Thursday, February 6, 2020

Getting Work done in Toronto 2020 - predictions

[picture shows a failed tile installation, all tiles failed and it took approximately 2 years for all the failures to occur  -  a large, 12x12 tile popped off cleanly from the middle of the floor with no sign of adhesive on the back. This failure occured because of the improperly prepared sub-floor that has too much flex as well as failure of the adhesive to bond to the tile because it was mixed too dry, as well as not 'back-buttering' of the bonding surface. 'Back-buttering' refers to a practice of applying a thin, wet layer of adhesive to the back of  large and 'large-format'  tiles before placing it into the adhesive on the floor].

[picture shows an octagonal, marble-like tile installed properly, and in a visually optimum fashion. The grout lines are skinniest that the irregular, paver-type allows for; the shower curb is finished and capped in identical tiles that have been beveled at 45 degrees mitre joints to ensure cleanest and minimalist look. Studio Kosnik considers this type of installation optimized, as it results in cleanest and most unobtrusive look for small spaces - almost required]

Chapter 1 - Toronto Reno Challenges

The Toronto renovation scene is a cluster-f*ck. You heard me right. I will start off by saying that one indication of such situation is the tool rental scene - it is next to impossible to rent-out a tile-chipper from my favourite tool rental place. The manager said that it is cheaper for trades to hold on to the tool and pay the penalties then to return it and rent it again. Whaaat....?!!!

Another anecdote I can share with you was that I was recently invited to quote a project at a very, very prestigious location in Toronto - virtually the heart of Toronto. Imagine that back in the day Toronto started as a series of concentric circular roads, with the circles growing larger and larger, until they grew too big and the city planners started using 'the grid' [look it up on Google Maps, it's TRUE!]. I go into this house to take measurements while the movers are hurriedly bringing in the wares and I start chatting up the client - what are her plans for this space, what's the split between functional and display storage.... you know, the usual.  After the chat we break and I start measuring. And as I am walking around measuring I start noticing all the deficiencies. 

Don't get me wrong - there definitely was a designer on the project - the floors are really nice, the cabinetry is nice, a glass clad staircase leading upstairs.... But..... the painting - it's easy to roll a roller but it is infinitely more challenging when 'cutting' a dark colour against a white ceiling, and in this instance, honestly, it looks like the painter took the shirt off his back, dipped in paint and ran it on the wall against the ceiling. Clearly the second coat was not done. Then I walk by the kitchen cabinets.... I can see that the grain is matched vertically on the doors, but there is this hazy residue along all the edges. You know what that is? - every part of the manufacturing process requires hand labour - and it was skipped in this instance - the buffers on the edgebander did great job at removing most of the excess adhesive but nobody bothered to wipe it of completely off the edges. Uh-oh..... the housekeeper will definitely be spending time trying to polish this off, while this should have been caught at the quality control level before it left the shop. AND this was a custom kitchen, AND this is what I was able to gather just visually in 1hr....

SO what is the problem? 
I will tell you - there is shortage of skilled trades. 

While the General Contractor grabs your contract he will have to sub all the work out, and his 'great relationship with 40 other trades people' is NOT a good indicator of the quality of work that you will end up with. Clearly the above mentioned 'prestige project' - because this is how I would classify it - did not get the attention of his '40 trades'. 

There are some trades that translate well to low-cost labour. Things like painting or demolition, or even drywalling are great for that. All it is, is a lot of hand labour or heavy lifting that needs to be closely and carefully supervised. The key being 'closely and carefully'. I can say it with certainty that there was no oversight on the above project - trades came and went and made their own decisions - for better or worse.

Chapter 2 - BIG challenge for little projects

Do you want to know what the BIGGEST challenge is for little projects? It is precisely that your project is small. Any trade out there want to grab BIG contracts - many times ads on Kijiji [that is where I advertise] will have a minimum - electrician will specify that he or she is looking to install minimum 10 potlights. The moment he or she hears that:

A] it is just 2 pot lights + vanity mirror and move the GFI;
B] Electrical Safety Authority inspections required;
C] License and Insurance required before stepping onto property

and they are OUT! Ghosting you on the phone and not responding to texts. And this is personal experience. 

The moment the tile installer hears that it is a tiny powder room of 50 square feet - even in a 'million dollar condo' - they are OUT! Nobody wants to take on such tiny projects, well, because they pay tiny relative to the size. So say the installer is weighing his prospects and he has two choices:

A] tiny powder room in a difficult to access condominium building with terrible and expensive parking; he or she will be required spend 3 half days on-site to finish the project - AND if you are doing half-days then you might as well be doing full days; tiles picked for the project are incredibly fussy and expensive and require lots of skill and prep AND setting up the wet-tile saw on the balcony of the unit AND the client already lives there...

B] A nice big open, empty, easy access, large house in a suburb with no work hours limits; we are talking acres and acres of large, easy to lay tiles AND you can work on the weekends.

So? Which one do you think it is going to be? 
Yup, that is the dilemma - SIZE of the projects ALWAYS matters. 

Trades are only motivated by money, friends. Any relationship that a General Contractor, as a manager, has with the sub-trades is purely financial and related  directly to how well and how timely he/she pays. I always pay my trades on time and will often pre-pay them a portion of the project just to coax them ahead of anybody else they might consider. OR, I just do it myself. 

Chapter 3 - Timing of the project

Timelines are completely arbitrary. In today's Toronto reno markets trades show up when it is convenient for them - ask anyone who already renovated their space and they will confirm. If you want more 'stability and predictability' then you need to pay more. Why? You are paying for all the overhead of managing - there is boss, who tells his employees to go THERE and do THIS. But the boss also wants to take his cut - probably around 20%, but at least you have somebody to complain to about when things go south. 


To be continued....




PS. Oh! and if you don't believe me that things like that routinely happen, then  check out this instagram page that I follow out of curiosity. This is a great example that clearly illustrates the lack of standards across the industry. And the funny/sad part is that the 'luxury builder' is attempting to justify ALL those things - yes! he provides 'rebuttals'! It would be funny if it was not so sad.


A million dollar home built without any oversight, right here in the GTA.... by a 'luxury builder'....