Know cottage requirements before building
QI have just purchased land in the RM of Gimli and will be looking to clear and build on it, if not this year then next. We are only looking at a 900-squarefoot cottage. The problem I’m having is that every foundation person is quoting me about $16,000 to put in a pile foundation. So, maybe I’m asking for the wrong thing. I don’t need an insulated crawl space, as I will only use the property in the summer. So, after reading a previous article of yours, it sounds like I should be asking for quotes on a simple concrete spread footing. I had hoped to have the beam supported on piles, thinking that four or five piles shouldn’t cost that much. What am I missing and can you suggest anyone I should work with?
Thanks, Brian Goodman Answer: Building a cottage on previously undeveloped land, from scratch, will afford you several advantages but will also come with a few challenges. The style and cost of the foundation for your new building will depend on several factors, including requirements of the building officials in the municipality. When embarking on new construction, whether it is a relatively simple cottage project like yours or an energy-efficient home, the first place to start is with the plans. Ensuring you have a good house plan, whether done by an architect, from a stock drawing source, or from an architectural technologist, is important. The plan should not only satisfy your desires for form and function, it should be well suited to the new area and lot you are building on. This may include a site visit by the designer, but should also include an evaluation of the grading and soil conditions. This last item may be critical in determining the type of foundation employed. In addition to the physical plan, a trip to the local rural municipality office will be in order to enquire about building permits and requirements. Each RM may choose to adopt the National Building Code (NBC) in its entirety, modify certain areas, or increase some requirements. Finding out ahead of time may save you major grief, and money, before finalizing plans that may not comply with the wishes of the building officials in that area. One example of this may be the commonly used styles of foundations. For many years, and with varying degrees of success, summer homes in the area you are building have been built on simple foundations. These initially may have included post and pad foundations, with many owners upgrading to a spread footing on grade foundation. While this may have been acceptable in the past, that style of foundation may or may not be acceptable anymore. Pouring a spread footing on grade may be a reasonably good support for some portions of the RM of Gimli, due to sandy soil conditions, but may not be suitable for other areas with clay or swampy conditions. In those locations, the footing could easily sink, causing major settlement issues for the new building. That is why the exact location of your proposed summer home is so critical. If the area is found to have poor soil conditions, poured concrete piers (piles) may be the only good option. The next issue is found within the building codes themselves. Historically, many municipalities have allowed summer homes to be constructed without proper foundations and insulation. That has drastically changed, as many are requiring all new construction to meet the current standards for year-round use. That will include an insulated and heated basement or crawl space, walls, and attic, up to the current levels required in the NBC. Contrary to your desires, you will likely need to construct your new cottage on a grade beam, to allow for an insulated crawl space, whether you choose piles or not. This is indeed a superior choice to an insulated open floor, which would be cold and would not accommodate water pipes and other mechanical items located below the floor. How deep the grade beam should be, and what it is supported on, will depend on a combination of soil conditions, RM requirements, and your budget. While the cost of the concrete piers for your foundation seems high, that may be reduced by increasing the strength of the floor support system in your plans to minimize the number required. Increasing the size and style of the main beams and/or floor joists can minimize the number of poured concrete piers you will need. They may also have to increase in size or depth accordingly, but some savings may be realized by this method. The contractors you have contacted may be using minimal building practices for their estimates, rather than engineered floor systems, which may allow larger spans between supports. While it may seem like a fairly simple process to build an uninsulated cottage only for summer use, that may no longer be possible in many regions. Planning for a modern, energy-efficient summer home built to today’s standards will prevent a huge surprise. This process starts at the planning stage with a visit to a designer and the local RM to determine what will be required. Also, hiring a consulting engineer to evaluate the drawings and soil conditions should be the final piece of the puzzle in determining whether a foundation incorporating deep concrete piers is worth the additional cost. Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.