By Natasha Rombough, Director of Marketing and Communications, CHBA
Based in Guelph, Ont., Terra View Custom Homes Ltd. won this year’s Best Production Net Zero Home Award. In many ways, the accolade is a testament to the path the company has been on for many years now to be at the forefront of energy efficient homes that are appealing to Canadians.
Company principals David Brix, president of Terra View, and Andrew Lambden, CEO, have been friends since high school. Lambden started the company in 1991 while Brix was pursuing first a degree in science, followed by one in architecture. Once Brix graduated, he began designing all the homes that Terra View built, then worked his way to president. These days, Brix is involved in many aspects of the company, including land development, pursuing their Green initiatives, designing the houses and managing staff. “I like the variety in my day,” he says, “especially if I get some quiet time to design houses.”
The journey to Net Zero
Under Lambden and Brix’s leadership, Terra View has always pushed the envelope. In 2006, during the height of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth movement, they attended the first West Coast Green conference for those who wanted to build better and smarter. When Energy Star came out, they jumped on the pilot in 2006 and have built Energy Star homes since. They built a couple of LEED Platinum homes, including a “Green Dream Home” for their local Rotary Club around 2009, which Brix says was a great opportunity for them to be able to vet several different programs. Since the home was opened to the public, they were able to bring through students, building departments, and builders to show them what they could do (though the technology was rather expensive at the time).
Working on his philosophy that “the most environmentally friendly home you can build is not replace the one you have,” Terra View also designed a home ready for aging in place, one that was barrier-free with wider doorways and an elevator. Many seniors like the idea of downsizing to bungalows for main floor living, but as Brix points out, they still lose access to half the home if they can’t manage stairs. He is surprised that elevators and aging in place features are not an option that buyers are selecting, but it’s still a feature Terra View is willing to build in.
Then, when the Canadian Home Builders’ Association launched its Net Zero Home Labelling Program, Terra View was quick to rise to the challenge and was among one of the first homes labelled in Canada early on in the program in 2017. Since then, the company hasn’t built anything less than Net Zero Ready.
As far as Brix is concerned, building to Net Zero at this point in time just makes sense. “Building codes are going to force builders to build to Net Zero by 2030, so why not do it now, get out in front, and help bring the industry up, and use it as a marketing advantage,” he says. “I like the fact that when someone comes into our model home, they can’t just compare it to any other house.” To make sure that potential buyers understand the difference in the product that Terra View offers, the company has many training sessions with their sales staff ensuring that they understand how Net Zero Homes work and what benefits the homeowners receive.
Moving to Net Zero didn’t come without its challenges, especially for production models. Each home needed to be designed with sufficient roof capacity for eventual solar panels. Every single home needs to be energy modelled on every single available lot, with every orientation. Those calculations require a lot of upfront work, including discussions with the local utilities to make sure everything is feasible before selling the homes.
However, any builder that is among the first to build to Net Zero in their area may come across challenges. As Brix explains it, “when you’re on the leading edge, you get a lot of cuts along the way. We’re clearing the way for those following behind us.
Terra View Custom Homes Ltd.
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Total customer satisfaction
Terra View stakes its reputation on homeowner satisfaction, and Brix personally meets every purchaser, explaining the company’s construction process and making sure clients feel that all their questions and concerns have been addressed.
Buyers can choose from 14 base floorplans, each with three elevations they can customize, including making adjustments to the floorplans to accommodate their needs. One of their most common customizations is including an accessory apartment in the basement, which Brix says approximately 80 per cent of people opt for. The apartment includes its own side entry door, sprinklers in the mechanical room, and everything needed to easily convert the space into a legal secondary suite down the road if the owners choose. The possibility of having the space for aging parents, adult children or rental income down the road gives buyers an added sense of security.
Terra View first joined its local homebuilders’ association in Guelph in the early 1990s as a way to meet tradespeople and other contacts that would help grow the business. Lambden served as president of the Guelph and District HBA, from 1998 to 1999; vice-president of sales and marketing, Lisa Schuett, is currently on the HBA’s board of directors. Brix credits the association as a resource that has helped the company and other builders come together to fight issues affecting them, citing a recent appeal against recent municipal zoning changes. Terra View has also been part of the association’s efforts to help members with voluntary adoption of Net Zero Energy Housing, having formerly held a seat on CHBA’s Net Zero Council.
An award-winning home
This year, Terra View won the Best Production Net Zero Home for The Avonlea Elevation C, Model Home at Hart Village in CHBA’s National Awards for Housing Excellence competition. Like every home eligible to be entered into the category, it met all the technical requirements to achieve a label through CHBA’s Net Zero Home Labelling Program. The home is very contemporary, which Brix says most buyers these days select over their traditional options. Like all their models, it’s designed to accommodate an accessory apartment in the basement and have a versatile floorplan, including the option to use the attic as living space. The Avonlea Elevation C has a wide-open floorplan, and a lot of glazing. The windows are so large, in fact, they need to be glazed in the house.
Brix says the company takes full advantage of any awards it wins – advertise the accomplishment, using the opportunity to generate social media buzz, and display the trophy in model homes. “Winning an award buys you credibility and recognition,” says Brix. “After we won the award, buyers coming in were well aware of the win and knew the home was a winner.”
A culture of pride
A wonderful thing has come out of Terra View’s Green initiative philosophy. Brix says that while the company has been pushing that agenda because it’s the right thing to do, it has resulted in building a strong work culture. “People working for us feel like what they’re doing actually matters,” he says, “and they want to be part of an organization that’s doing what it can.” Terra View helps maintain this philosophy by staying true to its principles and offering employees the opportunity for continuing professional development through attending courses they’re interested in that will also help the company in its mission.
It’s clear that Terra View has stayed true to its vision over the last 32 years in business. Its commitment to building better and staying on the leading edge is creating an impactful legacy.
For more images from this winning project, visit the image gallery at chba.ca/housingawards.
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May 6 to 10, 2024
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