Tearin down the house
July 8, 2006 9:09 PM   Subscribe

I bumped into my neighbour the other day and he asked to meet with us and his neighbours on the other side. Apparently it is a legal requirement in Ontario that when you undertake serious renovations that you discuss it with the neighbours. So I asked him what he planned on doing. His response: we're going to demolish the existing house and build a new one.

In the long run this is nothing but a good thing. We live in a good neighbourhood and his house is the ugliest on the street, so a good job should be good for me (we'll sell in 4-5 years) and everyone else on the street I suppose.

But in the short term what kinds of things can/should we be checking into when we meet with the owner, builder, and architect tomorrow? We have dogs, so I'm going to need assurances that the fence between our houses is never breached. As well, I suppose that they'll need some kind of insurance in case some activity related to the building affects our (100 year old stone) foundation. Can we make requests about the starting time in the morning (beyond what bylaws allow) for power tools or something like that?

What else should I be looking at in this situation?
posted by mikel to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, in the good neighbor sense, you might make sure that provisions are drawn into any agreement regarding use of your power and or water, since they will undoubtedly be shut off at the neighbor's site for most of the duration of the project. Either arrange payment for use of your utilities (for example, water from a garden hose or power via extension cords) or make sure it's understood that they are off-limits. Construction crews have no compunction about using whatever they need, and it should be discussed up front.
posted by pjern at 9:43 PM on July 8, 2006

It sounds like you don't want to be inconvenienced, and that may not be possible. There will be noise pollution, as you've noted, and parking on the street will be harder to get in the daytime.

If I were you, I would want to know when the project will start and end. The completion of the home likely won't be on time, but it would be nice to know when the inconvenience will be over.

The owners of the home most likely would take out insurance to protect your home; the general contractor would have that already (most likely). So you should still ask about that.

To add to Solopsist's suggestion, you might want to ask about trash.

It sounds like you don't care to influence the house design (which is nice), but you might want to ask if their windows will line up your bathroom window with only 5' between them giving them the perfect view of your naked carcass as you are about to step into the shower.

You can make requests about starting or stopping times, but remember that the crew that is annoying you may be the son-in-law of a carpenter who is working for a guy that is under contract to the general contractor. In other words, to them, you (potentially) are that unreasonable neighbor. So the GC might say that they won't start before 9am, but he might tell the subcontractor to get it done in three days.

But, as you say, it is only short term, and it'll benefit you in the long run.
posted by Monday at 10:36 PM on July 8, 2006

Our next door neighbor recently demolished and built a house. It's finally finished and probably good for our property value, but it was horrible while it was happening. Our neighbor did not let us in on her plans, and ripped down a mutual fence without mentioning it to us. She also, at one point, set up scaffolding in our yard (the properties are very close together).

You write that you "need assurances that the fence is never breached" . . . but note that if your neighbor needs access to your property to maintain (or possibly build) his house, he has a right to it. At least, that's what the city told us when we complained about the scaffolding that suddenly appeared in our yard. If the houses are close together, you might ask if he's going to need to enter your property at all.
posted by Badmichelle at 1:08 AM on July 9, 2006

Best answer: Are there 100 year old trees in the area to go with the 100 year old foundations? Ask about the future of the trees.

I'd also ask if there will be sewer work, as that involves tearing up street/sidewalks. Also ask about upgrades to underground gas/power hookups and any potential disruptions to your sidewalks or service.

As a bonus, if they are upgrading infrastructure (such as moving from septic to sewer), you might be able to upgrade your own infrastructure at minimal cost. We are getting a cheap sewer hookup this way.

Also, does the insurance cover your lawn and your landscaping? Make sure they will repair damage to any part of your property, not just the house.

Dust and debris are also major issues with construction, but I don't know how much you can do about this. Your car will be brown. Ask what they will be doing to keep the site safe and relatively free from debris during construction. Will they be doing anything for dust control? Will you have any recourse if you puncture a tire on a nail left in the street?

The trash and the street parking points are also important - you don't want them to park their dumpster in your parking spot if possible.
posted by crazycanuck at 3:17 AM on July 9, 2006

Not just home renovations, but also fences.
posted by GoodJob! at 4:14 AM on July 9, 2006

Best answer: When a builder does residential construction in the US, the bank from which he obtains financing for the construction typically requires what is called "Builder's Risk" insurance, which basically covers anything that happens to the structure upon which the builder works. This does not cover adjacent structures. W/R/T the builder's insurance, do not make *any* assumptions. Make sure that damage his people or subcontractors might do to your property is covered, and make him be specific -- it's like the tree removal people, you have to make sure they are covered, preferably by laying eyes on their actual insurance.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:15 AM on July 9, 2006

From what I've seen in the Washington, DC area I'd ask about how big a house they are building. Some people in the area will buy a small house on a small lot and tear it down to build a huge house on a small lot. If the other houses are small, it can look kind of funny to have just one huge house in the middle of the neighborhood. Visually it can make the lawns of all the houses nearby look a lot smaller.
posted by jefeweiss at 8:08 AM on July 9, 2006

Response by poster: Great - thanks for all the advice. I'm going to meet the neighbours right now with a long list of things:

- use of hydro or water (please, no)
- check into fence issues (notice of changes, please try not to screw with it cause our dogs might escape)
- dumpster location? (this shouldn't be a huge problem because we have parking off a lane in the back and the dumpster will likely be in the front)
- Power tools / heavy machinery usage (just figure out how this will be handled, notification would be nice)
- insurance (ask for followup to view the policy and provisions for verification)
- design - size - window placement - setback front and back - gutters, etc. (this shouldn't be a huge problem because we live in an area zoned with what's called a Heritage Overlay, meaning that any new house must occupy the same footprint as the previous house on the property)
- tree and provisions for accidental damage etc.
- opportunity to check and validate building permits etc.
posted by mikel at 10:31 AM on July 9, 2006

Regarding the starting time concern, I was going to say, keep in mind that the earlier they start, the earlier they finish, but I assumed there was a stricter limit to the total amount of hours based on noise reduction requirements, instead, if I understand this correctly, it appears the limit is between 7am and 10pm Monday to Saturday, 9am to 10pm on Sundays (see under "CONSTRUCTION", point 7).

I really doubt you can have any say on that. They can't change their work hours only to do you a favour if the law allows them to make noise for 13 hours a day. They may not actually be forced to work all that time (this is Canada, not Dubai, after all, right?), and they may likely be more eager to start early and finish early every day, but you never know.

I just really hope you already get up before or around 7am and are out most of the day, otherwise, if you work from home or are otherwise spending a good chunk of your day at home, I'd strongly suggest you find a way to avoid that, whatever it takes, because the noise will drive you crazy.

Same for the dust. Keep all windows closed when they're working, and forget about cleaning them until after it's all over, it wouldn't be worth it. Also, if they have to redo the foundations, prepare yourself for mild earth-shaking effect!

None of this is likely to cause damage to your building (provided they know what they're doing and no accidents happen). But it will very likely cause temporary damage to your nerves.

So, since you can't do much about the practicalities other than what previous commenters already suggested about making sure you're covered and discussing everything in advance, focus on reducing the impact on your peace of mind.
posted by funambulist at 10:32 AM on July 9, 2006

PS - sorry if this is obvious, and you've likely consulted this already, but from the link I posted there's also a special site on the Ontario building code with all the specific regulations, including those on fences. This will probably give you a better idea of what to expect and check with your neighbours.
posted by funambulist at 10:48 AM on July 9, 2006

More about trees, that I would want to know, were I in your place:

1) Are they planning to knock down any large trees that may be shading my house currently? If so, I would like to start planning for the larger heating and cooling bills that I'll be getting. It would be extra cool if I could prevent my neighbor from downing that tree, but I imagine that's not an option, if it's on his property.

2) If there are large trees on my property, with branches that hang over my neighbor's property, will the crews need to cut branches down in order to get construction equipment into my neighbor's yard? And can I prevent this if that will be a problem for me?

Also, I would interested in how the site will be secured so curious neighborhood kids don't go falling into the basement or stepping on nails. (Obviously, control of my own kid is up to me, but I would imagine the owners of the construction site must bear some responsibility for making the site safe when no workers are present, so I would be curious how that will be handled.)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:07 PM on July 9, 2006

I don't know if this is possible/too rude, but try to make sure that they have all permits correctly filed and that they have budgeted a reasonable amount of money for the completion of the project. Where I live, major construction projects often get started and sit for months, idle, for one of the two above reasons, which is damn annoying and inconvenient.

Second making sure that they're not planning to build an extra couple of stories on that house. I've seen some crazy stuff done to keep within the footprint but still build a rowhome-McMansion.
posted by desuetude at 2:51 PM on July 9, 2006

Regarding the starting time concern, I was going to say, keep in mind that the earlier they start, the earlier they finish

I'm under the impression that most construction workers are desperately trying to avoid working during the hottest part of the day.

Have some compassion: let them choose their own hours.

Besides which, the better they're treated, the quicker they'll be done.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:05 PM on July 9, 2006

Response by poster: After the meeting my conclusion for now is that my neighbour is a very nice guy but that it's extremely unlikely that he could ever get a permit for the work he wants to do. Even if he could somehow get it done, it will take at least a year and we'll have a formal requirement to sign off on it.
posted by mikel at 8:00 PM on July 9, 2006

Take photos of your property: house, driveway, trees, fence, backyard, foundation, etc. Take pictures of his house from your property. It'll be good in case something seriously goes wrong and you need visual proof of the damage before and after.
posted by KathyK at 6:07 AM on July 10, 2006

Just another thing to keep in mind for future searchers in similar situation: lead paint. If the house/wing/etc that's being torn down has lead paint (even if it's UNDER later coats of paint), the contractor must be super-scrupulous about containment. In some areas there are strict laws governing what they need to do -- eg, how workers must be dressed, whole structure must be surrounded by a giant "bag" to keep lead paint dust in, etc.

Years ago we lived next to a house under construction. The contractor was a fly-by-night guy who ignored all these rules. Lead paint dust was in the air around the site for three months -- it built up in a thick layer on the windowsills etc of our house. Our downstairs neighbors had a toddler who started showing signs of lead poisoning during this time, and she had to be sent away to stay with grandparents while the parents ended up suing the contractor. Nightmare all around.

If it's a heritage house, and he's going to do some substantial work on it -- even if not tear it down -- check out the paint and be sure neighbors with kids are monitoring how the contractor handles it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:16 PM on July 10, 2006

« Older Help us get our freak on!   |   Full disclosure on all characters, please. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.