Canadian Contractor

By Jack Kazmierski   

The Garage Whisperer

Canadian Contractor contractor custom projects garages home renovations

Building custom garages keeps Alta Home Garages & More dancing.

Unlike some contractors who tackle a wide variety of projects, Alberta-based Alta Home Garages & More has a more niche-based approach to business. As their name implies, ever since the company was founded in 2017, they have focused their efforts on building truly exceptional garages.

Stan Berezovsky, managing director of Alta Home Garages & More says that although he and his two partners, Wes Ogari (the broom air-guitarist above) and Ross Podgurskyi, are willing and able to do custom home builds and renovations, their bread and butter is garages.

“Building custom garages is our number one product,” Berezovsky says, “and there’s a big market in Alberta since most homes are lane homes, which means they don’t have a garage.”

While some of his customers need nothing more than a practical and functional garage with enough room to store a car or two, others want to take the idea of a garage beyond the ordinary.

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The Alta team carved out a niche in the market by re-imagining what a garage can be: a man-cave, a work space, even a gallery for car collections.

“You can’t really call them garages, at a certain point,” he admits. “They’re not just for parking a car. Sometimes they’re used to store a car collection. Sometimes they’re a man-cave or a gaming room. Other times they include a shop where the customer can work on his hobbies. A lot of times they will use them as a place to work on their cars, so we set them up with a high ceiling and a car lift.”

The end product can be truly outstanding, complete with a heating system, specialized lighting, as well as a sound system. “All kinds of fancy and fun stuff,” Berezovsky adds.

“We even built a garage specifically for a bus-sized RV.” Each of the custom garages Berezovsky and his team of 30 employees build have some sort of unique feature, he explains. Most of the time his staff can handle all the requirements of the job, but sometimes outside help is needed for certain specialities.

“We do most of the work ourselves,” Berezovsky adds.

“We have a full-time electrician on staff, we have a full-time concrete crew and excavation crew. On some of the more complex projects we consult with an engineer who can tell us the best way to handle something.”

Harsh climate

Building cozy garages in a climate as harsh as Alberta can be a challenge. “We need to consider how the humidity levels are constantly changing,” Berezovsky explains. “The temperatures are also constantly and sharply changing, and that contributes to a lot of movement in the ground and in the materials.”

He adds that he has developed techniques that allow him to cope with the temperature and humidity extremes.“For example, we use a 10-millimeter vapour barrier membrane in between the sub-grade of the slab and the rebar where the concrete is going to be poured, so that moisture can’t get through and the slab stays dry. This certainly prolongs the integrity of the slab.”

Going the extra mile allows Berezovsky to offer a solid warranty. “No other company does this because it’s an extra step,” he says. “It takes effort and money to buy those materials, but it’s just one example of how we do things differently. We are the only company that is offering a lifetime warranty on our builds.”

Basement renos
While garages/man-caves are their specialty, the “& More” part of Alta Home Garages & More includes another niche product: basements. Most contractors do basements, but Berezovsky and his team specialize in legal basement suites.

“Not many companies can tell you that they can build you a legal suite,” Berezovsky says, “and there are many reasons why. It’s a lengthy and complex process with the municipality and, usually, even the companies that do legal suites will tell the customer to hire a consultant to help them with their permits. But we do all that work for them. We know the rules and we take care of all the complex issues so that the client doesn’t have to worry about anything.”

Berezovsky adds that his quotes are specific and completely transparent so that the customer knows what he is paying for. “We provide a detailed quote,” he explains. “A lot of companies will tell the customer that it’s going to cost $50,000 to finish their basement, for example, but the customer doesn’t really know what that price includes. So we break it down, item by item. The customer always knows what to expect.”

An itemized quote is a must, according to Berezovsky, because there may be a big difference when quoting a regular basement renovation versus a legal basement-suite build.

“If you just told them that a regular basement is $30,000, but a basement suite is $60,000, they’ll be shocked and wonder why it’s twice the price,” Berezovsky says. “A detailed quote will help them see where the rest of the money comes into play: they’re going to need a separate HVAC system, a separate kitchen, a sealed mechanical room and so on.”

Berezovsky’s sales team takes the time to explain all the details so that the customer knows what’s needed in order to legally rent out their basement to a tenant without worrying about legal implications or other problems down the road.

“Contractors who don’t have experience building legal basement suites will often do the work, and then, when the project doesn’t pass inspection, the customer has to pay for the work to be done again to code,” Berezovsky adds.

Keeping up with demand
Berezovsky has tapped into a lucrative niche in Calgary. He says the demand for legal basement suites is huge, and that his company sometimes has trouble keeping up with requests.

“The government is not simply enforcing laws that require a basement to be legal for a tenant,” he explains, “but they’re also offering incentives to homeowners by waiving permit fees, for example. So they want you to legalize your basement suite because they understand how important it is because of safety concerns, first and foremost. Homeowners are also conscientious, and actually want their basement rentals to be legal.”

Price vs. quality
Building dream garages and basement suites is not a race to the bottom for Berezovsky and his partners. In other words, they don’t compete on price. “Not only are our prices not the cheapest out there,” he explains, “but we let the customer know ahead of time that we will not be their cheapest option. We explain why to them as well, so they realize that if they want to go for the cheapest quote, and if quality is not as important to them, then we will not be a good fit for each other. On the other hand, if quality is important to them, and they understand the value of spending more, because we are investing a little more on our end, then we have something to talk about.”

Part of Berezovsky’s approach to market is to start with an elevated standard of construction that assures a quality result from the get-go. “Our standard package includes a lot of things that would be considered upgrades with other companies,” he explains. “For example, all our garages come with a curb wall. That is an additional step, and it’s not cheap to do. It takes time. But we refuse to construct any building without it because we understand that down the road, years from now, when the snow melts, it’s going to go inside your garage. So even if you have pressure-treated bottom plates, it will not help because of the amount of moisture.”

Berezovsky says his competition will lower their prices as much as possible so that the customer is happy, but they’ll also leave out critical elements like the curb wall, without taking into account what that means for the building years down the road.

Another standard is 40-amp electrical service, which Berezovsky says is a must if the homeowner decides to buy an electric car in the future. “You don’t know if you’re going to need a charger for an electric car in the next few years, so we might as well do it now, instead of later when you would have to redo your whole system,” he says. “You’ll have to dig another trench and redo the whole feed from your house to the electrical in your garage, just so you can charge your electric car.”

With numerous dream garages, legal basement suites, and other projects under their belt, Alta has earned a reputation in Alberta as the go-to contractor for these niche projects. While they got their start in Calgary, they have more recently expanded into Edmonton, and continue to be
committed to quality work and customer service.

When asked about when they’ll expand beyond Calgary and Edmonton, Berezovsky explained that he and his team have enough on their plate for now. “We are extremely busy,” he concludes. “Every time I think about expanding the business, I have to remind myself just how busy we are with the markets we currently serve.”

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