How to Trust Your Contractor

Note: While this article is focusing mainly on commercial/multi-unit properties/projects, the advice you’ll find below likely fits for all types of construction.

the most common advice

When I first thought of doing this article I did a quick search “How do I trust my contractor” to see what comes up. As I suspected, there were a lot of articles with the 5 basic things to do when looking for a contractor:

  1. Read reviews – read the good and the bad, assume the real experience is somewhere in the middle
  2. Get proof of insurances – if they hesitate … run!
  3. See how long they’ve been around – longevity isn’t a guarantee, but it is an indicator
  4. Interview them – think of it like as if you would if hiring an employee (essentially you are).
  5. Ask for references – I’m a little skeptical about this one. We’ve had employees turn out not so great even with glowing references so take them in stride.

Can you trust your gut?

One article even mentioned “trust your gut” as a handy piece of advice. Oh if only that were enough! The hard truth is, while these things are helpful, they still don’t ensure a smooth project or relationship with your contractor. Like any good relationship, it takes a bit of time to build trust.

Here are our 5 Ways to Get to Trust Your Contractor.

  1. Know your building code: You don’t need to know it in depth but it’s good to have a general knowledge of minimum requirements for your building/property.
  2. Know your building/property, then walk your prospective contractor through it. It’s easy to be bamboozled if you are completely unaware of what’s in your building and don’t at least have a working knowledge of the systems.
  3. Let them know how you work: If you have a work flow process for work orders, quotes, approvals or payments, let your contractor know what that process is and what you need from them to support it.
  4. Understand the difference between a contractor, an engineer, an architect and a designer. While your contractor may have a flair for design or in-depth knowledge of structural or mechanical aspects of your building, they may not be the best person to make some of the most important decisions for you. With that said, it is a great idea to have your contractor meet with these professionals – we’ve found that architects create pretty things that may not work on a practical level, and engineers can often over-engineer your systems and seriously affect your budget – your contractor will be able to help you make the best decisions for the long run.
  5. Document your meetings / requirements. Let’s face it, most of us are super busy and ultra distracted these days; don’t let things slip. Make and share notes, have clear action items and ownership of work packages. If nothing is documented, it’s hard to know when or how work will be done, if your project is out of control or if it’s finished. Documentation can also save you from strained relationships and litigation. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!

The building/construction industry can be a bit intimidating and projects can be unnecessarily costly if you don’t first educate yourself – even just a little bit. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to have better conversations with your contractor, build trust with them faster and protect your investment for years to come.

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I Can Fix Anything But a Broken Heart

What Separates a Fix-it Guy from a Professional Handyman?

I remember back in the 80’s when I was subcontracting on a custom home project. On the same job, there was an older guy who was the wood trim sub-trade. His work was perfection! Once when we were talking, he turned and looked at me over his glasses and said, “You know George, I can fix anything but a broken heart.

That saying has stuck with me ever since. Sometimes I will be assessing a problem on a property or in a building and the saying comes back to me so real it’s like he’s standing by my side.

“No problem. I’ll take a look; I’m sure we can fix it.”

Does this sound familiar?

George HarriethaHello! My name is George and in 1979 after finishing high school I started my first Handyman Company, GH Services. All I had was a pickup truck, some tools, a little experience and a dream. My father, who was a great influence on me, was my teacher. We would spend countless hours in his shop building, fixing and talking. Once I started GH Services he would help me on projects like building fences, decks, and finishing basements in homes. I would never turn down an invitation to fix anything that was building or property related.

I advertised on the side of my truck and in the local papers. Eventually I hooked up with a property management company that specialized in multi-unit residential and commercial properties. After some time they hired me full time, gave me a pager, a truck with a plow, and a lawnmower. I still used my own tools though. During this time I also kept GH Services alive and completed small projects on weekends and evenings. What a wonderful time to be a fix-it guy!

Turning Pro

Darmax Inc. the company I now own came along after the property management company downsized in 1998. They still maintained their portfolio of properties, but I was no longer an employee. They hired me as a contractor to maintain their properties. This allowed me to grow a landscaping division of Darmax with snow removal, building maintenance, and renovations. Now I could seek new business and follow my dream of having the biggest and best Property Maintenance company in the country!

The journey continues to this day. I’m no longer just a guy with a truck full of tools running around trying to fix everything or anything that is put in front of me. Now, I’m a WE with more combined experience than I ever imagined possible. We’ve seen industry trends come and go and a shift in our business from strictly commercial work to include multi-unit residential work.

Do you need a professional handyman?

With the direction of Darmax Inc. shifting we are finding that the role of a property management is also shifting from deep knowledge of few properties to more general management of several properties. As a result, they can no longer be on site all the time and they rely more on people like us and any site staff for the deep knowledge and situation analysis. Whether on a big project or a small work order, they still need to know what is going on in a timely and accurate manner.

In addition to broad and deep knowledge of different types of properties and responsiveness, here are a few other things our clients count on that set a true professional handyman apart from the “fix-it guy with a truck and tools” type of handyman:

  • Insurance (5 million Liability)
  • WSIB coverage for all employees and owners (this is also known as workers compensation insurance in other areas).
  • Fall arrest/working at heights training
  • First Aid Training.

That’s it for now, I plan to write regularly to cover different areas of building renovations and  maintenance and relate some of my experiences – past and present – with you.

So for now remember “We can Fix anything but a broken heart.”

Insurance: Are You and Your Commercial Property Properly Covered?

Well, it’s that time of year here at Darmax Inc. … Insurance Renewals! We all go through it and while it seems as thrilling as a trip to the dentist, it is just as necessary. One thing that makes the renewal (or first purchase) process easier is to partner with an Insurance Broker who is trustworthy and easy to work with. As we were going through our process with the amazing team at Ostic Insurance here in Guelph, ON, I thought it might be fun to ask our Broker, Jim Hitchcock some questions for our Commercial Building Owner clients.

The Ostic Group

Let’s get to it!

Aside from the obvious trip & fall risks, what are some of the bigger claim items you see regularly for commercial properties?

Yes, trips, or slips and falls are the largest looming events that trigger liability claims. Lately the industry has seen an unprecedented number of claims from catastrophes such as fires and floods.

These claims affect all of us because the re-insurers (the ones who respond to the carriers) we work with are the same ones responding to the catastrophe claims around the world. The high volume of claims we’ve seen, even if the disaster doesn’t take place in our country, will have an affect in the Canadian marketplace. You’ll want to prepare for stiff increases in premiums for property owners in many sectors.

Are there any types of coverage that are often overlooked?

Unfortunately there are overlooked coverages all the time. Many commercial property owners make changes to their building or property that may seem small but they could lead to missing or improper coverage. For commercial property owners, equipment breakdown is one type of coverage that is often overlooked. Simply, any integral mechanical component that fails and has resulting damage to the building would fall in this category. For example, an electrical panel arcs and causes a fire, or a roof top air conditioner on a high rise fails in the middle of summer. These could all fall under equipment breakdown coverage.

We advise that you stay in touch with your Licensed Insurance Broker as things change in and around your building. It may not be a big deal but isn’t it best to know BEFORE you need the coverage? From a broker stand point it is important to touch base at least once a year to make sure you’re still properly covered.

How much does the size of the building matter when looking at types of coverage?

When you are looking at the size of the building, typically larger means more money. The types of coverage required may not be all that different from a little shop to a high rise, but the appropriate limits are crucial. It is easier to recoup if your building and limits are smaller, but if your values are off by millions and have overlooked coverage then the loss could be catastrophic to your business.

It all comes back to ensuring prudent, thorough, and regular evaluations are communicated between the property owner/manager and your Insurance Broker.

Do coverage requirements differ between using the property for my own business and leasing it out or blending the two uses?

There are many factors at play in these scenarios: property uses, capital & leasehold improvements etc. Basically, here are some key differences:

When you are using the property for your own use, your policy will be more inclusive – property & liability for example.

If you are the one leasing space in the property (lessee) then you have no real interest in the property (unless you have leasehold improvements). In this case your coverage will lean more to contents and liability.

If you have commercial property that you lease (lessor), you want to make sure that your tenant has the proper coverage and that you are listed as an “additional insured.” In this case you will still require your own – and different – coverage in place as well. In this case, I would recommend blending coverage to make sure that your risks are cared for. Even if a tenant is legally liable for an occurrence, you can still be brought into a civil action. This is so important now that society is becoming more litigious than ever.

If there was one thing you could urge every commercial property owner to consider, what would it be?

Commercial Umbrella Liability Insurance. I did set that up a bit from the very last sentence in the last question haha. As a business/property owner you work hard to make a living and provide for many. The umbrella is designed to help eliminate gaps, while providing an additional $2 Million in indemnity. This amount can go as high as you may require to help provide proper protection. For the cost, and depending on the industry, it is nominal at best. However, like personal umbrella insurance it is often seen as unnecessary.

And now the big question … How much coverage is enough?!

I wish I had only one answer for this. Each property and business is as individual as … well … the individuals in it! I can’t stress enough how important it is to find an Licensed Insurance Broker who takes the time to know you and your business and is genuinely interested in getting to know your risks.

Thanks to Jim Hitchcock of Ostic Insurance for taking your time to answer my questions!

The Ostic Group

P.S. If you’ve read an insurance term here that you’re not familiar with you can find the definitions (and more resources) here.

P.P.S. This article is to be seen as an overview only. Not all information provided here may apply to your location and/or circumstances. Please contact your local insurance broker for more specific information and requirements.

 

Fall Maintenance: Preparing Your Property for Winter

Cold weather is inevitable in Canada. Is your building ready?

Sadly, the time of year has come when days get shorter, nights get colder and our minds turn from patios and landscaping to staying ahead of the ice that we know will come. Have you given much thought to preparing your building for the cold weather? What do you need to think about? Where do you start?

First, let’s look at why Fall Maintenance matters.

In the past we’ve received calls for broken heating cables, ice dammed roofs, and flooded basements. Unfortunately, once the damage is done it takes much longer to make repairs. The added time is usually for melting the ice that caused (or contributed to) the damage in the first place. If you knew these things could be prevented, wouldn’t you at least try? After all, who needs any more stress?

Here is a brief list of some of the most common things we are asked to take care of for our clients this time of year:

  • Exterior taps – close and drain the tap. There are many different types of exterior tap, be sure your maintenance provider knows how to care for yours.
  • Roof – check and clear roof drains. We’ve also been asked to protect HVAC units and check caulking around roof penetration points to make sure the seals are still good.
  • Gutters (eavestroughs) – clear leaf litter and other debris and make sure the downspouts are clear.
  • Heating cables – make sure all are operational and clear of debris.
  • Site drainage – check that storm drains are not full/backed up.
  • Exterior Lighting – with the days getting shorter, it’s always better to start the winter with everything safe and operational.
  • Heat in mechanical rooms – the mechanical room is usually the first and last line of defense for water that comes into your building. Make sure heaters are in place and have backup should the first heat source fail. The second heater is usually set fairly low so it only comes on when absolutely necessary.
  • Sump Pumps – make sure they are operational and primed.
  • Exterior foundation – you’ll be looking for holes where water and pests can get in.
  • Sidewalks & Railings – identify and repair slip hazards and unstable railings.
  • Floor drains – it never hurts to add inspection and priming to the list! It’s like checking the smoke detectors in your home when the time changes.

Not all commercial buildings have all of these requirements; some buildings will have more! If you need help determining what your building needs, or to get it done, contact us or your local trusted maintenance company.

 

How to Make Your Building More Accessible

Renovating for Accessibility

With the advent of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act(AODA) in 2005, the design and functional requirements of commercial and public spaces started to change. Many municipalities have devised Accessibility Plans to phase in the many requirements for making commercial and public spaces more accessible for all patrons. While being mandated to renovate aspects of your building may appear to be a burden, the benefits can far outweigh the hassle.

What are the benefits of a more accessible building?

  • More people will be able to access the business(es).
  • If your building is easy to access and navigate within, patrons are more likely to spend more time.
  • Both of the above mentioned benefits can directly affect your bottom line; that’s a BIG benefit!

One great way to ensure your building or business is as accessible as possible for your patrons is to engage them in the process. Find out the aspects of your building are “tricky” or hazardous for them to navigate. You may find that there is an aspect that is tricky for your patrons that is not included in your region’s building code. Work with your customers to find reasonable solutions for everyone.

Let’s explore a few of the key areas to consider when making your building accessible and some ideas for consideration in each area.

Parking

  • Ensure you have at least 1 accessible parking spot for every 25 spaces or less.
  • Spots should be clearly marked, have wider clearance around the vehicle.
  • Accessible parking spots should lead to stair free access to your building.

Entrances

  • Not all entrances have to be accessible. Entrances that aren’t accessible should clearly direct people to the accessible one(s).
  • When removing stairs to create a ramp, ensure it has as gentle a slope as possible. This might mean a longer ramp is required.
  • If a ramp is not possible due to elevation or space availability, consider the option of a lift.
  • Accessible doorways must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
  • The accessible entrance must be easily opened. Some options to create this ease are automatic door openers (either motion or button activated), and Assist Call buttons.

Interior Facilities

  • If your building has a reception or service counter, consider providing patrons with a lower portion. The lower portion allows staff and patrons to be seen and interact with greater ease.
  • If washroom facilities are required for your establishment, ensure at least one is accessible by wheelchair and other mobility devices. Be sure to make this door easy to operate as well!
  • Widen doorways where required.
  • Provide clearly visible/high contrast signage & guides (such as textured stair treads) throughout the building. (This is a good idea even if your building didn’t have to be accessible!)
  • Keep floor spaces free from obstruction and provide clear lines of sight wherever possible.

The last and perhaps most important aspects to accessibility for your building are Your Staff or Tenants.

  • Train your staff to assist patrons when needed in a way that is respectful and maintains the dignity of all involved.
  • While you likely can’t enforce training for your tenants, you certainly can encourage them to maintain “access friendly” spaces and procedures.

Creating accessible environments isn’t just about meeting the requirements laid out by some law or building code; it’s about creating an inviting, productive environment for all.

In order to avoid costly “corrections,” be sure to consult your local Building Code or Planning Department to ensure any changes you make will satisfy the AODA or equivalent Accessibility Regulations.

Community Spotlight – Building 4 Kids

“Building 4 Kids exists to put a smile on a child’s face, to show a child that we care and are here for them!” George Harrietha

Building 4 Kids is the heart-project of Darmax Inc. that started in 2016. The aim of Building 4 Kids is to empower and enliven vulnerable children in our community through our network of local tradespeople. Together we will enable children to enjoy safe spaces and child-like moments regardless of their circumstances. Our target is to complete minor repairs in their living spaces, build fun areas like a sand box or a swing set, will address & repair home safety issues and will assist to resolve mobility issues a child may have using our construction skills.

It’s been an interesting exercise to get this project off the ground; for example, we’ve had to explore both legal and safety implications of working with (for) children. In fact, the due diligence briefly held us back from actually getting to work!

Rather than letting red tape hold up our desire to contribute, we’ve decided to “do what we can from where we are.” We’ve teamed up with a couple agencies that assist and support children and families and we are thrilled with this possibility! We knew there was a need for our services in this capacity; we did not know how extensive this need is. There is much work to be done for the children of our community and those who care for them.

Building 4 Kids ThanksOur first project was to build a large art table and easels for “Better Beginnings, Better Futures” at the Shelldale Community Centre. It’s funny how, when you think you’re doing something good for someone else, you end up receiving from the experience too. It was rewarding to see the joy (and relief) from staff and children alike when we delivered the items.

Often, in our grown-up efforts to provide for our children (as individuals or as a community) we forget what children really require: a safe space and place to just be children.  The art table and easels are the beginning of our journey with Building for Kids!

We are thrilled with the response and willingness to contribute we have received from our community of Trades and we look forward to many more projects for Building for Kids.

If you would like to stay updated about our endeavors with Building for Kids click here.

If you would like to be a part of Building for Kids projects click here.

Energy Efficiency for Existing Commercial Buildings

There is abundant information on the construction of new efficient buildings. Of course that’s a great thing to do, but what about the energy efficiency of older buildings? Sure, everyone is trying to change your light bulbs but beyond that, information grows scant. We think there’s value in looking deeper into older buildings too. In this post we’ll focus on why you’d want to have an efficient building and your first steps to get started with the process.

Why would you want to improve the performance of your building?

The efficient operation of a building not only contributes to reducing your regular operating costs, it contributes to property value and the productivity and health of its occupants.  Have you ever tried being productive when you are too hot or too cold or always sick? Let’s face it, business is all about productivity; a productive business is more likely to be a successful business. Successful businesses stay in your building longer! An efficient, comfortable building will therefore reflect directly on your bottom line.

Today’s commercial buildings are extremely complex and dynamic ecosystems. The use of space will change, tenants move in/out or within the building, and equipment is added or changed too. Over time the mechanics of a building can lose effectiveness if not assessed and adjusted as the needs of the building and its occupants change.  This is why you’ll want to assess the efficiency of your building regularly and adjust accordingly. This ongoing assessment goes for new builds too as they’ll start changing on the day the keys are handed over.

Where do You Begin?

When you are first considering looking at the energy efficiency of your commercial building, consider leveraging the knowledge of the people who are currently caring for it. Often your maintenance staff will have great ideas for making systems run better but they are rarely asked for their input. Like all good change, it starts within! Here are a few tips:

  1. Create a plan for how you’ll gather information from your staff. This plan should include a clear indication of who has the responsibility of compiling the information, and who has the authority for implementing any changes found throughout the process.
  2. Prepare your questions for the staff. The least helpful information you’ll gain will come in the form of rants and opinions. If you are prepared with specific questions, your conversation will stay on track and fact-focussed.
  3. Set a time limit for your meetings. If the meeting is to be held in an office or conference room, plan for no more than 30 minutes. If the meeting is to be in the form of a walk-though with your maintenance management personnel, base the timing to be efficient yet thorough. Keeping the time limited will also ensure you stay on track and fact-focussed.
  4. Once your internal meetings are complete, you’ll have a better idea if an outside professional is required for further assessments or if you can begin making changes and self-managing the process.

Beyond the Energy Audit

Typically when looking at the efficiency of your building, you first instinct is to get an energy audit. While this is a great start, most audits assess aspects of your building as unique items rather than assessing the complete building ecosystem. A typical Energy Audit usually identifies projects for reducing costs such as HVAC rejuvenation. Unfortunately these projects are often large in scale, often require outside contractors to complete, and they could take years to realize the return on your investment. It’s no wonder why so many Energy Audit findings remain on the shelf.

The Ministry of Natural Resources here in Canada recommends an “O&M Assessment.” While an O&M Assessment sounds daunting, in fact it can identify some of the more cost and time effective adjustments you can make to the current systems and operation of your building. It can identify the less complex changes that can often be completed by your in house staff or close contractors. An example of a less complex change that can be captured in an O&M Assessment is identifying equipment that is running when it is not needed. A simple change in the control system is all that it takes to capture these savings. Of course large projects can also be identified in this process.

The Efficiency Lifestyle

As you embark on the road to the efficiency of your building, bear in mind that this is a lifestyle change. Like personal diet and exercise, maintaining a building that uses its energy efficiently takes ongoing diligence. The good news is that you’ll become addicted to finding ways to save money while making the life of your building last longer. The efficiency lifestyle isn’t about being cheap; it is about creating a cost efficient and healthy ecosystem for all.