Tag Archives: Allan Britnell

Work Hard, Play Hard, Coronavirus Edition – how do you spend your downtime?

Work Hard, Play Hard, Coronavirus Edition – how do you spend your downtime?

Latest News

Work Hard, Play Hard, Coronavirus Edition – how do you spend your downtime?

Over the years, we’ve asked readers to share the stories of what they like to do when they put down their tools. In July/August 2013 and again in August/September 2017 we compiled those stories under the headline, “Work Hard, Play Hard.”

The tales in those two issues ranged from a family of contractors surviving a harrowing plane crash in the remote B.C. backcountry, who jury rigged the plane’s damage propeller and flew themselves back out, and epic motorcycle tours, to a reader who spends time at a local community centre to help new Canadians practice their English.

We’d planned to revisit the topic this year, then Coronavirus arrived and, for the time being, shut down both work and play. But we’re cautiously optimistic that restrictions on outings will start to ease and, once again, we’ll be able to partake in our favourite activities – albeit, likely in modified forms.

So, for the 2020 Work Hard, Play Hard – Coronavirus Edition, please tell us about your favourite pastimes and activities, and how they have or will be impacted by trying to maintain social distance and protect the health of the most vulnerable.

Whether its epic tales of survival, pushing your body to its limits in extreme sporting events, or maybe just using the downtime to finally tackle those projects around the house that got neglected because you were too busy working on other people’s homes, we’d love to hear from you.

Plus, we’ll work with our sponsors to put together prizes for the best entries.

Email your stories to managing editor Allan Britnell.


Featured Products

Altitude Plumbing

Plumbing in paradise

Latest News

Plumbing in paradise

Fast Facts:

Company name: Altitude Plumbing and Heating Ltd.

Location: Sun Peaks, B.C.

Founded: 2017]

Number of employees: 4

Website: AltitudePlumbing.ca

David Roberts of Altitude Plumbing and Heating in Sun Peaks, B.C.
David Roberts of Altitude Plumbing and Heating in Sun Peaks, B.C.

More often than not, a contractor gets into the business because a family member was in the trades; say their father, an uncle, or even granddad before that. But that wasn’t the case for David Roberts, owner of Altitude Plumbing and Heating in Sun Peaks, B.C.

After a stint working at U.K.-based luxury car maker Land Rover in his mid-20s, Roberts decided on a career change and went to a local trade school and completed an apprenticeship. “I’m glad I chose plumbing, as it gave me the opportunity to learn a skill that would provide me a lifelong employment.”

While on holiday, the Brit met his future wife, Rachel. Eventually they ended up in Vancouver – Roberts emigrated on a work-sponsored skilled trades visa, before settling in Sun Peaks, a Mountain Resort Municipality with a full-time population of 616 according to the 2016 Census, located about 400 km northeast of Vancouver.

“Living in such a small community we have to provide a large range of services,” says Roberts. On the residential side, his workload includes home and recreational property renovations, new construction, boiler installations, radiant in-floor heating, annual maintenance programs, and 24-hour emergency services. The company’s service area stretches as far as Kamloops, about 50 km away.

“Our first custom home and first new build as a company was possibly our most daunting project, with 4.5 custom bathrooms, full radiant floor heating, along with snow melt on the driveway and deck; it certainly led to a few interesting few months,” says Roberts. “We are always trying to evolve and learn new things every day, there is a lot of time spent keeping up to date with the latest products.”

On the commercial side, he does emergency repair and maintenance work for some of the hotels and other businesses that support the local tourism industry, and recently worked on a commercial/residential development where Altitude did the plumbing for a deli, bar, and cafe.

“I have a background in service, so I enjoy resolving people’s issues and the problem-solving involved,” says Roberts, who also serves as a volunteer firefighter.

While in many ways idyllic, the remote location and small population make it particularly challenging for Altitude to find quality employees. “We definite experience difficulty finding skilled staff. We live in a beautiful resort community; but as a small business we want to find the right fit for the company, our customers, and flexibility for the work we do. You also need to love the outdoors, winter sports, and be hardy enough to rough-in a house at -30.”

After starting off as a one-man shop, he now has three trucks on the road. Make that four – earlier this year Roberts was excited to learn that he’d won the grand prize in Kohler Canada’s “Win. Rinse. Repeat” contest, a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Double Cab Custom Trail Boss. “I don’t think I’ve ever won anything in my life,” says an excited Roberts.

His prize package also came with a bunch of Manchester United Football Club paraphernalia (Kohler is a Principal Partner of the hugely popular soccer team and the Kohler logo features prominently on the sleeve of the players’ jerseys), though we doubt that Roberts, a Birmingham City FC fan was as impressed with those items….

Keys please: David and Rachel Roberts with the 2019 Chevy Silverado they won in a contest held by Kohler Canada.
Keys please: David and Rachel Roberts with the 2019 Chevy Silverado they won in a contest held by Kohler Canada.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Rachel, who joined the company last summer as part-time office manager, is expecting the couple’s first child, due around the time this magazine lands in your mailbox, and they were actually in the market for a new vehicle.

Even before winning the contest, Roberts was a big fan of both Kohler and his local Emco distributor, the Emco Ensuite Showroom in Kamloops. (The contest ran through Emco outlets nationwide.) He’s currently building his own home and is installing Kohler products throughout.

“Choosing a plumbing brand and understanding the value of their customer service is similar to insurance: you never know how good it is until you need it,” says Roberts. “Kohler’s support is absolutely fantastic. It’s over and above what I’ve experienced with other manufacturers. We support Kohler because Kohler makes our lives so much easier.”


Featured Products

Repeat Business

Generating repeat business by converting a single sale into a cash cow

Latest News

Generating repeat business by converting a single sale into a cash cow

Edited by Allan Britnell

Congratulations – you just made a sale! The customer trusted you enough to give you a try. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, having conducted sales training programs for more than 25 years, I’ve observed that gaining new customers also comes with bad news. Merely providing products or services as promised does not generate customer loyalty. Customers are too focused on their own lives and businesses to get excited about a single new supplier. All that effort that went into gaining that new customer and delivering on your promise often amounts to a single blip on your revenue screen.

Fortunately, by enhancing your customers’ perceived value of what they just purchased from you, you can leverage a first-time sale into a virtual lifetime of loyalty and referrals. Here are four ways to convert a single sale into a cash cow.

Mention the next phases

Some customers may stop buying from you simply because they’re not aware of your other products and services. That’s why when you’re putting together a proposal, it’s helpful to mention that – providing they are delighted with this “phase one” – then in future they might consider phase two and three (which you mention briefly). Resist the temptation to overwhelm them with all your additional offerings. You simply want to plant the seed that there are logical next steps available after this one.

Follow-up fast

Soon after the product is installed, contact the customer to ask if they have any questions about it. Also ask their opinion – things they like best about it. That kind of feedback is priceless when you talk with other potential customers. Then, a few months later, if there is some sort of scheduled maintenance or follow-up step the customer should be doing, call them to offer to help them with it. That gesture helps customers realize you didn’t just make a sale and forget about them. Chances are they’ll thank you for your thoughtfulness. That’s a great time to ask them to pass your name along to others who they think might benefit from your services.

Put your extra value in writing

If there’s a service that will be delivered over an extended period, provide regular written progress updates. During our home renovation for example, the general contractor would give us bi-weekly reports. The simplified spreadsheet showed the project’s actual costs vs. budget, along with a timeline showing the progress. With all the disruption in our home, it came as a pleasant surprise to receive regular reminders that our contractor was in fact under budget and ahead of schedule. Without those reports during the four-month project, as a customer, I likely would have just focused on the noise, cost, and inconvenience. Those updates made us feel good about hiring him two years later when we did our next renovation.

Provide a pleasant surprise

I’m not referring to buying your customers gift baskets or giving them trinkets emblazoned with your logo. Nothing wrong with those things, but the gestures that have more impact are the extras you provide that are part of your service that the customer doesn’t expect. A body shop that fixed my car’s door dent, not only washed the whole vehicle; they detailed the interior. Plus, they took the gear that was scattered in my truck and put it in a single cardboard box. Made me want to dent my door every six months! An HVAC specialist who fixed an air conditioning unit in our living room not only vacuumed the area he was working in – he also vacuumed the entire living room. I was hoping he could find work in the rest of house. You get the idea. Surprise customers with something visible that goes above and beyond the scope of the project. That’s when they’ll notice you, remember you, and reward you with their loyalty.

Bottom line

Notice how none of the strategies I mentioned demand a lot of time or money? What they do require is upfront planning, and the realization of how much they can pay off. My clients who incorporate these approaches report significant boosts in revenues, customer reviews, and referrals. It certainly beats putting in all the work required to make a new sale, and then being forced to hunt for a different customer.

Jeff Mowatt
Jeff Mowatt

This article is based on the bestselling book, “Becoming a Service Icon in 90 Minutes a Month” by business speaker, Jeff Mowatt. To obtain your own copy of his book or to inquire about engaging Mowatt for your team, visit JeffMowatt.com.


Featured Products

Cedar Winds Design-Build

Cedar Winds Design~Build is building Ontario’s cottage country, one gorgeous home at a time

Latest News

Cedar Winds Design~Build is building Ontario’s cottage country, one gorgeous home at a time

Fast Facts:

Company name: Cedar Winds Design~Build
Location: Haliburton, Ont.
# of employees: 15
Website: TheBetterWayToBuild.com

Cedar Winds Design~Build is a thriving, family owned custom homebuilding business based in Haliburton, Ont. But the three members of the Evans clan involved in the company – Glenn, Teresa, and their youngest of two sons, Nelson – took a rather indirect route to get there. “We take the long way around, but always end up in the right place,” says Glenn.

Like many builders, Glenn had an early exposure to the construction industry: his grandfather and then father owned a small excavation and landscape supply business. His journey started off working in the family firm while in high school where he got “eyewitness exposure” to the various stages of construction, followed by five years of “hands-on learning as I went along” doing framing, roofing, siding, and various other jobs in the industry.

Then he took a detour, studying to become an architectural technologist at Humber College, before landing a job at North York Hydro where he worked on design and inspections for five years, before ending up back with his dad for a decade.

Finally, in his mid-30s, Glenn launched Cedar Winds in 1998 as a one-man show, initially taking on some smaller renovation projects but, “the end goal was always to build new homes exclusively.”

Teresa is a nurse by training. After a decade as a stay-at-home mom, she says, “I dabbled in helping Glenn choose colours, tiles, that sort of thing. I was passionate about it so I took some interior design courses.” Today, she’s a project manager and the company’s design consultant.

Then there’s the newest family member to join the business, 29-year-old son Nelson. Prior to getting in construction he was a trained chef. “I got tired of the low pay and horrible hours,” says Nelson of his previous career. When the framing crew that Cedar Winds worked with was looking for some help, Nelson traded in his kitchen knives for a toolbelt. About five years ago he moved to the family business where he now acts as a project manager.

Cottage Chic: While most of Cedar Winds' clients are homebuyers, their company's design style fits in seamlessly with a cottage country esthetic.
Cottage Chic: While most of Cedar Winds’ clients are homebuyers, their company’s design style fits in seamlessly with a cottage country esthetic.

Teresa candidly admits that, “I wouldn’t recommend [working with family] for most,” but the Evans family has figured out how to make it work. “You’ve got to keep to your own strengths,” she says. “If we’re both doing the same job, people don’t know who to go to with questions or problems.” And she feels the collaborative creativity they can offer (albeit behind the scenes) is a great benefit to their clients. “You’re not just getting one person’s ideas. It’s very much a team effort, throwing around ideas on how to best make things look good while still being functional.”

With family dynamics balanced, Glenn says their biggest struggle is “managing client expectations. HGTV is our biggest competitor.” And while he’s often heard the common refrain, “But I saw so-and-so do it this way on TV…” he has a witty rebuttal to help set the record straight: “I just watched an episode of ER and I think I’m ready to perform my first appendectomy.”

With a crew of seven out in the field, Cedar Winds typically has four or five projects at various stages underway at any given time. Recognizing that their client base tends to fall into the older demographic groups, many with plans of retiring in the region, “Aging in place considerations are a consistent part of our design meetings. We discuss installing grab bars, curbless showers, elevators, and other facets that can assist with mobility,” says Teresa. “Wider doorways are something we always suggest,” adds Glenn.

That said, terrain and psychology often intervene. Located in what’s known as the Haliburton Highlands, “nothing’s flat” so ranch bungalows are out of the question and many clients, even those in their 50s “aren’t there yet” when it comes to thinking about their potential future needs.

Glenn and Teresa both grew up in Haliburton County, a relatively sparsely populated region bordering the southern edge of Algonquin Provincial Park. They both moved away, then back to start a family, and are very attached and connected to the community. Glenn is currently serving a second term on the local economic development committee, was a board member of the chamber of commerce, and is the vice-president of the Haliburton County Home Builders Association.

Working under the tagline, The Better Way to Build, the Evans long ago recognized the importance of using the latest technology to grow their business. Over a five-year period of trial-and-error working with Microsoft Project, Smartsheet, and Buildertrend, they finally landed on a program they’re happy with: CoConstruct. “We invested a lot time, effort, and money into finding the right system,” says Glenn. “For residential construction – renovations or custom homebuilding – I don’t think there’s anything in the market that comes close to it.”

Teresa wholeheartedly agrees: “Clients have a better insight into what’s going on with the project, all the communication with the clients, trades, and office staff is organized and documented, and the invoicing and accounting are all linked in.”

Now, after just over two decades in business, Cedar Winds is coming up on completing nearly 100 projects, building everything from 480-sq.ft. bunkies up to 8,000-sq.ft. homes. Asked if he can pick out a favourite project of his over the years Glenn declines saying instead, “It’s the people that you remember. It’s always a treat when you have an opportunity to go back months after they’ve moved in. It’s really quite satisfying.”

It’s right up there with the satisfaction of building a well-respected family business from the ground up.

Glenn, Teresa, and Nelson Evans of Cedar Winds Design~Build in Haliburton, Ont.
Glenn, Teresa, and Nelson Evans of Cedar Winds Design~Build in Haliburton, Ont.


Featured Products

The Italian job, inspirational ancient architecture in Rome, Tuscany, and Venice

Latest News

The Italian job, inspirational ancient architecture in Rome, Tuscany, and Venice

Anyone with even a passing interest in construction and architecture can’t help but be blown away by the magnificent, gorgeous structures built by the ancient Romans and then later during the Renaissance. So join us on a photo tour of Rome, Florence, Venice, and the Tuscan countryside.


1) Colosseum Interior

Covering six acres of prime Roman real estate, the tiered seating area was originally shaded with awnings. At 50 metres high, it’s equivalent to a modern 16-storey building. The word “arena” is Latin for sand, a convenient floor covering to soak up all the blood and sweat from the gladiators. The sandcovered wooden floor could be removed and the arena flooded to stage naval battles. Much of the original metal and stone building materials were later pilfered and used in nearby medieval building projects, including churches and palaces. An earthquake in 1349 caused much of the southern wall to collapse.

2) Pantheon Exterior

By far, one of the most imposing and impressive buildings in Rome has to be the Pantheon. Originally built as a Roman temple in 27 BC to honour all (“pan”) the gods (“theos”), it was rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Hadrian in 120 AD. The brick exterior shell is filled with poured concrete – a Roman invention.

3) Vatican Mosaics

While the Vatican houses some of the world’s greatest art treasures – including Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam as part of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling – I was (pardon the pun) floored by the vibrant, three-dimensional effects on these ancient mosaics.

4) Egyptian Obelisks

There are 13 Egyptian obelisks scattered around Rome, brought from Egypt by various Italian leaders over the centuries. They’re typically mounted on top of a sculpture or fountain, and capped with a Christian cross. This one, in Piazza del Minerva just behind the Pantheon, was erected by Pope Alexander VII in 1667.

5) Pantheon Dome

The jaw-dropping domed ceiling is precisely 142′-wide from side to side and 142′-high from floor to ceiling. At the base, the walls are a 20′-thick mix of concrete and stone. The ceiling is thinner, less than five-feet thick, and includes lightweight volcanic pumice in the mix. The 30′-diameter opening at the top, the “oculus,” is the building’s only natural light source. The floors are sloped down towards drain holes for rainy days.

6) Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine

All that remains of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine today are three vaulted arches that formed the north end of an enormous building that was originally more than 300′-long and 200′-feet wide, with a ceiling more than 100′-high in the central knave. This government office is where homebuilders of the day would have lined up to apply for building permits.

7) Colosseum Exterior

Of all the ancient marvels remaining around the world, the partially ruined Colosseum in Rome is probably the most instantly identifiable. Completed in 80 AD, it was originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. The stadium built for epic gladiator battles – and using early Christians as lion food – could hold up to 50,000 spectators. The more recognized name is thought to come from a colossal statue of Emperor Nero that once stood on the site.

8) Construction Hoarding

While under renovation, this Roman building – and many others undergoing repair – was draped in a screened hoarding harking back to the structure’s glory days.

Florence and Tuscany

1) Agriturismo Farmhouse

Our home base in Tuscany was Podera la Castellina, an agriturismo or farm property that rents out rooms. The building was first constructed as a convent in the 13th century. In 1504, the property was converted to a farm by a wealthy local family. At one point, the two-storey structure was used as a barn, with the farmers’ family living upstairs and the animals penned on the lower level.

2) Ponte Vecchio

The Romans were the first to build a bridge at this narrow stretch of the Arno River, and there are records of several subsequent bridges built, then washed away by flooding over the centuries. The original Ponte Vecchio was built around 1000 AD. It’s somewhat unique in that it is lined with storefronts, housing butchers in medieval times, jewellers selling to well-heeled tourists today.

3) Roman Ruins in Voltera

Of course Italy is literally littered with Roman ruins, including this theatre at the base of the wall around Voltera in the Pisa region.

4) Orvieto Cathedral

While the Vatican in the most-sought out church on an Italian holiday – though Vatican City is technically an independent City State wholly within Rome – there are countless other postcard-worthy churches to visit in the country, including the cathedral in Orvieto, constructed between 1290 and 1607.

5) Laneway in Sienna

One of my favourite things to do when visiting olde European cities is to aimlessly wander along the narrow laneways. The only thing slowing you down is the urge to constantly stop and take photos. At the end of a T-junction in Siena, I looked right to see these charming stone archways, the left as I headed uphill under this exposed beam walkway.

6) Florence Cathedral

The cathedral in Florence, clad in green, pink, and white marble, is better known as the Duomo for its impressive domed ceiling. The dome’s architect, Filippo Brunelleschi, studied the Pantheon in Rome to understand how to cover the opening at the top of the church.

7) Gratuitous Family Selfie

The Britnell-Malik family, posing in front of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. The upper level includes part of passageway known as the Vasari Corridor that the powerful Medicis would use to cross the Arno from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti without having to mix with the peasants crossing the bridge.


1) Venice Rooftop Deck

With no backyards to speak of in most Venetian homes, if you want a deck, you put it on the roof. While they look a little precarious, they’d certainly offer spectacular views.

2)Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute overlooks the eastern end of the Grand Canal. There are more than 170 Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, and Renaissance-era buildings lining the two-mile long canal, constructed between the 13th and 18th centuries.

3) Da Vinci Museum

There’s a unique museum in Venice that houses working models of 60 different machines designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, including wooden ball bearings, the first flywheel, a self-supporting bridge, a parachute, glider, and various pieces of military equipment.

4) Venice by Gondola

Yes, taking a gondola ride is a clichéd touristy thing to do. It’s also not cheap – about $120 for a half-hour tour. But you know what they say: When in Rome. Er, Venice. Travel tip: Avoid the traffic-clogged Grand Canal. Instead, find a gondolier who’ll serenade you on a route through some of the narrower waterways.

5) Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge is the oldest and most famous of four bridges that span the Grand Canal. The stone bridge was completed in 1591, permanently replacing earlier wooden structures. Today, it’s lined with shops catering to the hordes of tourists.

6) Laundry Day in Venice

Electricity is prohibitively expense in Italy and only the largest palaces in Venice have enclosed yards, so clotheslines are strung across the narrow streets.

7) St. Mark’s Square

The Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square, covers about three acres, all built on top of wooden pilings driven deep into the soil below. It’s barely above sea level so the square is frequently flooded. The original bell tower collapsed in 1902, but was rebuilt 10 years later.

8) DHL Delivery

While Venice’s 118 islands are all linked by more than 400 bridges, everything has to be brought in – and out – of the city by boat, including garbage and recycling. The city has a fleet of floating buses for residents and tourists to get around.


Featured Products

How to run a business that thrives in any economy

Latest News

How to run a business that thrives in any economy

Long-time readers will be familiar with Breakthrough Academy, the B.C.-based business coaching and management program designed specifically for contractors and homebuilders. In case you missed it, earlier this year we were invited to attend their Winter Summit in Colorado. You can read Allan Britnell’s recap of the event here.

On Oct. 3, BTA will be hosting a roundtable discussion in Mississauga on “How to Run a Business That Thrives in Any Economy,” followed by a mix-and-mingle social. The event is free for Renovation Contractor readers to attend. Click here more information and to register.



Featured Products

Jim's Place - Eco-Conscious Design

Jim Caruk builds his own dream home in Toronto

Latest News

Jim Caruk builds his own dream home in Toronto

Photography by Alex Lukey

There’s an old line about the cobbler’s kids going barefoot, the idea being that he or she is too busy repairing shoes for their customers to make shoes for their own children. Lucky for Jim Caruk’s daughters, this was never the case. The homebuilder and star of HGTV’s Real Renos (among other shows) has always viewed his own house as a showcase for the high-quality design and craftsmanship he always puts into the homes he builds for his clients, and his latest home is no exception.

Jim Caruk designed his home with an intentionally masculine, industrial look. The exterior features a mix of red brick, limestone, and black-accent panelling, capped with a Vicwest metal roof that has a 50-year warranty.
Jim Caruk designed his home with an intentionally masculine, industrial look. The exterior features a mix of red brick, limestone, and black-accent panelling, capped with a Vicwest metal roof that has a 50-year warranty.

Jim’s style takes centre stage

The four-bedroom, 3,800-sq.-ft. home is located in Humber Valley in the west end of Toronto. Now that his daughters are grown and have families of their own, (Caruk’s known as “Papa Jim-Jim” to his four grandchildren) he was free to indulge in some of the more masculine, industrial touches he favours. The exterior façade features a mix of red brick, limestone, and black-accent panelling. The lofty, industrial-looking windows bring in plenty of light, while the Vicwest metal roof will withstand the elements for decades with its 50-year warranty.

The maple and leather bench in the entrance foyer is from Toronto-based Objects & Ideas (ObjectsAndIdeas.com). All their pieces are designed and made in Toronto, using Canadian materials. The floor-to-ceiling wainscotting is typical of Caruk's "tricked out" trim.
The maple and leather bench in the entrance foyer is from Toronto-based Objects & Ideas (objectsandideas.com). All their pieces are designed and made in Toronto, using Canadian materials. The floor-to-ceiling wainscotting is typical of Caruk’s “tricked out” trim.

Inside, Toronto-based design company and retail outlet, 36 Knots helped burnish and furnish the look. “We were going for a contemporary, masculine look,” says 36 Knots’ Yvonne Tristani. “We used solid pieces, such as the heavier-set walnut chairs with blackened steel panels in the living room, offset with light leather cushions and very neutral carpets.”

The imposing piano converted into a coffee table in the living room is actually a double salvage. Caruk picked it up from a former client who was going to throw it out.

Jim Caruk’s favourite space in the home is the combined kitchen and dining room that span across the entire rear of the house, and leads to the covered back porch.

Outdoor oasis

“My favourite space is the dining room/kitchen. It’s the entire back of the house, and it leads out to the covered porch,” says Caruk.

The porch is a cosy covered seating area that looks out over the surprisingly secluded, tree-shrouded yard. The tongue-and-groove ceiling features embedded pot lights and a ceiling fan over the dining table. Glass railings provide an unobstructed view of the 12-by-20-ft. in-ground pool. In the basement, there is a guest room, or nanny room, with an ensuite bathroom.

The covered rear porch looks out on to the secluded, tree-shrouded yard with an in-ground pool. A ceiling fan over the dining table and a gas fireplace provide three-season comfort.
The covered rear porch looks out on to the secluded, tree-shrouded yard with an in-ground pool. A ceiling fan over the dining table and a gas fireplace provide three-season comfort.

Next-level energy efficiency

While the design, finishes and furniture reflect Caruk’s personal tastes, it’s what is behind the walls that he feels makes the biggest impact.

“The best feature of the house was working with Owens Corning to create a net-zero ready home,” says Caruk. Net-zero ready homes use the latest in building materials and design to minimize energy consumption. These features include insulation with R-values exceeding the current building code as well as sealing all the air gaps inside and out to prevent wasting heating and cooling energy. By adding a sufficient amount of solar panels, or other green energy options, a home can be classified as net-zero, meaning that it produces at least as much energy as it consumes every year.

The solid walnut and blackened steel living room chairs are contrasted with light leather cushions and very neutral carpets. Jim Caruk salvaged the coffee table made from the guts of a piano from a past client who was going to get rid of it.
The solid walnut and blackened steel living room chairs are contrasted with light leather cushions and very neutral carpets. Jim Caruk salvaged the coffee table made from the guts of a piano from a past client who was going to get rid of it.

“Building net-zero is still in the fairly new stages and it costs more upfront. But, in the long run, you’ll get that money back,” says Caruk. “My gas bill was cut almost in half.”

With more than 45 years’ experience building high-end homes for himself and his clients, Caruk has spent just as long learning how to build better homes from the inside out. His latest personal project showcases how you can combine attractive esthetics – matched to the homeowner’s particular tastes – with the latest innovations in energy efficiency.

Freelance writer Allan Britnell is the managing editor of our sister publication Renovation Contractor, and the editor of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association’s members’ magazine, Building Excellence.

Builder and Designer: Jim Caruk, Caruk Hall Construction, Architect: David Small Designs, Styling: Christine Hanlon, Carpets and Furnishings: 36 Knots The Style and Staging House


Featured Products

Urban Heat Islands

Hot town summer in the city

Latest News

Hot town summer in the city

Edited by Allan Britnell

For the last 100 years, scientists have been exploring the reason why temperatures are so much warmer in the city compared to the rural areas surrounding them. This phenomenon, called an urban heat island, is a direct result of our activities.

Unfortunately, with global warming, this increased heat continues to go up in areas with lots of stone and concrete like parking lots and even in our own backyards. Even though more cities are investing in green spaces and promoting green roof technology, several online sources state that more than 70 percent of all of the surfaces that we are currently installing in our landscaped spaces are concrete, pavement, stone, or pavers. We are turning our own backyards into mini urban heat islands! Now if you have a client who wants a patio or if you specialize in stone masonry and installation, then there is good news. There are simple ways to reduce the heat in the backyard and still have a beautiful space that will not only last for years it will help increase the home’s value.

Help your clients choose lighter stone colours. Dark stones using black or dark grey pigments have been very popular for the last decade. Like wearing black clothes on a sunny day, dark stone choices heat up way more than the lighter options. White paving stones have become very popular for designers because of the modern aesthetic. Unfortunately, while going with a white paver might be better to displace heat, the idea of the sun bouncing off of the surface already makes my eyes hurt just thinking about it. Instead, I try and move my clients towards lighter colours that have flecks or speckles of darker material in them.

Throwing shade: Cantilevered umbrellas keep the sun off of guests, while rugs help prevent stonework from absorbing too much heat.
Throwing shade: Cantilevered umbrellas keep the sun off of guests, while rugs help prevent stonework from absorbing too much heat.

Incorporate shade into the design

By increasing the amount of permanent shade on the patio, you reduce the amount of sunlight and heat that the stones actually absorb. I’m a big fan of a pergola with large fabric panels that can be installed every spring and removed before the snow. This is such an important add-on to any project. Make sure to ask your clients if they have planned on adding shade. If a pergola is not for them, suggest using a large umbrella. I’ve been impressed with a lot of the new technology in umbrellas lately. Solar-powered models that are cantilevered with a good heavy base not only allows you to create shady all day long, they also charge in the sun, creating free light wherever you need it at night!

Simply adding an outdoor rug is also an effective way of displacing the heat. While stone may absorb and hold the warmth of the sun, the synthetic fibres of outdoor rugs don’t. Even the darkest rugs hold significantly less heat than a dark patio stone. They also act as a barrier between the sun and your patio, preventing it from heating up in the first place.

This summer is going to be a hot one across the country. Lets educate our clients so that we all work towards managing the urban heat islands that we are creating in our backyard.

Carson Arthur is a landscape designer and television personality.


Featured Products