Is it time to abandon the metric system in construction and real estate?

Jun 11, 2022 | 2022 Toronto Star Property Law Columns, Uncategorized

Our strange mix of using both Imperial and metric systems is hard to fathom by any measure, writes Bob Aaron.

As Britain prepared to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to announce the country’s return to Imperial measurements.

Since 2000, EU rules required Britain to give the metric system priority over the old Imperial system — although both types of measurements are still permitted.

Officially, the only countries still using the old system are the U.S., Liberia and Myanmar. But, unofficially, Canada’s real estate and construction industries still stubbornly cling to Imperial measurements.

It’s unlikely that those industries here will ever stop using terms like inch, foot, yard and acre to measure length and area, so Canada might as well legalize our weird real estate mix of metric and Imperial.

I recently tried in vain to find real estate listings using only metric measurements for frontage and depth of land, or for the size of houses and condominiums.

Most buyers and sellers still think of area in terms of square feet and not metres.

Builders price construction in dollars per square foot, and realtors list properties showing frontage and depth in feet. The sizes of homes and condominium are listed in square feet. Nary a metre to be found anywhere.

Current property surveys, and registered condominium and subdivision plans show linear measurements in metres. My millennial clients, or those raised in other countries, are typically comfortable with those measurements, but Canadians educated before the 1970s still need calculators.

How many condominium buyers would understand how big a unit is if it was described as 92.903 square metres instead of 1,000 square feet?

Go to the big box stores or lumber yards and try to buy construction materials like tile, carpet or wood in metric measurements. Our close ties with the U.S. economy mean that these commodities are always priced in square feet despite the fact that Canada is officially a metric country.

Does anyone who buys or sells lumber know what a 5.08-by-10.16 is? That size of wood is known everywhere as a two-by-four, and it’s always eight feet long. A sheet of plywood is always sold as four-by-eight feet — and not 1.2192 metres-by-2.4384 metres.

The market for lumber in Canada is always quoted in dollars per thousand board feet, but lumber pulp is priced in dollars per metric ton.

Our strange mix of using both systems for real estate and construction does not make an ounce of common sense, and is hard to fathom by any measure.

For the last 50-plus years, stakeholders in real estate and construction have resolutely refused to use the metric system.

Perhaps, then, it’s time for the federal government to officially change the Weights and Measures Act and abandon the metric system for these industries.

Following in Boris Johnson’s footsteps, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should reverse his father’s legislation and officially return all real estate measurements to the old system.

In this position, I stand by William Shakespeare’s line from Taming of the Shrew: “I’ll not budge an inch.” Or 2.54 cm.

Clearly, it’s measure for measure.

Except for gasoline. I’m not paying $9 a gallon. I’ll stick to litres.

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Contact Bob Aaron

Bob Aaron is a Toronto real estate lawyer and frequent speaker to groups of home buyers and real estate agents.
He can be reached by email at bob@aaron.ca, phone 416-364-9366 or fax 416-364-3818.

Aaron & Aaron specialize in Real Estate Law, specifically Sale of Rental, Condominium, Residential, Rural Recreation, Offer to Lease, Commercial, and New Construction

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