Building by design: Wifi and EMFs

Written by Econ’s Dalit Holzman and originally published by North Shore News September 2013

Sitting at my kitchen table off Grand Boulevard in North Vancouver, my laptop picks up three wireless networks. When I lived in a high-rise near Park Royal, I routinely would see 20 or more pop up. If I take a stroll down Lonsdale, it seems like just about every business has its own; plus my Internet provider has blanketed the area with its wireless network making it ever easier to jump online. The convenience is remarkable. But still, I can’t help but feel wary. All of these signals, bouncing around: wireless coverage, lightning speed cell phone networks, Smart Meters, standard EMFs…our bodies sitting in the middle. 

Most of us are not strangers to the Smart Meter debate. I walked by a home the other day with 8 “no Smart Meter” signs on its various doors. The group Citizens for Safe Technology has created action kits for Wi-Fi, Smart Meters, cell towers and cell phones stating its concern about the exponential increase in public exposures to harmful wireless technologies. However, BC Hydro defends its technological achievement, stating that “the exposure to radio frequency from a smart meter, over its entire 20-year life span, is less than a single 30-minute cell phone call”. 

Many, including the WHO, deny that we are at risk within our modern world. The World Health Organization publicly states: “Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields. However, some gaps in knowledge about biological effects exist and need further research.”

And it’s the gaps that worry me. I am certain that when I turn down the dimmer switch in our bedroom, the light actually buzzes, and am pretty sure I detect a high-pitched ringing when my cell phone is on charge. These items are dwarfed by our very near future filled with smart networks, sensor networks, smart buildings and self-driving cars. From my perspective, the “gap” WHO mentions is that all of these technologies have not been around for long enough to know the greater effects on our collective health.

In the meantime, there are a handful of principles commonly used to limit EMF, wireless and radiation exposure when building a new home. People embarking on construction should have a thorough discussion with their contractor to communicate their wishes, understanding that their desires will certainly translate to extra project cost. 

The safest option to decrease EMF exposure is to distance oneself from it as much as possible. This can affect not only one’s decision on where to build his/her home (in relation to transfer stations, cell towers, etc.), but also how the home is laid out within the interior. The kitchen and media room are a home’s technological epicenters, while the bedroom is traditionally designed to function as a safe-haven from technology. In this regard it is best to keep the kitchen, media room, office and mechanical room grouped together within the home, and sitting as far away (vertically and horizontally) as possible from the bedroom(s). 

Furthermore, the permeability of the house’s membrane affects the overall shielding to exposure. As builders, our company has experienced that steel cladding and roofing can virtually eliminate radiation, wireless, cell coverage and EMFs from external sources. On the interior of the home, limiting exposure can be achieved by hardwiring your computers, using corded phones, eliminating dimmer switches, installing master kill switches (used to turn off circuit zones during sleep hours, etc.), and running wiring through well-shielded rigid conduit in patterns that do not encircle bedrooms.

Cliffhanger Construction

Change orders: understanding budget-creep

Few of us are wholly at home with the unknown, even fewer with the financial unknown. When we embark on our single largest lifetime investment (building a home), the idea of not really knowing how much we’ll actually spend does not sound at all appealing. The homeowner and all of her financing vehicles rely on the expertise of her builder (and, often, their associated Quantity Surveyor) to generate a thorough and accurate budget at the outset of the project.

Does a project budget equal a fixed price?

In production homebuilding (i.e., subdivisions of endless cookie-cutter houses on level lots) building at a fixed price is possible, but the entire concept of building a custom home is based on unknowns. Each custom home is a one-off prototype never again to be produced, whose level of complexity cannot be appreciated or anticipated by fixed pricing. There are changes of heart, unforeseen site conditions, and myriad other real-world impacts that cause anticipated costs and timelines inevitably to shift. This is why custom homebuilding must rely on change orders and healthy, well-considered contingency funds to prepare for the unknowns.

Client/architect change orders

On the Cliffhanger House, the project’s talented designer, Kevin Vallely, had called for the use of custom, kiln-dried, clear cedar siding. However, after the initial round of budgeting, he and the homeowners opted for a more finance-friendly Hardie lap siding.

As the project began to take shape, it became clear aesthetically, that Hardie would not suffice and that the siding matter must be revisited. After much consideration, a mock-up of a third siding system (called Resysta) was done for the client. The fibre reinforced hybrid material is produced of 60% rice husks, 22% common salt and 18% mineral oil and makes for a low-maintenance, waterfront friendly siding.

It also costs more in terms of materials, and more in terms of labour to install. In fact, it more than doubled the budget line-item. And so was born a change order.

Site-driven/engineer change orders

After months of blasting and excavation on the granite-heavy Cliffhanger site, the engineer determined the structural need to reinforce the foundation through the construction of additional buttress walls which would tie the foundation to the rock faces at the edges of the excavation and retain backfill. This change order impacted costs not only though additional material and labour needs, but also through the resulting impact on job-site access.

Contributor: Dalit Holzman, Econ Group Ltd.


Construction Management enters the modern age

We at Econ Group are excited to share great news regarding the Corecon software we’ve been using for estimating, project management and job cost control.

The developer of the software has just released its newest, and most exciting collaboration tool: TeamLink.

Corecon’s TeamLink Portal connects fully the internal efforts of employees and gives project owners and other outside team members secure, real-time access to important project information. The portal, when utilized properly, aids communication, thereby reducing changes in the field and shortening schedules.

Via our computers and SmartPhones this portal gives the right Econ member or supplier/sub-trade the right information at the right time. In an industry where volumes of information are exchanged among project team members throughout the course of a project, streamlining communication is a crucial aspect to maximizing productivity, mitigating risk and increasing project success.

In a nutshell, with TeamLink, all communications run through a consolidated network, so that documents, changes and all other notes are stored in one place. As with other software of this type, permissions are granted so that the owner, architect, sub-trades, etc. will see data meant only for their respective eyes, while full access will be granted to our internal Econ team.

Corecon Construction Management Software

Corecon Technologies Construction Software affords Econ Group complete visibility into every facet of construction project management. The comprehensive program is a web-based suite used for estimating, project management, job cost control, and scheduling that incorporates industry best practices and improves productivity from the office to the job-site.

Econ Group is the first local construction company of our size to have implemented this technology.

Estimating: As a Corecon user, Econ Group offers timely estimates, with the ability to quickly revise the budget based on alternate client choices or through the change order process.

Project Budget: Corecon software offers an integrated Job Cost Control solution that continuously assists Econ’s project team and accounting staff. With a centralized, single point of data entry, Corecon’s Financial Dashboards provide management a clear, real-time overview on active projects.

Time tracking: For companies that self-perform work, tracking employee labor and/or equipment on a daily or weekly basis is crucial to keeping projects in line with budgets. Corecon’s Time and Expenses module allows Econ Group employees to enter their own time remotely via Smart Phone and supervisors to review and approve.

Scheduling: Corecon’s technology provides a cutting edge solution for scheduling. No longer needing to designate an individual in our office to manage and print schedules Econ now uses this web-based solution to provide distributed teams the ability to view and update task information anytime, anywhere.

Econ Group Construction gets ready to grow

Really, it’s no secret that neither Vancouver’s economy nor its housing market is in any sort of the same rough shape as is being experienced south of the 49th. Just last month the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reported that there were 1,555 housing starts in the Vancouver Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) in January 2012, compared to 1,436 starts in January 2011. Truly, as the only explicitly modern residential contractor in the Lower Mainland, Econ Group can attest that single-family home construction just isn’t hurting here in Vancouver.

“In 2010, we began to realize that the work wasn’t slowing and that we just had to get ready to grow from small to truly medium-sized in a relatively short time frame,” says Michael Dutson, one of Econ Group’s Principals. “In an industry where unforeseen schedule and cost impacts often occur as par-for-the-course, we at Econ Group have always expected more of ourselves.”

As prerequisite to any further, well-organized growth Econ Group identified its core back-end Project Management process to be in need of a major overhaul. After a period of product testing, the team finally settled on Corecon Technologies’ Construction Management software for all its Project Management, estimating and scheduling needs.

Internal office structure

“Both internally and externally, we have always strived for easy, honest and well-informed communication. Implementing Project Management software was one thing, but as our business has grown over the past 10 years, the responsibilities of myself and my business partner, Mike, became cumbersome,” says Marcel Studer, the other of Econ’s Principals. “We found ourselves needing support staff to carry and direct our growth.”

To that end, Econ Group brought on both an Operations Manager to control the Corecon-maintained backend and a Manager of Communications and Marketing to keep the team busy with exactly the kinds of modern, forward-thinking home construction on which they have built their strong reputation.

With a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Vienna, Patricia Lubensky, Operations Manager, brings to Econ Group 13 years of experience within the fields of technical account management and controlling, software development and IT system administration. A passionate yogi and mother of two, Patricia’s attention to detail and thorough communication style makes her the perfect fit within the Econ team.

Dalit Holzman, Econ’s new Manager of Communications and Marketing, comes to us freshly returned from a five-year stint on Vancouver Island. Through her 2 years as Manager of Operations, Customer Service and Marketing at Natural Pod (Canada’s leading manufacturer/online-retailer of natural toys) and founding of the Vancouver Mommy Map and Co-op Radio’s It Takes a Village, Dalit’s foundation within her job-description is solid.

Continuing Professional Development

In a field where staying current on the latest innovations and certifications is essential, Econ Group has been hard at work keeping up to date and in the know.