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Thank you to all the brave men and women who fought, served, and continue to serve our country.
Homebuilders Association Vancouver Podcast (Episode 5) - Measure Twice, Cut Once: The High Life: High Performance Homes with Doug Langford
What’s in a high-performance home, and why does it matter to you? Take a listen as I walk co-hosts Mike and Jen of the podcast Measure Twice, Cut Once through a high-performance home. We talk about what is involved, the choices to consider, and the benefits to the homeowner. Measure Twice, Cut Once – HAVAN, the Homebuilders Association Vancouver’s latest podcast aims to help homeowners build it right, the first time.
Jen: Welcome to Measure Twice, Cut Once the podcast from HAVAN, the Homebuilders Association Vancouver.
Mike: From code to closets,
Jen: safety to skylights.
Mike: We’ll take you behind the walls and all things, home building and renovation.
Jen: and give you the ins and outs from the experts on what you should know.
Mike: in plain language.
Jen: about home building design and renovation.
Mike: I’m Mike Friedman,
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Mike: And don’t forget to share with your family, friends or anyone else, you know, who might be thinking of a project in their home now or in the future.
Jen: Hey Mike, how are you today?
Mike: Great Jen. I am so happy to be here and I’m so excited today. And I am really looking forward to talking to our guest Doug Langford, from JDL Homes on the topic of high-performance homes.
Jen: I’ve been prepping hard for this today. I have looked at a whole bunch of YouTube videos on high-performance homes, because I’m really I’m in the building industry, but this is something that I’m not too familiar with. And of course I hope my family does more and more as we move forward as a construction company. The more I research about this topic, I get excited about the enhancements to the livability and safety and health of your home and the impact on the people who live there.
Mike: You know as a homeowner, I want the best for my family and I think every homeowner’s the same. So although I like to focus on warmth, light, sound, air quality in my home, it takes a lot of people and it takes a lot of professionals with building science knowledge to build these high-performance homes.
Jen: And in the new era of COVID high-performance homes are very relevant. So let’s bring in Doug Langford from JDL Homes. Hi, Doug.
Jen: How are you?
Doug: I’m well, thank you very much.
Jen: Well, the first thing I ask anyone is, I want to get to know you a little bit. So can you tell us about your journey and how you got to creating JDL Homes?
Doug: Certainly. So I was born and raised in Eastern Canada on a, a small farming community. So is a child working there with my father. We learned how to be a mechanic, a carpenter, a veterinarian, et cetera. Fast forward into my early twenties I did spend a bit of time traveling the world. And then once I get into my thirties, I, joined up with my brother, Jeff Langford, and we started searching back to our roots and we started renovating and we renovated a house for ourselves and then our neighbors asked us to renovate and then their neighbors asked and so on. And then we started a company 20 years ago and that graduated from renovating into building new construction and, from new construction we have now, not exclusively, but we’ve made the foray into building higher performing houses, like step code five and passive house.
Jen: That’s cool you built the company with your brother. I also have a brother named Jeff and we run a construction company as well. It’s a popular duo. You were also a camper and you’ve got a little a camper that you retrofitted. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Doug: It’s a cool camper. My brother and I own it together. Actually he bought it from a retired couple that had bought it brand new in 1984 and they only used it once a year. So it’s got a real retro vibe to it which we love. As a weekend challenge in the winter we took it apart and redid the plumbing and the electrical and put a wood stove inside it, put a new awning and added a few other niceties. And so that’s a part of my biggest passion or recreation, is being in the outdoors. So I enjoy different sports and the camper is great. So if I’m not around town, generally in that thing on the weekends.
Mike: We’re really lucky because we do live in the most beautiful part of the world. And we are so privileged to have this in our, just literally our backyard. We know what you love to do, because we’ve seen the work that you do, but what inspires you? What’s the spark of creativity that allows you to build these really amazing projects that you’re involved in?
Doug: Really good question, Mike. I love the process of construction. I like the tangible aspect of it. I like to put something together and then stand back and see what it is at the end of the day. My father was very much, he owned his own company as well and plus the farm and he was a big proponent of if we’re going to do something, do it right, do it well, or don’t bother doing it at all. And so I’ve used that, throughout most of my adult life and I’ve taken that into construction and I just like the industry constantly changes. I love the challenge now of building higher performing houses for multiple reasons. And that’s just gets me even more excited.
Jen: And what made you decide to build and get more knowledge into high-performance homes?
Doug: So a project came across our desk a few years ago and it involved tearing down a house that was 40 years old and rebuilding something new for the homeowners. And that really, it kind of upset me and there’s no way we should be tearing down houses that are 40 years old and rebuilding them. A change has to happen. So we started to investigate at that time different technologies that allowed us to do our job better. And since then government bodies and other institutions like Passive House have come out with and they’ve put together a prescriptive plan to build a house that not only is it energy efficient, comfortable, but it’s because we’re building it that way. It’s going to last a hundred, 150 years or more. So I think it’s incumbent upon us as building professionals to try and educate the public, but also to be building to that standard.
Mike: Talk to us quickly about what a high-performance home is because we understand the impact in terms of sustainability for usage of ingredients or materials, but what are the values of building a high-performance home to somebody who’s a homeowner who’s contemplating some sort of project like we hear this term, can you help quantify what that actually means for people?
Doug: A high-performing house is something that has a greater our value. There’s, there’s probably half a dozen components to a higher-performing house that make life more comfortable and make your energy bills less. There’s some tangibleness about not hearing the noise outside or people hearing in noise from inside the house, et cetera, but building our wall assemblies with more insulation, better performing windows and doors, higher, efficient, mechanical system, ie heating ventilation, cooling, and building their foundation with a higher performing product, basically thicker insulation. So you want to just cut down on any air loss through the house, and that just makes it way more comfortable for the family and safer, you know, high efficiency, HRV, which is a requirement in all houses in Vancouver, but high-performing houses and you get a complete exchange of air in that house, every one to two hours, depending on the size of the house and the size of the unit. If you look at just a few weeks ago here in Vancouver with the fires, you can’t just crank your window, right? So having windows that and ventilation system that, you know, you keep the windows closed, you have a ventilation system that exchange the air through filters could be monumental for some people.
Jen: I hear these terms all the time when high-performance homes are brought up, but like LEEDs, EnergyStar, Passive House, what are those, because there’s so many things that you read on the internet and all of sudden you’re like, Oh, okay.
Doug: Yeah. I mean, we could go on the subject for awhile. Passive House was actually out of Germany, but it came from the R 2000 program that was in central Canada, dating back from the seventies. And these are just prescriptive paths to building a higher performing house. And then there’s, there’s certain levels that we need to get to. So you have to use the right ventilation system and we need an energy modeling professional to help us design the house at the beginning. Energy Star is used in houses now to rate the energy efficiency appliances predominantly, and then Step Code Five is another government prescriptive.
Jen: Which you just led to the other question, you knew where I was going with this. What is Step Code? Because that’s another one that’s been thrown out lately to me and I, and a lot of people are like, what is the Step Code?
Doug: So the Step Code was introduced by the provincial government just a few short years ago and it contains five steps. So the idea was that we would gradually over the next few years, up to the year 2032, we would get through steps one to five, slowly making our houses more energy efficient. And so they’ve put this in place so that the general public, us builders and other building professionals have time to learn their process, to get used to this and slowly introduce this into the public. So the idea with the Step Code is that by the year 2032, all new construction will be built to a Net Zero Energy Ready status. And you know, each municipality has, is taking their own path to get there. So even though this was introduced as a provincial government thing, the City of Vancouver, the way their bylaws are set, we’re already at a step two or three, New Westminster, North Van, Burnaby – they’re all going to be a little bit different, which is slightly confusing, but at the end, we’re all going to get to Step Five. And that Net Zero Energy Ready is basically what we want to do – build a home that is airtight efficient and utilizes high, efficient, mechanical systems so that the energy that is consumed in a calendar year can be made up by putting something like a solar array on the house. So they’re asking us to make them net zero ready, so that if we did put up some solar panels on the house that could be fed back to the grid, and that would offset the energy consumed
Jen: Just in case anyone doesn’t know what net zero ready is meaning
Doug: You are not consuming any more energy than the house is producing in a calendar year. So ideally in the summer, the solar panels are sending energy connected to your hydro meter. And you’re getting a surplus in the summer when the sun is shining and then in the winter you’re consuming more, but at the end, it zeros itself up. So theoretically we wouldn’t be consuming any energy.
Mike: It sounds a lot like we’re not just changing how we do things, we’re really reinventing the entire building standards that we use moving forward, who sets these standards. And we understand that the province sets the goals and objectives of 2032, but who actually sets the standards and who checks to make sure the standards are done correctly and that companies like yours are actually doing things to that property.
Doug: Again, the checking of these things are done by different professionals at a municipal level. But if you are building a Passive House or a Step Code house that could be Step Code Three, Four, or Five, that needs to be modeled. So we need to employ a professional energy modeler. And what they do is they plug in different metrics into a computer program and help us as builders or the homeowner get to a path to build that house. And then once we are under construction, that is re-checked by doing a blower door test. So we have a blower door test during construction before drywall and then again at the very end. So we are set out with a path to start, and then it’s checked during construction.
Mike: What’s a blower door test?
Doug: So a blower door test is basically you take the front door of your house, open in it and envision like a tarp with a giant round fan on there that’s actually depressurizing the house. So have air blowing out of the house. So image that everything else is sealed up in the house. And then they can measure what the air exchanges are in the house. And they measure it typically at a resistance level in, at 50 pascals. In a passive house, they’re going to reverse the fan and actually below it, not only out, but blow it in as well. And that double-checks where we have that gives us the opportunity before we put drywall, if there’s any minute leaks that we can go and using tapes and caulking, and really tighten up the air barrier of the house.
Jen: And we talked about Energy Star for appliances, for certifications, but are there any other recognized certifications for high-performance homes that we should be aware of?
Doug: You can get an Energy Guide rating for the house as well. And then when it comes to like Step Code, you can actually you’ll get a step code rating on your house. When do the final blower door test, same with Passive House as well. So with the Passive House certified house, you’ll get an actual certification plaque from Passive House. So those are the main ones right now.
Jen: And being in a place like Vancouver, is it hard to have a net zero house to achieve that goal?
Doug: Vancouver’s really British Columbia as a whole is great, but Vancouver is excellent. Yeah. So we, our temperatures don’t get really super cold in Vancouver. Germany is a, is an industry leader in this type of housing. And our climate is very similar.
Mike: So we’ve learned a lot about high-performance homes already. We’ve learned a lot of what they are, even how we test for them. Let’s talk about something a little different, but still talk about high-performance home. As a homeowner why would I want a high performance home? Like we understand what it is, but what are the benefits to me as a homeowner? And why would it be important for me as a consumer to know this information?
Doug: Sometimes it goes beyond a financial question. There’s the safety and there’s the comfort of living in the house. There’s yeah, we can, we can pay a small premium to build a house more energy efficient and negate our energy bills. And if I’m just going on a strictly on a math conversation, that’s a tough sell because we in British Columbia, we have some of the cheapest energy bills in the world. So it has to go beyond that. And there’s a lot of intangible aspects about living in a high-performance home that our clients have shared with us. People with allergies having, you know, a nice, beautiful airtight home with a robust mechanical system. Like when we have forest fires, that’s invaluable. We had a client of ours we built a house a couple of years ago, a higher-performing house. And we utilized structurally insulated panels for the wall system. And the homeowners were sitting in and watching TV. And there was hurricane force winds. It was the middle of November and they live in South Vancouver – hurricane force winds. What the heck are they talking about? So they went and they opened the front door and the wind almost blew the front door. Right? In fact, it blew it open and they’d put a little ding in the door, but they couldn’t hear anything and they didn’t feel anything. So they were super grateful and super impressed that they have a higher performing house. Just for that one simple reason. Health and safety are a huge, huge concern, but the impact that you’re making on the environment, I think it’s, we can all agree that the climate is changing. And if we’re going to do something and are going to build a house, why not do it this way?
Mike: In other areas like in Europe where they build houses for five or 600 years, and a lot of that methodology is still current. So if nothing else we’re just catching up and we’re going from having disposable homes to really tangible long-term investments that people buy for, for generations.
Doug: That’s correct. I read a stat, three or four years ago where the country of Germany spends, you know, 60 or 70% more on the envelope of their houses than we do here in North America. So we’ve got to sort of get around the mindset of redirecting our finances. It doesn’t mean that house is going to be more expensive. It’s that we need to just look at what our priorities are and reprioritize, where we allocate the funds when we’re building, because there’s 150 different things that cost money to build a house. You can just focus and redirect those finances into what I believe is the right way to go and make the house last a couple of hundred years, leave a legacy for your children and your grandchildren. If we need to make cosmetic changes inside, that’s the easy part.
Jen: That all being said, do you have to sacrifice design when it comes to creating a high-performance home? Or can you still make it look beautiful?
Doug: I guess the answer is yes, we can. It just, it becomes a budget driven decision. So the more simplistic we keep the architecture, the more, and this is conducive of any house that the, the simpler, the architecture, the easier it is on the, on the budget.
Mike: It sounds like a high-performance home is a really attractive feature for anybody. It sounds great. We are reducing our environmental impact. We’re living better lives, healthier, cleaner air. Reduction in noise and city, but it sounds really expensive.
Doug: Short answer to me is no, it’s not expensive. Building a house in general is not an inexpensive endeavor. Just think it’s a really important that we prioritize. When you take a house, I break it out into 150 different items and I sit down and I talk to my homeowners. Okay. What’s, what’s important. Where do you want to direct your finances? So I think that directing your finances toward a solid building envelope and a robust mechanical system will pay off. The short answer is no, it just requires a homeowner to be on board and to be open and flexible in how we redirect the finances. So you might get more here. You might have to forego that marble countertop maybe, and just go with a quartz countertop.
Jen: And that’s what I was just thinking. It was like it’s coming up to being maybe having a compromise with yourself when it comes to building a high-performance home, because if that’s what you want, maybe you don’t need that $60 K marble budget.
Doug: That’s right. A hundred percent. So you can, you can achieve that by just making some clever decisions and working with some experts in their field.
Mike: Doug. That’s great. We are going to take a quick break to thank our industry partners. So hold onto what you’ve been talking about because were getting some great information from you. We’re gonna be back in 30 seconds,
Jen: Measure Twice, Cut Once is a new podcast and we are grateful for the support from our podcast partners, BCHydro, and Fortis BC. Their support helps us share expert knowledge like we are hearing from Doug today to help homeowners design built and renovate, right, the first time.
Mike: If you’re enjoying this podcast, please like, follow and share with your friends, neighbors, and families. The more followers we have, the more chance we have to help people like yourself with this podcast. And this information really changes how we look at everything including high-performance building. And I think I want to build a high-performance home next time I do it as well.
Jen: Me too. And by liking and sharing us, you will be entered for the chance to win an, a Napoleon Prestige P 500 stainless steel, natural gas, barbecue from our friends at FortisBC.
Mike: That is an amazing prize and an amazing barbecue valued over a thousand dollars. So now that we’ve talked about that exciting snippet, let’s get back to talking about high-performance homes with Doug Langford of JDL Homes.
Jen: Okay. I’m going to ask you probably the hardest question of all of them is how do I find a builder who can build a high-performance home when it comes the time?
Doug: I think the best place to start would be.
Jen: Calling you.
Doug: Calling me, but you could call the wonderful people at HAVAN and do your research. I think that if you call HAVAN, research online, Google search high-performance homes, and talk to a builder that actually has some experience. I think that’s crucial.
Jen: Not a lot of people do it yet. Like you said, it’s still kind of new stages. Like there are quite a few builders out there, but it’s finding the ones that do it and the ones that have experienced it.
Doug: Yeah. I mean, that’s indicative with a lot of things in life. You want to do your research and interview a few different builders and make sure it’s a right fit. But having the experience with building a high-performance home and also, working with the materials and technologies to get there is a few different ways to get to that house. They also need to be familiar with the municipality that they’re working in. That’s also another one that’s overlooked but very important.
Mike: So Jen, you grew up in the building community. Doug, you’re obviously very active in our community as well. Those of us who are not members of the building community, we’re going to be looking at this a little bit differently. Can you tell me some of the questions I might ask somebody when I’m looking to find a high-performance builder and how can I find out if they’re actually going to be able to do the job?
Doug: Well, you’ve asked them outright if they’ve built a higher performance house, but I think that, you know, interviewing the builder as far as the types of houses they build. So are they familiar with using insulated concrete forms? That would be a good question because you can use that technology, but not build a high-performance house. So that could help. Working with panelized wall systems, or is the builder familiar with putting insulation on the outside of houses and asking the builder, what do they understand on envelope technology? Do they understand how an air barrier works? And if those sorts of things, this is relatively new stuff. And you know, even us builders are still learning things about envelope science. You know as Jenny was saying, she was watching YouTube videos and what not for bringing herself up to speed. I think a lot of homeowners have to sift through that and then interview as many builders as you can. And then maybe back it up and interview other professionals in the industry, like talk to an envelope engineer, for instance, that might be a good place to start. And an architect, if you’re interviewing an architect that they’re familiar with, the designing a home to be high-performance, so that’s another good place to go. And asking your builder as well if they have a really good set team, because one of the things we’ve learned rather quickly is to build a really good house and especially a high performing house, a builder has to have their team set in place.
Jen: So the last few people we’ve had on that are also builders. We talked to Mark Cooper and Matt Senf, and they talked about the importance of team. You know, sub-trades interior designer, architect, all those people on a high-performance home. We’ve heard you talk a little bit, but it seems like you’ve got a few different people, but I’m sure at the end of the day, the importance of a trustworthy team is the end goal, like to build your home.
Doug: A hundred percent. Yeah, it is crucial to the success of any project, to have a really good team put together, but that’s exacerbated by when you’re building a higher performance home. Having the back and forth that we’ve had to do with our designer, then the architect has to double-check things with the city and they get back to us. And then we double-check things from a structural standpoint with an engineer. And then we have to talk to our envelope engineer and the energy modeler who typically are the same company, and then talk to our trade consultants specifically, HVAC. Okay, well, what’s the size of the ducting gonna make it, is it going to work here? And you know, based on the formula that we have in place with the wall assembly and the windows, is are you gonna be able to size this to mechanical system to make sense? So there is a tremendous amount of that goes on, um, behind closed doors and I’ve taken over up to 20 years to amass the team we have. And it’s crucial, crucial to pulling this off, to making this work.
Jen: And I did do my YouTube research and I learned about the envelope, but for people that might be thinking, we’re talking about real paper envelopes, what is an envelope in building.
Doug: An envelope on your house is basically like the jacket that you put on when you leave the door. So the envelope is the walls, the door, the window, the roof. And the foundation, and the interface of how all these things get connected is really important. And how we put it together. And then how we cover it with an air barrier like Tyvec or other, probably seeing the white with the sign Tyvec written on it. We can use that effectively as an air barrier. There’s other manufacturers out there that make different products that work great and tapes and caulkings and peel and stick membranes and, and how we cover that and bring it all together is super important. But the envelope is basically the whole shell.
Jen: I love that explanation and the image you painted of the jacket that you leave when you get home. It’s so great. And what is one thing somebody should ask the contractor when they are in the interview process and they’re thinking of building a high-performance home, could get them to ask one important question.
Doug: Can you explain what the air barrier is?
Jen: Perfect. I liked that question. I don’t know why that is
Doug: If a contractor doesn’t know what that is or stumbles on that, then that person should not be.
Mike: The correct answer is, It’s like a jacket you put on,
Jen: Just walk away. If they don’t know the answer, basically.
Doug: It’s like a gortex jacket,
Jen: Can you give us an example of maybe clients that you’ve built a high-performance home and how you kind of walk them through the process of that from beginning to end?
Doug: The current project that we’re building in Burnaby is it’s kind of an interesting journey because the homeowners came to me and said, Doug, we’ve heard of you before. We like your product in your website. And we have this lot that we’ve had in the family for 40 years or 50 years. And we touched on maybe renovating it, but what they wanted and trying to save the house was just not going to work. So we quickly realized that building a new house was going to be the path. And during a couple of meetings, the owner kept saying, well, we want a really solid, energy, efficient house. And so over the course of a couple of meetings, I told them about the Step Code. They didn’t know anything about it. Like most people. And as we go in there, they seem very keen on that. And I said, well, we’ll be hiring an envelope engineer and an energy modeler to help us put down a path to get there. But we are well versed in a few technologies that I know are super airtight, uh, specifically insulated concrete forms for the foundation and structurally insulated panels for the walls. And we actually used, we could use that for your roof, if we keep the overall house simplistic. They also shared with me their, their budget and the budget was not too tight, but it was tight enough that we couldn’t go off on a, on a big tangent and be too fancy. So we went down a journey and we actually got to Step Four using the, the technologies you want to do to build the house. And we reached out to our window provider said, so if we went from double pane to triple pane, what are we talking? And they said, yeah, we could actually do that for about $1,800. And the homeowner is like, no brainer. So we’re still at Step Four and we were using a six inch structurally insulated panel wall, and we could make it thicker, but that was going to have a detrimental effect on the interior design, as our designer said, if we could avoid that, that would be great. And then our sips panel providers said, well, we can upgrade the insulation that’s in the wall from a standard installation to a graphite infused EPS installation. So we said, okay, what would that cost? And that was going to be about $2,000. So we took that and we plugged that into the program and we made it to Step Five. In making it to Step Five, I also realized that we were eligible for a City of Vancouver grant called the Near Zero Building Program. And so we actually got the homeowners a $21,000 grant. Because we spent $4,000 to get us to Step Five, I’m getting $21,000 back. So that worked out really well. And the homeowner did agree with me that, if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right. And they also agree with me that we know that this is coming down the line. We need to do this now because they’re not just building the house to sell. They want this to last many generations.
Jen: What resources are out there besides YouTube, that you can learn about high-performance homes. So you’re more prepared when you meet with the builder.
Doug: So you could reach out to Passive House Canada. You could Google the Step Code through the provincial government and you can also reach out to HAVAN and look at all their e-learning programs. I almost exclusively go to HAVAN for e-learning for credits for my builders license, which we have to do every year. And I find their content to be excellent and really good value. So that would be a really good start. Those three avenues.
Mike: You know, we’ve talked about so much different stuff today, and it’s such a complex subject and we really, really appreciate you breaking it down for us and simplifying for us because I think it makes it so much easier for so many people, but let’s tie a bow on this and let’s bring it all back around and let’s summarize very quickly some of the things you’d want me as a homeowner to take away from our conversation today. What are specifically some of the hot topics that you think we should be thinking about when we were finished listening to you?
Doug: If you’re considering building a home, consider building a higher performing home. Consider of the legacy that you’re going to leave your family. Consider what might have been important in the past. Consider rethinking that, just think, Hey, you know, maybe if I forego a few things that I thought were super important to me, maybe I can redirect those funds into the envelope and, and into more insulation, into triple pane windows into a really robust mechanical system because these other things can be replaced and upgraded down the road. So that would be the big thing that I would implore people to think about.
Mike: This has been a really eye-opening and educational talk about the homes that are being built today. And let’s be honest, this is the way it’s going to go. This is how all homes will eventually be built. So I think it’s great getting an education like this at the ground level, and really appreciative of that. We talked about some amazing things today. We talked about 2032 and in the Net Zero awareness and readiness for the homes in the City of Vancouver, not just in Vancouver, but across the province. We talked about comfort, health, safety, energy savings, and protecting the value of your home. Definitely talking about space saving design, and prioritizing your budget to get the home. You really, really want. If you could offer us one last piece of advice, what do you think that would be?
Doug: We touched on cost and value of the home. And I touched on this with our client that we’re building a house for in Burnaby, and it’s not known right now, but you’re, we, we take out and spend a lot of money. It’s the single biggest financial decision you’re going to make in your whole life. And so if we’re spending all this money to build a home, I implore people to consider building a high-performance home, but also consider what the value of that house is going to be in beyond 2032. And my intuition is telling me that eventually, if you were to sell your house or you need to refinance, or you need to do something for the family, if we know this is coming down the pipe, and so why not start now? Because if we’re selling, you’re buying a house in 30 years from now, are you going to buy a house that’s a Passive House, or Step Five Net Zero Energy house, or are you going to buy a house that isn’t?
Jen: It’s so important. Because as we move forward, and of course COVID taught us a lot about global warming and everything like that, too. It’s really important to think about the future and the planet. So 30 years down the road, it’s important that you’re in a home that you’re happy with. Thank you so much for taking your time out to come and talk to us today.
Doug: It’s been my pleasure.
Jen: So Doug, if people are interested in getting high-performance home, how do they find you?
Doug: The easiest to go to our website www.JDLHomesVancouver.com
Mike: Thank you Doug so much. It’s always a pleasure talking to you. So informative and really helping us to understand high-performance homes has given us the ability to have a foundation for our next episode when we talked to Ami McKay, of Pure Design about the pre-design stage.
Doug: Excellent. Very important.
Jen: Now I want a high-performance home on my wish list. So one day, so thank you so much, Doug. Again, this has been Measure Twice, Cut Once the podcast from HAVAN, the Homebuilders Association Vancouver. Again, I can’t thank you enough. Thank you for joining us today.
Doug: My pleasure. Thank you,
Mike: For notes and links to everything mentioned on today’s episode, go to
Jen: Follow us and review us to help empower homeowners like yourself to make the right decision the first time and automatically by doing so you’ll be entered to win a gas barbecue courtesy of our friends at FortisBC.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m partners with my brother, Doug, which is where the “JDL” (Jeff and Doug Langford) comes from. We started in Vancouver about 15 years ago building for ourselves. People started asking us to do work for them and we grew from there. It started as renovations and then moved into building new homes. We now build full custom homes and do renovations.
Is it stressful building for people?
It was early on when we were eagre to get the work. But we’re good now at finding our people – the people who want to build a quality home. In the early days, you say yes to everyone you can to try and build your business. But if you don’t see eye to eye with your clients, it doesn’t work.
When do people bring you on?
In a lot of cases, too late. The earlier the better when you’re bringing on a builder. We’ve had a lot of successful partnerships where we’ve helped people buy the lot and we go to open houses with them. We’re usually brought on after drawings are done and things can get negative because decisions have been made regardless of budget. If you bring us on early, we know how to achieve our clients’ goals and we know how much things cost. An architect or designer’s job is to create something beautiful. And sometimes it’s the job of the builder to ask how much it’s going to cost.
How did you and your brother get your start as builders out in BC?
We both grew up on the family farm and did some building there. We also have builders in our family back in Ontario. My first few jobs off the farm were with other builders, so it was always natural to me. It has always been a part of my life.
I followed my brother out to Vancouver. Doug worked his way across Canada in his 20s and landed in Vancouver. He dabbled in real estate here. I was working in Toronto in my own construction business at the time. We talked on the phone about how great it would be to work together out here. Eventually I came out and that was it!
On a side note, is Pinterest a good or a bad thing?
It’s excellent for helping us see what is in the client’s mind. They often can’t articulate it so Pinterest helps them do that. But 90% of the images they’re seeing are from other places in the world and we can’t build what they’re seeing. So there is some heartbreak when we tell them we can’t build exactly what they’re seeing on Pinterest, but we now know what they like. It’s a double-edged sword.
Let’s talk about peat. We know that you have done a ton of building on peat bogs in Vancouver. What is that?
Peat is slow-decomposing organic matter. It is moss that has built up over the years and is slowly decomposing. The environment it creates is highly acidic. Vancouver has quite a few peat bogs throughout the city. Everyone has seen it and driven through areas where masonry is cracked, none of the gates work and you can see the houses are unlevel. That’s par for the course for houses that are unsupported when they were built on peat.
The reality: parts of Vancouver were built on marsh and creek beds.
What challenges are there when building on peat?
Peat doesn’t have a lot of structure to it. Peat never stops breaking down and there is methane in the peat. It’s also not consistent. You need to know that when you’re choosing to build on a peat bog. For me, I can call engineers who have worked in those areas to give me a ballpark of what we might be dealing with, before we get into serious testing.
You could look at a dozen houses on a city block and everyone could be different. Peat is a sponge full of water, so things on top of it can sink and rise. The water table is what gives us trouble with peat. You will hit water right under the peat bog that can cause major issues.
In the mid 1900s, we tried to drain the wet areas of Vancouver. And then we built right on top. The science and the testing just weren’t there. We didn’t have the materials to support these homes that were built.
If you buy a property on the bog and you weren’t aware, what do you do? What’s the process?
Depending on the type of peat and depth of peat (which you will know by bringing in a geo-technical engineer for testing), there are a few options. Option 1: They will drill a helical pile and screw it into the ground. A grid is then designed to support the entire weight of the house. The geo-tech will tell you how many piles are needed and how deep they need to be. Each pile must be able to hold a certain amount of weight to support the house. It can get complex, but if you have a builder who is familiar with peat bogs, they can help.
The first way is the helical pile and the second way is you can dig it out. This works if you only have a few feet of peat. They will dig it out until you find something strong enough to bear the weight of the house. The only caveat here is the water table. If you dig down a couple feet and find water and start pumping it out, you’ll find the neighbouring houses start to sink. That’s why the helical piles are the most economical and safest way to build on peat.
We haven’t been using helical piles for that long in Vancouver. We now have several different manufacturers; not all of them are the same. The metal needs to be treated and coated when you’re working with an acidic product like peat. An experienced builder will know what to use.
What is the expense and time of building on peat?
Geo-techs are not a cheap alternative but they are taking on a horrendous amount of risk. Their cost is warranted as a lot can go wrong.
The simplest peat build is a $40,000-50,000 uptick but we’ve gone up to $500,000. But the majority of builds are on the lower end though. Once you buy your home and have your builder, you get your geo-tech. You then do your testing and see how deep you need to go. Then you design your house. The slab of your house is almost a separate entity. It is fully structural and engineered, which then allows you to design the house you want from there. All of that work is done up front. It does add a bit of time, but it’s mostly organizing the drilling materials.
What about basements?
We have done full basements in peat where the basement is submerged in wintertime. The basements are fully waterproofed. And that is very costly and complex. Usually there are not basements in peat builds which works out cheaper but you lose the square footage.
So there’s the added cost of finding solid ground and you lose square footage when you build on bog land, right?
Right. And losing possible square footage is a big deal, especially in Vancouver. Plus you also have the lower lot value, which never really goes away. Even if it’s brought up to code, it will still be lower value than a house on solid ground. But if it’s a long term investment, why not? You’ve got to hold it to make it worth it.
A friend of mine lives on Trout Lake with a view of the park and we renovated their home a few years ago. The house has a huge footprint so we were able to jack up a few corners and remove the fireplace, which weighs down on the bog. But before then, the house was quite crooked. And that’s just part of that community.
Why do you build on peat bog?
We’re suckers for punishment is what it is! I don’t like to shy away from a challenge because it sets us apart. I enjoy these challenging builds that force you to do your research, think and learn. I like to educate myself and other builders. That’s how we got into these types of build. Early on we were lucky to meet the right people with our peat projects – the right engineers and sub-contractors. That’s a reason why we’ve done so many projects on peat. It’s really no different than building any other home – there’s just a couple more phone calls and a couple more steps.
Do most people know they’re buying or have bought on the bog?
Most real estate agents have done their job and notified their clients. The trouble is then the misinformation around what it takes to live there safely, which is very lot specific. The helical piles are charged by the foot, so the costs can vary widely depending on the depth of the bog. So people are aware of the bog but have the wrong numbers in mind. It’s just a lack of understanding.
What has 2020 looked like as a homebuilder in Vancouver?
We were busy at the start of the year and had the initial drawback when covid hit. It really depends on the type of construction you’re in. Colleagues who work exclusively in condos and townhomes were really hurt. But now the phones are ringing off the hook. Our architects are super busy. For builders who are struggling, I think it’s going to be short-lived. Busy architects is great news for us.
Peat doesn’t have to be scary. There are costs involved but it is possible and easy to build on. If you get it at the right price, there is nothing wrong with it. You will have a perfectly sound house in the end. And some of the best micro-neighbourhoods in Vancouver are on peat.
Find out more: http://www.jdlhomesvancouver.com/
Access the peat bog map
Please be advised that we will be closed on Monday October 12th for Thanksgiving. We hope everyone has a great long weekend and is able to spend time with their loved ones! We will re-open on Tuesday October 13th, 2020 with regular business hours.
HAVAN Builders' Breakfast Series: Building Step 5 NetZero Ready Home in Metro Vancouver: Builder Case #1
We want to extend our thank you to the Homebuilders Association of Vancouver (HAVAN) for organizing our recent case study of our NetZero ready new build in Burnaby, BC. Our online webinar had 74 attendees, followed by a site tour of 21 people (multiple small groups, sanitized, masked up, and physically distanced of course)! We hope you found it informative and took away some great points that building a NetZero ready home can be affordable. If you missed it don't fret, we have the tour filmed and you'll be able to access it online through HAVAN's E-learn platform.
Of course, the main benefit of having skylights in a home is all the natural light you get from them. This is mainly for winter because that's when we have less overall exposure to the natural light our bodies crave. Nobody likes being holed up in a dark, dim, artificially lit cavern on those overcast winter days when the sun sets shortly after it rises. A well-placed skylight or two can make the difference for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and can't spend time outdoors. Below are the key differences between LED skylights versus conventional skylights.
LED Skylights emit artificial light that closely resembles the visible spectrum of natural sunlight. In its purest form natural sunlight has a temperature of around 5,000 degrees Kelvin and a Color Rendering Index of 100.
Install: Simple process, which any electrician can perform with minimal wiring. No retrofitting required. Controlled by a wall mounted digital control pad which can link up to 60+ skylights. Most companies also offer standard sizes like 2' x 2' or 2' x 4'.
Maintenance/Cleaning: Virtually no maintenance required, and cleaning is fairly easy.
Heat Gain/Loss: LED Skylights do not have any impact on the air temperature. As we move towards building more energy efficient homes, this is a great way to have less openings in the building envelope while still getting the benefits of natural light!
Glare: LED Skylights do not produce UV radiation or glare and do not interfere with projectors or any other light emitting technology. LED Skylights have a dimmable range of 1% to 100%. They provide up to 50,000 hours (5-6 years of continuous usage). This period can be extended by replacing the parts that might fail after the initial lifespan has ended.
Other Notes: Some LED skylights also provide background images of scattered clouds or clear blue sky. A single LED panel can light up to an area of 15 m² with 4,500 Lux if installed at a height of 3 meters. At a height of 6 meters, the same area will receive 3,000 Lux.
Install: Experienced installer required to perform complicated roof alterations, which can prove to be
costly and risky if not done by a professional.
Maintenance/Cleaning: Due to their structure and position on the roof, skylight windows can easily become dirty due to condensation over time, and cleaning them can be a strenuous job. Moisture problems (or leaks) may also arise if the skylight has not been properly insulated.
Heat Gain/Loss: Since skylights are located on the roof, they tend to lose heated air in the winter and cooled air in the summer.
Glare: Because traditional style skylights allow unfiltered sunlight directly into your home, you might experience issues with glare at certain points of the day. Due to their location they may also be a nuisance to have blinds on.
The Vancouver housing market is strong and there is also a lot of demand here for small footprints, affordability and independent living for older generations. Bonus: the utility bills incurred in laneway homes are relatively low. Almost half of occupants reported that they pay less than $50 per month on hydro and gas when polled in a survey by the City of Vancouver.
Here are some tips if you're thinking about building a laneway house in Vancouver:
Don’t forget to read through relevant city regulations before you begin building. If you live in Vancouver and want to add a laneway home to your property, the City of Vancouver has compiled an easy-to-follow list of steps to take.
When your laneway home is complete, check with the city before moving in to see if you need an occupancy permit.
To learn more, discuss your plans or request a free quote, please don’t hesitate to call 604-568-9983, email us, or complete our online contact form today.
Thinking of renovation your bathroom? Don’t make any of these 5 common bathroom renovation mistakes. A bathroom renovation may seem like a simple endeavor, considering its size. However, bathrooms can become one of the most troublesome areas; the following are five of some of the most common mistakes that people make.
Can Save Time
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Achieving Cohesive Design Between the Kitchen & Bathroom
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