Creating the perfect visual aesthetic sometimes comes at the sacrifice of safety. Here’s what to be aware of when planning your next home renovation.
BY SHANNON MONEO
Popular doesn’t always equate to safe. In a place where one eats, sleeps, relaxes and lately, works, trendy design or a cheap fix should not trump function or safety in a home. Yet some homeowners carry out renovations or redecorations that can be dangerous.
Pierre Beauvais of Silhouette Building Inspections has been an accredited home inspector since 2015. He also has 25 years of experience as a Red Seal electrician.
Having done thousands of home inspections, as well as home renovations, Beauvais has witnessed what people think they should do to create a more appealing or saleable home. “I’ve seen it all,” Beauvais says. “Not one item sticks out.”
While popular in some areas, Beauvais hasn’t seen a lot of floating shelves or storage, vintage appliances or light fixtures and exposed brick during inspections in Greater Victoria.
The hazards of floating stairs
But what he has seen — often — is the absence of handrails, both inside and outside. “People feel they’re taking away from the overall look,” he says of the lack of handrails.
Aesthetics aside, rails, like smoke detectors, are necessary to get an occupancy permit for a house. When municipal inspectors do that all-important inspection, the handrail requirement gets missed more often than not, Beauvais says.
As well, the region’s building boom has led to overworked inspectors who don’t always get to all homes. So they sometimes rely on who the builder is and whether the work will be up to code.
Related to missing handrails are floating staircases, the illusionary path to another floor. Building codes are clear about when handrails are required, but the desire for a sleek, streamlined look may win out over prescribed design.
One trend Beauvais has seen, particularly with the hot real estate market, is homeowners’ desire to boost the useable square footage in their homes. Space not generally considered part of the house, like the attic or garage, is converted to bedrooms, games rooms or man caves.
What to watch for in attic renovations
Transforming an attic into a playroom or bedroom is fraught with risk. There’s likely no proper fire escape and even if skylights have been installed, they are likely unreachable. As well, ventilation becomes a major concern. “An attic is a perfect spot for mould to grow,” Beauvais says. Other danger areas are incorrect electrical and plumbing installations.
Because a lot of upgrades are often done by the homeowner, there’s an undeniable risk of shoddy and/or unsafe work. Thanks to YouTube, people falsely think they can handle the wiring of a bedroom or the work necessary to plumb in a new bathroom. Adding to the gamble is that a lot of do-it-yourselfers do not get the necessary municipal building permits for the planned work.
And if a homeowner does get a contractor, but the contractor is not willing to get a permit, that’s a huge red flag, Beauvais says. “Some will say they get a permit and they don’t.” But a permit ensures the work is done correctly.
Who wants a flooded basement, a ruined roof due to lack of ventilation or an electrical fire?
Kitchen Island must-have
One recent must-have is the big kitchen island, scene of casual get-togethers or space to create complex meals. The lack of electrical outlets is one concern. Without plugs, a homeowner needs an extension cord to electrify the crock pot. Burn hazards or tripping dangers are on the menu.
Beauvais has seen a few shocking faux pas during his career, but one is shattering. An Island homeowner opted to use regular sheet glass for a shower enclosure rather than the necessary and more expensive tempered glass, which has a verification mark etched in a corner.
When tempered glass breaks it turns into hundreds of tiny pieces that normally don’t cut those nearby. Standard glass can be deadly. Beauvais noticed a crack in the sheet glass and was rightfully worried. His report made it an immediate task that the dangerous glass be replaced.
Outdoor safety is also a priority
Flaws aren’t confined to the inside. While doing a recent inspection, Beauvais was on the patio and saw the water feature, a pond.
Water features have become a much-desired element of a home, where living and entertaining often shift outdoors. About 20 feet long, three feet wide and two feet deep, the pond was the same level as the patio and similar to a small swimming pool.
Problem was, there was no guardrail. “There was nothing to stop anyone from falling in,” he said. A dinner party guest could stumble backwards or a child could trip. A natural barrier like a hedge or flower boxes would have helped.
To keep the inside and outside of your living space appealing and safe, don’t cut corners, literally. Hire skilled and legitimate workers. Be aware of the building regulations in your municipality. And if a home or design trend really captures your fancy, research its integrity.