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Building high performance homes pays off

Image of home built by Naikoon Contracting
Naikoon Contracting built this North Vancouver home, the Midori Uchi, to an EnerGuide rating of 91 and earned rave reviews. the R-2000 Certified Net Zero Energy home features a 22-foot rammed earth wall, a 6.5-kilowatt solar photovoltatic system, triple-glazed windows and 100 per cent LED lighting.

Recognition for great work reaps marketing gold for leading builders

The home buyer who chooses a high-performance home is in for a treat.

Built to an industry-leading standard such as ENERGY STAR®, the home will be comfortable in both winter and summer, lacking in cold spots or drafts, and filled with healthy fresh air. Its energy bills will be lower, maintenance costs more reasonable, and its lifespan longer, than the average built-to-code home. It might even qualify for a break on CMHC mortgage loan insurance.

That's all great — if you're the buyer. But where's the value for the builder?

Fewer call-backs to fix things. Fewer warranty issues. Client satisfaction that pays off in reputation and sales. And if you're really good and a little lucky, the endorsement of someone like Mike Holmes.

Whistler-based RDC Fine Homes recently became the first B.C. builder approved by the "Holmes Approved Homes" program launched by the popular TV personality and builder.

"They approached us because we've managed to build a brand around high-performance housing," says RDC president Bob Deeks, who started developing his company's green building skills in the late 1990s. "For us to be able to bolt our brand onto Mike Holmes' brand over the long term will be hugely helpful."

RDC has now adopted the ENERGY STAR standard used by the New Home Program, and has completed two ENERGY STAR homes.

Builders reduce post-sale problems, gain word of mouth advertising and recognition

For Joe Geluch, president of Naikoon Contracting and a Power Smart New Home builder, homes built to a higher quality pay off in myriad ways.

"Overall what we're talking about, with energy efficiency and low maintenance and better building techniques, it all comes down to quality," he says. "And you know if you produce quality products, you're going to have less call backs, less warranty issues, a lot fewer headaches in general. You finish a project, shake the hand, and check back in a year. That's a pretty big value right there, for sure."

Naikoon began to focus on sustainable, energy-efficient construction when it relaunched in North Vancouver eight years ago with a LEED Platinum build. "It was a no-brainer," says Geluch. "If we could build homes more energy-efficient and healthier using simple processes and keeping things local, why wouldn't we?

"A lot of this is not new, but we recognized that it was going to become mainstream — and it has. That's why we went down this path, and it's been great so far."

Geluch says another benefit of proactively going green is that it's easy for his company to meet upgraded requirements as the B.C. Building Code has tightened its energy and other sustainability standards.

Buyers say high performance living experience exceeds their expectations

RDC Fine Homes' Deeks agrees that client satisfaction is an important part of the value a builder derives from sustainable building.

"We get really positive feedback from the people that we've moved into a high-performance house, because they notice it right away," he says. "A significant percentage of our clients have come back to us to say that the living experience has exceeded any expectation they could have had. They may have bought into the fuzzy concept of better health and comfort, but they didn't really understand what that experience would be until they actually lived in it.

"It's very rewarding for us as a builder. And it really turns some of our clients into champions for us."

Deeks says sustainable building practices have allowed his company to hammer out a niche market, gain customers and achieve recognition that included the Holmes Approved Homes approval.

Deeks says challenges still remain as the industry shifts to better quality construction:

  • Price sensitivity in the buyer market
  • The learning curve required to build high performance housing
  • The need for more builder education opportunities
  • The need for builders to adapt to a series of Code changes and to adopt continuous learning.

Still, says Deeks, there has been a shift. Ten years ago he had to sell high performance features; now, the majority of his clients are seeking them.

Joe Geluch agrees. "It's changed dramatically. We get people coming in understanding the house as a system, wanting a healthy home and energy conservation — it's become totally mainstream.