Tag Archives: canadian homebuilders
Barbara Silverstein – Toronto Star
It’s hard to miss the new three-storey house looming above the Edwardian and Georgian homes in the upscale Casa Loma neighbourhood near Spadina and St. Clair.
The 5,000-square-foot luxury home took a year to complete – exactly the amount of time the builder said it would take from the demolition of the old house to the final carpentry and painting. Pamela Silver, 42, president of Intrabuild Custom Homes, proudly pulls out the detailed 10-page project schedule she devised weeks before construction began.
“I hit every target date on time. I was right on schedule every step of the entire project.”
Silver is among a very small number of female builders operating in the Greater Toronto Area. Stephen Dupuis, CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), which represents 1,450 homebuilders and developers in the GTA, confirms the fact.
Only three out of the 32-member BILD board of directors are women, Dupuis says. “Our board typically is made up of company principals. Fewer principals are women.”
Dupuis surmises that the large capital risk may deter women from becoming builders. “It probably appears more intimidating than it is.”
Condominium builder Julie Di Lorenzo insists that it’s not the financial risk that keeps female entrepreneurs out of construction. “They have avoided the building industry because there’s a perception that this industry is a man’s world.”
Di Lorenzo, 45, co-president of Diamante Development Corp., ventured into the business when, as a university student in 1982, she teamed up with two male partners to start a concrete forming company. The concrete work provided cash flow for their early development projects.
Di Lorenzo says she’s been very comfortable working in this male-dominated environment. “I appreciate the guys on the job and they respect me. They’ve watched me grow up in the business. They know I understand it from the bottom up.”
In 1992, Di Lorenzo and partners Joe Foti and Paolo Palamara founded Diamante with restaurateur Franco Prevedello. The company is known for such condominium projects as 1 Balmoral, at Yonge and St. Clair, and One City Hall, near Bay and Dundas.
Each partner has an area of expertise. Di Lorenzo is responsible for the financial and development side of the business. She says as a woman she’s more on the lookout for obstacles than her male partners. “Anticipating problems is characteristic of a woman’s thinking,” she says.
Nevertheless, Di Lorenzo is not fazed by the current downturn in the sale of new homes. She’s proceeding with construction of the Florian, a 21-storey luxury building at Bay and Davenport with units starting at $1 million. Having been through three recessions, Di Lorenzo says she’s ready to face the latest economic storm. “I’m an optimist,” she declares.
Di Lorenzo has weathered many challenges, some by choice, she says. For instance, in 2005 she took on the presidency of BILD when she was eight months’ pregnant. “Even with the baby, I never missed a meeting.”
The business gives her the flexibility she needs to raise a pre-schooler and toddler. She brings them to meetings and at home she’s never without her BlackBerry. “I live and breathe this business 24/7.”
Mary Lawson, vice-president and general manager of Dalerose Country Homes, a custom home-building company in Orangeville, was also raising young children when she started a renovation company in the Kitchener-Waterloo area in the early ’70s.
Lawson, a 40-year industry veteran, has had a multi-faceted career in construction. She’s been an independent and she’s held executive positions, working on condominium developments and single-home subdivisions in Alberta throughout the ’80s and in the GTA since 1991.
Women are well suited to running construction sites, Lawson observes. “Most women are born multi-taskers. They’re more organized than men.”
Along with custom work, Lawson is also overseeing a production project of eight homes in the $650,000 range in Caledon East. “I wish we were all sold out,” she laments. “But with the present economic uncertainty, consumers are reluctant to make major financial decisions like buying a new home.”
Lawson has been a trailblazer in the residential construction industry. She was the first woman to head a Canadian homebuilders’ association when she was elected president of the Calgary organization in 1988. She held the equivalent position in Toronto in 1998 and in 2004, she was the national president. But she recalls being excluded from association meetings in the ’70s. “Women were welcome only for ladies’ night.”
Still, she says she was always treated as an equal in Western Canada. “I think Toronto in the ’80s would have been a tougher go.”
Overall, she has felt well respected by her male peers. “If you know what you’re talking about, you don’t get too much flak.”
After 23 years in the building and land development business, Laurie Gordon, 46, president of Berkshire Homes, is accustomed to being the sole woman on a building site. She says people are often surprised when they meet her. “They say, ‘This is an unusual place for a woman.’”
But the comments don’t bother her. “You know your ability to deliver because you understand the business.”
Gordon studied urban and regional planning at university in preparation for a career as a developer. She started in land planning servicing subdivisions with sewers and roads. She became a builder in 1997 when she established Berkshire Homes with John Carbone. “It was a natural progression,” she says.
Berkshire, BILD’s green builder of the year, just completed a project of semicustom homes in the mid-$400,000 range on heavily treed lots near Bolton and Orangeville. “Environmentally sustainable projects are the future of this business,” she says.
Like other companies, Berkshire has been hit by the economic downturn, and while sales have slowed, Gordon stresses she’s still on the lookout for development opportunities.
Silver says that thanks to custom work, she is not as financially vulnerable as people who build on spec. The Casa Loma home is her sixth major project since she started building six years ago. She has a degree in interior design and 13 years’ experience as a professional project manager.
“I was managing multi-million dollar projects for a major technology company,” says Silver, who is based in Toronto. “That’s a skill set that’s very adaptable to building.”
Her foray into building started with personal projects. First she renovated her house. Then she hired a builder to construct a new family home. “When I saw what he did, I said to myself, ‘I can do this.’” So she sold that house and built another one on her own. Then she put up the Intrabuild shingle.
Silver is pleased about the positive relationship she has developed with the male subcontractors. “They like working for me because I’m very organized. I make their work easier for them.”
She says a key skill she brings as a woman is her ability to communicate effectively with the homeowner and the people in the trades. “I’m the liaison between them. I’m trying to translate the client’s vision into an outstanding finished product.”
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By Kathryn Young – CanWest News Service
The Canada Green Building Council will introduce a rigorous new green home certification program a year ahead of schedule by piggybacking on a U.S. pilot project instead of conducting one of its own.
Some Canadian homebuilders were so eager for the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes program that they joined the American pilot project, said Derek Satnik, chair of the council sub-committee dealing with the issue.
“The biggest concern we have is that there is so much interest that if we don’t move quickly, we’ll fall behind the industry,” said Satnik, managing partner of Mindscape Innovations, a consulting firm for energy efficient buildings. “The demand is already there.”
Developed in the U.S., the LEED program has come to Canada in stages, with commercial, institutional, industrial and multi-unit residential certification now in place. With increasing concern over environmental issues, there’s been growing demand for the individual homes component, which has been tested in the U.S. for two years and is due to be formally launched in November, said council vice-chair Andrew Pride, also vice-president of energy management for Minto Homes.
“We’re going to take the U.S. program and make it Canadian,” he said.
The U.S. expected 50 builders and 300 homes to be certified under the pilot project, but ended up with about 400 builders and 6,000 homes, Pride said.
“Rather than trying to market LEED for Homes and create demand for it, they’ve been trying to manage the demand and grow fast enough to meet it,” Satnik said. “There’s been no lack of interest. We’re already seeing the same in Canada.”
LEED buildings go beyond energy efficiency to award points for water management, construction waste management, enviro-friendly materials, indoor air quality and sustainable building sites. There are four levels of certification – certified, silver, gold and platinum.
The first Canadian LEED single-family home, built by Reid’s Heritage Homes in Guelph, Ont., received platinum certification this summer through the U.S. pilot project. It registered 91.5 on the zero-to-100 energy efficiency scale. (By comparison, a net-zero-energy home would score 100, R-2000 homes must score at least 80 and the prime minister’s official residence at 24 Sussex Drive scored 28.)
“We’re seriously looking at, within a year, developing a process where we can actually do LEED certification on every single detached home,” said Andrew Oding, Reid’s manager of product development. “It will be feasible. It’s not pie in the sky.”
LEED for Homes appeals to retired engineer Peter Nelson, who is planning an affordable net-zero-energy home near Perth, Ont. with solar thermal panels for hot water, photovoltaic panels for electricity generation, geothermal heat, insulated-concrete form foundation and walls, rainwater collection, and native plants in the landscaping. He’s studied the American LEED requirements and believes they’re doable, although he’ll wait to see how expensive certification is before going that route.
“I certainly want the house to have some certifiable measurement, so anyone who wants to buy it in the future sees what they’re getting,” Nelson said. “Every house should be built this way and will need to be in the not-too-distant future. And what the heck – it’s a challenge.”
Last week, the council invited Canadian homebuilders registered with the American pilot project to use their experience to help write the Canadian standards for LEED for Homes, expected to be formally launched here next June, said Pride.
Monarch Corp. is researching a possible LEED for Homes project, said Kevin O’Shea, Monarch’s low-rise purchasing manager. And Ottawa’s Dharma Developments has just registered with the U.S. pilot project for a 36-unit, low-rise condominium, said Dharma president Akash Sinha, who will look into helping write Canadian standards that take our colder climate into account.
Sinha’s project should include greywater re-use (from showers, dishwashers, laundry, etc.), solar water heating, permeable surfaces for parking, native vegetation and heat-recovery ventilation in the infill project. The units will average 1,000 square feet each and cost $170,000 to $180,000.
“You can have green environmentally conscious buildings and still be affordable,” Sinha said. “That’s a major factor for us.”
The council also wants input from builders involved in other energy-efficiency programs such as Energy Star in Ontario and Saskatchewan, Built Green in Alberta and B.C., Novoclimat in Quebec, Yukon GreenHome, Power Smart in Manitoba and B.C., plus the national R-2000 program. The 12 builders now constructing net-zero-energy demonstration homes across Canada could also provide valuable information, said Pride.
“The whole idea of LEED is not to push away all the other rating systems, it’s really to gather them all together and say ‘Let’s put this under one hat’,” said Pride. Together they will determine what changes or additions are needed to make an Energy Star or Built Green home certifiable under LEED.
Built Green, which has certified about 4,800 homes in Alberta and B.C. since it began in Calgary in 2003, is on the committee to help develop the Canadian standards, said Built Green president David Bengert.
“We ultimately have the same goals,” he said. “We’re supportive of any program whose goal is to improve energy efficiency and environmental impact.”
Builders are attracted to LEED because it has integrity, is industry-driven rather than by government, and offers a lot of technical support, Oding said. After they’ve gone through the process once, builders find it’s not as daunting as they expected.
“It’s all about building a better house,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a success.”