The best time to choose your builder is when you are choosing your lot, or we recommend at the latest before you begin the design phase with an architect.
The best time to choose your builder is when you are choosing your lot, or we recommend at the latest before you begin the design phase with an architect. Having a builder on board early in the design phase will make sure that your home’s design and your desired budget are constantly kept in check throughout the process. Actually, a good custom builder will do much more than that during this architectural design phase. They will also:
First Things First In Your Search
Before we embark on the discussion of specific questions to ask a potential candidate and perhaps get deep in those woods with the myriad details it’s best to try to understand the builders’ philosophy and attitudes about sustainable building practices and energy efficiency. How do they constantly improve to provide what is considered best practice? Or do they? Some builders want to deliver the best to their homeowners and others get dragged along simply building to code standards (keep in mind “code “means a minimum threshold) Probing around to see if they align with your philosophy will reveal if there’s a fit.
As energy efficiency and carbon emissions have become an important part of life, considering, not only your personal views but which building methodologies and techniques will maximize resale AND provide a healthy, comfortable, energy-efficient and socially responsible home is essential. Does the builder you are speaking to really have a handle on this? Or are they just “greenwashed” to use high-performance building jargon for simply marketing? Below we’ve listed some key questions to ask about a High-Performance home which if answered satisfactorily will guarantee a wise investment and an excellent result in your new home.
Ask the builder if they energy model their homes. How many homes have they done that has a third party verified the result and can they demonstrate the amount of energy saved? A good energy model should be able to demonstrate a high-performance home can cut your home’s energy consumption at least in half and be third-party guaranteed. Energy star is a great program that ensures guaranteed results! Modelling is a large topic beyond the scope of this short article but ensuring the builder uses a high-performance energy model gives you the comfort the right level of detail will go into the build.
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 draft-free and comfortable and will give you the ability to then control the indoor air quality and save money on wasted energy leaking out of a poorly engineered building envelope. Ask if they have a 3rd party guaranteed blower door test done. Energy star requires this and again Energy Star assures that the expected quality is delivered!
Windows are the weakest link in the energy equation of a home. While we build our walls to R25 or R30 insulation values, windows are at best an insulation value of R5 or perhaps R6, so understanding window and glass technology are important to maximize comfort. Windows made by “Pella” or “Andersen” or another favourite manufacturer may give quality assurance, however looking carefully at the glass performance characteristics is the key to ensuring maximum 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 SHGC (solar heat gain coefficient) this is a measurement of the heat from the sun that can pass thru your window. Particularly on south and west exposure, the right number here will ensure occupant comfort and energy efficiency. With some open questions, you’ll quickly learn whether the builder is knowledgeable about the latest technologies in windows and how that will fit into the overall build.
This is a fairly simple item but understanding what the builder’s practices are. Do they regularly exceed code minimums? NET ZERO and energy star require higher insulation than code minimums and as code requirements are set to increase your home will soon be a dinosaur unless you chose insulation carefully to accord with future codes and provide comfort and energy savings now. More Insulation can have “unintended consequences” and simply adding more insulation to a wall without analyzing the characteristics of the wall as a building system can be a recipe for mould or rot.
Furnace and air conditioning systems come in various efficiencies with many options for you to choose to personalize your home’s environment. NET ZERO requires heat pumps with over 100% efficiency, drastically reducing energy costs. A ground source can be an attractive option with up to 500% efficiencies. Understanding if the builder simply puts in a furnace to meet code minimums or understands and uses higher performance systems that will maximize your comfort and energy savings not to mention your greenhouse gas emissions is important to have a grasp on.
Indoor Air Quality / Health
Once the shell of the house is properly built to seal out drafts the interior air can be 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? A MERV 12 or higher will ensure your home’s air is properly filtered to remove dander, microbes even down to virus levels. The total clean air delivered to your home (CADR) can be achieved more economically and efficiently using the right furnace filter rather than a “piggyback” HEPA filter. 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 home.
A Word About NET ZERO
In Canada, the CHBA NET ZERO program incorporates energy stars, and is third-party-inspected and delivers on the above “HIGH PERFORMANCE” building techniques guaranteeing a healthy, comfortable and sustainable home. A home that generates as much energy as it uses. In Ontario, the building code is now set to achieve NET ZERO standards by around 2030. By building to these standards you are future-proofing your investment!
By understanding each builders’ 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.
EVERY home, with rare exceptions, needs to be enrolled with 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 exceed the building code and current 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:
Homeowners should be suspicious of builders who say things like:
You don’t need a Tarion warranty because I offer my own.
I could enrol 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 short list 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
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.
Contact Chatsworth Fine Homes to begin your journey