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Green Builder Profile: Nexbuild

Nina Winham
For bchydro.com

"It was a little intimidating at first, but after you've done it once, it gets a lot easier. And then it was easy to keep improving."

Brian Hayashi, a Kamloops-based homebuilder, is not talking about bungee-jumping. He's reminiscing about his decision to focus his company, Nexbuild Construction, on green building – creating homes that are healthy, energy-efficient, and gentle on the planet.

"We got into houses in 2004. As a new company, we were looking for an identity, and we wanted to stress building quality, building efficiently, building well and building smart," he says. So in 2006, he joined the Built Green™ program and started to explore how to build a better home.

"We started slow to see how it would work out, and we did two homes that were certified as BuiltGreen Silver," he says. From there, he and his team have honed their skills by adding more and more green building elements to their designs, with help from incentives and support from the Power Smart New Home Program. Recently, they were involved in building the "Green Dream" home in Kamloops, a project of CMHC's "EQuilibrium"™ Sustainable Housing Demonstration Initiative.

"Built Green is an easy way of starting off and getting educated about what you can build into a home to make it greener," says Hayashi. "Rather than just jump in and try to do everything, it's a checklist system. The builder can go, 'I'll put this in, I won't put that in' and decide what works for him, what works in the region he's in, what's most cost-effective, and so on." For example, Hayashi says temperature control – both summer and winter – is more important in Kamloops than in the more moderate climate of the Lower Mainland, where moisture control is a big issue.

"Now that we can get around within the program we're finding it very painless, and a good way to build quality into a house because we can pick and choose what features to put in," he says.

So what has he learned, what advice does he have for those just starting out?

"We've discovered that the main principle in building energy-wise – and the biggest bang for the buck – is to focus a lot of effort on the design and the siting of the house," he says. "Next, buy the best windows and doors you can afford – they work better, they're air tight, and they last longer.

"Basically, if you have your house facing south as much as possible and you really think about minimizing sun exposure in the summer and maximizing it in the winter [passive design] [PDF], and you build the best envelope and insulate as best as you can, you are able to use a smaller furnace and cooling system. Plus, it's less expensive to add elements like solar power because the house uses so much less energy overall. Adding just a few thousand dollars more of insulation to a house really makes it a lot more energy efficient. So that's where I'd recommend a builder start." The Green Dream home is so well insulated its walls are 18 inches thick, leading to "energy savings in every direction, that will compound year after year," says Hayashi. (Get a sense of the wall dimensions in this Green Dream home stop-action building video.)

Hayashi is also keen on simple but effective technologies such as heat recovery ventilators, which pre-warm or pre-cool (depending on the season) the air entering a home using the air that is being vented. Similarly, the Green Dream home uses a drain water heat recovery unit that uses waste heat from warm water going down the drain to pre-heat water before it hits the water heater. "It sounds simple and it is, and the wonderful thing is that it works," says Hayashi. "On the EQuilibrium house the incoming water is about 60 degrees, and by the time it goes to the water tank it's at 90. It's really fantastic – if you have a teenager who likes to have long showers, this is going to save you money!"

Clearly, Hayashi no longer finds green building the least bit intimidating. He says the work is getting easier, as more and more trades are gaining experience, and there are great side benefits, such as the reaction of his staff. "I think it's the been the single biggest morale-boosting thing that we've done," he says. "We've attracted some really great people to Nexbuild because we were so out front with this green. I think it's a lot more interesting way to build, and it just feels better to be in the forefront of trying to build more sustainably."

Hayashi admits the market is still slow to respond – he says people seem to think green building is still far off in the future, when actually all the technology used in the EQuilibrium home is "available in stores now; it's nothing special anymore." He says home buyers tend not to think enough about their operating costs, or the value of efficient features. (He points out that a home built to old standards may not hold its value over time as the building code increases energy efficiency standards for new homes.) He does see some change, however; for example, he has spoken with people with breathing conditions such as asthma who are seeking green homes because they recognize they offer better indoor air quality.

"Building green is about trying to be as efficient as possible in our building process as well as in our use of materials; reusing and recycling as much as we can; and using the most eco-friendly products that we can find," says Hayashi.

"It helps us think about what we're doing so we can make choices that will be sustainable. It gives us a framework, and helps organize the building process for us. Building green is really just building smart."