Denim Homes has taken energy efficiency to new levels in the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia.
WHEN SERIAL entrepreneur Caleb Howden moved to Nova Scotia to start his next custom homebuilding company, Denim Homes, he was caught off guard by the emphasis homebuyers place on their heating systems. While being warmer than many areas of Canada during the winter months, economical heat sources were in short supply, unlike Alberta, with extremely cold temperatures but where natural gas heating is abundant and affordable. Howden also grew accustomed to building for homebuyers in California, where frigid winters are never an issue.
Instead of strictly focusing on heating systems, however, Howden elected to beef up how homes in the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia centered on building envelopes and insulation to improve energy efficiency, as well.
“We had to come up with a system that was efficient for both energy and cost,” says Hillary Webb, director of communications for Denim Homes. “So, we came up with a system that offers maximum efficiency for a price customers could afford.”
To determine how to best approach this philosophy, in 2005, Denim Homes called upon Sustainable Housing, an energy-efficiency consulting firm that caters to Atlantic Canada. From the knowledge gleaned from this process, Denim Homes began building its custom homes with double-staggered studded walls.
According to Denim Homes, this wall design creates a thermal break between the interior and exterior of the home. The wall structure is built with either 2-by-8-inch lumber or 2-by-10-inch lumber and top- and bottom-plated and staggered 2-by-4-inch vertical studs on the inside and outside edges of the wall. These walls are thicker than those used in conventional houses.
“By staggering the studs, there is no place for the heat to be conducted to the outside of the home thus creating an envelope that completely protects the inside of the home from the elements,” Denim Homes states. “The additional area inside the wall cavity created more room for thermal insulation, as well.”
With that additional space, Denim Homes transitioned from cellulose insulation to blowin spray foam in 2012, according to Webb. Spray foam is composed of a polyurethane base and can come in two common varieties cell foam, and 2 pound, which is a closed-cell foam.
Put to the Test
In 2011, Denim Homes had the opportunity to compete against the best and most established homebuilders in the region in a demonstration home contest organized by the Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association. To win the contest, builders had to design an energy-efficient home to fit into a subdivision, meaning it couldn’t skew too far from Nova Scotia’s architecture. The house also was judged for associated costs.
As a result of winning both portions of the contest, Denim Homes became known as one of the most innovative builders in the region, according to Webb.
“This was one of our largest recognitions, and it pushed Denim Homes into the spotlight for the reputation we have today,” Webb says.
Since winning the demonstration home contest, Denim Homes has earned a number of honors provincially and nationally. The company was nominated as the national green builder of the year for the past four years, winning the title twice.
The company also has won the bids to build multiple QEII lottery homes, which is a prestigious lottery that many Nova Scotians participate in, according to Webb. Denim Homes has built two of the last eight homes that have been raffled off in the last four years, and the company recently earned the bid to build two more for the 2016 and 2017 lotteries.
Time is of the Essence
The QEII homes Denim Homes most recently built in Halifax, Nova Scotia, are 5,200 and 5,400 square feet and the overall building package was at an estimated value of $1.2 million and $1.3 million, respectively.
Due to the time restrictions of the actually lottery drawing, the schedule for these homes is fast-paced and frenetic, according to Webb. Denim Homes required some trades to work 24-hour schedules and called upon people with the vast management experience to get the houses completed on time.
The sites for the homes posed challenges, as well. One house had wetland in its backyard, so crews had to pour the foundation in two stages. To determine how to best mitigate this situation, Denim Homes called upon engineers, and a cantilevered deck with a retaining wall was determined to be the best solution.
“The importance of effective scheduling was a great lesson,” Webb says.