Archive for February, 2007

Olympic Village – Masterful Sustainabliity

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007


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Volatile new-home sales fall 16.6% in January

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Warm weather helps homes sales bounce back in January

Christine Dugas
USA Today

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Sales of new homes fell 16.6% in January and prices were little changed as the number of new homes on the market decreased slightly, according to a government report Wednesday showing more weakness in the unsteady housing sector.

The monthly decline was the sharpest in 13 years, since a 23.8% drop-off in January 1994.

New single-family home sales fell to an annualized rate of 937,000 units from an upwardly revised rate of 1.123 million units in December, the Commerce Department said.

Analysts polled by Reuters were expecting January sales to dip to 1.080 million from the previously reported rate of 1.120 million units in December.

In January, the median sales price of a new home rose $400 to $239,800 from $239,400 in December.

At the current sales pace, the supply of new homes available for sale rose to 6.8 months’ worth from the 5.7 months’ worth in December, which represents a 19.3% increase. There were a total of 536,000 new homes available for sale at the end of January, down 0.2% from December.

The Commerce Department’s data comes a day after a Realtor trade group reported a stronger-than-expected month of existing home sales. The sales pace of previously owned homes rose 3.0% in January, the biggest jump in two years, the National Association of Realtors said.

Home resales, which represent 85% of the housing market, climbed to a 6.46 million-unit annual rate.

Across the regions, the West saw the sharpest decline in new-home sales with a 37.4% drop. In the Northeast, new-home sales fell 18.7% while they decreased 8.1% in the Midwest and 9.7% in the South.

Warm weather helps homes sales bounce back in January

Home sales rebounded in January, reaching the highest level in seven months, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday.

The warm winter weather helped boost sales, which rose 3%. And single-family homes showed the biggest sales increase, rising 3.5%. But existing condominiums and cooperative housing sales slipped 0.1%. Those sales are stagnant because many more condos and co-ops are available, the NAR says.

Despite the dramatic rise in home sales in January, no one should overreact to the gain, analysts say. “I’m trying to be careful because we could see the next month down a little,” says David Lereah, the NAR’s chief economist.

The reason: February winter storms disrupted much of the country, which could cause a near-term home sales dip.

While sales jumped in January, there was still a downturn in existing home prices. Last month, prices fell 3.1% from January 2006 to $210,600. And the price softness is expected to continue until spring, Lereah says.

“But that may not be that bad,” says Joel Naroff, chief economist of Naroff Economic Advisors. “The decline in prices is helping sales, but we still have too many homes for sale.”

The inventory of homes for sale rose 2.9% at the end of January to 3.55 million. That represents a 6.6-month supply. Still, that’s down from the 7.4 month peak in October.

Some owners may remove their homes from the market because of the additional decline in home prices, Naroff says. It also may spur more offers.

Across the USA, existing home sales in January improved the most in the West, while sales in the Northwest were unchanged.

And among states and cities, recent sales have varied. For example, in Florida, sales fell 27% in January. But Long Island, N.Y., Boston, Pittsburgh and most of New Jersey had solid gains in home sales.

Many experts hope that home sales will continue to improve.

“First-time home buyers are now in a position that they can take their time, and they’re being able to purchase homes,” says Bill Hanley, president of the New Jersey Association of Realtors. Instead of 10 buyers for every home, there are now 10 homes for every buyer, he says. At Hanley’s firm, Weichert Realtors in Metuchen N.J., January home sales more than doubled the sales in January a year ago.

Electronic files storage growing into $2-million second centre

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Fusepoint’s data expands into another Harbour Centre floor

Peter Wilson

Fusepoint Managed Services is ‘the boiler room of the computer age,’ CEO George Kerns says. Photograph by : Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun

As visitors often note ruefully, the computer servers in Fusepoint Managed Services’ Vancouver data centre look out — unseeing — on a magnificent panorama of Burrard Inlet.

And the precious electronic files stored within the banks of computers on a top floor of downtown’s Harbour Centre are even more cosseted than Vancouver executives with a similar view.

They’re likely a lot more secure, too.

Not surprising, because this is what Fusepoint’s major clients — including Tim Hortons, the Royal Canadian Mint, Maple Leaf Foods, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Air Transat — demand for their information.

The servers inside this 5,000-sq.-ft. area sit on racks bolted to a floating steel frame built to withstand an earthquake rated at eight on the Richter scale.

Walls surrounding the computers are reinforced with steel mesh. Vibration sensors and fire-suppressant nozzles are everywhere. The climate-controlled environment is backed with four air-conditioning units with 20 tons of cooling power.

The information that flows to and from client networks is carried through data lines from three separate Internet service providers, in case one of them should go down.

Not only are they monitored around the clock from a control centre but they never need fear they’re going to lose electricity. Fusepoint relies initially on three separate BC Hydro power feeds coming into the centre. Should these fail, it can turn to two uninterrupted power systems — one of which could use a quarter of its power to keep the centre operating for eight hours. These are backed up by a diesel generator on a nearby rooftop that has a 24-hour supply of fuel. That fuel comes from both union and non-union suppliers, in case a labour dispute might cut off the flow.

And that’s to say nothing of the security in place to keep intruders from gaining physical access or hackers from coming in through the Net.

And now privately held Fusepoint — which began its life in 2001 as a Vancouver-based company called RoundHeaven Communications — is duplicating that environment in a $2-million second data centre on another Harbour Centre floor to keep up with customer demand for its services.

“So many companies [that] came out around the 2000 and 2001 time frame went down,” said Dickson Au, co-founder of the company. “Yet we managed to survive and even thrive.”

Today Fusepoint has offices in British Columbia, headquarters in Ontario, a data centre in Montreal as well as access to available space, through partners, in Calgary and Quebec City.

This success is a result of the maturing nature of the information age, said Fusepoint’s CEO George Kerns

“As more and more things have been deployed on the Internet, people are looking for a highly secure, highly available infrastructure to operate on,” said Kerns.

Most companies, he added, don’t want to spend their money on or worrying about a data centre.

“So, we’re the boiler room of the computer age,” said Kerns. “We sweat the details”

The Vancouver operation employs 20 people out of the company’s 160 employees.

“They form the core of our technical team, and include a lot of the original people,” said Kerns, who added that Fusepoint is now competing with giants like IBM.

“There are a lot of companies out there that haven’t had a lot of options on who they deal with. And they’d like to have some alternatives.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2007


Housing prices are due to slow but equity will continue to increase

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Jim Jamieson

The CMHC’s Robyn Adamache offers reassurance to prospective homeowners in Vancouver yesterday. Photograph by : Nick Procaylo, The Province

B.C. housing prices are headed for a soft landing, a market analyst told attendees at the B.C. Real Estate Convention yesterday.

But those forced by skyrocketing prices in recent years to watch from the sidelines may have to be willing to accept less in exchange for home ownership.

“It’s a relief that we’re not going to see 15 or 16 per cent [annual housing price] growth, but prices are still going to rise,” said Robyn Adamache, senior market analyst for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., following her address at the Vancouver Trade and Exhibition Centre.

“That’s why we’re seeing 80 per cent of our starts in the multiple unit area. People come here from other parts of Canada and they are astounded by the number of condos, but it’s a fact of life here.”

Recently, a major development was announced in Surrey’s Whalley area that offered entry level condos at $119,900 — although at a micro-size of 416 square feet.

With the average price of a single-detached home in Vancouver hitting $730,000 — as compared to $460,000 in Toronto and $350,000 in Calgary — according to CMHC, it’s no surprise that developers are building more condos with no sign of market overload.

Adamache said that at the end of December there were just 86 new, unsold units available in Greater Vancouver, most of which were in Surrey, Langley and Delta. There were fewer than a dozen in Vancouver and none downtown.

“If you wanted to move into a brand-new unit today, you’d be out of luck,” she said.

“You’d have to look at pre-sale.”

Adamache said historically low interest rates, record low unemployment and net in-migration will keep the real-estate market bubbling along.

She said the retail market in B.C. had record sales in 2005, with 106,000 units changing hands, but fell off last year by five per cent.

Both the Fraser Valley and Greater Vancouver were off 10 per cent last year.

“Slowing sales are mainly due to the fact that prices are getting to the point where people who are on the fringes of being able to afford to get into the market are having to wait,” she said.

“It should be good news for consumers that prices will slow going forward. For those already in the market, fear not. Your equity is still going to keep increasing.”

Adamache said the CMHC forecasts the average five-year fixed mortgage rate will drop 25 to 75 basis points in 2007, with a slight up-tick of 25 to 50 basis points in 2008. Looking out to 2012, rates are forecast to stay flat, below seven per cent.

Adamache also predicted moderation in the new-home construction market in B.C. after a six-year run-up to a high last year of more than 36,000 new units.

“We expect the resale market to slow,” she said. “And builders are facing construction-cost increases of one to two per cent per month, a shortage of skilled trades and land availability.”

© The Vancouver Province 2007


Existing home sales surge in January, but prices keep falling

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

USA Today

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of existing homes rose in January by the largest amount in two years, raising hopes that the worst of the severe slump in housing may be coming to an end. Median home prices, however, fell for a sixth straight month.

The National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday that sales of previously owned homes rose 3% last month from December to a 6.46 million-unit annual rate. It was the biggest one-month increase since a 3.3% increase in January 2005, a time when housing was roaring toward the peak of its five-year boom.

The median price of an existing home sold in January dropped to $210,600, a decline of 3.1% from a year ago. It marked the sixth straight month that the median price has been down compared with a year ago. The January decline was the third-biggest drop in history.

Analysts said that the decline in home prices was actually an encouraging sign that home sellers are starting to adjust their asking-price down and this should help speed the correction in housing.

“For the last several months I have been hemming and hawing on whether we have reached bottom,” said David Lereah, chief economist for the Realtors. He said that the January report was an encouraging sign that the bottom for sales activity was reached last September with sales expected to stabilize this year.

Lereah stopped short of saying the housing contraction had reached its bottom last year, but he noted that inventory levels are near a balance.

“It appears the country as a whole is getting close to balance,” he said. “We will slowly and sluggishly get our way out of this contraction.”

But he cautioned that the warm weather in December boosted home closing in January, the activity that is tracked in the Realtors report. He said there could be a bit of a payback in coming months.

The inventory of homes for sale rose 2.9% to 3.549 million units, representing 6.6 months’ supply at the current sales pace.

By region of the country, sales rose the most in the West, 5.6%, followed by gains of 4.8% in the Midwest and 2% in the South. Sales in the Northeast were unchanged.

Housing budget too tiny, city warns

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Analysis says figure in B.C. budget won’t help much to end homelessness

Frances Bula

VANCOUVER – The province’s so-called housing budget has so little money for actual housing that Vancouver will be lucky to get half the units it needs to meet its target for cutting homelessness by 2010, says an internal memo from the city’s housing director.

And those potential 200 units a year will only be possible if the city gets additional money from B.C. Housing, Vancouver Coastal Health and whatever proposal Ken Dobell, the premier’s ex-adviser, comes up with for the city, Housing Centre head Cameron Gray advises city councillors and staff.

As well, Gray notes in his three-page analysis of last week’s provincial budget, the city should be getting the money now to build the targeted 1,000 units so they’re ready in time for the Olympics.

It is “disappointing and perplexing” that the province chose to park $250 million in a housing fund, Gray wrote, instead of building the 1,000 units needed right away.

“[The] $250 million would pay for 1,000 units of affordable housing, enough to build out all 12 of the sites the city has purchased and set aside for affordable housing,” says his memo.

“All three levels of government committed to making the 2010 Winter Games socially sustainable and inclusive. The appropriate endowment would be 1,000 units.”

That sober second look prompted Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan to call both the premier and Housing Minister Rich Coleman on Friday to ask when Vancouver will get the help it needs for its homelessness crisis.

Sullivan, after meeting with Coleman Sunday afternoon, said he remains confident that the province will ultimately come through with innovative solutions to providing housing in Vancouver.

In an interview, Coleman also insisted that there is much more to come in terms of new housing.

He said there will be much more news in the next 60 days, but he can’t give any details yet.

Coleman agreed that the $38-million figure that the budget claimed would provide “an estimated 600 beds in shelters, transitional housing and permanent housing,” isn’t nearly enough money to do that.

But, he said, it is seed money that his ministry can use as a lever to get money from other sources.

As well, his ministry has been given a chunk of unallocated cash that he will also be able to use as a lever to get other money.

“The city need not worry. We think we can leverage a lot.”

Sullivan said he now understands that the lack of clarity about what housing money the city will actually get was due to political pressures and the need to keep information confidential.

The result last week was that councillors ended up mistakenly claiming that the budget would allow the city to move ahead immediately and aggressively.

Sullivan himself issued a press release Tuesday saying the budget included “one of the largest investments in social housing in history.”

He also said the budget “offers hope that we can begin development as soon as possible on the 12 sites the city has purchased and earmarked for social housing.”

Gray’s analysis of the budget numbers said the city would be lucky if it can develop two or three sites a year.

That’s if the province commits to money beyond this year for developing housing, which it hasn’t.

“A long-term commitment of stable funding and programs that address the full continuum of need is lacking.”

The budget was touted as committing $2 billion to a housing legacy.

But Gray notes only one-quarter of that will actually go toward affordable housing; the rest is tax cuts. And, of the remaining $500 million, only $139 million is dedicated to new construction.

As a rule of thumb, it costs about $200,000 to build a one-person social-housing unit.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007


Pricey way to display your photos

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Jim Jamieson

What is it: Kodak EasyShare EX1011 Digital Photo Display

Price: $149 to $329

Why you need it: You love your digital camera, take a million snapshots, but nearly all of them sit on your computer’s hard drive.

Why you don’t: A wireless

digital picture frame just seems a little too geeky for you, and the price a little steep.

Our rating: 3 (out of 5)

With digital cameras becoming nearly as commonplace as microwave ovens, the sheer number of photos taken every year is mindboggling.

Take into account the fact that the vast majority of snapshots — many of them great pictures — never make it to the printer and end up living on a computer’s hard drive and you begin to get the idea of the market Kodak and others are trying to tap.

While a picture frame seems pretty low-tech and humdrum, Kodak’s new line is anything but.

Its WiFi-enabled models are very cool, as they can display photos from anything connected to a wireless home network or even show your online photo albums.

Of course, this uber-frame can also accept photos directly from a digital camera or a memory card for storage in its 128-MB memory. The frame can also accommodate most video formats and has built-in speakers to play the audio.

The wireless models come with a screen resolution of 800 by 480.

Besides the EX1011, whose frame is 25 centimetres diagonally, Kodak also has a 20-centimetre version that is WiFi-capable ($299).

Completing the new line are two non-WiFi frames, 20 and 18 centimetres, which will sell for $229 and $179.

All models come with a wireless remote, and interchangeable faceplates are available.

They are expected in elecronics and camera stores in March.

© The Vancouver Province 2007


Robson Street Prize

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Developer sees his project of a lifetime in The Atelier condo tower


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Floorings that are eco-considerate

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Kim Davis

Think that going green means fewer options? Think again when it comes to flooring. From carpet, wood, bamboo and cork to linoleum, rubber, glass and stone, innovative manufacturers are offering a growing array of high-performance, competitively priced floors that are eco-considerate as well as healthier for inhabitants.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for eco-savvy treads, as well as a brief review of some of the products you might find under foot.


Like all products that purport to be green, it can be difficult to discern which floors walk a truly sustainable walk. Third-party certification systems such as GREENGUARD, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and Canada’s Environmental Choice Program (EcoLogo) can help you identify products that meet higher environmental and health standards.

For example, EcoLogo promotes products that, in addition to meeting or exceeding accepted industry performance standards, aggressively use recycled content, reduce undesirable chemicals, and conserve resources.


Environmental beauty may prove little more than skin-deep if toxic binders, glues and finishes that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) gaseously, or contain high levels of known carcinogens like formaldehyde, are used to manufacture, finish, or maintain your floor.

Select products that utilize water-based, solvent free adhesives and finishes made from natural ingredients, which provide protection and durability without a plastic shine or noxious fumes.

When it comes to carpet, be sure to ask about the underlay, product backings, and the pad or cushion.

In addition to better adhesives, some of today’s carpet backings are made with recycled content (including car windshields!), and/or with natural fibers such as jute and natural rubber.


Used for centuries to make everything from spoons to buildings, bamboo flooring is quickly becoming one of B.C.’s hot design trends.

Solid and engineered bamboo flooring products are created by slicing round bamboo shoots into strips, and boiling and treating them with a preservative.

The strips are then dried and laminated into solid boards and milled into standard strip flooring profiles.

Valued for its purported hardness, and resistance to water, mildew and insects, bamboo is available naturally and in a range of pre-finished colours. It can also accept many different stains and be installed, sanded and refinished like hardwood.

Environmental Building News notes that “environmentally, it’s hard to argue with a wood substitute that matures in three years, regenerates without need for replanting, and requires minimal fertilization or pesticides.

However, as harvesting and manufacturing practices can vary widely, and there is no official grading system like FSC for bamboo, consumers should consider inquiring about the source of any product they purchase.

Reports on the hardness of bamboo, an attribute widely touted by vendors, range from as soft as fir to harder than oak.

It typically comes pre-finished in planks, including a floating floor type that clicks together with tongue and groove construction negating the need for glue or nails.


Harvested from the outer bark of the cork oak tree, cork is waterproof and airtight which makes it resistant to moisture and decay.

The natural elasticity of cork makes it especially comfortable underfoot, as well as a good acoustic insulator.

It is durable, and contrary to what one might think, recovers well from marks left by furniture or high heels. Cork floors are also hypoallergenic, fire-resistant, and naturally resistant to insects.

Recent news regarding the wine industry’s shortage of corks has some people wondering how cork can be considered sustainable.

According to the Environmental Home Center in Seattle, however, while the surging popularity of wine has resulted in a shortage of natural wine corks, the “waste” cork that derives from the making of corks, and which is used to create is much cork flooring is readily available.

Cork comes pre-finished, in tiles (which must be glued down), floating plank systems and most recently small mosaic tiles.

It can be found in a range of neutral tones and styles–from taupe and corkboard-like, to dark chocolate and an almost leather look.


So durable that ferry boats reportedly use it, linoleum is a completely biodegradable material made from a mix of all-natural materials such as linseed oil, wood flour, rosin, jute and limestone. Linoleum is inherently anti-bacterial, hypoallergenic and antistatic. The latter of which repels dust and dirt making, which makes it easy to clean without the use of soaps and very little water. Sold in rolls, tiles, and now floating planks, linoleum comes in a wide range of colours and patterns.


No longer limited to simply colour and pile height, carpets can now be found in a wide range of natural and recycled materials. From recycled bicycle inner tubes, inspired by the sheer number of bicycles in India, to soy fibre that offers the sumptuousness of cashmere, velvet and alpaca all rolled together (for a comparably luxurious price). Sisal carpets, made from the rope-like fibers of the agave cactus, like wool are naturally flame retardant, anti-static and sound absorbent.


To learn about more flooring options, including more traditional grains like wood, check out on the Internet.

A great resource for nearly everything you would want to know about eco-friendly wood, including a helpful product selector, is on the Internet.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007


UPB10 – Charge all your electronic devices with this power pack

Saturday, February 24th, 2007



There are few things more annoying to the digital road warrior to find out that you’ve forgotten to charge your cellphone, PDA or iPod — or, for that matter, your portable gaming system — and you’re halfway into the middle of nowhere. But if you’ve remembered this power pack device from APC, and it, too, is charged, you’ll be all right, if you’ve also remembered to bring the USB-based charger cord for your phone or PDA. Just hook up that phone and you’ll be able to make a call, leave it on longer and you can fully charge it. It’s lightweight and incredibly simple to use.


So far as we can tell, you’ll have to send away to a site in England (like for this, but, hey, if your camera doesn’t have a good stabilizing lens system or you’re somewhere that a tripod isn’t going to work, this could help you snap the photos you need. When it’s being carried it’s the size of a tennis ball, but when you fill it with, say, sand, rice or (well, this isn’t, perhaps the best alternative) stones or rocks, then you have a place to rest your camera and take those low-light shots.


With its wireless (or Ethernet) networking and the capability of printing on both sides of paper, this new printer from Lexmark combines both flexibility (and a wire-free uncluttered workplace) and the means of providing professional looking documents at the same time as saving on paper consumption. The printer comes not only with a 150-sheet input tray but also a 50-page automatic document feeder that enables multiple-page faxes and copying. You can also do wireless scanning from the printer to the computer.


You can either use this camera’s detachable GPS module or your own Bluetooth-enabled GPS device to capture real-time WGS-84 or MGRS position information. Perhaps it’s not for the average traveller but if you’re one of those photographers who absolutely has to provide the the coordinates of your digital images, then the 500 SE, with a lens that provides the 35 mm equivalent of 28 mm to 85 mm, could be just what you’ve been looking for. The camera also has large buttons and dials so it’s easy to operate while the user is wearing gloves.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007