The increasing efficiency of resource use like energy and water, protecting the health and productivity of employees, using recycled or sustainable materials, and reducing the waste, pollution and environmental degradation that is often an issue in traditional methods, are concerns that are growing rapidly throughout all industry. Socially and environmentally conscious building and design is one area where we see notable changes in how this approach is developing to fit a growing concern of how to reduce our individual carbon footprint, as well as our footprints on a larger scale.
Burrard Green City Builders Inc. is a renovation contracting company serving the greater Vancouver area that believe that any renovation project can incorporate elements of green construction without costing the client much more than conventional construction. While renovations are this company’s main focus, they also consult on larger projects and are currently project management consulting for the Whistler Olympic Village, that will be part of the 2010 winter Olympic games in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. With this project, they are responsible for managing the construction of two four-storey wood frame buildings, as well as overseeing the site-wide landscaping of the project.
Burrard Green City Builder Inc. owner, Sam FitzZaland, maintains a unique blend of experience including custom home contracting and the production-building environment. These roots shine through in the company’s ability to complete work quickly with green issues in mind, while maintaining the high level of finish and attention to detail expected in custom renovations.
Sam FitzZaland Speaks with Ava Living:
You have a background in custom home building and contracting, as well as production building. Can you go into a little more detail about that and the types of projects that you’ve been a part of?
I began my construction career working with several high-end custom renovation companies in the San Francisco bay area. Later on, I applied my skills and knowledge to multifamily construction and worked as a site superintendent for a 115-unit infill development in the Silicon Valley. I found that custom renovations often require greater patience and problem solving, where multifamily construction tends to focus on speed and efficiency. My company and personal goal is to integrate the best of both methods.
Left: 'Before' shot of a Burrard Green City Builders, Inc. kitchen renovation job
Right: 'After' shot of their kitchen renovation
You’re now living and working out of greater Vancouver but also have roots in California. Do you feel that being from the Pacific Northwest has influenced your outlook in a different way than someone from say, the Atlantic Southeast?
Actually, with regard to rainfall, the Atlantic Southeast might have more in common with Vancouver than California. It’s so dry in California that water proofing and envelope design in the state are often driven more by trigger-happy lawyers, while in Vancouver, the drive tends to be more out of actual need than legal concerns. Also, the seismic instability of the San Francisco bay area means that a house’s structural system is at the top of the list of construction concerns. In the end, however, every region has its own set of challenges.
As for green building, I would say interest and investment is moving forward at a more or less parallel rate in California and British Columbia. People on the Pacific coast are generally well informed, aware, and concerned about environmental impacts and sustainability.
Was your interest in green and sustainable development always relevant in your projects? How was it first introduced, and then translated into your professional life?
My first green building job was working as a carpenter on an ICF (insulated concrete form) custom home in Southern California. With that system, you basically stack these large styrofoam blocks up like Lego to build the walls, and then you lay rebar and pour concrete through voids left in the blocks. The concrete ties all of the elements together and the result is an incredibly durable building with very high insulation R-values. That job was with Semmes & Co. Builders.
This particular project exposed me to both the environmental and economic benefits of green building, and inspired me to incorporate sustainable solutions into my future work. Of course, this hasn’t always been easy or well received. People are usually most concerned about the front-end cost. Part of my job is to educate them about the benefits and demonstrate the long-term savings of green and sustainable building.
Can you tell us a bit about your company’s experience working as a project manager at the Whistler Athlete’s Village for the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia? How is the process of managing the compliance and submittal process with Whistler Green, Whistler’s local version of LEED?
The Whistler Athletes Village has been a great project and the staff at the municipality are very pro-green, which is how the project was designed from the start. Green City Builders is consulting for the municipality-owned Whistler 2020 Development Corp (WDC) as the project manager for two of the four-story buildings in the village. We are also overseeing the landscaping and Whistler Green compliance on a site-wide basis. It's a challenging and exciting project because there are so many different players and parts to the project. For example, the buildings are designed for two uses: temporary housing for athletes during the games and long term housing after the games. The projects that are being finished now for the winter of 2010 will have to be adapted after the Olympics. Of course, you have to plan and anticipate all of this ahead of time.
Working with municipal staff on the green compliance has also been great. The Whistler Green program was designed by their staff and is based on the LEED point system, which is now a mandatory requirement for all development projects in Whistler. The Athlete’s Village is one of the first large developments to go through this new program. While this process is going through some fine-tuning, it's a huge step in the right direction.
There is a notion that green construction can incur additional costs for the client, but in reality, the operating costs may be reduced through increased productivity and the use of less energy and water. Also, a recent survey by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development found that green costs are often overestimated by roughly 300 percent, mostly by the key players in real estate and construction, which more than triples the average cost difference of about 5 percent. Do you run across this misconception quite often when sourcing or bidding on jobs?
Well, you’ve got some technologies where you have to look a few years down the road for payoff. A good example of this is a heat recovery ventilation system which costs three or four thousand dollars more up front, but could save you roughly $40 a month on heating bills; after 8 years of use it has paid for itself! With paints, flooring materials, and lighting, switching to green materials is very affordable and costs about the same as comparable conventional materials.
What are the benefits, in your opinion, to a client choosing green building methods over traditional methods?
Better indoor air quality and a healthier living environment; lower operating costs and long-term returns; durable, high quality materials; and a peace of mind that they are choosing the right thing for the planet and their community by supporting sustainable development practices and thus, lowering their environmental impact.
What are the key factors that your company considers when planning and executing a new contract or renovation? Does this depend on a case-by-case basis or are there common steps that must be taken at the start of every project?
With renovations, there are always questions relating to which materials we can save and how we can reduce the waste and cost by using what’s already there. We're currently working on a job where the client has these beautiful clear cedar ceilings. We're re-doing the floor plan, and instead of tearing out the ceilings and starting again, we are changing some rooms to drywall, and salvaging the cedar from there to repair the ceilings in neighboring rooms. Lighting is also important; you can look at the specified lighting fixtures, and try to identify comparable compact florescent fixtures that use less energy. There’s are a lot of small considerations like this that can have a big impact overall.
Left: 'Before' shot of a Burrard Green City Builders, Inc. bathroom renovation job
Right: 'After' shot of their bathroom renovation
Do you have a preferred material, or materials, that you try to incorporate into your work when you can? Do you try to keep it local and work with nearby vendors?
I’m a big fan of salvaged fixtures and materials. Reused wood, antique claw-foot bathtubs, leftover pavers from a large project; there are so many ways to make a place feel new and custom with reused materials. I definitely like to use local materials as well, when it makes sense. Many times, local materials are the cheapest and the most practical, with the added addition of being nearby.
Waste reduction is a huge component of sustainable and green development during construction, and also with the components that you chose to put into a development. Can you tell us how you tackle this issue? Is it mostly a matter of planning and careful consideration?
On top of salvaging material, with some careful planning, you can eliminate the wood waste that ends up getting taken to the dump at the end of a building project. Also, if you keep it clean, concrete forming material can double as framing material, and your framing off cuts can be used for blocking. With the small amount of waste that you do have, it is important to separate the material on-site so that individual recycling runs can be made for wood, drywall, cardboard, and metal. Only after that, do you have your mixed debris that goes to the landfill. There are cost savings at the dump as well; the tip fees are generally less for recycled material.
What has been your most satisfying project to date? Any exciting new projects on the horizon?
To date, the most exciting project is definitely the Whistler Athlete’s Village; the pace is super quick and there’s no re-scheduling the Olympics! For new projects, I'd really like to tackle a green roof job. I’m also interested in the concept of converting areas that would otherwise be dead space, into spaces where people can gather, socialize, and garden.
To contact Sam FitzZaland:
Burrard Green City Builders
5011 Chester Street
Visit his company website at: http://www.greencitybuilders.ca/
For those in Canada, you can save over $10,000 on your renovation project by going green. The government of Canada is offering significant grants to homeowners who make qualified energy efficient upgrades to their homes. For more information on these rebates, visit the Burrard Green City Builders, Inc. website here.
Written by Ehren Seeland