Olympic Athletes Village Could Win Mould Gold

Village could win mould gold: Subcontractors are accused of taking shortcuts in building Olympic condos


By Wendy Mclellan, Canwest News Service
July 1, 2009

Vancouver's Olympic Athletes Village is being promoted -- and sold --
as one of North America's most energy-efficient, green communities,
but tucked away behind the new drywall are the ingredients for a
mouldy, energy-leaking mess.

The "model for sustainable development" has been built without
insulation that is supposed to completely wrap hot and cold water
pipes. Insulation reduces energy loss from the hot water pipes; it
also prevents condensation from pooling around the cold water pipes,
where it can turn into mould and mildew.

The problem won't be visible until long after the athletes have left,
but in about three years condo owners will begin to notice the
tell-tale signs of a situation that may cause health problems for some
residents as well as a financial nightmare to fix.

"We know the water will be pooling inside the walls, but it won't show
for 18 months or a little longer," said Lee Loftus, business manager
for the local union representing mechanical insulators.

Loftus and a colleague from the International Association of Heat and
Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Union Local 118 have taken
photographs of the bare pipes in several buildings on the Southeast
False Creek site under development by Vancouver's Millennium Group.

The photos show drywall installed over uninsulated pipes in several
buildings. Some pipes are insulated where they are visible outside the
walls; others are mostly insulated. In some areas, the drywall had
already been completed so there was no way to see whether the pipes
were properly wrapped.

Millennium Southeast False Creek Properties Ltd. is paying engineers
and consultants to inspect the development that is supposed to meet
LEED gold standards, a designation for buildings that meet high
standards for energy and water efficiency, indoor air quality and
sustainability. But the partially uninsulated pipes will mean lost
heat and efficiency, and air quality will suffer when mould and mildew
grow, Loftus said.

"There's nothing green about that," he said. "These people think
they're buying something well-made and green, but they're not getting
what they're paying for -- and the developer isn't getting what
they're buying."

GM says problem fixed

Loftus said he met with Hank Jasper, general manager of development
and construction for Millennium, six weeks ago and showed him the

Jasper acknowledged he met with Loftus as well as representatives from
other trade unions, and that he was given photos of improperly
insulated pipe. But he said only one photo taken in a parking garage
showed a problem, and it was fixed.

"They pointed out, I think in one location in one parcel, that there
was a temporary piece of insulation that had been put on a piece of
pipe that we dealt with immediately," Jasper said in an interview

He said the site is being monitored and inspected by various
inspectors, contractors and engineers and drywall could not be
installed before every pipe was properly insulated.

The photos tell a different story. Jasper said he is not familiar with
any photos other than the one taken in a parking garage.

"There's no location I'm aware of where that has occurred and there's
no way that could happen anyway, because all of the suites, all areas,
before any board is applied, inspections take place," Jasper said. "No
boarding can proceed without those sign-offs by inspectors. Every
suite gets checked."

At least five mechanical insulation companies -- both union and
non-union -- are working as subcontractors on the site, and the
development is so large inspectors may not see problems, says Loftus.
He said he had hoped Millennium would have responded quickly to
concerns about quality control, but after waiting for weeks, he
decided to go public.

"They [the subcontractors] are cutting corners, and I will bet that
the savings aren't flowing back to the developer," Loftus said. "The
developer is spending money for LEED standards and they should get
what they paid for."

$450 m and counting

The city has already invested more than $450 million in the
development that is supposed to provide a mix of market and social
housing. The City of Vancouver is also financing the $1 billion
project, after buying out Fortress Investment Group earlier this year.

The city retains ownership of the land during construction and expects
to recoup its investment when the units are sold or rented.

Loftus said B.C. Building Trades Council organized a meeting between
various trades representatives and Millennium Group on May 11. Wayne
Peppard, executive director of the trades council, said he had
approached Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs with some concerns
about subcontracting at the development and Meggs suggested he speak
with city manager, Dr. Penny Ballem. Ballem advised the trades to meet
directly with the developer.

During the meeting, Loftus says, Jasper was shown photos of the
uninsulated pipes in various buildings on the site and said he would
get back to the insulators union, but Loftus said he's still waiting.
A second visit to the site weeks after the meeting found the drywall
still in place with the pipes now hidden behind it.

"I don't think they can fix it on time," Loftus said. "They would have
to take the walls down, inspect all the piping and then do it right.
It would certainly be cheaper to do it now rather than later, but I'm
guessing it would cost millions.

"And if they found mould, it would be even worse."

Ballem said she wasn't told about any specific problems with the
construction of the Olympic Village, only that a union had some
concerns about quality control.

"This is the first I've heard of this," Ballem said when contacted by
The Province. "If the concerns are true -- and I have no evidence of
whether they are or not -- and they not being paid attention to,
that's a concern for the city."

She said she will direct the city's project manager assigned to the
Olympic Village development to consult with Millennium about the

"Clearly this is a major concern for the developer because they will
own the vast majority of the project -- it is their development,"
Ballem said.

"To have a newspaper article saying we're building leaky condos is not
great for anybody."

Campbell confident

Senator Larry Campbell, who purchased two units at Millennium Water,
didn't know about concerns over the pipe insulation but said he's
confident the developer will fix any deficiency.

"I'm not concerned about it," Campbell said. "I have complete faith in
the developer -- I wouldn't have bought there if I didn't. I'm looking
forward to moving in."

He did say he intends to check into the issue.

A common problem

Andre Pachon, president of the B.C. Insulation Contractors
Association, said contractors often bypass the building specifications
that require insulation around pipes as a way to save time and money.
He has ripped out ceilings in municipal and residential buildings to
repair damage caused by condensation dripping from cold water pipes,
and added insulation to hot water pipes that were left bare while cold
water pipes were insulated properly.

"It's the last thing that should happen," Pachon said. "Without
insulation, your heating costs go up and the building has a bigger
carbon footprint, plus there's condensation problems that show up
years later with mould and mildew.

"Everyone knows they should insulate pipes properly -- they just don't do it."

Ontario-based mould remediation specialist Graham Dewar said if
conditions are right, mould can begin to grow in a few weeks, but it
may take months or years to be visible.

"You won't necessarily see it, but if it gets going, you'll definitely
smell it -- that mustiness," said Dewar, who was the senior project
manager for a $23-million mould removal and repair job on a provincial
courthouse in Newmarket, Ont.

"I'm a huge supporter of the Olympics and I know Vancouver is under
tremendous pressure to meet a deadline -- I know it's a huge task, but
if they aren't fully insulating the pipes, they're taking risks.

"It may or may not cause problems for the athletes, but long term,
there's the potential for condensation to build and that's not going
to be a good thing. I think they're making a grave mistake."

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