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Building homes along N.L.'s southwest coast may require some adjustment to current building codes

Jason Pearce points to a piece of plywood which is all that remains of his house number sign, which blew off during the latest windstorm.
Jason Pearce points out a piece of plywood which is all that remains of his house number sign, which blew off during the latest windstorm. - J. R. Roy

Strong winds call for strong houses

CAPE RAY/CODROY VALLEY, N.L.

One could be forgiven for thinking Jason Pearce was tackling some heavy home construction. Debris from uprooted trees, some of which has been chopped and stacked, along with the exposed insulation on one side of his Cape Ray home make it appear that the veteran contractor is likely planning an addition. 

Journeyman carpenter Jason Pearce doesn’t believe that current building codes are entirely appropriate for the southwest coast’s climate. - Contributed
Journeyman carpenter Jason Pearce doesn’t believe that current building codes are entirely appropriate for the southwest coast’s climate. - Contributed

Instead he’s merely cleaning up from the latest windstorm damage almost two weeks prior, which ripped off a large section of siding, blew apart his house number sign, and even toppled large, thick trees that had adorned his property for years.

“The wind is getting stronger. Storms are getting more powerful,” he says, waving a hand at the mess he’s still cleaning up. “The wind changes now.”

Pearce is a journeyman carpenter with over two full decades in the construction industry. He has built homes, bridges, hospitals and schools in British Columbia and Labrador, and returned to his native Newfoundland a half dozen years ago.

“There’s no regulations here. Anybody can build a house here,” says Pearce. “You don’t have to be a licensed carpenter here to build houses.”

Pearce compares the lax regulations in this province to his experience in British Columbia, which mandates regular inspections throughout the construction phase. 

Strong winds toppled trees that had stood in Jason Pearce’s yard for years, which only reinforces his belief that storms are getting worse. - J.R. Roy
Strong winds toppled trees that had stood in Jason Pearce’s yard for years, which only reinforces his belief that storms are getting worse. - J.R. Roy

“As soon as we got the shell of the house done, they come in and they inspected it. Plumbers come in? They came in and inspected it. Insulation was put in? They came in and inspected it. Here? None of that goes on here,” shrugs Pearce. “I didn’t see none of that here.”

Instead Pearce has witnessed people building a home and popping in insulation, for example, without much oversight. Even critical power and sewage hookups usually only get a cursory glance, says Pearce.

“There’s no inspections,” says Pearce. “They’re really slack here.”

Built to last

But while the inspections may be lax, that doesn’t necessarily mean homes are poorly built. Melissa Samms hails from the Codroy Valley. Her father and grandfather were heavily involved in construction.

“The highest wind speed I've seen was 218 km last winter,” states Samms via email. “We generally build for it, rather than repairing. Trunneling used to be common and using angled 2x4 instead of plywood on the outside of the home is a popular solution.” 

Melissa Samms is a fifth generation Codroy Valley resident who knows a thing or two about construction and the Wreckhouse winds. - Contributed
Melissa Samms is a fifth generation Codroy Valley resident who knows a thing or two about construction and the Wreckhouse winds. - Contributed

People had little choice but to build for the Wreckhouse winds, and some of the homes her family has built have more than stood the test of time.

“Dad's grandfather's home was built using trunneling and when the man who bought it tried to tear it down he had to take a chainsaw to it because he couldn't get it down without one,” she said.

Even if a homeowner chooses to go the traditional route and build using the old methods, there are still hurdles.

“At the time when my great-grandfather built his house with trunneling, it certainly wasn't uncommon, but the most traditional way to deal with the wind was to employ sod roofs and maintain windbreaks. It's an old skill, and I'm not sure who would still be able to do either,” notes Samms.

Pearce understands the difficulties of merely adopting inspection requirements similar to other provinces. It means more jobs, but also more expense which will fall to the homeowners. And regulations that work elsewhere aren’t necessarily suited to the strong winds that typically batter the southwest coast of Newfoundland.

“I’m never putting siding back on my house. I’m going back to shakes or wood siding. It’s better. Our weather here is made for wood siding, not plastic,” maintains Pearce, who has already twice replaced siding on his house and has had enough. “I’m a journeyman carpenter. I know how to put on siding.”

Insufficient

Samms is of the same opinion about current regulations being insufficient.

“It’s because provincial building codes aren't good enough, and that's what people are using today to guide their construction and repair decisions,” she said.

If the government ever plans on drafting or changing regulations surrounding home building, Pearce has an idea about how to ensure they’re actually appropriate. 

Because the siding keeps getting ripped off Pearce’s house, he plans on installing wood instead. - J. R. Roy
Because the siding keeps getting ripped off Pearce’s house, he plans on installing wood instead. - J. R. Roy

“They should be putting a couple of small buildings up there (at the Wreckhouse), 10 x 10 buildings, do all kinds of different siding on the outside, different windows,” begins Pearce.

He suggests letting the elements have at the structures to determine what rules should be in place. Regulators, insurance adjustors, consumers, suppliers and manufacturers would all be able to have a first-hand look at what would work in Newfoundland and what wouldn’t.

“Have light and power run to it too, to see how much it costs to keep that building going,” says Pearce. “Let’s put it on the building out there for a year, see how it’s going to last.”

Pearce believes that regulations more appropriate to the climate would help reduce insurance claims and help people realize that just because something is cheaper now, it’s not necessarily going to be cheaper in the long run.

“There’s so much to choose to put in our houses now, that people don’t know,” he said.

Pearce recounts an incident about an inspector who immediately ripped down plastic insulation after the inspection was complete. He doesn’t fault the inspector, as Pearce also prefers an alternative, but what works doesn’t always suit what is required.

“If you don’t follow government rules you don’t get insurance on your house,” notes Pearce. “When I was doing government grants (for clients), we had to take the shakes off the house to put on the siding.”

But in order to get insurance, the government required the shakes come off and lighter plastic siding go on. Pearce did as required, finding no rot or fault with the shakes he removed, and admits he doesn’t grasp the logic.

“Now their house is already sealed. Why take off a coat and put on a lighter jacket when you can put one on over it?”

Pearce says he has done it time and again for houses in Port aux Basques.

“To me it made their houses colder,” he said.

When it came to building homes, Pearce often tries to advise homeowners that their choices, while compliant with existing regulations, were unlikely to suffice. Usually the final decision came down to cost.

“We’ve got to get more prepared for the wind.”


Municipalities have the last say

In response to the current provincial building codes, the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment stated that it is up to towns to determine whether or not regulations need adjusting.

Lynn Robinson, media relations manager for the department, issued the following statement via email. 

Port aux Basques town manager Leon MacIsaac states that given the region’s strong winds, higher standards may be warranted.
Port aux Basques town manager Leon MacIsaac states that given the region’s strong winds, higher standards may be warranted.

“Municipal councils are required to adopt the National Building Code of Canada under the Municipalities Act, 1999. Under subsection 414(1)(d) of the Municipalities Act, 1999, a council shall make regulations controlling and respecting the design, construction, alteration, reconstruction, minimum lot size and occupancy of buildings and classes of buildings and the demolition, removal, relocation and maintenance of buildings. In accordance with subsection 414(3), In making regulations under paragraph (1)(d), a council shall adopt the National Building Code of Canada and supplements or amendments to that Code and may adopt standards which exceed the requirements of that Code and its supplements and amendments. This section of the Act is available online here: https://www.assembly.nl.ca/legislation/sr/statutes/m24.htm#414_.”

Port aux Basques town manager Leon MacIssac responded to inquiries via email.

“It does state that municipalities may adopt changes which exceed the National Building Code, but I am unaware of any which have made stricter standards. The process to have that made, with provincial approvals and referrals to the NBC agency, would be a long process that I don’t believe anyone has undertaken to date.”

Continued MacIsaac, “That being said, higher standards would be warranted given the storm conditions we’ve experienced. A number of improvements that builders should be implementing as standard issue are hurricane anchors for roof truss and wall systems, hurricane nailing on all roof shingles, use of heavy grade sheathing and sheathing clips on wall systems, cross bracing and increased nailing on siding materials would all help minimize damage.”


RELATED LINK: https://www.gulfnews.ca/news/regional/central-newfoundland-homes-rocked-by-windstorm-263749/


Rosalyn.roy@gulfnews.ca

Twitter: @tygerlylly

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