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"Mud-on-My-Boots" Builder Steps In

By Dave Foster

"I really love what's involved in building, every step of the way," says Dave Benbow, a self-described "mud-on-my-boots" builder. "I love the smell of the earth when we're building a new foundation, and the smell of the wood when we're framing. And being part of the on-site team is just in my blood."

Benbow took the helm as the Association's national president at the recent CHBA Conference in Lake Louise, Alberta. From where he sits, the next year looks very promising: "With the new government, there's a real opportunity to move things ahead, and nothing would make me happier."
Benbow brings over 30 years of experience to the job, and a real passion for the hands-on aspects of the home building business. With his wife, Sheila, he operates Balmoral Lifestyle Homes in Pigeon Lake, Alberta, some 100km southwest of Edmonton. Building an average of four custom-designed vacation homes each year, Benbow is proud that he remains "a totally hands-on builder - we manage every part of the process."
Born and raised in Edmonton, Benbow graduated from the University of Alberta and began working as a high school teacher. After seven years, however, he found that he had grown tired of "having my life dictated by a bell." This led him to the home building business. "I wanted to do something that was more varied and more challenging. Boy, did I get it," he says.
Benbow started his home building career in 1975 with Nu-West Homes, the largest new home builder in Alberta at the time. "I really began on the ground floor, in the service department doing customer service calls - everything from fixing squeaky floors to leaking toilets." He quickly moved into the construction end of the business as a site supervisor, construction manager and then as the general manager of one of Nu-West's single-family divisions.
The severe downturn that affected Alberta builders in the early 1980s meant that "everyone had to scramble to stay in the business." For Benbow, this meant working for a number of area home builders until markets began improving and the industry became more stable. His varied career working with other home builders led him and his wife to take the next step: founding Balmoral Homes in 1995. "It quickly became evident to us that our real strength was in providing customers with greater flexibility in terms of design and details, so we changed our name to Balmoral Custom Homes." Reflecting Benbow's commitment to hands-on building, their company remained a small-volume builder, constructing 15 to 20 custom homes each year in the Edmonton market.
By 2003, the Benbows were thinking about stepping back from the demands of their custom home building business. They had always enjoyed their vacation home at Pigeon Lake so they shut down Balmoral's Edmonton operations and started up Balmoral Lifestyle Homes at Pigeon Lake. "We wanted to slow down and smell the roses," says Benbow. "We do a small number of homes each year, handling the design and construction ourselves, and bringing in trades that we worked with in Edmonton. It's a really solid team. We know each other well and enjoy working together."
The new company focusses on vacation homes, ranging in size from 1,200 sq. ft. to 4,500 sq, ft. It also leaves time for the Benbows to pursue their other interests, including traveling, biking and hiking. Their two children, Jennifer and Cameron, are grown, and Dave and Sheila recently became proud grandparents.
Benbow has been a committed member of the Canadian Home Builders' Association. "I got involved locally when I was with Nu-West. I was coming into a new business and being part of the Association just made sense," he says. Benbow served as president of the CHBA - Edmonton Region in 1995-96 and moved on to the presidency of the CHBA of Alberta the following year. Over the years, he has also served as chair of the Alberta Professional Home Builders' Institute and on the board of the Alberta New Home Warranty Program. He is a Certified Master Builder under Alberta's professional designation program, and also a certified Built Green™ builder.
Talking about his term as the CHBA National President, Benbow says: "Our job over the next year will be to keep the momentum going. It's great that, in so many areas, our industry and the new government are on the same page, particularly in terms of accountability for results. Now the challenge is to push ahead and get the work on some of our issues completed."
Priority items include indexing the GST rebate threshold on new homes, ensuring that federal infrastructure investment benefits housing affordability and choice, and pushing for a national human resource development action plan that will address the industry's need for more skilled people.
Benbow also wants to see effective action by the federal government to deal with the problem of underground "cash operators" in the industry. "That's why I believe that the right time is right now. We've got a new government with new ideas, and our industry is more than ready to move ahead in a number of areas. We know what's needed: action."
For this hands-on builder, the road ahead couldn't be clearer: "In home building, if you want to get something done, you have to be prepared to get some mud on your boots. It's no different for government. Together we can really make a difference."

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