How To Choose The Right Builder | Part 3: Research

First things first in your search… IS THERE A FIT?   

When it comes to finding the right builder for you, you must be asking the right questions, really getting into the nitty-gritty details.


Start at the top and try to understand the builders’ philosophy and attitudes. Your builder needs to share your goals. For example, if sustainable building practices are a high priority for you, finding a builder specializing in indoor air quality and energy efficiency is important.

How do they constantly improve and train their team to provide what is considered best practice? Or do they? Good builders want to deliver the best methods, techniques and materials to their homeowners but, some builders may simply build homes to just meet the code standards (keep in mind building to “code “means attaining a minimum standard).

Asking these questions and understanding more about the internal business practices will help you determine if the builder is a good fit.  

Energy Efficiency

Builder knowledge

As energy efficiency and carbon emissions have become an important part of life, considering, your personal views but what approaches the builder has to maximize resale AND provide a healthy, comfortable, energy-efficient and socially responsible home will prove essential.

Does the builder you are speaking to have a handle on this? Beware of the “greenwashed” companies who use high-performance building jargon for simply marketing.

Below we’ve listed some key questions to ask about a High-Performance home. If answered satisfactorily will guarantee a wise investment and an excellent result in your new home.   

Questions to ask the builder  

  1. Do they energy model their homes.  
  1. How many homes have they done that has a third party verified results 
  1. Demonstrate the amount of energy saved? (A good energy model should be able to demonstrate that your home’s energy consumption can be cut at least in half. Guaranteed!  
  1. What programs are they enrolled/certified in? Energy star and Net ZERO are programs that ensure guaranteed results!  

Why should I focus on Energy efficiency/sustainability? (Did you know that most building codes are set for aggressive upgrades over the next few years. Building to current codes will mean you have an obsolete home in a handful of years

As codes demand higher energy efficiencies and homeowners demand more comfort, lower running costs and better indoor air quality, many old building methods are obsolete and today’s builder has to be intimately acquainted with and schooled in building science.   

Energy Modelling is a large topic beyond the scope of this short article but if the builder is experienced in building homes with high performance, the third-party verified standard ensures energy savings, comfort and a good investment for years to come as your family enjoys the benefits of a healthy home. 

Blower door and building shell metrics. 

A blower door (a procedure where the house is depressurized and its “leakiness” is measured) is an absolute must for any well-built house. This test will guarantee that the house will be tightly sealed from cold drafts, and comfortable and will give you the ability to then control the indoor air quality and save money on wasted energy from a poorly built home. Ask the builder if they have a 3rd party guaranteed blower door test done ( as in the NET ZERO and  Energy star programs!) 

Window efficiency 

Windows are perhaps the biggest challenge in your home’s comfort. While we build our walls to R25 or R30 insulation values, windows are at best an insulation value of R4 or R5 or perhaps R6 at best, so understanding window and glass technology are important to maximize comfort.  

Discussions usually centre around a manufacturer, windows made by “Pella”, Kolbe or “Andersen”, however having the right type of glass is essential to maximize comfort, health and energy savings in your home. Probe around here and ask the builder to explain the specifics of window technology.  

A simple example is the glass SHGC (solar heat gain coefficient) which indicates how much sun can pass thru your window. Careful selection of SHGC, particularly on the south and west exposure where bedrooms can overheat from the afternoon summer sun can mean the difference between sleeping or not!  

With some open questions regarding what U, Cr, ER and SHGC values of the windows they recommend are, you’ll quickly learn whether the builder is knowledgeable about the latest technologies in windows and how he or she guides the process for the best choices for your home’s windows. 

Insulation 

What was a fairly straightforward subject has become quite complex. For example, simply exceeding a code minimum in a wall or roof can have “unintended consequences” and simply adding more insulation without a detailed look at the building science behind it can be a recipe for mould or rot. (yes we are back to building science!) 

NET ZERO and energy star require higher insulation than code minimums and as code requirements are set to increase, your home may soon be obsolete if it simply meets current codes. However, having the correct building insulation to a wall or ceiling is essential for a resilient and long-lasting home. 

Mechanical systems 

Furnace and air conditioning systems come in various efficiencies with many options for you to personalize your home’s environment. Air source heat pumps are an attractive option with efficiencies over 250%, drastically reducing energy costs. A ground source can also be an attractive option with up to 500% efficiencies. The builder having knowledge of which system is right for you is essential.  

Does the builder keep pace with developments in heating and air conditioning products and codes? Does the builder simply put in a furnace to meet code minimums or do they understand and use higher performance systems that will maximize your comfort and energy savings not to mention your greenhouse gas emissions. Also, from an investment viewpoint, some systems may command a premium upfront but will more than pay for themselves over their lifetime. Ask open/probing questions here. 

Indoor Air Quality / Health 

Once the shell of the house is properly built to seal out drafts, only then can the interior air be properly controlled. An HRV or ERV is a must to bring in fresh clean air while saving energy from exhausted stale air, constantly providing clean fresh air to your home.

What kind of air filter does the builder use and why? Is a HEPA filter the right solution? Is a MERV 12 or higher filter the right one for your home? Does the filter the builder uses remove dander, microbes even down to virus levels? Increasingly important questions as more time is spent at home. What is the total clean air delivered to your home (CADR) and can it be achieved more economically and efficiently using the right furnace filter rather than a “piggyback” HEPA filter? What about UV lights. Is this a good investment? Ask the builder about this technology and what the builder uses. This will give you an indication of the builder’s knowledge, experience and practices. F280 and Ashrae 62 are two standards that deal with a home’s ventilation. A proactive stance and understanding of these standards are essential in a high-performance healthy home.   

A word about NET ZERO 

We’ve mentioned NET ZERO quite a few times, so here’s a brief explanation. This program is seeing ever-increasing adoption across Canada. It incorporates energy star and is the third party inspected and delivers on the above “HIGH PERFORMANCE” building techniques guaranteeing a healthy, comfortable and sustainable home. A home, when equipped with solar generates as much energy as it uses. In Ontario, the building code is now set to achieve NET ZERO standards by 2030. By building to these standards you are future-proofing your investment and enjoying the benefits as you live in your home. Not to mention that by most metrics the cost of investing in NET ZERO is fully recouped and more with energy savings and ROI in increased final selling price. 

By understanding each builder’s approach to high-performance building you will be able to ascertain their approach and more importantly the type of home that they can deliver. What seems like a cheaper proposal now may not be when you consider the benefits and value that will pay dividends in the future and give you a truly high-performance home.  

Warranty 

Beware of builders suggesting that no warranty is required in a custom home! EVERY home, with rare exceptions, needs to be enrolled with Tarion. Tarion is mandatory in Ontario and builders need to be bonded and licenced with Tarion and HCRA (Home Construction Regulation Authority). This provides a layer of protection to ensure your home will be built to, at least exceed the building code and current minimum performance standards. Tarion and the HCRA levy fines against builders as well as owners who sell unregistered homes, here’s a note from Tarion’s website: 

TARION WARNS: Homeowners should be suspicious of builders who say things like: 

  • You don’t need a Tarion warranty because I offer my own. 
  • I could enroll the home in the warranty program, but it would cost you around $10,000 (home enrolment fees range from $385 – $1500). 
  • I built the home for myself but decided to sell it instead. 
  • You don’t need a warranty if you leave my name off the building permit. 

You should also ask your shortlist of builders about their own warranty, as good builders will usually provide extended warranty beyond any statutory limits and go the extra mile to keep their clients happy. 

Referrals are a good start to finding the right builder

A good start for your search is talking to friends, family, neighbours, and real estate agents that you trust to obtain positive custom builder referrals. There’s a good chance someone you know may be able to refer a good custom builder. Doing homework may reveal a list of builders to AVOID as well as those you will want to talk to. 

The internet is a useful tool. When searching you may see “ads” appear first on the search results page. These are paid ADS designed to appear higher on the list when a certain search term is used. Being specific in your Google searches and doing your due diligence with some persistence and detective work will yield good results. Once you have your list check their ratings. Most people won’t give a negative review unless they are extremely unhappy so be very careful when you uncover a less than stellar review. 

Use your research. 

The fun begins. Time to get to the punch with the three best candidates and reach out to them via their website and or phone to ask for further information, and if you are ready, a sit-down consultation. 

Results of your research. 

Your goal is to gauge each builder’s values and philosophy, experience, history, breadth of portfolio, the strength of team members, level of quality, organizational ability, communication abilities and industry certifications and awards. Memberships in Associations can also give you an idea of the builder’s commitment to the craft and professionalism. 

With 40 years of experience, you can relax, knowing we are safeguarding your vision and your budget, each step of the way. Every home we build proudly bears the Chatsworth name, bringing assurance that great attention to detail has been paid at every stage of construction. Our process ensures that your home is delivered exactly as you envision, on time and on budget.

Book a meeting with us to discuss your vision; wherever you are in your home-building journey. Anytime is the right time to start talking to us, but earlier is often better as we will help guide you through the whole process.

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