Effective vs Nominal R-values

The City of Vancouver has recently implemented their new Vancouver building code. One small change affects the insulation of exterior walls. Previously, exterior walls needed to be at a nominal R22 insulation level. The new code requires effective R22 insulation levels. What difference does this make?

Nominal insulation is the R-value of the insulation batt we stuff between the wood studs. This is the R-value we see printed on the bag. Don’t be fooled, this is not the R-value of the wall. Wood has an R-value of R 1.5 per inch and makes up approximately 23% of a traditional framed wall. A 2×6 stud will have an R-value of 6 while windows range from R2-R5. Relative to the insulation property of fiberglass, wood and windows are poor performers.

What will it take to achieve Vancouver’s R22 effective insulation values in exterior walls? Here are three options.

1. The traditional 2×6 wall insulated with R22 batt will achieve R17.89 effective. Fail!

2. A 2×8 wall insulated with R28 batt will achieve R22 effective. Pass!

3. A 2×6 wall with R22 batt and 1” exterior rigid insulation achieves R22 effective. Pass!

There are many variables at play to achieve R22 effective. Make sure your builder considers the many options and doesn’t default to what is easiest. There is one wall assembly considered by the world experts to be the perfect wall assembly. Check back for my next blog post on the “Perfect Wall” and its many advantages.

Cost Plus Contract versus the Fixed Price Contract

by Larry Clay

In the residential custom home industry, there are two contract types; fixed price and cost-plus. Homeowners need to understand each type of contract and decide which one best fits their needs.

Cost Plus
The cost-plus contract charges the cost of all materials and labour plus an agreed upon percentage applied to all costs of the construction of their home. With a cost-plus contract the homeowner assumes the risk of unexpected expenses and cost over runs. It is imperative that a thorough budget is complete and costs are tracked weekly. This is the value an experienced builder will bring to your project. In most cases, the cost-plus contract will cost you less since the builder and sub-trades do not need to pad their prices for the unexpected or unknown.

Fixed Price
The fixed-price contract guarantees the price you will pay for your home plus change orders. This provides peace of mind to the homeowner and for some, this is critical. The builder will assume the risk of the unexpected and unknown but will need to pad some prices to cover the possible surprises. You will pay more for the peace of mind.

Best of Both
Can you get the best of both? Can you receive the lower costs of the cost-plus and the peace of mind of fixed-price? Yes, this is entirely possible. An extremely thorough budget will allow you to adjust the features and finishes before the start of construction to fit within your comfortable spending limits. Weekly invoices allow you to make mid-course corrections in the event an unexpected cost occurs. Few builders have the experience and business systems to accurately deliver a thorough budget and timely reporting to keep homeowners sufficiently informed.

Choosing a builder that can deliver what they promise will make the difference between a nightmare and an enjoyable building experience. Choose wisely and have fun spending!

dry foundation

8 Steps To Achieve a Dry Basement

by Larry Clay

Case Study
I met with homeowners this week whose home had water coming into their basement. They were stressed from the potential costs and inconvenience to their life. Remediation after the fact would be exorbitant.

This home was typical of many homes where the builder’s only goal was to pass inspection, build to code and make money. Building to code is the lowest level of construction you can legally build in Canada. This is a minimum standard.

8 Steps to Success
Below are eight procedures completed on the exterior of a home to prevent water from entering the basement. Ideally, this is done during construction.

  1. The footings must be placed on a healthy bed of free draining crushed rock. This allows for ground water to make its way to the drainage piping around the perimeter of the foundation. Secondly, it keeps water from wicking up to the concrete foundation.
  2. Use superior PVC perforated drainage pipes. They cost a little more but in the event of a blockage, they can be snaked and cleaned. Big O drainage piping should never be used. In fact, some municipalities have banned the use of Big O drainage piping.
  3. The foundation is sprayed with a dampproofing asphalt. A thicker water proofing spray is better. A superseal drainage mat is placed over the asphalt spray. Backfill material will butt up to the drainage mat. In the event water gets past the dimpled membrane mat it will flow freely down to the drainage pipes.
  4. For builders, it is cheapest to backfill with the native material from the site. This is often unsuitable material. Material that is not free draining will not allow water to flow down to the drainpipes sitting at the bottom of the foundation. Often we need to import free draining material like crushed rock or gravel.
  5. Lot grading must take water away from the house.
  6. Gutter downpipes should never deposit water at the foundation. You may run the downpipes into solid PVC pipes and take the rainwater into the city storm if allowed by your city. Alternatively, you may run the downpipes into a large rock pit located away from the foundation. If site conditions allow, you may be able to run down pipes into a ditch or gulley if slope allows.
  7. Driveways and sidewalks must not guide water towards the house. In the event the house is lower than the road, trench drains must be installed to transfer water away from the house.
  8. Landscaping must not impede the flow of water away from the house.

Doing It Right From The Start
While a house is under construction, there are a number of upgrades that will potentially save thousands of dollars in the event of a wet basement. Penny wise, pound-foolish. Most of us cannot afford the maintenance and remediation costs of a poorly built house. Smart and strategic spending on the construction of your house will ensure a healthy, efficient and solid home built for the generations.

Clay Construction team at BC Georgie Awards

2014 Customer Choice Georgie Award Winner

Customer Choice Georgie Awards® Powered by AVID™

Clay Construction is very pleased to announce that we have won the much coveted Customer Choice Georgie Award. This Grand Georgie was presented just this week (27/02/15) at the Canadian Home Builders Association of BC’s award gala. Chosen through a recognized program of Avid Ratings Canada, builders were rated solely by homeowners, measuring customer experience and loyalty.

Customer Satisfaction Award
Just to be a finalist for this award a builder must rate in the top 25% nationwide on customer feedback surveys. Award winners represent the best of the best with the highest satisfaction ratings amongst builders. All aspects of the homebuilding process were considered from construction to warranty service experience.

Thank you
We are grateful to the homeowners and community for their recognition of our work. This award truly represents what Clay Construction strives to accomplish – building quality homes with integrity. We are proud of our team for their enthusiasm, hard work, high standards and ability to really engage with our clients.

2013 Best Custom Home Builder
The CHBA BC’s Georgie Awards® program began in 1992 with the desire to recognize excellence in the home building industry. In previous years, we have been honoured with many Georgie awards including last year’s 2013 Best Custom Home Builder in BC. Learn more about all our awards on our award page.

More Information
For more about the Avid Ratings system and the Georgie Awards®, visit CHBA BC

custom home construction budget

Apples to Apples – The Myth of Construction Cost per Square Foot

When clients begin researching a builder for their custom home, most often the first question asked is – “What is your price per square foot?” Most people believe this is the best way to get an idea of what it will cost to build their home. The other misconception is believing a builder can give them a ballpark price based on another home they saw on the builders website – because the square footage is similar.

Unfortunately – this isn’t the right question to ask a builder when starting that relationship. They won’t tell you this but every builder feels the same way. What is really happening is the builder (who has most likely been cold called by the prospective client, sight unseen of any drawings or specs) is forced to give a starting point to at least capture the lead or clients confidence, only of which then erodes like a melting ice cream cone in the hot sun once the builder sees the plans and begins giving true costs (which can often be higher) and the client is still stuck on the original price quoted as if it were gospel.

The REAL Factors That Make Up Price Per Square Foot

Will your house cost $150 per square foot, $200 per square foot or $300 per square foot? It’s impossible to say based on a builder not seeing any finished house plans, not having any idea of interior or exterior specifications etc. Size of the home and property size is not enough to gage a ballpark price per square foot from even though builders will try to give you an idea. This figure will change, and will most likely increase.

If you choose to go this route, you will end up feeling like you’ve fallen for the bait and switch when the builder tells you the initial price per square foot given over the phone has now increased and you’ve just spent weeks in the courtship process. Even if it’s increased by $20 a square foot, multiply that by 3500sf that’s an increase of $70,000! Any builder that gives you a price per square foot over the phone without having seen the finished working plans from your architect or designer, hasn’t met with you, hasn’t walked your property etc, is not providing you with a professional and honest answer. Be prepared for unhappy surprises.


All Rooms Are Not Created Equal

Some rooms are much more expensive than others. For example, kitchens contain expensive stuff, like cabinets, appliances and countertops. They often have more electric lights, power hook-ups, gas and plumbing connections, and tile backsplashes. Bathrooms contain a lot of plumbing piping and fixtures, tile floors and walls. Kitchen and bathrooms are usually the most expensive rooms in any house.

The lowest cost rooms in your house will be the rooms that are built within the roof structure, i.e., the attic, garage or basement. The shape of a roof over a room with a flat ceiling creates an attic space that is going to be constructed whether you finish off the attic or not. Because most houses have a sloped roof, an attic is the by-product. The steeper the roof, the greater the volume of space created within the attic. Finishing off attic space that is already there is very economical to do. This is also true with a basement space. If your site or climate dictates that you build a basement, adding heat and air conditioning, an electrical system, drywall, paint, and a floor finish can often be done for a much lower cost than the average cost per square foot of the rest of the house.

There are several other things that affect the construction cost of your home without actually adding square footage. The type of construction, the exterior wall surface materials, the appointments, finishes, and equipment within the house, and the building site are big factors.

  • A house built with a poured concrete basement, 2×6 stud walls, a slate roof, and a high efficiency heating and air conditioning system will be a lot more costly than one built on a concrete slab with 2×4 stud walls, an asphalt roof, and a basic heat pump.
  • A house built with radiant heat, wood windows, slate roof and copious cabinets will be a lot more costly than one built with a basic forced air furnace, vinyl windows, asphalt roof and a minimum of cabinets.
  • A house with a full stone exterior is a lot more expensive than one with composite siding.
  • A house with a Sub-Zero refrigerator and granite countertops will cost more than one with a basic free-standing refrigerator and laminate countertops.
  • A house built on a steep slope will cost more than one built on flat land. All of these houses could be exactly the same square footage, but the constructions cost, and their cost per square foot, would vary wildly.


Different Builders Might Calculate Square Footage By Different Methods.

Usually this is an innocent difference in opinion of how square footage should be calculated. But sometimes the builder’s purpose is to make his bid look lower and more appealing than those of his competitors. For example, some builders will include the areas of the garage and decks into the total square footage, while others don’t. In these cases, the total cost of the house would be divided by a greater number of square feet and the “cost per square foot” would be considerably lower.

The best way to calculate an effective cost per square foot is to make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Otherwise, the cost per square foot information you get is useless. No matter what method you use, make sure that you are comparing things equally when you’re looking at different bids and different builders. And don’t fall into the trap of estimating the cost of your project based on a cost per square foot estimate alone. You won’t have an accurate price until you have an accurately calculated price.


Clay Construction is a luxury custom home builder, building and renovating quality residential homes in Metro Vancouver since 2004.

Are you thinking of building a custom home in Metro Vancouver? Call or email Suzanna today and ask for the Clay Construction Welcome Kit, our free information gathering tool you can use and share with the Clay Construction team to help plan and organize your custom home project.

architecture plans for custom home

1. Starting Smart

Introducing The Clay Way

Clay Construction takes pride in building right, right from the start. We call it The Clay Way. In our blog posts we’ll share in-depth knowledge of our building style. Issues facing home owners as they navigate new home builds and renovations will be discussed. We’ll explain what to look for and what to watch out for and how Clay Construction gets it right. We start with the aptly name Starting Smart, the first in our series.

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Larry Clay at the Georgie Awards

Georgie Awards Winner

Georgie Awards come in all sizes with 45 categories ranging from best renovation under $100,000 to the best overall builder in the province. These awards, bestowed by the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of British Columbia (CHBA), reflect the dedication of the winner to have done their best whether the job was big or small.

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