^ Leaky Mall Syndrome?
A pox on CMHC!
One of the most satisfying moments for me in recent memory was when I asked someone from CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) about their new "Super E / R2000 Home" spec during a presentation at the World Urban Forum in Vancouver in 2006. In a room full of housing policy experts and contractors I asked the CMHC presenter: how long were these new building specs tested for in the wet West Coast climate -bearing in mind the abhorrent CMHC failure to ensure that its previous national building code would function correctly in our climate, an oversight that caused the leaky condo scandal and cost homeowners billions of dollars to repair water and mold damage damage to their built-to-code homes and apartments.
The guy sort of mumbled that CMHC had learned a lot from their experience and it was unfortunate. To answer my question, the individual components of the new Super E homes have been testing a variety of climates and been have found to be a marked improvement over past iterations of the R2000 home spec.
For the uninitiated, in the mid 1970s CMHC (Canada's national housing policy agency) needed to respond to the global energy crisis initiated by the OPEC cartel and set about developing a new national building code for residential construction that would significantly increase mandatory insulation levels and lower home heating costs. They went about this by making homes virtually airtight and doubling or tripling the minimum insulation factor ("R" value) of a dwelling's exterior walls. Such a home was ideal for the climate in Central and Eastern Canada and the Prairies, all places that experience very cold snowy winters and require heating in winter. CMHC did not consider the temperate West Coast climate with its wet winters, general lack of snow, and very moist air. This was a grievous oversight.
In the lower mainland the combination of a temperate climate's mild, wet winters and a national residential building code that emphasized an air-tight building envelope led to endemic moisture problems in dwellings built to the new code. Moisture became trapped in walls and window frames, resulting in mold. Many wood frame buildings structurally deteriorated over time as chronic water damage weakened walls, floors, and balconies. The indoor growth of mold, especially types of poisonous black mold, made people sick when they inhaled airborne mold spores. Prolonged exposure led to inexplicable illness and powerful, debilitating seasonal allergic reactions among otherwise healthy individuals, and a general deterioration of the health of some seniors or otherwise infirm people.
It took quite some time to identify the existence and severity of the mold problem because in most cases it was within the walls and not readily visible. In many cases structural damage or major mold outbreaks was remedied by rebuilding the affected area to the original condition when it was built while not addressing the underlying design problems that created the problem. In some cases major repairs happened again and again, each time resulting in repairs that would doom the building to further problems. It was a vicious cycle and CMHC squarely denied any culpability, nor would it underwright any repair costs incurred to bring any affected leaky dwellings up to the revised national building codes. It finally took a multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit to compel CMHC to acknowledge that its building code was at fault and that the water damage and mold experienced by tens and tens of thousands of dwellings, many repaired again and again to the proper building code, could not solely be the result of faulty workmanship or poor architectural design. Some definitely was, but the code was just plain wrong for our climate.
The approximate span of years that the faulty building code was employed is 1977 - 1997. For thirty years CMHC was ignorant or willfully ignorant of its error and it financially ruined thousands and has made more than a quarter century of building stock highly suspect, not to mention how many people got sick or even died from being exposed to poisonous black mold.
In my Mother's housing co-op the repairs cost about $1.6 million and our townhouse alone had about $150,000 of repairs, including a full building envelope replacement, new roofs, and new windows. Fortunately the Co-Op had a healthy replacement reserve and an excellent credit rating and was able to get a good mortgage to fund the repair costs which could then be amortized over a reasonably short repayment period. This meant that individual co-op members weren't hit with an immediate upfront assessment for $50,000, $100,000, or more like in most condos. We were smart too and initiated repairs as soon as the first signs of mold were found. By opting for the most expensive option of a building envelope replacement, essentially taking the building down to its wood frame structure and building a new, climate-correct wall and building envelope system, the co-op exited the cycle of only doing the minimum necessary repairs and later having the same problem reoccur. We essentially rebuilt the co-op while we still lived there to better-than-code levels to fix the problem once and for all. If it was done on an ad hoc basis or only to the level that the co-op members could afford in the short run, we could have found ourselves back at square one in a decade's time.
So, with all of that in mind, a new CHMC update of the deeply flawed R2000 residential building code, rebranded as the "Super E Home" standard naturally makes me suspicious. They upped the insulation levels again, which is perfectly fine, and aimed to make the building completely airtight this time. To avoid the "unpleasantness" of the west coast expirences the homes are now designed around a computer-controlled humidifier/dehumidifier ventilation unit that will bring in fresh air from the outdoors, filter it, adjust the humidity levels, and then distribute it throughout the house through air ducts and pull exhaust air out to discharge it outdoors. It promises to further reduce home heating costs, deliver fresh filtered air evenly throughout the house, and lower the home's energy needs by specifying larger windows to supply natural light. All of which is great, but if it hasn't been extensively tested as a complete design, and not just component parts, in the wet west coast climate then I will be extremely wary of the Super E Home building spec.
VANCOUVER | Beautiful, Multicultural | Canada's Pacific Metropolis
Last edited by SFUVancouver; Oct 8, 2007 at 8:30 AM.