New initiative aims to boost owner builder knowledge of home construction

BC is introducing a new examination for owner builders as part of its ongoing program to improve the quality of owner-built homes and protect consumers.  Owner builders will need to pass the exam before being issued an Owner Builder Authorization after the new requirement comes into effect on July 4, 2016, says Wendy Acheson, vice-president and registrar, Homeowner Protection Office (HPO), a branch of BC Housing.  “It’s part of a program we introduced a few years ago called Raising the Bar, aimed at improving the level of professionalism in residential construction, and is in line with changes to the Homeowner Protection Act Regulation that the province announced in March last year,” she explains.  B.C. will be the first jurisdiction in Canada and one of only a few in the world to have an exam-based knowledge requirement for owner builders.An owner builder is a person authorized by the HPO to build a new home for their personal use. They are not required to be licensed by the HPO and do not need to arrange for third-party home warranty insurance on the home.  Licensed residential builders need to be qualified and participate in continuing professional development to retain their licence. Up to now, owner builders have not needed any special knowledge of home construction or related regulations.  But with approximately 2,500 owner-built homes being constructed in B.C. annually out of a total of 28,000, the province felt it was necessary to ensure that the owner builders had at least some knowledge of home-construction standards and safety regulations, says Acheson. “They don’t need to have the professional knowledge of a licensed residential builder, but they should have a minimum level of understanding so that they can oversee the construction of their own new home,” she adds.  Feedback from municipal officials shows that some owner builders who apply for authorization have very little knowledge of the building code, construction basics, workplace safety, their legal liability and their statutory obligations, says Acheson.  “The new exam requirement is as much about protecting owner builders as it is about consumer protection,” she adds. “Sometimes people don’t realize what a complicated process home construction is until they get into it and find that they’ve overspent or that it takes much longer than they expected. We believe it will be very helpful for them to have a better understanding of all the issues before they dive into something as big as building their own home.”  Owners who receive an Owner Builder Authorization may hire tradespersons to work on the home and must also be able to manage the construction process. They must not hire a general contractor to build the home for them.  Improving owner builders’ knowledge is also an important aspect of protecting consumers as a whole, says Acheson. An owner builder is allowed to sell their home 12 months after it is completed and a future purchaser will want to know that the construction was overseen by someone with at least a basic understanding of the correct procedures.  The exam will be offered on an ongoing basis at approximately 50 locations across B.C. It will be a computer-based test comprising 100 multiple choice questions and should take about 90 minutes to complete.  Owner builders will need to show competency in two specific areas: construction basics, and the statutory obligations and requirements that they must meet under the Homeowner Protection Act. A score of 70 per cent will be needed to pass the exam.  Acheson says the HPO will be working with education providers and industry associations to ensure that instruction is available to owner builders who may need assistance in preparing for the exam.  Information about available training is searchable on the HPO’s education registry on its website.  Acheson says the amount of study time required to pass the exam will depend on how much knowledge a person already has, but she estimates that a couple of days of intensive study would probably be sufficient to understand everything necessary to be successful. Exam results should be available within about 24 hours.  All other existing requirements for owner-built homes will remain in place. Owner builders must apply to the HPO for authorization and pay a $425 fee. The applicant must be an individual, not a company. They must build a single-dwelling unit and cannot sell the home for at least a year after completion. It must also be for personal use for at least the first year, so rentals are not permitted.