It is odd to see a roof being ripped off a new house, but Albertans are becoming accustomed to the spectacle.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 Alberta homes have been affected by failing pine shakes due to a fungus growth that promotes premature rotting, forcing homes and some commercial structures to be reroofed after five to eight years rather than the predicted and warrantied 25. The cost is often upward of $10,000 for a roof replacement – money few homeowners can comfortably choke up on short notice.
Fred Holtslag says the provincial government should pay for the roof replacements, as it approved pine-shake use in the building code in 1986, short-tracking the approval process and promoting the product as a made-in-Alberta roofing option – reportedly as a measure to stimulate the province’s lumber industry.
As president of the Alberta Pine Shake Homeowners Association (APSHA), Holtslag began the “mind-numbing” investigation almost six years ago as a means to recover the $12,000 he had to withdraw from his RRSPs to pay for his roof replacement. A research team was formed and the scope evolved to include a scrutiny of the faulty approval system and what needed to be done to fix it.
|Kenton Friesen photo, Business Edge|
|Many Alberta homes had to have their pine-shake roofs replaced due to fungus and rotting.|
By February 2000, the group had enough momentum to draw a gathering of more than 2,000 frustrated homeowners to a meeting at Grant MacEwan College’s City Centre Campus (at the time a building in serious need of pine-shake replacement itself, not due to fungal growth but rather a corrosive fire retardant that was applied to the shakes and ate away the nails, causing the shakes to blow in the wind).
Now the issue is finally in front of the courts, as eight homeowners attempt to extract their pound of flesh from the provincial government for allowing the construction fiasco to occur.
If they succeed, the lineup at the courthouse will start looking like gold-rush days (minus the donkeys and parkas), adding up to as many as 3,900 individual plaintiff actions.
Why pursue the government and our tax dollars for retribution?
It’s a matter of elimination. The insurance companies made a quick decision – inherent fault. Most of the manufacturers made a quick decision – get out of business.
“The only common denominator was the government,” says Holtslag, adding that it acted irresponsibly in deciding not to advise the public about the potential shortfalls of the product.
By 1990, pine shakes were becoming the rage – cheaper than cedar with much the same look. Evidence of premature rotting presented itself in a few short years, but it took until June 1998 for the government to remove untreated pine shakes from the building code.
Pine shakes treated with chromated copper arsenate are still allowed, but anyone eager to have them installed on their roof should give their head a shake.
From July 1997 to June 1998, an average of 28 Alberta homes per day were being ‘waterproofed’ with pine. Many of those homes were in subdivisions whose architectural guidelines required shake roofs.
There was a day when shakes made a lot of sense as a roofing choice. Old-growth cedar shakes, when installed correctly, have been known to stand up for hundreds of years.
But things have changed. Immature cedar (from young trees) is used in almost all applications today because of the scarcity of old growth, and the shakes tend to warp, crack and fail. And we are no longer pioneers where the choice is splitting some pine or cedar to cover our heads or go to sleep in a soggy bed.
Not a lot of Shakespearean grass-thatched roofs going up these days either, because it is simply not the best way to keep dry. Charming? Yes. Practical? No.
Consider the deficiencies and impracticalities – a soft word for stupidities – of shakes in general, not pine shakes in specific.
They make great kindling. Not very comforting if you live in a neighbourhood with mandated shakes and your neighbour has a penchant for smoking in bed.
In the Lower Mainland, where shakes are more common than Alberta, they can grow moss in shaded areas, requiring regular maintenance to prevent the pursuant rot. Here on the dry prairies, the shakes appear dry on the surface (and certainly crack with ease when walked on) but can build up moisture on the underside, leading to the pine shake fungus extravaganza.
A 1997 report by Intertek Testing Services (prepared for Alberta Labour) defines the problem as “moisture retention between the unexposed portions of the shakes and the interlay felt. This retained moisture provides an ideal breeding ground for the type of bacteria which destroys wood cells, especially in non-durable species like Lodgepole and Jackpine.”
Adding to that moisture retention is the continuous sheeting used in conjunction with shakes in Alberta. In B.C., shake roofs are required to be strapped with one-by-fours, appropriately spaced to enhance underside breathability.
Then there’s the high cost of shakes – both product and installation. And the limited warranty issue. And the environmental issue – let’s cut down our forests rather than cover our roofs in recycled oil, recycled paper and glass fibre . . .
Back to the courts and money.
The thought of the unfortunate pine shake homeowners going after my tax dollars doesn’t elicit my sympathy – unless we, as taxpayers, invest ourselves in the discussion of why we build the way we do.
The result of this court action must be to push the government to examine all aspects of proposed new products and approve only those that fall within the best interests of the consumer.
That includes the current focus on health and safety, as well as environmental, longevity and value concerns.
Anything less is simply money out of my pocket.