of our forebears brought their gardening skills with them from England, Italy and France, where gardens were outdoor living spaces. While it may be difficult to determine from an initial observation of what a garden may have once looked like, old photos can provide valuable clues.

Scent gardens, formal seating areas tucked into the shrubbery, and decorative ironwork gateways that framed views of other landscape elements. Gardens can give a heritage property context and take a historic home from stunning to truly spectacular.

SAMANTHA SANNELLA, BFA ID, M ARCH, is a designer, educator and principal at Urban Retreat Homes.

She is an expert in the field of design and construction and is a columnist for several HOMES Publishing Group publications.


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Ontario’s new apprenticeship ratio a boon to home building industry

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Ontario’s new apprenticeship ratio a boon to home building industry



The Ontario government’s plans to change the 40-year-old apprenticeship system is welcome news to the home building industry.

“This is a game changer,” says Rick Martins, president of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA). “This means our industry will finally have a system in place to close the trades skills gap across Ontario. This means employers can finally bring apprentices into their small businesses and train the next generation of skilled trades workers. This opens thousands of new opportunities for youth, and people looking for new employment opportunities.”


The new one-to-one ratio, a significant change from the current ratio of 3-to-1, will enable home builders and renovators to more easily hire and train new apprentices.

“The existing apprenticeship system in Ontario includes ratios that are among the most restrictive in Canada – this is why it hampers builders,” OHBA CEO Joe Vaccaro told Homes Publishing. “Most other provinces have had a 1-to-1 ratio for years, and as a result Ontario ranks last in Canada in the number of tradespeople with certification. The high ratio limits Ontario’s ability to compete and remain competitive.”

OHBA says it has been recommending lower apprenticeship ratios for about 10 years, to help make Ontario a competitive training and business jurisdiction and removing a major barrier for young people to enter the skilled trades.

“Ontario will grow by more than 4.3 million people in the next 25 years, and with that there will be an overwhelming need for skilled labour in the building and renovation sector,” says Vaccaro. “With this new apprenticeship plan, our members are now going to be able to hire and train the skilled workers they need to build the new housing choice and supply for future #homebelievers.”

For home builders and renovators employing carpenter apprentices, the current ratio of 3-to-1 means a company must have three licensed journeypersons on staff before they can hire an apprentice.

“This ratio may not be a reality that makes sense how builders and renovators operate their businesses,” says Vaccaro. “For example, they may not have the exact mix of employers to apprentices, or they may want to take on more than one apprentice but not have the proportionate number of staff to support additional apprentices.”


5 steps to solving the housing affordability issue in Ontario

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Building condos in urban areas requires the use of traffic lanes

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Building condos in urban areas requires the use of traffic lanes

We often joke in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) that we have two seasons, winter and construction. Most people can do without winter, but construction is essential to city building. We put up with it because we know that infrastructure like roads, sewers and watermains, must be continually maintained to ensure the viability of our growing cities. The same can be said when it comes to new condo construction.

On occasion large construction projects like condos in the downtown core can take up traffic lanes and create traffic slowdowns. Unfortunately, to keep up with the influx of the 9.7 million people that will call the GTA home by 2041 and to build to Growth Plan policy, our industry will be building highrise buildings in urban areas that may slow down your daily commute.

A recent City of Toronto motion was put forth to consult with the development industry to eliminate the practice of occupying sidewalks and traffic lanes for construction purposes. While this might help ease traffic congestion, it does very little to help keep the cost of new homes down. If the development industry is forced to build off-site staging areas, instead of using the already in place and legal City right-of-way, the extra cost incurred by the industry will ultimately make new homes more expensive.

A construction staging area is a physical location used for the storage of construction related equipment and materials such as vehicles and stockpiles. The City has policies to deal with this issue and the construction industry pays hundreds of thousands of dollars per project to be able to use City property for this legally allowed and long standing purpose.

The provincial Growth Plan calls for more intensification in urban areas where transit is available and where people work. Therefore, the City of Toronto has urban design guidelines that allow for the construction of tall buildings very close to the property line. These are the challenges of building in an urban environment. There is little or no room to do anything on the site and the only way to build safely is to take a lane of public traffic.

The industry is constantly looking for ways to alleviate traffic construction by avoiding closing down lanes and keeping costs down by side-stepping building off-site staging sites that would ultimately increase the cost of a new home or condo.

Developers often reach out to residents for solutions. A developer of a midtown 70,000-square-foot condo was considering an underutilized park adjacent to the highrise as an alternative to using the street. Having to build a separate staging site at a cost of $1,000,000 would have increased the price of a condo by $20,000 or $30,000. Using the street is the best way to keep the development affordable.

Dave Wilkes is President and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD). Bild.ca


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Marking the groundbreaking and start of construction of Davpart's Avro Condominiums in Toronto are, left to right, Skygrid Executive Vice-President-Residential, Danny Tito; Baker Real Estate President, Barbara Lawlor; Davpart’s Ari Hofstedter and Zev Hofstedter; Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects Partner, Greg Alexander; Baker Real Estate Vice-President, Jeff Clark. Photo: Spencer Wynn

Davpart begins construction at Avro Condominiums

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Davpart begins construction at Avro Condominiums

Davpart Inc. recently broke ground at  Avro Condominiums, a 14-storey, 180-unit development located at 10 De Boers Dr., just north of Allen Road and Sheppard in Toronto.

Featuring a sleek contemporary design and eye-catching rooftop expression, Avro offers sophisticated living complete with landscaped entry terraces.

Marking the groundbreaking and start of construction of Davpart's Avro Condominiums in Toronto are, left to right, Skygrid Executive Vice-President-Residential, Danny Tito; Baker Real Estate President, Barbara Lawlor; Davpart’s Ari Hofstedter and Zev Hofstedter; Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects Partner, Greg Alexander; Baker Real Estate Vice-President, Jeff Clark. Photo: Spencer Wynn
Marking the groundbreaking and start of construction of Davpart’s Avro Condominiums in Toronto are, left to right, Skygrid Executive Vice-President-Residential, Danny Tito; Baker Real Estate President, Barbara Lawlor; Davpart’s Ari Hofstedter and Zev Hofstedter; Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects Partner, Greg Alexander; Baker Real Estate Vice-President, Jeff Clark. Photo: Spencer Wynn

While the lobby is double-height and full of light, the top of the building is capped off with a wing-shaped roof that pays homage to the Avro heritage.

The structure is made up of high-efficiency glazing, white pre-cast concrete, and decorative metal features at the lower levels to frame entrances, canopies and fencing.

Architects are Brisbin Brook Beynon; amenities and interiors provided by Tomas Pearce Interior Design Consulting Inc.


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THE GEOTECHNICAL ENGINEER: The writing’s on the retaining wall

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THE GEOTECHNICAL ENGINEER: The writing’s on the retaining wall

By Jeff Dietz

Last year, I attended a presentation by a professional liability insurer. The presentation gave a summary for claim dollars they had paid for various design professionals and various types of projects. The summary showed that, for the period their data had been taken, more than 20 per cent of claim dollars for geotechnical engineers, and 4 per cent of claim dollars for civil engineers, were related to retaining walls.

Retaining walls are commonly used when two areas on a property are at different elevations and there is a desire to transition from one elevation to the other in a short distance—shorter than can be used if the land was just sloped.

As a geotechnical engineer, I’ve participated in design and construction monitoring of retaining walls on many projects. I’ve even participated in the redesign and rebuild of retaining walls that turned out to not be designed and/or constructed properly in the first place. I’ve seen issues crop up in project after project. So, here’s my list of the top five mistakes made during design and construction of retaining walls — and how you can avoid them.


Leaving the Design to the Bidding Contractors

I’ve seen many projects that include a retaining wall as part of a much larger project, where the design drawings show the wall location with both top of wall and bottom of wall elevations at various points along the wall. To save time and money, the owner or civil engineer doesn’t have the retaining wall design completed prior to having contractors bid on construction for the site.

The contractor must bid on the retaining wall portion of the project based on that limited information. What is the contractor going to do? They’ll go to a manufacturer of retaining wall components, who will give them a design for free. What is the manufacturer going to do? They’ll provide a design based on the configuration provided and typical design soil parameters. Are those design soil parameters applicable to the site? Possibly. Possibly not.

Leaving the design to the bidding contractors can also lead directly to the next four mistakes below. If the retaining wall is properly designed prior to the contractors bidding, you’ll know they’ve bid on a wall that will meet the project needs. You reduce the potential for delays — if it’s discovered that the wall isn’t appropriate for the site, which is often the case — and extra claims by the contractor.


Not Having Soils Information at the Time of Design

I know. Shocking. The geotechnical engineer — who specializes in soils investigations — is recommending having soils information prior to design.

Well, if there hasn’t been some form of investigation prior to design, how are you going to know if the soils can support the forces produced by the wall?

Are there soft or organic soils that have to be removed or improved prior to construction? How do you do the global stability analysis to make sure the whole thing doesn’t rotate? If a soils investigation is completed first, you’ll have the information you need to properly design the wall.

So, design the wall for the soil conditions. It’s harder, and often impossible, to change the soil conditions to fit the wall that was designed.


Not Doing Global Stability Analysis Prior to Construction

I’ve seen many retaining wall designs that leave the check of global stability to “others.” Global stability is the mechanism by which the whole wall, as well as the soil behind and below the wall, rotates.

If the global stability check finds that there isn’t an appropriate factor of safety in the design, the most appropriate way to fix that is to change the design. This can lead to a lot of back-and-forth between the designer and the other professionals who are analyzing global stability. If the global stability analysis isn’t done before the wall construction begins, and the analysis finds an issue, then there could be a need to remove the part of the wall already constructed and start again. Make sure global stability analysis is done as part of the design of the wall.


Leaving Insufficient Space to Build the Wall as Designed

I’ve seen many retaining walls designed to be right up against a property line, with grades on the adjacent property being higher than the grades on the property owned by whoever wants the retaining wall. But you need space to construct the wall. When you excavate to construct the wall, you can’t leave the excavated slope vertical. There will have to be some sloping to ensure safety — so that the soil slope doesn’t fail during construction.

If the wall design calls for geogrid reinforcement to hold the wall back from falling forward, then that geogrid is extending into the neighbouring property — often by several metres. With any of these scenarios, the owner of the neighbouring property may have issues with your excavations extending onto their property, especially if they have any structures, landscaping, trees, or fences near or on the property line. Make sure that there is enough room to construct the wall you want to build when you design it. If you want construction to extend into a neighbouring property, make sure you have that neighbour’s buy-in.


Insufficient Quality Control

In the province of Ontario, the building code requires continuous review during construction of most retaining walls. Even if quality-control inspection isn’t a requirement for the wall, it’s still a good idea. Aside from identifying soil conditions that are not as good as the designer assumed and coming up with solutions, the wall installer can make mistakes, such as choosing the wrong material, using the right material in the wrong way, or using material of the wrong size.

I remember talking to a contractor who had installed uniaxial geogrid — which is a geogrid that is significantly stronger in one direction — in the wrong direction for some fairly long walls. He said he had been doing it that way for years, and he probably thought he was doing it correctly. With the geogrid in the wrong orientation, the wall could move more than anticipated — possibly even fail. A proper quality-control program during construction can catch small errors so they can be corrected early on.

Avoiding these five mistakes can help steer your retaining wall project in the right direction and help you avoid insurance claims on projects involving retaining walls.

Jeff Dietz is the team leader for the geotechnical practice in Stantec’s southwestern Ontario offices. https://www.stantec.com/en


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What’s On Manny’s Mind?!? Team Work

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What’s On Manny’s Mind?!? Team Work

If everyone involved in a construction project isn’t on the same page, you might as well rip open the envelope


Any large renovation or custom homebuilding project needs to be a collaborative effort between everyone involved – the owner, contractor, architect, designer, and structural and mechanical engineers. Collaboration is not a nice to have, it’s a must have. If everyone involved isn’t working with the same plan at the very least you’ll have arguments and blame getting tossed around whenever something doesn’t come together as expected. In the worst case, you can introduce issues that can effect the structural integrity of the home. This is particularly true when trying to balance various design goals with a seamlessly sealed building envelope.


I know of at least one recent case that’s gone to court because of a lack of collaboration and communication. It was a beautifully designed home with lots of hips and valleys in the roof. But it’s failing. The owners were spending thousands on heating the place and still wearing their winter coats indoors.

If you want a funky design, you have to be really careful how you seal everything. But too often contractors are asked to do the impossible. It’s like we’re being given a Rubik’s cube that doesn’t have all the colours and told to make it work.

Building a square or rectangular box is easy. Protrusions are the villain. Once you start adding windows, beams, and all these other holes in the walls you start to get into trouble.

It should be pretty simple: you keep the cold out in the winter and it’s vice versa in the summer. But in Canada we design buildings to survive the winter, without really thinking about the summer. That’s creating condensation issues.


Part of the process is educating the homeowners. To me, in terms of the building envelope, spray foam insulation is a bulletproof product. You’ve got a vapour barrier on both sides, so no issues with condensation. But many owners don’t want to pay for foam, and they won’t really understand and appreciate it until they start to see their monthly heating and cooling bills go down. Also, foam is the worst for sound transmission. So you need to talk to your clients about these issues, and offer some solutions. My recommendation is to use about an inch of spray foam and then fill the rest of the cavity with dense-pack cellulose.

Owners also need to understand that the building inspector can’t and won’t catch everything. It would take them days to inspect the entire vapour barrier to ensure that all seams and gaps around fixtures are sealed. The more complex the structure is, the more likely it is that something gets overlooked. Little issues start to compound. Older or poorly designed homes can have countless little gaps in the envelope that collectively add up to a whole the size of a basketball.

Finally, too many homeowners get fixated on trends in colours, design, and finishes. They should always consider the building envelope first. Trends don’t last, homes should.

For a project to be successful a lot of compromise is required. If an owner or architect is pushing for a design that raises red flags for you based on your experience, take the time to calmly and clearly point out the risks. But also use your experience and expertise to suggest some workable solutions.


You need to have these conversations with the owner, engineer, architect, and designer early on in the process. You also need to recognize that it’s not a competition. It’s pretty much impossible to meet everyone’s needs. But it is possible to achieve most of the homeowners’ goals, in a structurally sound way, without stomping on the toes of the various professionals involved. It just takes some effort.

It’s a simple point but one worth repeating – if you don’t all get on the same page you’re not going to achieve a proper building envelope, or have a happy homeowner living in a healthy house.


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The Construction Life podcast

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The Construction Life podcast

Manny Neves of Hardcore Renos has taken on another side project: podcasting. New episodes of the hour-long Construction Life podcast are posted weekly. The Construction Life podcast, featuring Manny, Mike, and Carlito (and some special guest appearances!) will shed light on the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of construction. Be forewarned – we may ruffle a few feathers.

Each covers the trials and tribulations of working on a jobsite. Some include guest, such as Eamonn O’Rourke of Reno Run, and Renovation Contractor contributing editor Will Gonell of Gonell Homes in Toronto.

Listener warning: salted in with the profane thoughts is some at times profane language. So it’s kind of like any jobsite!



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