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HOMEFINDER: North Saanich home builder up for award

NZ Builders’ Wain Road house in North Saanich. Their concrete tilt-up construction method has earned the local company a nomination in the Best Innovation category of the 14th annual Small Business BC awards. - NZ Builders Ltd.
NZ Builders’ Wain Road house in North Saanich. Their concrete tilt-up construction method has earned the local company a nomination in the Best Innovation category of the 14th annual Small Business BC awards.
— image credit: NZ Builders Ltd.

A North Saanich company is putting a new tilt on home construction and they’re up for an award for their innovative methods.

NZ Builders Ltd. is this month reaping the benefits of a house they completed on Wain Road in 2013. In simple terms, it’s a multi-layered insulated concrete, prefabricated house whose walls are molded off site, brought to a construction area and tilted up and into place.

If it sounds simple, don’t be fooled.

There’s a heck of a lot of planning that goes into it, says NZ Builders’ General Manager Damon Gray. After all, how do the electrical outlets, window and door frames and lights fit into solid concrete walls?

In a nutshell, each wall poured into a mold (whose forms were built for NZ  Builders right here on the Saanich Peninsula) has each component — from windows and outlets to air exchange systems — framed in. Design work takes place well in advance of each pour, Gray said, to ensure customers get what they want.

This method of building, Gray said, dates back to the 1890s in America, where tilt-up concrete construction was first beginning. And for the most part, the method was applied to commercial or industrial buildings.

“We knew we could make it properly and bring it into the residential sector,” Gray said.

Each concrete wall has an outer and inner layer, with insulating Styrofoam between them. The thickness of the insulation varies, depending on environment and customer needs. Gray said the resulting walls — connected seamlessly to a concrete foundation to prevent heat from escaping — help retain heat longer, making the home very energy efficient.

Gray, whose family lives in the house they built on Wain Road, said they’ve been able to cut down their power bill by 80 per cent — with help from a bank of solar panels on a portion of the house’s wood-frame roof.

Additionally, Gray said they designed the roof itself to act as a collector of the sun’s energy. When the sun is higher in the sky during the summer months, its rays are kept off the windows by a large overhang — ensuring a cooler house. In the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, Gray said that same overhang helps direct the sun’s heat through specially-designed windows. Those are made to allow heat to pass in, and make it harder for that energy to leave.

Combined with the concrete’s ability to retain heat in their construction design, Gray said it makes for a home that’s comfortable year-’round.

Within the home, smooth concrete walls are hidden behind wood finishing or paint — even a wood feature wall. Gray left one wall as bare concrete to be able to show people what it looks like unfinished — not at all like what one might expect from a concrete wall.

In addition to being energy efficient, the house is built to a very high seismic standard.

“To get a wood frame house to (that level), it would take a lot of nails,” he said.

The Wain Road house cost an estimated $1.18 million to build, or around $280 per square foot. While not cheap, its efficiency can help save customers money.

NZ Builders, in business for a decade, has branched out with a subsidiary company called Monolith Systems. From there, they are marketing their wall panel systems for use in the construction of other homes. NZ Builders, in the meantime, continues to build tilt-up concrete wall homes, as well as other kinds of residential  strikers, such as Passive Homes — extremely energy efficient dwellings.

Their work is now being recognized by Small Business BC, the province’s premier resource for entrepreneurs, and the Insurance Bureau of Canada. They are nominated for Best Innovation in the 14th annual Small Business BC awards. NZ Builders is currently in the top 10 semifinalists, which will be knocked down to the top five on Jan. 23, 2017.

Gray said the nomination and making it to the semi-finals is “amazing.”

The winners will be announced Feb. 23, 2017 in Vancouver.

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