- Custom Homes
Clients tell their story about what prompted them to first contact Horizon, the benefits they received, and why they keep coming back.
Ever fantasized about living in the forest within sight of the city? Carl and Tanya Munro did, and for a long time they had their eye on the perfect place to do it. So when a property bordering Rithet’s Bog Nature Sanctuary — just 10 minute’s drive from downtown Victoria — came available, the couple were thrilled. Problem was, the 15,000 sq ft site was on a rising landscape of granite and mature cedar and fir trees (and multiple protective covenants to go with it). Needless to say, building a home here was going to be a challenge.
Enter architect Franc D’Ambrosio. Homeowners Carl and Tanya Munro worked closely with the renowned Victoria home designer from the concept phase. “We envisioned a modern home with architectural influences from Arthur Erickson, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Alvar Aalto,” says Carl. The couple stood at the bottom of the site’s entrance with D’Ambrosio and watched as he sketched out his vision for the home. “Franc told us his first take on something is pretty close to the way it usually ends up. And he was right.”
D’Ambrosio envisioned a series of low profile, interconnected geometric boxes, terracing up with the landscape. Ample ceiling to floor windows would allow light to bathe the interior, and six outdoor patios — including two on rooftops — would connect the outdoors with the indoors, both visually and functionally. “The forest envelops you here so we couldn’t imagine how we could have outdoor areas,” says Carl, who manages a local Audi dealership. But Franc knew exactly how to do that and delivered a home design that was both open and warm.
To bring the vision to fruition, Carl knew he needed a contractor with experience building modern homes on challenging sites. After interviewing some of the bigger local names, a family friend suggested he talk to Horizon. Tim Agar, Horizon’s co-founder and senior project manager, met with the Munros. Carl was impressed with Tim’s past home builds, as well as his inclusiveness. The Munros even took the step of renting a local home to be closer to the project. “Being particular about things, and having a pretty strong idea of what we wanted, we thought it made sense to be heavily involved in the project,” says Carl. “We appreciated Tim’s ability to accommodate that.”
As the construction gained momentum, Carl and Tanya had on-site meetings with Tim every two weeks. They went through the typical hiccups a complex home build might entail, and it was Tim’s calm demeanor and Horizon’s emphasis on process (as well as a very empathetic team) that kept the Munro’s focused and reassured. “Tim’s contemplative. He thinks things through, comes up with choices, alternatives,” says Carl. “And the team he works with is always available to answer questions. They are pretty good about resolving issues so that the thing you were concerned with five minutes ago is no longer a concern once you talk to them.”
In addition to resolving building challenges, Horizon’s experience with green building also proved to be an advantage. “Tim suggested an air to water heat pump system,” says Carl. “The total Hydro bill for heat, light and electricity is only $2500 a year. We got an Energuide rating of 82, which was a major feat for a 3,100 square-foot home with a flat roof and lots of glass.”
For all its beauty on the outside, the home is equally impressive on the inside, says Carl. “The awards this home has received are testament to the superior craftsmanship and attention to detail that you just don’t see in most homes.” The floors are a beautiful clear white oak milled and finished in Italy and flown to Victoria. The staircase was matched by a local craftsman who specializes just in building staircases. The fireplace is a combination of varnished steel and travertine ledge stone, skillfully matched by a local artisan to the architect’s specification. The doors and windows and exposed beams are made from locally sourced wood.
Asked to name his favorite feature of the home, Carl has this to say: “Everyday I pull into our driveway I think about how lucky we are to live here. You hear the stream gurgling away, see the deer passing by, watch the owls playing in the trees. It’s an incredible place to let the troubles of the day melt away.”
Three and half years ago, David Neale found the retirement property of his dreams on the edge of Elk Lake just outside Victoria. The rolling land featured beautiful south-west exposures, groves of mature evergreens, and a working fig and apple orchard. David’s plan was to build a custom home on the site, and work the farm as a hobby.
As an out-of-towner, David took his time selecting a custom home builder. He would need to commute to and from Edmonton during building, so he knew he needed to hire someone who could do the work largely unsupervised. He wanted to make sure his contractor could communicate well, work closely with his existing home designer, and have the expertise and resources to pull everything together.
By custom home standards, the scale of the project was immense. The property had more than a kilometre of paved roads, several rental properties, and multiple outbuildings that needed renovations. New drainage, septic, and water systems were also required. By the end of the build, over a 100 crew and subtrades would be involved.
Initially, David was urged by his home designer to go with a contractor the designer already had a relationship with, but David felt he should be more thorough. So after an exhaustive, months-long review process, he finally made a shortlist of local Victoria contractors. During the reference checks, David discovered that Horizon was the builder that people called on to clean up the problems of other builders.
“There’s a lot of challenges and risks in taking on a large custom home project,” says David. “So if you can take over where someone else has failed, I think that speaks twice as loud about your capability. That really stood out for me.”
David met with Tim Agar, Horizon’s chief project manager and co-founder, and was impressed by the straightforward way Tim presented his business plan. In addition to numerous cost-saving suggestions, Tim suggested several energy-efficiency techniques (window exposures, roof overhangs, insulation, heat pump systems) that would save on long-term operating costs as well.
One other difference David noticed about Horizon was their low overhead structure. “I was surprised that Horizon could arrange all these things with such a modest office and staff. Their boardroom is basic, whereas most others were lavish in comparison. Horizon doesn’t need large overhead to do amazing things.”
During the construction, David leaned heavily on Horizon’s staff to help him keep his paperwork organized. Frequent phone and email updates and a constantly updated spreadsheet helped him stay on track. “The farm operations have to be accounted for separately, and that is a challenge unto itself,” he says.
It’s been a long road, but today David’s dream home is nearing completion. Summing up his experience with Horizon, David says this: “Save yourself time and energy and talk to Tim. You won’t regret it.”
When the time came for Ross and Susan Holloway to find a contractor to renovate their two bathrooms, they had some pretty basic expectations. They wanted a builder who wouldn’t skimp on the quality of construction and who wouldn’t charge an exorbitant fee.
They wanted someone who would be professional, communicate well, stick to a schedule, and guide them to make smart choices. Most of all, they were looking for a builder they could trust. Unfortunately, their past experience with contractors was far from inspiring.
So it wasn’t surprising that they were cautious when they got a recommendation to Horizon from some close friends. Although they were impressed with what they saw of their friend’s kitchen and bathroom renovation, they were careful to get three estimates from three reputable contractors. During this consultation process, the conversation with Tim Agar, Horizon’s principal project manager and co-founder, stood out.
“All the contractors were great, but Tim was the only contractor to proactively offer advice on how we could get government grants for our new bathroom fans, windows and thermostats,” says Susan. “You could sense that he was looking out for us beyond the bathroom work.”
Adds husband Ross: “Tim is a straight-shooter. He put his cards on the table right away, which is something I appreciated. To prevent delays and creeping costs, for example, he insisted we select all the fixtures and finishing’s in advance.”
As work on the bathrooms progressed, they had the chance to interact with the Horizon crews and subcontractors. “I talked to the crew and they were all incredibly cheerful and proud of the work they were doing” says Ross. “That positive attitude made me think about the integrity Horizon has.”
Near the end of the project, the Holloways asked for Tim’s advice on a crack that had been slowly growing on their foundation wall. Up to that point, everyone else had attributed it to settling. Tim suspected a bigger issue may be involved, and suggested further investigation. So they put a CCTV camera into the perimeter drains. What they found wasn’t pretty.
“I was there when they put the camera in. Some of the external drains were either cracked, separated, or crushed,” says Ross. There was no doubt that they had to be replaced.”
That was just the beginning of what they half-jokingly refer to as their “huge rabbit hole.” When they began to dig further, they found rock. Lots of it.
Blast rock from the original 1966 home construction, which should have been trucked off site, was instead spread under the house slab and driveway. Years of settling and seismic movement was creating an unstable base, resulting in extensive cracks to the slab and foundation above it, with the right corner of the house sinking into the back driveway.
The Holloways made the difficult decision to dig up their driveway and expose the slab in order to stabilize the house with a concrete footing, so no further damage would occur. They had to remove the blast rock from the driveway, put down a proper road base, and permanently repair the foundation.
Today the repairs are almost complete. And despite all the unexpected extra expense (and numerous rabbit holes), they have nothing but praise for Horizon. “We can’t say enough about this company. Of all the renovations we’ve done in the past, Horizon is the contractor we trust the most.”