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Builder Spotlight:

Meet John, a Port Moody resident in pursuit of building his high-performance home

BC Energy Step Code was the first building standard we adopted. The product we made for the Step Code was called StepWin. Eventually, StepWin went far beyond the Step Code and Properate Studio became its new home.

Since we started StepWin, we have always attended job sites. Site visits help us better engage with our users and fine-tune our offerings for the builder needs. While we gradually start to feel a familiar pattern among projects, sometimes we are reminded that construction excellence does not just come from the number of years in the industry.

John Andrews is an owner-builder completing his first build in Port Moody, BC. As this was his very first project, many processes may have been new to him, but the exceptional attention to details can be easily seen in his work. His decisions were well-researched and their execution were backed by a lot of planning ahead. For this Builder Spotlight, we (virtually) sat down with John to hear more of his story.

On this project, StepWin found the impact of individual decisions on the overall home performance, helping John make the best choices at different stages of the construction.

Neighbours tend to get inspired by neighbours. We hope sharing our conversation will inspire more people to pursue building a high-performance home.

Can you please introduce yourself to our audience?

My name is John Andrews and I have lived in the city of Port Moody for 28 years. My family immigrated to Canada from Greece when I was 4. I grew up in Vancouver and have been a teacher in the Coquitlam School District for over 30 years.

When did you realize you should be making your own house?

When my wife and I were looking for a house. Seeing other houses, we realized there were so many things that we liked and so many things we didn’t like. We wanted something to fit our lifestyle and couldn’t find it out there.

As we started talking to people about building our house, they would mention they have also built homes, to the point that it sounded like we hear it more often than not. I learned that my sister-in-law and father-in-law have built homes as well.

I wanted to be a hands-on person and go the extra mile, doing things that some trades cannot spend time completing. I looked for what the new trends are and how things can be done better in the construction of my home.

Many of the homes I visited during open houses look amazing when you look at them overall, but when you look closer at the details you may notice some substandard practices. I usually started on the outside of the house, finishing can tell you a lot about the care and attention used in building the home.

Some builds lack that, and I call them “lipstick homes”. The advantage of being your own general contractor and owner builder is the ability to monitor and adjust things as needed without going through the general contractor .

Unfortunately sometimes that requires more patience and time.

Was the home energy efficiency a priority for you and your family?

There are many ways of saving energy and some ideas can be implemented before and during the construction phase.

For example, we are installing conduit for future solar panels and have decided to upgrade our insulation to surpass the minimum code requirement. We also chose to order windows from a manufacturer that supplies windows for Vancouver homes which have generally higher expectations in building codes.

I discovered through my research that air sealing is important and paid a lot of attention to it. We also realized Radiant heating was the way to go for us, from the way heat is delivered, compared to having a furnace. My wife is allergic to dust, so the health of the home and reducing air-borne particles were important. We also cut down on sound transmission with that choice.

But primarily, we focused on making a house that keeps the heat in.

Was it easy to get started? What resources did you find to be useful for learning about how to build? Did you find any particular information to be vague or missing?

Like anything, there are bumps along the road. Beginning anything can be exciting but also stressful. Talking to other builders, visiting sites, and learning from researching helps you make the best decisions. A Lot of information out there pertains to building in the United States. I did find consulting guides from North Vancouver and Vancouver helpful. Talking to the Port Moody inspectors also helped. It is important to get to know the inspectors and talk to them throughout the project.

I had to extensively research the internet and go to different districts to learn things. The work paid off; for example, we have a drainage schematic that impressed the city inspector and they thought others should do this too.

Here's an example of adding rigid insulation to headers. This reduces the thermal bridging paths in the door header.

Contractors and trades have often commented on how clean my site is. Cleaning up as you go helps in the end. It is like cleaning while you are cooking rather than waiting after you eat to clean up. It improves site safety too.

Does StepWin bring value to your build?

Absolutely, when you are looking at decision-making, you want science behind it. You want to let science guide you and employ the best practices. It is the way to stay on a good budget and build the best home. When making decisions for things around the house, you have to think how much each option you are presented with improves the home for its cost.

Do you have any suggestions for other people who want to build their own place?

Talk to the StepWin team! It is wisest thing to consult with them about energy efficiency. Energy designing starts before breaking ground. When designing your home most people will design a home and then look at the floor layout. I believe the best way is to plan out how much space you need in each area of your home, do a floor plan and then take it to a design team to plan out.

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