Ask the Expert, CaGBC National Conference spotlight

Ryan Scott, President of Avalon Master Builder, talks about the successes and challenges of building more sustainable homes

Ryan Scott is a pioneer in eco-smart building, and a second generation builder. Through his family company based out of Alberta, Avalon Master Builder, Ryan and his staff are committed to sustainable building. This includes setting a goal of constructing one demonstration house every year in order to test the most current practices in environmentally sustainable and energy efficient home building technologies, and a vision of building 100% of their homes as Net Zero energy by 2015.

We talked to Ryan about how he got involved in the sustainable homes industry, where he thinks the future of green homes is headed, and what you will learn at his education session Housing for a Changing World: The path forward today and into the future being taking place at this year’s CaGBC National Conference & Expo.

1) Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got involved in eco-smart building/the industry as a whole?

I started working with my father and sister Christine in the early 90’s at Avalon. As Christine and I took over the day to day management of the business we felt the need to refresh the Mission and Vision of the company. As part of the refresh we spent two days with everyone in the business working out what was important to our staff. It turned out that we all believed that green building represented the future and we were all concerned about how we deal with our customers and that they were happy working with us in building their new home.

Out of this session came our mission: to take the stress out of buying a new home, as well as our vision: to build Net Zero for no extra cost to our customers by 2015. From this point on we started working towards our first Discovery Home, Discovery 1. The Discovery home series is a research home where we try new building envelopes and systems to try to reach our Vision of Net Zero. From these homes we are able to take the ideas that work best and incorporate them into every home we build. This led us further and further down the path of third-party verification and proving that we would do what we committed to doing. At this point, we have completed our fifth Discovery Home and our third Net Zero Home and are well along the road to our vision.

2) As a home builder, what do you think the biggest challenges are when it comes to building and selling green/sustainable homes?

The largest challenge to building and selling a green or sustainable home is to know what your goal is and to keep true to your vision. Once you commit to the vision people seem to come out of the woodwork with different products that will get you points for this or that, which could lead you away from what you are trying to accomplish. Once you know where you would like to be then I believe it is time to spend some time with your past customers and find out what they are interested in and how this aligns with your vision.

If they are too different you may have a challenge in finding customers for your new great product, what you find great might not be considered a benefit to your customers. Once you are at this point it is time to look at what the extra costs to your vision are and how close you can come to that reality and still be able to sell your product. The hope being that you have hit the nail on the head and they will pay more, your margins will increase, and your customers will be happier because the home they have bought truly meets their needs.

I do believe that people are willing to spend more on a green or sustainable home, the amount always directly relates to the benefits they perceive they are getting from a better product. It is also my belief that you will need to take a risk and include these upgrades as your standard for people to be willing to invest. If everything is an upgrade your customer, this will likely challenge their commitment to the product.

3) Your company, Avalon has registered over 160 LEED Homes now. Why did you decide to go with the LEED Canada for Homes rating system for your homes? Why would you advise that others in the industry consider this rating system when building homes?

We decided to go with LEED Canada for Homes due to the verification aspect of LEED and the diligence on the inspections. It’s my belief that the more eyes you have on a project or product, the better it will end up being for the customer. We changed from our local Green Building program because we did not feel their quality control standards were at a level we were happy supporting.

I would advise others to work with LEED because I have found the LEED raters to be some of the better trained Building Science Professionals in the industry and I have found them to be very diligent in their work.

4) You will be speaking at this year’s CaGBC National Conference. Why did you decide to do a session? What can attendees hope to learn from it?

I decided to do a session at the CaGBC National Conference because a project that I have been working on for a number of years has come to its conclusion, and I felt that the information that we put together would help other green builders. The project is called Housing for a Changing World and represents the starting point for an industry-led collaborative initiative to build affordable sustainable housing, through innovation.

The roadmap process brought together homebuilders, their supply chain, academic and research organizations, and other stakeholders including utilities, who identified opportunities, barriers and actions required to reach our vision “that industry will be capable of delivering affordable sustainable housing to homebuyers across Canada by 2020, to stimulate demand for over 40,000 sustainable houses across Canada.”  This presentation will focus on the findings of the roadmap and recommendations on the next steps from an industry perspective. What attendees will get out of this session is where the industry needs to go in the coming years, and how they could get involved in the transformation if they are interested.

5) Where do you think the future of green home building is headed in the near and more distant future?

I believe that the future of home building is heading towards near Net Zero and eventually Net Zero homes.  As energy prices increase and natural resources become more scarce and expensive, it seems natural that we will look for a way to conserve energy.  I think this will be the first step. Secondly, as technical knowledge increases and some of the costs of building towards Net Zero decrease, we will see community energy systems a more natural fit.

Ryan Scott’s Housing for a Changing World: The path forward today and into the future education session will be taking place at the CaGBC National Conference & Expo on Tuesday, June 12 from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and will also include speaker Tyler Hermanson, a LEED AP+Homes and owner of 4 Elements Integrated Design Ltd.

Early bird registration for the conference runs until May 15 with significant savings, so register today and have access to this great session and many others.

For more information on LEED Canada for Homes, you may also visit the CaGBC website.