Let There Be Light by Susan Semenak

From VancouverHOME magazine, Winter

Built like a stack of rectangular glass boxes set atop one another, this Pemberton Heights house seems to glow from within. “It’s just a simple house that is lovely to be in,” says Ed Berwick, the Vancouver architect who worked on the project with Barrett Group Custom Builders.

His first mission, in a city that’s often cloudy and grey, was to create a space that would be perennially bright and cheery. “I had to grab all the light I could,”
Berwick says. He didn’t just harness the light though; he made it move throughout the house by introducing glass walls, oversized windows and doors, and lustrous white surfaces.

A skylight pierces the roof above the kitchen, as does another upstairs in the master bathroom, flooding both rooms with natural light. On the main floor, outsized doors open the full length of the southern-exposure wall, washing the open kitchen, living room and dining room with light.

Joel Barrett, of Barrett Group Custom Builders, says the homeowners – a couple who work in the film industry – wanted an, open, contemporary-style house for themselves and their two children. To achieve the look, Barrett says, they used a limited range of colours and materials. Polished pale grey concrete floors run uninterrupted throughout the house. Built-in white-oak furniture in almost every room minimizes the need for freestanding furniture.

“We customized each of the children’s bedrooms with built-in desks, beds and closets. And there is custom millwork in the master bedroom closet and in the
ensuite bath,” Barrett says.

In the kitchen, a 16-foot-long waterfall island offers plenty of space for working and eating, with seating for six. Behind it, there’s a set of opaque glass doors that slide open to reveal a wall of open shelves housing small appliances and kitchen gear. “When you are cooking, you slide the doors open so that everything you need is at hand,” says Berwick. “But then when guests arrive or when you don’t want to see the mess, you slide the doors closed.”

Upstairs in the master bathroom, the curbless shower is at the same elevation as the floor. It is lined with extra-large panels of the same white granite used in the kitchen. Its dramatic vertical veins, like strokes of an artist’s brush, bring the raw beauty of natural stone to an otherwise minimal space. The only place where the dark side was allowed to win was in the basement. One of the owners is a cinematographer who wanted a studio-quality home theatre where he and his wife could work and entertain.

The basement accounts for more than half of the house’s square footage, so there was plenty of room to create an impressive home theatre. It features six luxurious seats, a 10-foot-wide screen and state-of-the-art acoustics. At the rear is an alcove where the owner has set up his editing equipment.

And just in case someone gets a hankering for a finger of Scotch, there’s a glassed-in room right next door to the theatre, where the owner, a whiskey aficionado, keeps his extensive Scotch collection.

Back outdoors, Berwick capitalized on every ray of sunshine Vancouver gets.
Generous overhangs are his signature and he has used them to full advantage. He designed the second floor to cantilever out over the patio area, providing a sheltered space for barbecuing, entertaining and eating, regardless of the weather. “We get a lot of days in summer here when it is rainy but the temperature is a pleasant 20 degrees C. It would be a shame not to be able to take advantage of them,” he says.

How To Hire A Contractor

Hiring the right professionals to renovate or build a house can be daunting. Hiring the wrong one can have devastating consequences. But how do you find the right contractor? Vancouver Home asked Joel Barrett, director/owner of Barrett Group Custom Builders, for his advice.

Question: Joel, is it advisable to choose a contractor based on pricing or budget?
Answer: Generally speaking, pricing seems to be one of the main deciding factors for most homeowners when choosing a General Contractor. But it shouldn’t be. A referred contractor that you trust is a far better match in the long run.

Cost is extremely important; in the past I’ve seen numerous clients pick builders based on low cost alone and, nine out of ten times, this leads to disappointment and cost overruns for the client. It is always wise to get multiple quotes and then spend the time to compare them. More often than not you won’t be comparing “apples to apples.” A great example is when you hear someone say that they went way over budget on their project but didn’t make any changes or additions to the original plans. This isn’t a case of being over budget; it’s a case of not having the correct budget to begin with.

The contractor should be given time to tender the pricing for sub trades and estimate the costs of materials and labour for the project. This process should provide a more accurate budget based upon the plans and specifications that were provided to the contractor. Remember, the more detailed that the budget appears should indicate that more care and effort has gone into the development of an accurate budget. It is at this stage that the homeowner can see if the contractor is, in fact, including everything that the homeowner is expecting – by comparing the accuracy and details of the various proposals.

Q: What steps can I take to check on a contractor’s past work?
A: While client references are always a great start. I also recommend checking in with a Contractors suppliers and trades. This can reveal a lot about the Contractor and how they do business.

Q: What recourse do I have if I choose the wrong contractor?
A: Insuring a proper contract is in place prior to the project beginning is a great start. The contract should provide guidelines for recourse – on both sides. Depending on how far along in the project, it can be very difficult to get another contractor in to replace the first one. Many contractors do not want to step in to clean up another contractor’s mess. That being said, doing your homework and hiring the right GC in the beginning will save you a world of problems and headache.

Q: What qualifications should my contractor have and how can I find out if s/he is fully qualified?
A: There are many things that can be confirmed that show the contractor is indeed qualified: is the contractor a member of a credible home building association, is the company up to date with their WorkSafe insurance, is the contractor licensed to build new homes through a regulated and monitored provincial licensing association, and does the company have liability insurance? A contractor that is a member of these various associations and groups will, very likely, will have gone through various vetting processes to be part of the association or even qualify as a new home builder. BGCB is a member of GVHBA, CHBA, BC Housing and WorkSafe BC, carries liability insurance and provides access to new home warranty packages.

Q: How does insurance work in the hiring of contractors?
A: When beginning any project, from a renovation to a new home, I would highly recommend discussing your project in detail with your insurance provider prior to starting. There are numerous options for insurance including “course of construction insurance,” “wrap up liability” policies and many more. New Home Warranty policies (2-5-10) are available on new builds only.

Q: What is the process of getting a project from the design stage to fruition once a contractor has been chosen?
A: If the client has completed the design phase, which should include all of the architect’s plans, structural engineering and specifications for the project as well as the proper building permits from the municipality of the build, the contractor can then provide a detailed budget as well as a proposed schedule for project. The process to completion is a team effort; the client, the architect and the contractor should be able to communicate effectively and cooperatively so that important milestones, that were outlined the schedule, are met and the contractor can fulfill the promises of that schedule. The scope and size of the project will have an affect on the time required for the overall project as well as each and every task that is listed in the schedule. There are many tasks that have predecessors and cannot be started until that task is completed. It is the contractor’s role to effectively schedule all of the tasks and trades according to the schedule.

Depending on the scope of the project you will likely need an interior designer, architect, various engineers and potential consultants. This can be a daunting process for most so Ideally you retain a builder that can walk you through this process step by step and refer the right people for the project. Some builders offer a build/design package which can be quite convenient. Another route is to approach the architect/designer first and once they have created your design/plans then you can tender this to numerous builders for budgeting.

BGCB commits to “Building Green”

Benefits of the program for a homeowner
Through the program, Built Green Canada builders offer healthier, more durable, comfortable homes with a lower environmental impact than code-built homes. Further, the program allows homeowners choices as to which green features they want.

Features are focused on energy efficiency, indoor air quality, resource use and overall environmental impact. Homeowners can work with their builder to choose from a series of options. These include options in energy efficiency (furnaces and air conditioners, windows, appliances [Energy Star], etc.); electrical efficiency (Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) and Light-Emitting Diode (LED) to timers and motion sensors to whole home automation; water efficiency (water saving toilets to low-flow showers and faucets to xeriscaping); and more.

BUILT GREEN® certified homes offer cost savings:
• A home built in the Built Green Canada program should save a minimum of approximately 10% in annual utility bills compared to a code-built home. Cumulatively, the savings can be substantial. Better efficiency means long-term savings with water, electricity, and gas bills.
• Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and Genworth Financial mortgage insurance rebates are available for BUILT GREEN® homes.
• BUILT GREEN® certified homes offer the benefit of longer-term durability through the efficient use of building materials and processes. This means a longer life for the home with lower maintenance costs.
• Durability options can range from engineered lumber that resists warping to extremely durable exterior features such as 30-year shingles; this means fewer home renovations are necessary.
• Consumers who purchase a BUILT GREEN® certified home will benefit from an increase in market and resale value. Canadian Home Builder’s Association’s recent research has shown homes with green certification sell for close to 10% more on average than homes without green certification. Further, there are many jurisdictions in Canada where an energy assessment is necessary before a home is sold—saving the homeowner approximately $300 – $500 depending on location.

BUILT GREEN® certified homes are more comfortable:
• There is a significant reduction of drafts and cold spots, due to the program’s attention to the home’s air tightness (all certified homes must have blower door tests performed by Energy Advisors).
• Noise transmission is greatly reduced, due to triple-paned windows, increased insulation, and air tightness.
• Ventilation and indoor air quality are two important sections in the BUILT GREEN® checklist, and homeowners breathe easier because of it. For all the home’s inhabitants, this means less stress on the respiratory and immune systems, and for those who suffer from ailments like asthma, the focus on improved air quality can become quite important and result in a much more comfortable home life.
• Proper ventilation also results in a reduced cleaning necessity: ventilation systems pull stale air and particles in the air (dust, etc.) out of the home, replacing these with fresh, clean air.