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Olympic village hit with another negative wave

June 28th, 2009 · 32 Comments

The Olympic village just can’t catch a break. The project that everyone thought would be a showpiece for the has turned into the construction project that everyone loves to report bad news on.

The latest is this story in the Province, with complaints about the building practices going on. It’s not unheard of on major projects for the drywallers to get ahead of the pipe-wrappers. In another project, no one would care. But now the village’s developers are going to have to take special measures to prove that there are only a few cases of this on site, not whole walls ful.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Um, sorry, dearheart…from personal experience, drywallers would NOT get ahead of the plumbers or wrappers, as they’d be fired pretty quick.

    And no one would care if it was another project???

    Ever had to pay to tear open a wall to straighten out piping issues, floor by floor?

    This is a monumental screw up.

    Clearly, someone isn;t paying attention.

    Glad to see you’re enjoying France.

  • shepsil

    Leaky condos were a result of poor building practices. In recent years, high rise towers have been reporting that concrete is deteriorating due to moisture issues, some condo projects are on their third remediation/repair, because the first two were not done properly.

    So, welcome to the wet coast!

    The moisture problems we have here, are generally speaking, the same as the rest of the world that uses the same building practices. The difference is our cool and very damp climate increases the intensity of these issues.

    So is this insulation & pipe issue going to be a problem in the future? Only time and/or some proper building inspections will tell.

    Today, leaky condos are an ongoing problem and will continue to be so until our building industry matures and the powers that be, finally make it impossible to build deficient structures.

    Before they were just leaky condos, now they will have the “Olympic” cache.

  • Larry McLaren

    Hi Frances

    Here’s an interesting story that appeared in the Asian Times Online a few days back…

  • Jordan

    CKNW had Shell Busey on earlier and after looking at the same photos, he’s saying they’re gas pipes, not water.

    We’ll see I guess.

  • gmgw

    shepsil said:
    “Today, leaky condos are an ongoing problem and will continue to be so until our building industry matures and the powers that be, finally make it impossible to build deficient structures.”

    Uh, shepsil, maybe you haven’t noticed, but for the past two decades Vancouver has been in the throes of one of the biggest building booms in Canadian history… given that, and given that we weren’t exactly a ghost town even long before that, how long will it be, in your judgment, before our building industry “matures”?!?

    I will certainly agree with the second half of your statement. If shoddy construction methods and borderline criminal negligence on the part of contractors and cost-cutting developers can be blamed for the leaky condo phenomenon, the blame must equally be shared by regulators and lawmakers at both the provincial and civic levels, who are charged with overseeing the industry of which both developers and contractors are a part.

    But I’ll throw another ingredient into this foul stew, at the risk of offending some of the laissez-faire libertarian types in here, an ingredient that never seems to get mentioned: An awful lot of those leaky condos, in fact likely the vast majority, were built by non-union labour. I spent a number of years in the 70s working in the unionized construction industry in the Vancouver area. I also saw the inside of a few non-union sites. The difference in quality of work; in the pride, professionalism, and skill levels of the workers; in site safety; and in the overall standard of performance was like night and day between the two. In the 1970s the construction trades in BC had not only a carefully-structured apprenticeship program in place that guaranteed top-flight workers in the more advanced construction fields like ironwork and carpentry but also a comprehensive and extensive training program for those performing lower-skilled jobs: concrete pourers, carpenter’s helpers, bricklayers, waterproofers, and so on.

    In 1975 you could walk around downtown Vancouver, look into any large construction site, and see the union label on hardhats everywhere on the site. By the late 1980s you would have been hard-pressed to find even one site downtown (and elsewhere) that was unionized. And today? You’re more likely to encounter a sasquatch.

    What happened? Simple: It began with a non-union contractor from Abbotsford, Kerkhoff Construction, who in 1974 won the contract to build the Sandman Inn on Georgia, being developed by the Gagliardi brothers, sons of Flyin’ Phil. Kerkhoff hired non-union workers exclusively for the job. The construction unions recognized this as a foot in the door, a harbinger of potential doom, quite possibly with the quiet collusion of the then provincial government, with whom the Gagliardis had solid connections and which had no love of unions. I was working on the construction of the new CBC building across the street at that time and frequently joined in organized lunchtime information pickets of the Sandman site. We used to look down into the Sandman excavation from the CBC building and actually see workers– who were being paid half our wage rate– moving about the site without even wearing hardhats, something that was absolutely unheard of on a unionized site.

    Anyway, to make a long story a lot shorter, we lost. The Sandman was built by non-unionized labour. (They also carefully ensured that all their suppliers– concrete companies, everything– were also non-union). And in the ensuing years the floodgates opened wider and wider, with the active aid of the CLRA (Construction Labour Relations Association, the contractors’ umbrella group). By the time I left construction in 1980 (due to a back injury) the writing was on the wall. More and more contractors were hiring on an “open shop” basis– essentially, to ensure that none of those troublemaking, pesky union workers would be on site. The final nails in the coffin of unionized construction in the Lower Mainland were the Pennyfarthing development in False Creek South in the early 80s, followed by Expo 86, which Jack Munro’s good friend, Premier Bill Bennett, decreed would be built by non-union labour. And that was that.

    To give you an example of the kind of construction (sub)standards of which I speak: We were among the first to live in a 103-unit building that opened in the mid-80s. That first winter, the building sprang so many leaks it was as if we’d been invaded by termites. Some investigation revealed that the contractor had engaged a waterproofing sub-contractor who had decided to save some money by cutting the amount of waterproofing compound used in the building’s construction to 50% of what was required (who knows where the inspectors were?). When we tried to sue the sub-contractor they abruptly went out of business, standard practice in an industry overrun with con men and crooks. The main contractor and the architect denied all knowledge and responsibility. You can bet that, as usual, the sub-contractor simply re-incorporated, under a different name, a month or two later. You can also bet that most denizens of leaky condos in this town can tell similar stories.

    Today, as the nauseatingly triumphalist website of the ICBA (Independent Contractor’s and Businees’s Association) will tell you, 80% of construction in this province is non-union. And to that stat I will add that probably 100% of the leaky condos in this city and in this province, most of which were built since the early 80s, were built by non-unionized labour, working for contractors who are under tight deadlines and budgets and thus have vast experience in cutting every corner imaginable (and concealing it) in order to save money and time. And even if any of those hapless on-site, non-union workers were conscientious enough to want to blow the whistle on something like faulty insulation of water pipes, the fact that they would likely not only be fired instantly for doing so but possibly quietly blackballed within the “independent” construction industry all but ensures that it wouldn’t happen. And inexcusably shoddy work like that outlined in the Province story will probably continue to happen– until the regulatory bodies in this province and city decide to at long last get serious about enforcing their mandates. I, for one, am not holding my breath.

  • T W

    These are risks faced in an accelerated construction schedule. Which is why lenders often ask for compliance audits to ensure only limited future litigation risk. Did they, and did the city officials overseeing the project from the start insist on such audits ? The world awaits.

  • Building professionals sign “Letters of Assurance” before the BP is awarded.

    One of their responsibilities is to inspect installations etc as “ready for close-in.”

    Dry wallers ahead of installers? Uh, someone is asleep at the switch . . . It’s a big deal . . .

  • Fred

    great story . . . based on a rumor by an upset union.

    Unions are ALWAYS honest and looking out for the public’s best interest.

  • “Unions are ALWAYS honest and looking out for the public’s best interest.” I assume. Fred, you are being sardonic!

    Depending how far along they are this could, indeed, be a big deal.

    Even scare mongering could cause a panic, to wit: we don’t know how long this has been going on, ergo to be save we’d better strip the building: huh!

    Surely, there was continuing over sight with records kept? That’s how it goes on my projects.

  • spartikus

    great story . . . based on a rumor by an upset union.

    It’s a rumour…with hundreds of photos taken, but I digress…

  • T W

    While the motives of whistleblowers can be suspect, the fact that in this case the whistle blowers are prepared to endure the withering comments of the development industry says something significant. But I will say that if this is so significamt, what took them so long to blow the whistle when they might perhaps have avoided a lot of extra and perhaps not needed inspections?

    An interesting point is whether the whistle should have been blown at City Hall or at the site itself. Did the developer, however classified, have an onsite location for expressions of concern or is the Vancouver development industry so backward that they do not incorporate on site mediation and dispute resolution to head off any expensive retrofits.

    What is the answer?

  • shepsil

    Good Morning GMGW, Vancouver will have a mature building industry, at the very least, when we no longer have people loosing their homes because they cannot pay for their mortgage and the remediation work required for their leaky homes.

    This is a problem that will have been recognized when certain standards are universally enforced. I too have spent the better part of my working life in said industry. I have not pointed my finger at any sector of the industry, but all sectors have a part to play in maturing.

    Mainly, what we need is effective leadership in encouraging/forcing all parties to act accordingly. We have the building science knowledge needed to build to a higher standard, now we have to do it. There will be a cost increase per sq.ft. built, but that would be paid for up front, instead of by default when a structure starts to fail.

  • What is all this ridiculous nonsense about Vancouver needing a “mature” building industry: that industry is as up to date and efficient as any.

    What Vancouver need desperately is a “mature” marketing industry: not speculation gone berserk, “sustainable”, “LEED” misinformation, self-serving, Bob Rennie’s taking prospects thru “The Olympic Village” concluding all will be well: how the hell does he know what the market will be in a couple of years?

    What Vancouver needs is a planning establishment that is responsive to realty and recognizes the need for integrity when it is thrust in its face . . .

    What Vancouver needs is an planning academia establishment that eschews burnt umber proboscides . . .

    What Vancouver needs is a ownership diversified media who will tell the truth . . . when that same media declares real estate agents to be “city builders” know, for sure, the town is in trouble . . . Aw get lost . . .

    God Bless Frances she’s hip to it . . .

  • If loud-mouthed Larry (err, Senator Campbell) isn’t worried I’m not worried.

    This is rapidly becoming a comedy routine. We’ve got Shel Busey, all round handyman, (excess moisture in the bathroom and getting out stubborn stains are his speciality as far as I can tell) telling the trades that they don’t know a gas line from a water line. I haven’t seen the pictures but let’s give the trade guys some credit.

    With infrared technology, remote cameras and technology I’ve probably never heard of they should be able to determine if or how much of a problem this really is. If it’s widespread I suspect they would cut open the pipe chases, insulate the pipes and patch up the walls. The industry is pretty skilled at this as they’ve re-piped practically every single multi-res building in the lower mainland that’s more than 15 years old.

  • Blaffergassted

    R. Louie wants the developer to do some inspections and report back.

    Sounds like city hall approves of construction as a self regulating industry.

    Sort of like policing, eh?

  • shepsil

    Urbanismo, Your idea of leaky condo repairs being done not once, not twice, but three times by a mature building industry is laughable at best. When the powers that be have to bring in the biggest blowhard of them all, Shel Busey, to refute certain claims, well you know someone is trying to make sure this pipes & insulation story doesn’t go anywhere. Regardless of its’ merit.

  • Len B

    The pictures I saw on the news were definitely water pipes. I don’t know which ones Shell saw but I’d like to think he’s keeping up with present water piping products and techniques. But then again maybe he’s not.

    Earlier this year my condo had all the hot and cold piping replaced and from the pictures, they looked very similar as I watched the work in progress.

    The insulation work on our pipes was completed in two phases, first by the plumber fitting the pipes, then another plumber coming in and finishing the insulation job – then ensuring that everything was done to code.

    If I were to compare the two scenarios, from the pictures shown it looks as though only the fitting plumber added some minor insulation while the balance was forgotten. Maybe “joe the plumber” didn’t show up one day and it was simply forgotten.

    Does anyone know which mechanical company has the contract for the OV?

    The union’s assertion on how these were done possibly leading to condensation and future mold problems is highly plausible.

    Further, inspections do not occur in every suite only select suites, so it’s likely the inspector didn’t see the suites in question and approved said work from suites done correctly.

    Penny Ballum’s comments on the news last night were a good sign she shouldn’t be in that job. Blame the previous admin all you want, the current one is making their own mark on this project – and it isn’t a good one.

  • Mr. Shepsil, Sir, I have practiced architecture in BC sionce 1952: mercifully I have never been sued nor have I had a “leaky condo” crisis.

    I avoid building code approved new fangles materials. I believe confict of interest on the code committee is one source of the leaky condo debacle. But of course you will never read that in the media.

    Over enthusiatic manufacturers sitting on the BC committees approve their own materials awaiting on-site testing; that is one way to explain moisture penetration.

    Acrylic based stucco and oriented stran-board are among the culprits. Building moves in differential temperatures, acrylic cracks moisture penetrates, the OSB turns to mush and, mira, lawyers are forever happy.

    Moisture-in/moisture out has been my motto for years. Vent all cavities etc

    Please Sire a little more respect for someone who knows what he is talking about . . .

  • No name provided

    I can not speak on this matter offically, hence the username.
    There is no code requirement for insulation on waterpipes. This whole story is a non-issue published by a tabloid paper that didn’t even bother to get a second opinion from within the industry. I’m glad the Sun didn’t run with this story they were always the best of the two dailies we do get.
    The only pipes that are normally insulated are ones that run along exterior walls and usally the first couple of feet from where they enter the building. That is all, take a look at your own pipes in your home and see if they are insulated.
    Insulating them does provide some engery efficiency but even then there is a point diminishing returns and it’s normal for even LEED projects not to have pipes completely insulated.
    Another problem with this story is that all plumbing and electrical work must be signed off by a certified inspector before drywalling can ever begin, it is extremely naive to beleive a project could be drywalled over w/o inspection.
    Another issue is that today most piping used is in fact plastic or another synthnic material which in itself is an insulator thus not requiring further insulation.

  • Frothingham

    Kudos to Urbanisom. He states correctly what the issue is simple and to the point: moisture in/ moisture out.

    And leaky Condos _will_ have to be repaired 1,2 or 3 times as long as that simple point is not addressed. And don’t for one moment think that today’s condos built 2001> won’t be leaky in a few years, ‘casue they will be! Developers have wised up, they form shell companies, disband them after each project.. no warranties to uphold except the simple weak ones the gov now imposes on them. The BC and Municipal governments have not regulated Building codes well enough to protect condo buyers. So sad…

  • Joseph Jones

    Today’s special Vancouver lexicon:

    Affordable: Build it just as cheap and fast as possible (OSB is good stuff, like Urbanismo says – and even better when you put it right underneath an asphalt shingle roof)
    Sustainable: Multiple remediations generate an ongoing profit stream for successive shell companies while buildings rot their way to demolition
    Green: The color of moss and slime, and the metaphorical color of the money that just keeps on rolling in through the whole cycle
    Liveable: What your dwelling and city may seem to you, until you contract something fatal (mould, offgassing, etc.) or get beaned to oblivion by a self-detaching chunk of deficient concrete

  • T W


    If it is not Code, is it best practice and therefore, who defines best practice?

  • not running for mayor

    Maybe Michael Gellar can chime in, as someone that has construction expertise his opinion would be worth a bit more then most people on this subject.

  • not running for mayor

    Anyone have a link to the building code section that is apparently in breach?

  • shepsil

    Senior Urbanismo, Why don’t we call it what it should have been, a “rain screen”. As you must know “rain screens” if properly done, would have prevented most leaky condo problems. As for the building code, it is quite simply a “minimum standard”. I agree we need a better code with higher standards and enforcement with better teeth. But alas, we have the ever present art of compromise and the political reality of today.

  • Frothingham

    @shepsil. Sir you need to defer to Mr Urbanismo. his knowledge and experience is undeniable.

    Leaky Condos?… It’s a long term industry in Vancouver. Bet on it.

    As for the Olympic Village, there were many who were saying that due to the overly long delays in starting the “village” it would be rife with long-term problems due to compressed building time-lines…

  • MB

    I thank God every day for my 2-foot wide soffits.

  • Blaffergassted

    So – if not self-regulated, does this mean that the construction biz is un-regulated???

    Those are indeed two different things!
    (But only in theory, ya know!)

  • shepsil

    Frothingham. We have now come full circle and back to my point that the construction industry in Vancouver is immature. That includes developers, the building code and bureaucrats that cannot stand up to pressures from builders and material suppliers.

    In your own words: “…It’s a long term industry in Vancouver.” That is only because this industry is so immature.

    As for deferring, if Senior Urbanismo got off his high horse, he might see a different response. I also have spent the better part of my life in the construction world and have ample understanding of it and how it could be improved.

  • As I regain consciousness from that debiliting fall off my high horse may I reiterate:

    LETTERS OF ASSURANCE commit all participating building professionals to regular inspections: records are kept.

    So when OV melts into FC by Xmas, as is that ridiculous twisted thing across the creek, we will all have blame for Xmas dinner . . .

    Now may we please turn our attention to the thugs who are ripping us off . . .

  • In response to ‘not running for mayor’, I did check with a contractor who has built a number of buildings for me regarding pipe insulation, and he replied as follows:

    “No name provided’ makes valid statements on most points . In general the insulation of piping is dictated by code and good practice and as such the mechanical specifications outline which piping is to be insulated and which is not.
    Not surprisingly, piping placed in locations subject to freezing are insulated and in some cases are electrically heat traced to prevent them from freezing.

    On the inside of a building in protected areas, in general the size of piping and its location dictate whether it is insulated or not . Larger supply lines that distribute water to each suite are generally insulated; hot water mains are insulated to prevent heat loss, while cold water mains are insulated to prevent them from sweating .

    Generally the larger supply water lines come to a header system within the suite and water is then distributed by smaller diameter piping to each fixture. This smaller piping 3/4″ to 1/2″ is generally plastic and not insulated.”

    So, once again, there is no simple answer. However my personal view is that the Vancouver Province story was unnecessarily sensationalized, and I did notice a very small item in this Sunday’s paper indicating that the developer was submitting a report addressing the complaints. However, I’m willing to bet we will not see the following headline:




    I suspect Vancouver taxpayers will be directly affected by the ultimate sales performance of the Olympic Village units, so if the report to the city does in fact demonstrate that there is nothing to fear, I do hope the Mayor and City Councillors will do their best to ensure that the word gets out. Because right now, most people, whether in favour of the Olympics or not, do believe that there is likely a problem with the construction. After all, they read it in the newspaper.