Creative Eye: Rocking on
Tour this award-winning project by Newfoundland builder S&L Porter Homes
By Steve Maxwell
Steve Porter has been building homes in Newfoundland for 30 years, and when he and his crew at S&L Porter Homes began working with a client in Portugal Cove, N.L. in early 2019, no one knew they’d end up building an award-winning home together. On November 16, the 1,550-square foot project took first place at the 11th annual Canadian Home Builders Association Newfoundland Berg Awards in the 1,500- to 2,200-square foot category. Learn how this striking, ultramodern project happened in this exclusive Canadian Contractor interview with company founder and contractor Porter.
How the project started
Q: What’s the back story on this project?
A: The clients had a concept in mind for style, details and some of the features they wanted. Knowing this was going to be a unique build, we spent a lot of time reviewing architectural designs for both the interior and exterior of the house – three months in all. Product options were laid out and discussed at length, many plans were drafted and altered until the physical layout and building products were settled on. The client participated heavily in the research of the heating system as well as the tech upgrades found through out the house. Only when we identified a stable budget did we start building. The whole project took nine and a half months from planning to move in – three months for planning and six and a half months for construction.
Building site challenges
Q: Newfoundland isn’t called “The Rock” for nothing. Did you have any unusual geological challenges on this project?
A: This is a new subdivision and though there was enough soil to accommodate an eight-foot-high basement under the actual building footprint, shallow bedrock elsewhere on the site did affect electrical, sewer and water hookups. We avoided any drainage issues with weeping tile around the entire foundation, tied directly to town storm sewers.
Energy efficiency details
Q: What kind of efficiency detailing was applied to this house?
A: Although the home has not yet been independently tested for energy efficiency, design modelling software gave us a good understanding of the energy performance we could expect. With R60 of insulation in the attic, EnergyStar windows and doors, plus reduced thermal bridging on exterior walls, this turned out to be one very efficient home. Our normal way of minimizing thermal bridging is to wrap the house in rigid foam insulation on the outside face of all exterior walls, but this wasn’t an option given the client’s budget. Instead of a typical 16” on centre wall stud spacing, we went with 24” on centre inch.
Q: What sort of mechanical ventilation systems are in this home?
A: We installed a heat recovery ventilator, and the home is heated and cooled with a Daikin ductless heat pump with three distribution heads. Even though it’s rated to put out just 24,000 BTU/hr., this system is very efficient and designed to work in cold temperatures. The return on the client’s investment will be four, maybe five years tops (compared with conventional resistance electric heat), verses 10+ years pay-back on an air-to-air system.
Q: Are there any particular products or techniques used on this project that stood out for you?
A: The exterior of the home is completely maintenance-free, starting with a European PVC siding product called SAGIWALL. It’s like vinyl siding but better. It comes in convincing wood grain patterns, it expands and contracts minimally with changes in temperature, it’s impervious to mold, it’s fire rated and never rots or attracts insects. Manufactured in Portugal, SAGIWALL is made to work with companion product SAGIREV for soffit, fascia, corners, J-mold and H-mold. I find both these products great for our extreme Newfoundland climate. The materials worked well with the particular dimensions of the home, but care has to be taken when considering where these pieces are used since it comes only in 12’ and 19’ lengths. Minimizing waste is key since the product is expensive and because our provincial supplier only stocks limited amounts of material.
Q: Does S&L Porter Homes specialize in any particular part of the housing market?
A: Our main focus is building homes for first-time buyers and also for those downsizing into a smaller place. The exact breakdown changes from year to year, but in 2019, 40 per cent of our builds were for first time buyers (including this project), 40 per cent were downsizing and 20 per cent were neither.
Quite often our first time homebuyers are working on a very tight budget, especially in this economy. Our job with these custom builds is to find the most economical design with the most economical finishes to suit the budget. An example of this would be to keep the footprint smaller and do partial development in basement to give clients additional living space at minimal cost. As well, sometimes while working with the client, we can utilize a smaller square footage and still achieve their goals.
About S&L Porter Homes
Q: How many homes do you build each year and what size of crew do you have?
A: I founded the company in 2002, with myself and 10 employees today. We have four carpenters, one labourer, a heavy equipment operator, a sales department and a client service department. The “L” in the company name comes from my son Lucas. He’s currently in college studying business marketing. When he’s done he’ll join the company and eventually take it over.
We typically build about 10 homes a year; 80 per cent of these are custom from the ground up and 20 per cent spec. Back in 2007, I formed a land development company with a long-time friend. We’re currently into our third subdivision with a total of 110 lots and are ready to receive approval on a 47-lot subdivision in the spring.
One way we keep our projects on track is by investing a lot of time before the build starts, going over plans and the construction process. We also use a tracking system to keep our clients on budget. If they make a request that would be costly, we can let them know exactly where they stand budget wise. This solves a lot of problems before they happen.
Most proud of…
Q: What is it about this project that you like best?
A: One big thing is that we closed this house on budget. That was not easy. Another challenge we all met well was with communications. Any custom project like this requires a lot of talking, but since the homeowner works on off shore equipment out in the sea, this was difficult sometimes. Many decisions about design elements and products had to be made by email or message.
Tech specs at a glance
Garage door: GARAGA classic black
Decking: brown pressure-treated with aluminum balusters
Heating system: Daikin model 3MXL24RMVJU
Fireplace: Valor heat shift propane
Domestic hot water: standard efficiency electric heater
Smart features: smartphone control of lighting and HVAC
Stair railings: cables and fittings from Bezdan.com
Kitchen cabinets: custom-made from Alberta