The windshield wipers on Greg Hoffart’s truck are working overtime on a dreary Wednesday afternoon as we cross the Big Eddy Bridge on our way to check in with his team of carpenters. I’m already dreading the inevitable muddy conditions of a typical residential construction site, but to my surprise, we stop in front of a former truck repair shop and head indoors. The familiar smells and sounds of woodwork fill the air, and the upbeat atmosphere is spurred on by some good tunes. This is Tree Construction’s new shop that Greg hopes will not only boost his business, but also challenge the status-quo of home building in Revelstoke.
Tree Construction has deep roots in this community and this isn’t the first time that Greg, the owner, has broken new ground in terms of business modeling. Driven by his passion for environmental stewardship and sustainable building, Greg pioneered ultra-progressive passive house building in Revelstoke and with a growing list of completed passive homes, he’s hungry for more.
“I became interested in passive house construction many years ago and I knew it was something that I wanted to bring to Revelstoke,” says Greg as we tour the shop.
Passive houses, like the Veccio e Nuovo home that was previously featured in the Revelstoke Mountaineer, stem from European design concepts that utilize a fully-sealed and hyper-insulated building shell that is highly effective in separating indoor and outdoor climates. The end result is a building that requires very little energy to heat in winter or to cool in summer — something that should pique the interest of any homeowner who faced costly heating bills this past winter.
But passive construction doesn’t always come cheap. Additional insulation, higher quality materials, and greater attention to detail in the assembly can add five to ten percent to the cost of a home and, although these upfront costs are returned to the homeowner via lower energy bills, some clients struggle to see beyond the initial sticker shock.
“Some people have a hard time justifying the additional cost of a passive building,” explains Greg, “so I’m aiming to bring down those costs through greater construction efficiency.”
Tree’s new shop allows indoor pre-manufacturing of entire wall sections, even for custom designed homes. Materials arrive at one end of the shop, they are cut and prepped and assembled in the middle, and the completed wall sections are stored at the back until they are trucked to the site and craned into place. The cost reductions that this new process achieves would benefit any type of building but its particularly applicable to passive construction where the exterior shell comprises a greater percentage of the overall cost.
“Pre-manufacturing in our shop should reduce our bottom line and put the cost of passive building roughly in line with traditional methods.”
The percentages may not sound like much, but it makes passive construction a viable option for most clients and that’s a significant step forward. If you could build a house that’s greener, higher quality, cheaper to maintain, and no more expensive to build, why wouldn’t you? It’s simple logic that Greg preaches like gospel, and it makes perfect sense.
Furthermore, Greg hopes to expand his shop space greatly in coming years to be able to accommodate production orders from other building contractors in Revy and beyond. If passive building principals and techniques can be employed on a greater scale, they’re more likely to be recognized in national building codes and mandated by forward-thinking municipalities. Companies like Tree Construction could be the catalysts of an industry-wide change that brings Canada up to the same high environmental standards being adopted across Europe.
As we head back to Greg’s truck the sun is starting to shine and the snow-capped peaks that make Revelstoke such a majestic place are peaking through the clouds. Despite his hectic schedule, Greg takes a moment to reflect on the natural beauty.
“This is why we’re pushing passive,” he says, glancing up toward the mountains. “We may be a relatively small business, but we’re thinking a lot bigger.”
This story first appeared in the April/May issue of the print Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.