Building materials dhp

Maintenance: don’t let yourself be put to the mat!

They are soft, cozy, colourful, warm, and comfortable; they dress our interior decors marvellously well, but they can reveal themselves to be very noxious to our health.  Carpeting is a choice receptacle for all sorts of pollutants, and even cleaning them can be noxious.  Here are some of the reasons.

The 20% of Canadians suffering from a pulmonary illness are certainly more aware than others on the question:  carpeting, rugs and other similar floor coverings, as with upholstering materials, are collectors of dust and other allergen carrying micro organisms, not to mention irritating chemical emanations.

According to Don Fugler, main researcher at the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the quantity of dust removed from carpeting is many times superior to that of a hard floor.  And, if a broom can remove up to 95% of undesirable particles on a hard floor, passing the vacuum only removes, on average, 40% of dust on carpeting.  “In fact, there are three types of elements which lodge in carpets and are real sponges.” Explains the researcher: “They can be of a biological nature (skin, hair, food, mites…) or mineral (earth, sand, lead…) or even chemical which notably comes from materials used during construction, particularly paint vapours.

To limit this interior pollution it is recommended, among other things, to remove shoes before entering the house, to vacuum carpets more than once a week, and to cover carpeting and furniture well during renovations.

So much for the ABC’s of regular maintenance.  But the choice of having carpeting at home also has its risks when it comes to deeper cleaning.  The two principal ones are mould and chemical products.

Give me Air!

The number one rule when comes time for cleaning is to take advantage of the best possible ventilation to allow for evacuation of toxic emanations of certain cleaning products, and a faster drying if we use liquid products.  We should therefore choose a warm and dry period for this type of household activity because the danger of carpeting which stays humid too long resides in the formation of microscopic mushrooms known as mould.  The 270 recognized species in Canadian homes all have the particularity of releasing chemical substances and spores which, according to Don Fugler, may have “at best, negligible effects on our health, or at worst, cause allergies and serious illnesses.”  Other than persons already suffering from respiratory troubles, individuals having a weak immune system are at risk, as are pregnant women, children and older persons as well.  Also, knowing that certain moulds are invisible, we will work harder to dry our carpeting and we will privilege rugs and carpets which we can take outside to fresh air, rather than carpeting and other unmoveable floor coverings.  Another good reason for proceeding with cleaning carpeting in a well ventilated environment: the chemical agents contained in certain cleaning products.  Other than pesticides, whose noxious effects we need not be reminded of, stain removers and protectors are the most dangerous because they often contain chemical solvents which give off toxic emanations.  And to complete the difficulty chart, the composition of synthetic carpeting poses a problem due to substances contained in certain glues and various treatments administered at the time of manufacture (fungicide, pesticide, waterproofing, stain repellents and colour fixatives) can be activated by chlorine contained in cleaning water or in reaction to other products.  In passing it is interesting to note that many carpets contain volatile organic elements (VOE), such as benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, who have the sad characteristic of releasing gas and vapours up to five years after installation, and solidify before re-depositing themselves on any surface of the house.  Some of these are cancer-causing; others affect the nervous and endocrinal systems.

We can then understand very well that the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC) would sanction the acquisition of coverings in non-treated natural fibres and suggests asking the manufacturer of your future carpeting to air it out for three days before delivery and to leave our windows open for at least the same amount of time after installation.

Gray Zones

On the CMHC Internet site, many articles relate to perfluorooctyle sulfonate (PFOS), a substance appreciated for its hydrophobal and lipophobal properties, which is to repel water and oils.  PFOS was the main ingredient in the Scotchgard® line of products, manufactured by 3M Corporation and distributed for 40 years before being removed this year from the ingredients of these products.  Long thought totally inoffensive, PFOS has revealed itself to be a persistent organic pollutant (POP) of which traces have been found almost everywhere in the animal world, including humans, whose body takes an average of four years to be able to totally eliminate (the highest concentrations were found in children).

Illnesses attributable to PFOS are numerous; according to the Environmental Working Group, an ecological research group based in Washington, these are various irritations (eyes, nose, lungs), headaches, fatigue, nausea… We haven’t yet studied the cancerous effects in humans, but according to the conclusions of the most recent studies, doses measured in children and adults are sometimes even higher than those causing cellular, thyroidal and reproductive disturbances as well as malformations and cancers of the pancreas, breast, testicles, prostate and liver in laboratory animals.  For its part, the Cooperation and Economic Development Organization (CEDC is an international organization grouping together thirty or so countries, including Canada) are even studying the possibility of the occurrence of PFOS in the development of bladder cancers, but research has barely begun and we are still incapable of measuring the real effects of this substance on the environment and the human being.
Read more

Radiant electric floors linked to cancer?

An expert in electromagnetic fields at Hydro-Québec advises against the use of certain radiant electric floors which could increase the risk of infant leukemia.  <<As children are often laying and sitting on the floor, it is to be avoided, not recommended due to the doubts we have on this>>, declared Jan Erik Deadman, labour hygiene counsellor at the company.  <<It would surprise me if Hydro-Québec recommended (these systems) in daycares.>>

This labour health doctor was reacting to the fact that certain of these heating systems, composed of an electric wire typically installed under a ceramic floor, emit a magnetic field measuring up to 100 milli gauss (mG0) at ground level.  According to nine epidemiological studies, a chronic exposure to an average field of more than 4 mG doubles the risk of child leukemia.  In 2002, this is what incited the International Center for Cancer Research, along with the World Health Organization, to class magnetic fields of 50-60 Hertz in Group 2B as ‘potentially cancer-causing’.  The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation in its Mechanical Equipment Guide for a Clean Interior Environment, that radiant electric floors <<can emit significant electrical and magnetic fields.>>

Four Cancers Targeted

The most solid proofs of noxious effects of electromagnetic fields come from epidemiological studies, explains Health Canada: <<The studies have led to suppositions of the existence of a weak positive association between being exposed to fields of 50-60Hz and leukemia, brain cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer.>> But we cannot exclude that other statistical, environmental or socio-economic factors may be responsible.

Also a researcher at the McGill Faculty of Medicine, Jan Erik Deadman is co-author of a historical study published last July.  It concluded that female workers, whose average weekly exposure was at least 4mG during or within two years preceding their pregnancy, doubled their risk of having a child who will develop this type of blood cancer.  Other studies concluded that chronic exposure to a field of 2mG doubled the risk in children.

Should owners of electrically heated floors disable their system or turn it off before entering a room?  <<The risk is considered too weak and too uncertain to change heated floors in houses and daycares, analyzes Denis Gauvin, biologist at the Institut nationale de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) Must the population be informed?  Yes.  If people have the possibility of choosing a floor which exposes them less, all the better.>> Electromagnetic fields are composed of electrical fields produced by voltage (live wires) and magnetic fields from amperage (power consumed)  They are measured with a multi meter which frequently acts as a voltmeter, gauss meter and radio frequency and microwave reader.  The intensity of the field and the degree of human exposure diminish rapidly when moving away from the source, easy if the radiant system is in a ceiling but impossible in the case of a floor.

At one foot from a floor emitting 100mG at ground level, the field can measure 16mG, a level at which very brief daily exposures are, according to a recent California study (Li, 2002), associated with an increased risk of false labour.  These fields are weaker in a house where electrical consumption is lower and if the wires are close together and laid out in parallel, their fields have a tendency to mutually cancel themselves out.
Read more

Icicles and Mouldiness

For most people, discussions on energy efficiency are academic.  They only seriously think about it when paying their heating bills, when it is too late.

It’s during winter that energy inefficiency is most obvious.  In fact, the enormous icicles and ice barrages that accumulate on roofs are flagrant proof of heat loss and an inefficient use of energy.  I am always surprised to hear intelligent people say that this is typically normal for our Quebec winters – just like apple pie is American.  What nonsense!

At the beginning of winter, heat loss through the eaves or the attic keeps the roof surface warm.  As snow starts to accumulate, it stays, even on slanted roofs.  After awhile, snow becomes the insulation and traps the air. The colder it gets, the more we heat the house and the more heat we lose, the more the eaves and roof surface warm up.

Monster Icicles

One day, the roof surface temperature reaches 0 degrees Celsius and the snow next to it softens and melts.  This melting snow transforms into water which slides down towards the edges.  As water accumulates at the roof edges and rain gutters, the water freezes as it contacts outside air which is colder than the roof surface.  Over time, the result is the formation of spectacular icicles – some reach one storey and more!  The greater the heat loss is, the greater the thickness of the ice barrages behind the icicles and the greater the length of the icicles.

When there’s a major thaw and rain with temperatures reaching at least +6 degrees Celsius, even in the Laurentians, infiltrations begin.  Frequently though, these do not come from the roof as such, they occur horizontally, from the edges.

In fact, the weight of the accumulated ice in the gutters opens up a joint on the edge of the roof, on the ledge or in the soffit, and the water leaking under the accumulated snow and ice in the roof penetrates to the ceilings.  To the greatest surprise of homeowners, even when ceilings have a slight slope, infiltrations can manifest themselves a good distance from the exterior wall.

It’s Raining in my Bed

To my greatest disappointment, this is what my family lived through at the summer cottage of my in-laws in the Laurentians, following a successful surprise party given for André Fauteux, editor of La maison du 21ième siècle.  Water started dripping from the ceiling onto our beds in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately in such cases many homeowners mistakenly blame their roof while the origin of the problem is the house’s heat loss.

Roofers are called in by panicking homeowners, and repairs are scheduled, even if no one has determined what the real cause of the problem is.  Redoing a roof when it is not necessary is a very costly additional energy loss.

Certain customers have told me that they have had their roof completely redone two or three times in 10 years but the problem has not disappeared.  This is outright robbery by the roofers!

In fact, as unbelievable as it may seem, many Montreal eaves contain only from 0 to 4 inches of insulation.  (Note:  It is generally more advantageous to install from 12 to 14 inches for a thermal resistance of R-42 to R-49, if cellulose is used, it being the most economical insulation for attics.)
Read more

Integrating natural gas into your project

You’re about to build the home of your dreams? Take advantage and give it a touch of blue to improve your comfort and quality of life. Known for its comfort and effectiveness, natural gas is present in more than 200 residential projects in Quebec. The advantages are numerous: Wall to wall comfort Not only is it energy, it is the peak of comfort and peace of mind you dream of. The blue flame enlivens your home and adds a plus in each room: more heat, more pleasure, less work. A reliable resource Natural gas is delivered to you by continuous subterranean lines; you’ll never have to worry about the whims of Mother Nature for your deliveries. And, in case of power failure, many appliances can still function. Practical and reassuring, isn’t it? Gaz Métro has different offers available to facilitate integration of the blue in your home. Here is a glance of financial aid granted: • $1750 for the purchase and installation of a hot air high-efficiency heating unit (Energy Star rated) and a water heater; • $100 per outlet for each natural gas appliance, such as a range, dryer, fireplace, barbecue, pool warmer • $30 for a programmable thermostat. A friendly word of advice The integration of natural gas into your new home should be done as soon as your choice of architectural plans is made. From the beginning of your project, you should have a representative for new construction from Gaz Métro involved. The consultant can guide you through the steps as your project advances. Good to know In order to integrate natural gas into your home, it is of utmost importance to choose a central heating system. As you draw up your home plans, plan openings for heating and the location of the mechanical room in the basement. Here is a glance of steps to follow for a blue home: 1. Access to gas lines: The first step consists in ensuring that natural gas lines pass at less than 30 meters of your future home. Contact Gaz Métro customer service at 1 800 567-1313 for more information. 2. Implicate Gaz Métro : Your representative for new construction at Gaz Métro can refer you to a heating professional who is a Certified Gaz Métro Partner. These professionals are independent contractors, members of the Corporation des maîtres mécaniciens en tuyauterie du Québec, and are subject to most rigorous quality controls. 3. Connecting your home: Construction is coming along well, your heating system is installed and connection of gas lines to your appliances is complete (water heater, range, dryer, fireplace, barbecue, pool heater) Expect about 6 weeks for Gaz Métro to proceed with connection of your home to the main gas lines. Once this is completed, gas will be brought into your home by your Gaz Métro Authorized Partner jointly with a Gaz Métro technician. All that is left to do is take advantage of the soft comfort provided by natural gas. For more information, visit

Timelines when building your home

When will my new house be ready? Building a new home should be one of the most exciting times of your life. It can also be one of the most nerve-wracking. New home construction can easily involve over 50 subcontractors and suppliers, 200 people and more than 10,000 pieces of material. Although complex, the home building process is a carefully designed and managed process to ensure that you get the house of your dreams on time and on budget. There are a number of factors that can influence a construction timeline such as weather, number of workers, special requests and the complexity of the design, but most new home constructions follow similar stages and time frames. Here’s a basic timeframe to help you understand what typically happens and when. STAGE 1: Site preparation - Obtain municipal and provincial permits - Begin site work and excavation - Pour foundation or slab - Frame floors - Rough-in electrical and plumbing under floors - Install first subfloor Timeframe: 1-3 months STAGE 2: Framing - Frame interior and exterior walls including door and window openings, roof and ceilings - Rough-in remaining electrical and plumbing lines throughout the structure - Apply exterior wall and roof sheathing - Install reaming subfloors Timeframe: 2-3 months STAGE 3: Exterior Finish and Inspection - Inspect mechanical rough-in and exposed structural work - Apply roof flashing and shingles - Windows and exterior doors are installed - Apply exterior trim - Apply exterior wall finish material Timeframe: 2 months STAGE 4: Interior Finish - Cabinets and countertops are installed - Install ceramic tile in baths and other flooring throughout - Complete plumbing and electrical work - Complete sheetrock, paint and wallpaper Timeframe: 2 months STAGE 5: Finishing touches - Install hardware and appliances - Complete any landscaping - Touch-up for final inspections by homeowner, contractor and building inspector - Final payment to contractor - Move in Timeframe: 2 months

Hiring a contractor

Deciding on which contractor will build your home is a critical step in making your dream a reality.  There are many things to consider when making your choice.


The contractor’s role is to control the construction process and manage all aspects of the job from start to finish.  They will work from your floor plans, obtain the necessary permits for construction in your local area, and arrange for materials to be delivered to your site from your local lumber yard when needed.  The contractor will also manage other necessary trades people (excavation, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, drywall installers, etc.) that will work on your home so that they arrive when needed and complete their jobs efficiently and quickly.  All this will be done in a time frame that you agree on and at a quoted cost.

Contractors should be members of the provincial or local home builders’ association which requires them to conform to a code of ethics as well as attend courses on the latest techniques, building code requirements and technologies to remain in good standing.  They should also be licensed to work in your area and you should be able to see these licences upon request.

Contractors should also carry insurance in case of an accident during construction or in the event of a dispute.  You should be familiar with the rules required by your local government, your home owner’s insurance policy and your bank to ensure that you understand the liabilities involved with building a home and how to protect yourself.


It takes more than just looking in the phone book to find a contractor.  A good place to start is often with friends, family or neighbours.  Ask them if the contractor they used lived up to expectations and delivered what was agreed to.  Ask if they had any problems with the contractor and, if so, how they were resolved.  Most importantly, ask if they would hire the same contractor again.  You want to know they have a good reputation and a history of satisfied customers. 

Your local home show can be a perfect place to look for local contractors who do the type of work that you are planning.  You will be able to talk with several contractors and see photographs of their projects while learning about construction materials and getting advice from professionals.

You can also approach the Canadian Home Builder’s Association (visit They will be able to put you in contact with contractors from your local area that are members in good standing.


Before you begin hiring, take the time to do research.  Go online to familiarize yourself with the materials and local requirements for your job.  You can’t expect to learn as much as the professionals, but by educating yourself you will more likely be able to identify a contractor that may not be fully competent (or even dishonest).  Educating yourself now will also save you time and increase your confidence later when it comes to making decisions like picking fixtures and making choices on items such as flooring materials that will have to be done when construction is under way.

Read more