Did you hear? BC offers homeowners up to $40K to build secondary suites. Click on the link below for more information on who and what type of suites are eligible, and how to apply!
Vancouver Real Estate Podcast (Episode #286): BC’s 2022 Building Code Will Change the Way We Value Homes with Doug Langford
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
My brother and I own JDL Homes Inx, which is a Vancouver-centric builder and major home renovator for the last 20 years.
Have you been busier during covid?
Yes and no. The industry has been busy but we’re seeing a bottleneck when it comes to the municipalities and building permits. So that has thrown a wrench in our schedule. Vancouver is a different animal compared to other municipalities. But they do some things really well. They are reaching for better efficiencies. But when covid hit, it created an enormous backlog. Covid took everyone by surprise.
What is the biggest challenge in building a home in Vancouver?
Building a house has become more complex over the years. Right now, the record high lumber prices have been a big problem. Dealing with municipalities, building codes and bylaws can be an issue. Building technologies are also changing rapidly, and you have to adjust to that. Finding skilled labour is a problem every year. So it’s a daunting process for us and our clientele. And then obviously covid has put a monkey wrench into everyone’s business.
Let’s talk about changing technology. How do you navigate that?
My role in the business is primarily customer facing and one of the challenges for me is to talk to our clients about how we build towards net zero. It’s hard for me to explain the technology that we have now, especially to people who live in older homes. Most of the public just isn’t aware of what the current technology is. The provincial government has laid out the Energy Step Code which has five steps towards net zero, and municipalities can adopt those steps as they see fit. That gives us the time to learn how to adapt our structures to the net zero code. Each municipality is a little bit different in their adoption, which adds to the confusion. We built a step code five, net zero ready house in Burnaby recently. The city had just mandated step one but our conversation with the homeowners was that by 2032 the city would mandate step five, so why not just build to that standard now? The homeowners agreed. We actually had to teach the building inspectors what we were doing, that’s how new it is.
What’s a passive house?
Passive houses have a model that tells you how to achieve a high efficiency level. For step code five, net zero, net zero ready and passive houses, it boils down to really thick insulation, robust windows and doors, a continuous air barrier around the house, mechanical ventilation, and a heating and cooling system with a high efficiency level. We built a passive house in Vancouver two years ago and we didn’t need a heating source at all besides two electrical in-floor heating pads. That’s all we needed to heat the whole home. Moving forward, it will be more challenging to cool your house than to heat it.
With airtight buildings in Vancouver, we hear about issues with mould and moisture in the building. How do we fix that?
Air tightness can trap moisture inside and we have to deal with that. That’s where the HRV (heat recovery ventilator) comes in. It’s a simple system that allows fresh air from outside to come in while exhausting stale air from inside. You’re exchanging the air, which protects the health and safety of your family. You can get some sophisticated filters on the HRV, and similar filters with a heat pump, to help clean the air for covid concerns as well.
How do you get a house airtight?
We’ve used Tyvek in the past and there are other processes and technologies out there. When we construct a house, deciding how we’ll build the air barrier is an important step. You have to be very careful, especially when you’re building a passive or net zero house with very tight targets.
What happens if you don’t hit those targets?
That’s a good question! We have a fail safe where we do a test, seal up any areas, do another test, and then dry wall and seal up the house once we’re all clear. There has to be a plan in place before you start building.
What exactly does net zero mean?
By 2032, we need to build all new housing to a net zero ready standard. I think eventually they will enforce net zero. But net zero ready means that the house is built to an energy efficient standard that if we say, add solar panels, that will be enough for the house to be self-sufficient. But to reach that, you can’t just add a bunch of solar panels to an old house. It’s about how we build the basement, roof, walls, HRV, heating pump, mechanical, etc.
How does this affect gas users?
Electric is the future. Most gas appliances aren’t efficient enough to work into the energy equations of a passive or net zero house. We’ll also have to get off gas for heating our homes as well. As of 2022, we can no longer use gas to heat the house or hot water in the city of Vancouver. Gas is still allowed for your stove…for now. But eventually, I think the municipalities will outright ban gas.
How does building to net zero affect timelines and costs?
If we look at two identical houses with the same finishes – one built to the current code and another built to net zero ready – you’d be looking at a 15-20% increase in costs for the net zero home. It wouldn’t add to the timeline, as long as you knew what you were doing from the outset. We’ve built passive and net zero houses before, so we wouldn’t have the same learning curve as others without the experience. We have to pivot. Do you need $30,000 worth of marble? Do you need the upgraded appliance package? Could you do a little bit less of that and put the funds into efficiency? When we spend more money on efficiency, we’re also reducing carrying costs. There are no energy costs; you won’t have a gas bill. Yes, you pay for BC Hydro in the winter but in the summer, you’re using your solar panels. But you can’t do it halfway. If you buy a fancy new heat pump, all of the heat is going to go out your windows and the holes in your house.
Can you do this in an older house? What does that process look like?
This is a tricky question and it depends on the nature of the house. Putting triple-pane windows into a 1940’s house without any insulation is not very helpful. It also depends on the nature of the renovation. But every little thing helps. If you can insulate your attic and walls, and upgrade your windows, that’s great. Those triple-pane windows and insulated wall panels also really help with noise reduction from outside. It can be a challenge getting homeowners to take a gamble on new technology. But is this where we’ll be in 10 years? With people who are building a new house now, I talk to them about the Energy Step Code and tell them this is where we need to be by 2032. Do you want to build to this standard now, preserve your resale value and be more efficient? Sure, it might mean giving up a few things. But the technology we’re using right now isn’t very complicated. The biggest challenge I have is conveying to people that they won’t be cold in drafty homes anymore. But it’s a learning curve. Eventually, how we value our houses will change.
Do you have to sacrifice the aesthetic with these kinds of homes?
It’s a lot easier to make a house energy efficient by making it a square or rectangular box. We can still build a craftsman style but we have to rethink how we build them. There are ways around it and I don’t think you have to sacrifice aesthetics too much. But it is easier to get to that efficient place if the architecture is simple.
How is BC doing compared to the rest of Canada?
We can pride ourselves in BC on being ahead of the curve. Other jurisdictions are looking to us. We do live in a province where we’re not as worried about heating our homes in the winter and we mostly rely on hydro electricity. So we are lucky here. It’s 100% possible to build a passive house in a place with more extreme temperatures. We’ve been researching this type of building since the 70’s and that research began in the prairies. This is where building science becomes paramount. How we handle the climate and moisture here is completely different to how it would be handled in northern Alberta.
Find out more: http://www.jdlhomesvancouver.com/high-performance-homes.html
Vancouver Real Estate Podcast (Episode #246): A Complete Guide to Vancouver's Peat Bog Areas with Jeff Langford
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
Are you planning on building a duplex in Vancouver? Here's a brief list of benefits and drawbacks to consider.
What is a Duplex?
A duplex is a single residential property with two dwellings under one roof and a dividing wall between the two living spaces. Each side of the wall is a completely separate home, with its own entrance, parking space, yard and amenities. Usually duplexes are on one title, meaning both halves must be sold together, however, there are times when a duplex can be subdivided into two separate titles and each home sold separately.
What Are the Benefits?
What Are the Drawbacks of Building a Duplex?
As you can see the benefits greatly outweigh the drawbacks for building a duplex in Vancouver.
If you're considering building a duplex, contact us today to discuss your project.
Nudura ICF installation at our Kitsilano jobsite
What are Nudura Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs)?
Effectively Nudura ICFs are a stay-in-place concrete form that consists of two expanded polystyrene panels (EPS), spaced apart in the desired wall thickness. Polypropylene webs (or ties) are spaced 6" or 8" on centre to withstand the concrete pressure and to allow the attachment of wall finishes (damp proof membrane or rainscreen on the outside, and drywall on the inside).
Why does JDL Homes use Nudura ICFs?
-Increased Efficiency: The Nudura ICF panels comes in 8ft lengths x 18" high so we can put up more walls in less time. They are also designed to be collapsible so they take up less space when they're transported or stored on our jobsites. Another great feature we love about these ICFs is that they're reversible, non-handed, and is available in both angled and radiused profiles. During assembly, they click into place which prevents form uplifts resulting in plumb walls!
-Sound proofing: The thick multi-layer nature of the forms help increase sound proofing.
-Superior R-Values: The City of Vancouver requires a rating of R-22 for all basement and above grade walls. You can achieve R-24 with Nudura ICFs, which is 10% more compared to traditional assemblies. As a result, it can help with energy savings in heating, cooling, and ventilation, creating a more superior performing home.
-Increased Interior Square Footage: Using ICFs in basements eliminates the need to build frost walls. We can directly drywall over the ICF panels giving you more interior floor space.
-Cost: Nudura ICFs is 30% less expensive than conventional forms, savings that we pass onto you!
-Less Waste & Saves Trees: Unlike other conventional ICFs on the market, you can cut these panels to the desired lengths and use the remaining portion for another area, decreasing overall waste!
We at JDL Homes believe in combining traditional values with innovative building technologies like Nudura ICFs panels to build you a quality home with integrity. We're always looking for ways to improve and to be more efficient without compromising the overall quality and end result of your home.
Contact us today to discuss how we can help you with your next project and for more information on ICFs please visit Vancouver ICF.
24 hours to get to this point with Fastfoot, Nudura ICF and Helix micro rebar.
Greater Vancouver Home Builder's Association (GVHBA) Home Reno Show Seminar - To Renovate or Build New?
JDL Homes Vancouver had the pleasure of presenting the "To Renovate or Build New?" seminar at the Greater Vancouver Home Builder's Association (GVHBA) Home Reno Show this past weekend. Here's our slideshow presentation in case you missed it!
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