About

The Consultant you NEED

Consultant leaning against his company vehicle.
Al, “The Fixer” and his car.

I’m Al Barnes, construction Consultant and “Multipotentialite“, “Polymath“, or  Renaissance man .

For much of my youth, I was known as “the kid who takes everything apart”. I was often found scouring scrap yards or junk piles. I disassembled things to figure out how they worked, and (eventually) how to fix or improve upon them.

Mom was NOT pleased. However, early on I understood the function of hundreds of electrical and mechanical things. Appliances, machinery, vehicles – anything I could get my dirty little hands on.

In school I excelled in art, automotive mechanics, technical drawing, shop, music – and later on, welding.

Security Tech

At age 15 I began training in the Residential Burglary Alarm Industry (in Montreal) a student of my father – a longtime burglary alarm system technician.

He and a handful of colorful older characters (who were extremely talented tradesmen) took me under their wings and taught me the ropes. The alarm techs of yesteryear were generally electricians, carpenters, telephone men, and overall handy guys. Fortunately I was one of very few youth invited to join the ranks at the time, and I reveled in it!

My mentors were generally older and of “comfortable” weight, so…  Being young and of slight build, yours truly was regularly chosen to run cables through the attics, crawl spaces most homes unsavory areas.

Consultant on self storage facillity security installation
 Al, tooled-up

I needed not only know how/why the products being installed worked, but also about basic construction elements (foundation, framing, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, carpentry, plastering and painting). I learned where to drill holes, how to fish wires, and how to avoid damaging those elements in the process.

It took a number of years, but I eventually became a top technician in the field, running my own installations and training other techs. I even taught some of the old dogs a few new tricks. 🙂

Construction Beginnings

Only the” well-to-do” could afford the piece of mind that electronic security services offered back then. Their opulent homes were by comparison, a world away from the lower-class, cardboard-box-like apartment buildings of my childhood.

Consultant on meat processing plant roof
Al, Security Camera Installation

These homes were built to last with high-end materials and decorated lavishly. “Wireless” systems didn’t exist. Each and every individual component had to be hard-wired directly to a main control panel. Rarely an easy task. There were very few unfinished basements and exposed cabling was definitely unacceptable. Knowing many aspects of residential construction was beneficial to doing the job right. Let’s just say that I did my “home”work!

Every house was uncharted territory. As a result, each required a great deal of imagination, time and skill to overcome.

We used brains and brawn. Carefully dismantling, drilling and fishing wherever necessary to get wires from A to B.  When complete, every piece was re-installed, fastened, plastered and primed/painted. It had to look as good or better than before we started. Furniture returned exactly from whence it came, and everything dusted/cleaned.

Young Consultant

Systems were designed by the technicians, who doubled as on-site sales force. The alarm “company” supplied the leads, but the technicians consulted the customers and planned every aspect of the job. Asking questions to determine what they considered worth protecting, and how best to do so. It could be the dwelling itself, the inhabitants, the goods inside/outside – or a combination of. I guess you could say we profiled the homeowners, and adapted systems on an individual basis.

Consultant on security camera installation
Al in a crane basket on a camera installation

An installation would take roughly 3-5 days depending upon the complexity of the system. Priority-one was planning cabling routes. Detailed examination of possible work areas for existing damage or were made, written down and then confirmed with the client. This would prevent possible disputes, insurance claims or litigation after the fact. Techs would then call the “company” to discuss the details, in order to create an estimate or quote for the client to consider.

A New Direction

Consultant in concrete coring and cutting
Al, concrete coring

As technology advanced, systems grew larger and yet more affordable. My work now included dwellings of all types, even trailer homes. From basic intrusion detection to “closed circuit” video camera, access control, intercom and communication Installations.

My skills and rapport with customers lead me to some very high profile residential, commercial and industrial projects. I was specifically requested (on numerous occasions by affluent customers) to protect their jewellery stores, banks and fur stores . I’ve secured Police stations, adult & youth remand centers, government offices, casinos and the like – even working at the home and office of an ex-Premier of Alberta.

Due to the nature of the more sophisticated systems, I started dabbling in the lock and hardware industry, and eventually trained as a locksmith. I loved the process of integrating both electronic and hardware security.

Consultant in welding and fabrication
Al, Welding a garage ramp grate

I’ve collaborated with iron/ steel workers, welders and other craftsmen who design and build custom decorative and security window bars, doors and gates. Some projects even gave me the opportunity to lend a hand using the welding skills I learned in school. And talents I developed building custom motorcycles and other fun things.

The fixer

Consultant on the go
“The fixer” Van

In time, the knowledge of construction and security I garnered eventually lead me into the fields of communications (Telephone, Ethernet, Cable TV) audio-visual and “smart-home”.

People like myself were now in high-demand, but there were so few of us. Eventually, I gave up working for others on a poppers’ pay. I started my own business, taking on projects in almost anything residential (and some commercial). The benefits were endless.

Not being one to shy away from a challenge, I discussed and collaborated with my clients dilligently. I would then strap on the tools and get to work – occasionally sub-contracting to others. I ran full kitchen, bathroom and basement renovations – among hundreds of other projects. Using the encyclopedia of information I had collected from the professional trades I conversed and worked with over the years.

Consultant at project site
“The fixer” Car

I’ve learned to read and create floor plans and blueprints, for all project aspects. As lives and residential construction technologies change (codes, laws, techniques, products, materials, etc), I strive to remain in flux. My aptitude for reading people, combined with other key talents, allow me to integrate anything applicable to improve my clients’ living spaces and lives.

I have certainly benefited from changing hats often, and ultimately it has benefit others.

Positions I’ve held through corporate and self employ include but are not limited to:

Builder, Contractor, Decorator, Designer, Handyman, Inspector, Laborer, Marketer, Mentor, Project Planner/Coordinator/Manager, Owner, Salesperson, Supervisor, Trainer and Technician.

Philosophy & Mindset

I firmly believe that in life we should both learn and teach, exercising our brains and sharing our knowledge.

Consultant on traffic surviellance
Al, Traffic Camera Installation

To further improve myself, I do my best to eat right, practice yoga and follow the 12 Universal Laws on a regular basis.

I’ve broken things and made mistakes but those instances have further developed my database and skills, as well as my drive to learn more.

I fully understand project coordination and management. Also, the materials, products, suppliers, methodologies, technology and intrinsic trades and professions involved in the construction industry.

Everyone lives a distinct lifestyle which is in constant flux. Varying geographic locations and differing budgets (in conjunction with a variety of arrangements for every individuals’ requirements) means that every home should be different.

My broad background, attention to detail and passion for client satisfaction makes my job as consultant a no-brainer. My Cognitive Dwelling Assessment System (CDAS) even further aids in manifesting your perfect home.

I do what I do because I enjoy it and it’s challenges. Regardless of who, what, where, when, how or how much, I routinely go to the mat for everyone, without exception.

I’ve always enjoyed passing-on what I have learned, mentoring, advising – and helping people. If I can achieve what I believe, so can you.

And I’d love to help you create the home of your dreams.

Tropical Project

Consultant in tropical builds
Ocean-view Backyard

In early 2014 a friend inquired about security for the off-grid vacation home he was building in Belize, Central America. After some discussion and estimates, I was granted the job.

After months of planning and discussions leading up to the trip, my friend mentioned that he was having difficulty finding a caretaker. It required someone trustworthy, and capable of caring for the property and vacationers’ needs. As well, enough knowledge to operate and maintain all the high-tech systems the house contained.

These systems comprised of a 14,000 gallon water collection, storage, filtration and purification.  Solar and wind power generation with battery storage and DC/AC inverter. Solar pool circulation/filtration and lighting, as well as wireless audio and internet distribution systems. None of the known locals were up to the task.

I had dreamed of one day living off-grid, living in the tropics too, and here was a perfect combination of both staring me in the face.

Consultant in sustainable & off-grid installations
Solar and Wind Power Generation Equipment

After plenty of thought (and research) I prepared for what would become an incredible, life changing experience.

I notified my clients, closed-up shop, sold pretty much everything I owned and prepared for the biggest adventure of my life – the drive to Belize!

Accompanied by an acquaintance and my 100lb Doberman, we traveled from Ottawa, Ontario, to Central America. My friend’s older and poorly maintained vehicle no doubt gave us troubles along the way. We bedded down in some pretty sketchy places and had a few close calls, but we made it nonetheless – 10 days and many hard-earned miles later!

At long last, Placencia.

Quickly evident, was that living and working in a developing, tropical country was extremely different from what I was used to. I would need to gain a completely new attitude towards life, other cultures and the planet as a whole.

Planning Every Detail

Bamboo trellis supporting Bouganvillia plant on side of building
Bamboo Trellis for tropical plants

The house was designed by a Canadian, and built by locals – myself being the only exception.

Though the plans were made well in advance, I was brought on site late on the project’s time-line. Security equipment is expensive, not replaceable locally, and easily damaged from construction mishaps. And like everything else – prone to theft.

Within a few weeks I discovered that the entire project was behind schedule. Much of its afflictions due to insufficient planning and collaboration among all parties involved. Minor, and major details had been ill-conceived and/or omitted altogether. Some of the contractors were also somewhat new to the technology they were using.

I’m unaware if the designer had ever physically been to the site or understood the challenges of the locations’ climate. The sun, heat, salty ocean air and precipitation during the rainy season were huge factors that seemed overlooked in the design. Also apparent was the builder’s lack of grasp on the owners’ lifestyle requirements.

Off-grid power storage, Batteries on a rack
Battery Energy Storage

I contacted my friend to inform him of the deficiencies and was immediately entrusted to oversee the project to completion. As a hands-on player, in time (with determination and perseverance) the basic priorities were met. However, due to the initial cost overruns, change orders, etc, completion would be a few years yet. It just goes to show that one can’t plan enough. Every detail must be determined in advance.

Dilemmas

I have conversed with dozens of people who’ve built their own homes, who recounted horror stories about the ordeal. Builds in Belize, Mexico and Trinidad I visited have left me gobsmacked with the lack of foresight and poor design. 75% of homeowners had presumed that their designer/builder (both Local and/or North American) would know and take care of everything.

Many builders, contractors/subcontractors fail their clients miserably (IMO). Some charging 50 to over 100% more than the original agreed price (however most ranged from 40-75%). Moreover, the finished products left much to be desired.

Some homeowners lost their shirts due to overages and lack of available financing/time to complete the work. This allowing Mother Nature to wreak havoc on unfinished structures. Not to mention the health and relationship issues directly related to many of the ill-fated projects.

Consultant in tropical dwelling construction - off-grid house on the ocean
Off-grid house, Placencia

For most of my stay, I wasn’t able to keep groceries, cook, do laundry, or connect with the outside world, because the house wasn’t complete. So my cash stash dwindled quickly.

Along with delays and added costs for the project, came a lack of marketing funds and rental income (from which I would have benefited). Of course there was also the matter of my legal residency (which can take years to achieve). So, my tropical semi-retirement would not last, and I had to return to Canada.

Nevertheless, everything happens for a reason. Mine was to return with greater  experience and insight, which lead to my becoming a consultant. And, as much as I enjoyed almost everything about Belize, I discovered that beach life isn’t my cup of tea. I much prefer to be near or in the forest, with a small pond, river or stream nearby.

The gist

Q: Are there projects that go smoothly, with no grief?

A: Yes, but honestly, it’s a rarity, they are few and far between.

In the developing countries I have been, I have personally witnessed numerous unfinished projects sitting on vacant lots with “For Sale” signs. Concrete structures crumbling due to the salty air rotting the inner steel skeletons and untreated wooden structures collapsing from termite infestation. Regardless of the fact that local labor is cheap and that there are plenty of raw materials available, tearing down and re-building can be quite expensive – not to mention time consuming and frustrating as hell.

Electrical layout, circuit elevation
Electrical Circuit Plan

There are far more skilled North American and European builders available in tropical areas nowadays, and the local builders are upping their game. However, many still aren’t up to snuff on local building customs/techniques, materials and technologies. And many projects still suffer from “Island time”. If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

Some retirees/buyers have even had to deal with lengthy land title disputes because on numerous occasions, various real-estate firms/people had claimed title to the same properties, which had lain dormant for years. Without a doubt, the governments in many developing countries seem to have difficulty keeping accurate records of property ownership. Bribery is often a way of life here, but it’s shortsighted and affects many.

Setbacks and issues don’t just happen in the tropics, they can be a part of any project. The onus is definitely on the owners to do their own extensive research and get seriously on-board with everything/everyone. If not, they need to outsource that work to experienced, competent consultants if they want smooth sailing and a gratifying outcome.

Sure, you can leave it all up to someone else, but who’s house is it anyway?

Observations

My years in the Construction Industry have made me realize that North Americans (typically) are very wasteful. I was too.

Far too often I have gutted portions of peoples’ homes that were in perfectly good condition/working order. Mostly because they didn’t like the style or color of something, or because they wanted to “keep up with the Jones’s”. Loads of perfectly good materials destroyed and taken to landfill.

Eco-friendly building - bootprint in circle with line through it
No Carbon Footprint

Sure, occasionally some of it was recycled but not nearly often enough. Energy and resources are wasted at an incredible rate. The clearing of natural flora and fauna on properties (which require next to no maintenance/water) to put in grass – which requires incredible amounts of maintenance and water, is extremely wasteful. Not to mention it destroys natural habitat of much needed insects and wildlife.

Having visited (and lived in) a few developing countries to date, I have seen how terrible North American habits are rubbing off on other countries and cultures, and how the beautiful, vibrant and natural lands are quickly being raped, pillaged & polluted.

We travel to tropical locations to enjoy the climate, breathe clean air and stand in awe of the natural beauty. But we want comfort, and are quick to demand the natives adapt to our wants and needs. Unfortunately, those demands destroy local culture and nature in the process. Sustainable habits which have been around for millennia or even eons – disappear. More often than not, advancements create pollution, expend resources and decimates species. The result is destruction at an exponential rate.

Personal Choice

Our Old Barn - Sustainable building and living
Our Homestead

I’m now a huge proponent of sustainable living. An Eco-friendly, low carbon footprint lifestyle. Every year, my wife and I do more to reduce our negative impact on our planet, the source of everything we need to survive.

Although it can be more work,  it’s a return to a more basic, less stressed and healthier life (for us anyway).

To help further offset our carbon footprints and promote sustainability, we purchased a small, ex-dairy farm. It’s over 150 years old, and located in south-eastern Ontario. In 2018 we had 2400 coniferous trees planted (as part of Ontario’s 50 Million Tree Project). To assist in balancing climate change and reestablish homes for birds and many other displaced critters. Beekeeping and organic, Aquaponic farming are also in our future. Solar and wind power generation also be added, in an off-grid type of installation.

My suggestion: Do something for yourself and generations to come – build (if not, at least live) sustainable lives. Help slow the destruction of the planet that (if current trends continue) will eventually bring an end to humanity as we know it.

Each of us have our own beliefs, dreams, values and reality. No matter what mine are, I’ll always do my best to put yours at the forefront of your project.

If you want something special and individual but haven’t a clue where to begin, contact  me.

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