By Steve Maxwell with photos by Matt Lucas Photography
Okanagan Reno Supreme – Skaha Vista by My HouseProject Management georgie my house skaha
Over the last 30+ years, Graeme Huguet has been building the kind of company that most contractors only dream of. Serving the lower mainland of BC, the Gulf Islands and beyond, Graeme’s My House Design/Build Team has 50 people on staff, completing about 50 renovations and new builds each year. This firm has earned more than 150 industry awards, including the BC Georgie Renovator of the Year awards 2014-2019, the BC Grant Georgie Award for Customer Satisfaction, the 2019 Georgie Best Renovator of the Year, winner of the 2020 Okanagan Housing Awards of Excellence in Kitchen Renovations $150K & Over and a finalist in a handful of other 2019 award categories that have been put on hold because of C-19. Skaha Vista is the name of one of the award-winning projects done by the My House firm. It’s interesting for what it shows about the technical side of a complex rebuild done to a high level of quality, but also about the refined company processes behind these high quality results. Join us for an exclusive interview with Graeme and learn how the structure and processes of his company play a pivotal role in his projects.
Q: How did My House and the Skaha Vista client come together?
A: We’d renovated this family’s main home in North Vancouver, and a few years later they approached us to upgrade their family vacation home in the Okanagan Valley. The original plan was just a modest reno. However, as we do with all of our renovation projects, we took a more holistic approach and provided a feasibility study as the first phase. This involved inspection of existing conditions such as roof, drainage, mechanical systems, structural elements and specialties such as the septic system as was the case on this project. We then provided preliminary floor plan design ideas, scope of work, budget figures and different plan options. Plan A option focused on the items the clients asked for in the initial budget. Plan B was out of the box ideas, and in this case we also provided a plan C with more options. It was during these discussions that the decision to do a more extensive renovation came about.
Our main area of business is the Greater Vancouver Area, and our main business is renovations of any size for single family homes, condo’s, commercial tenant improvements, plus custom homes. We do full house renovations and custom homes outside the lower mainland, but only if the client lives on the lower mainland. The majority of our work with clients is all about planing, designing and permitting, so we don’t need much of their involvement during actual construction. With this approach we can efficiently serve Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, the sunshine coast, Squamish and Whistler, the Fraser Valley and the Okanagan as is the case with this home.
Q: Were there any unique challenges posed by this project?
A: Yes, plenty. The home was a modular from the 60’s that had been added to bit by bit over the last 50+ years. One of the issues was 2×3 exterior walls. The building was only comfortable inside when it was comfortable outdoors. We helped the client focus on what was important: floor plan, a comfortable interior climate, healthy air and water quality, energy efficiency and sustainability.
Q: Technically speaking, this was a renovation not a new build. How did that work?
A: For various reasons we could not tear this house down completely, but were able to grandfather on the existing footprint and rebuild as a renovation on the same foundation. We installed new drainage, the foundation was underpinned, strengthened and insulated, with radon protection added to the slab. New walls were added to create a 2×6 structure with a combination of high density rigid insulation, 1/2 lbs. foam insulation and fiber batts.
Q: The My House website (www.myhousedesignbuild.com) shows a lot about the sophisticated business and design systems behind your work. How did these systems come about?
A: I’ve been in the residential design and build industry for more than 30 years, but my background is in design and directing for theatre and television. That work has many similarities to what we do now. Our system has evolved each year as we’ve created a team that works together on improvements and process development. Each year for more than 25 years I’ve added at least one new team member. Today we have staff and full time trades who have been with us 15, 20 and even 25 years. It’s through these long term relationships that we’ve refined our systems and processes. You have to have a system or you’re just spinning plates (which at times, I’ve done!)
Q: How many people work at My House Design/Build?
A: We’re a family-owned business with 20 office staff and 30 in the field. We have project consultants who initiate with clients and act as a concierge, welcoming them to the company and our processes. We also have four project managers who follow the process from concept to completion for each project. These people are responsible for being on time and on budget.
There are six people in our design department, including architecture and design leads who are certified registered interior designers (RID). We have people that handle mechanical and exterior design plus a dedicated kitchen and bath manager/designer who works with clients on custom cabinetry, millwork, counters and flat-lay stone work. This part of the process also involves creating shop drawings for cabinet manufacturing, plus procurement of all ordering and scheduling of our installers. We don’t subcontract to any kitchen and bath company. In practice we are our own kitchen and bath company.
We also have a dedicated civic liaison manager to navigate the various municipalities and their requirements for permit processes. This person also oversees our health and safety for job sites, plus warranty and service for our clients.
Our 30 field staff are all full-time trades of the company, including construction managers, Red Seal carpenters and apprentices, finish carpenters, electricians plumbers, HVAC, millwork, flooring, drywall, painters and finishers. There are always specialty trades who are not part of our full-time team, however we use the same ones on a consistent basis, many going back 20-30 years.
Q: Few building companies make as thorough a use of online visuals, testimonials, videos and award details as My House does. Are you working on any new online features to boost potential client trust and comfort?
A: We just incorporated a virtual assistant where visitors can send questions 24/7 on the website without filling out any forms and have someone respond via text to them directly in a timely manor. We also poll our clients frequently, asking tough questions like “Are we hearing you?”, “How are we doing in our communication?”, “How can we do better?”. We’re not perfect, but we do strive to meet the very different needs and wants of the family circumstances of our clients.
Q: What are you most proud of with the Skaha Vista project?
A: We accomplished all the goals set out with the home owner in the beginning, including a more functional floor plan; a secure, healthy and efficient home including a steel roof; composite concrete siding; photovoltaics for electrical generation and solar heating for the swimming pool. In the end we created an Energy Star and Certified Build Green Platinum home from an old and marginal original structure. Even though this project was technically a renovation, it earned backing by the 2/5/10 new home warranty program with BC Housing. The project was one year in the design/ planning permit stage and one year to be ready for occupancy.
The owners of Skaha Vista are a mature couple with grown children and grandchildren, and the five bedroom home they ended up with is all about recreation and enjoying some stunning lakeside views with family. The house sits on top of a steep hill so the design had to minimize ground disturbance that could cause erosion and slope problems. Sensitivity to the site itself, selection of materials, energy and water conservation, innovative design and exceeding building code requirements are all part of this no-compromise project that’s a showcase for all the best building practices.
Technical Features of Skaha Vista
* grid-tied photovoltaics electrical generation
* 6‘x6’ hydronic solar collectors for pool heating
* Mitsubishi Energy Star electric heat pump for heating and cooling, with natural gas back up
- Energy Star gas-fired tankless domestic water heater
- Mitsubishi automatic generator for electrical back up
- steel roof
- James Hardie fiber cement siding
- Energy Star doors and windows with energy and UV coatings; Vinyltek windows/patio doors & Westeck front try door
* Lifebreath Energy Star HRV
* Wolf, Sub-Zero and Miele appliances including induction cooktop
* temperature and humidity controlled wine cellar
* Lutron motorized window shades
- Control4 home automation system for remote control of security, lighting, HVAC, audio/video, home theatre, window shading, heating & cooling