The idea for LWE Builders began when friends Ian Larsen and Stephen Whelan were in trade school together. Each saw the opportunity to create a livelihood which complemented the mountain lifestyle found in Fernie, BC. At the time, the soon-to-be partners were both working on their Red Seal certification and honing their craft under separate companies. In 1999, LWE Builders became incorporated and their journey began within the industry, working hard to help clients achieve their dream home amongst the mountains. “We prefer a more collaborative approach with our clients, where they are more involved in the project,” says Whelan. “Of course, that varies from client to client. Some are very plugged into their dream home while others come with less experience or fewer ideas of what they want to do – that’s where we pick up the ball and take it from the design phase onwards.”
Utilizing their own in-house design team, LWE Builders will translate each client’s vision into something they can build, managing the project from start to finish. Their experience within the industry over the years has allowed them to form strong relationships with desired sub-trade partners based on their shared values for expert quality and service. Throughout the project, the company acts as a go-between, in order to streamline communication for the client. Whelan says, “It makes it a little bit easier – not having to deal with 20 or 30 different sub-trades, allows us to quarterback all those bits and pieces for our clients.”
Another key quality that LWE Builders has continuously worked toward is building efficiently. Not only have they increased their focus toward building green and being more energy conscious, but they have also taken the climate into consideration – especially in regards to time management and access to viable building conditions. Whelan explains that the “good building season” is very limited in Fernie, a town known for its deep powder skiing. As a result, the company has looked into a more suitable solution through bespoke wall assemblies. Utilizing wall assemblies which are pre-built in a factory where it’s 18 degrees and sunny every day, allows for productivity that is as good as it’s going to get” according to Whelan.
The accuracy and the quality of materials stay protected from the weather. While construction is happening in the factory, our crew is putting the foundation in and getting prepped for the package to show up. Of course, it’s very similar to a traditional build at that point. Floor assemblies are built the traditional way on site; the walls need only to be stood on site; and we can get up and be waterproof within a 10-day period on a standard 2,000 to 3,000 square foot house. Which is great for our weather and climate.”
LWE Builders’ ongoing commitment to efficient, quality projects has also earned them three major awards over the years. In addition to a local CHBA Rocky Mountain award a few years ago, they have also earned two Georgie Awards most recently for their Kootenay Haven build: Best Certified Home – Custom; as well as Custom Home valued between $1,300,000 and $1,899,000. “We went up against some pretty stiff competition; most of which comes out of the lower mainland and the North Vancouver-Whistler areas,” says Whelan. “It was nice to be able to go up against some of the bigger builders – not just bigger, but it’s a little more cutting edge stuff. The West Coast seems to be a leader in terms of materials, product and efficiency. I’m not saying it’s not being done in other places, but Vancouver and that sort of North Shore style, West Coast look seems to be quite popular now.”
Working in Fernie has encouraged Whelan, Larsen and their staff to maintain a more small-town feel throughout their work. One of their main goals is to stay true to that notion, as it is what originally attracted them to the area all those years ago. As a result, they have also had a hand in a few community projects. “We’ve volunteered time to help build the local dirt jump and mountain bike skills park on behalf of the Fernie Trails Alliance. Just recently, we had our hand in a new bridge crossing for pedestrians and a biking trail which previously connected to a precarious highway crossing at one point,” says Whelan. “Now, bikers and walkers can stay in a safer zone away from highway traffic. One of our employees has taken on a memorial pavilion honoring a woman who passed away two years ago. She had a strong connection to the local soccer community, both as a player and a coach and these projects hopes to reflect those contributions. We’re trying to support him and co-ordinate how he can help their fundraising efforts, and potentially take on the building side of things – for a timber frame shade structure and washroom facility at the local soccer pitch. That’s a big one that’s going to be coming down the pipe here soon.”
According to Whelan, one of the larger factors that could affect the future of the industry is the role of energy within the building sector, as it already appears to be moving in that direction. “The B.C. building code has ramped up its energy requirements with the step code now potentially coming in,” he says. “As fuel costs continue to increase, it’s going to drive the consumer demand for more efficient, more comfortable homes. Since LWE Builders came into business nearly 20 years ago, we have had the luxury of relatively low fuel costs. As fuel prices trend higher, we see ourselves staying ahead of the curve building homes with energy efficiency and low operating costs as our primary goals. In the long-term, we see that kind of moving more, and it will drive the more energy efficient homes and lower operating costs. I think people will start looking at that a little bit more, as opposed to what their initial up-front capital costs are going to be.”
As the industry progresses, Whelan also sees LWE Builders continuing to move into the high performance building they have been working to achieve over the years, as well as further implementing their new venture of using more bespoke, time efficient materials. The company is committed to promoting efficiency certification for their homes, and have made an in-house decision to encourage clients to see the potential. This can be found in the Kootenay Haven project where the design takes advantage of natural light, and utilizes specifically selected building materials and new technologies that resulted in an EnerGuide rating of 85 gigajoules per year and Built Green Platinum standard.
“Things can get busy and hectic, and our staff kind of fluctuates a little bit,” says Whelan. “So, there’s always pressure to make sure we keep our key people busy, moving forward and growing. But, trying to remember why we moved here in the first place is important; getting out for a good powder day, a good mountain bike ride or an evening on the river fishing is always a good thing – and good for your mental health as well. Those types of things help on the creative side. You have to be up for the projects; for your creativity.”