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© Copyright 2008 Work-4 Projects Ltd.
Bona Fide Building on the East Coast

By Ann-Margret Hovsepia

Working late one night, SUZANNE BONA heard some commotion outside and went to investigate. "Some kids were chucking rocks at our trucks! I went over and talked to them and they told me they were bored." Bona, president of Scotian Homes in Enfield, Nova Scotia, just outside Halifax, suggested they pick up the trash on the street instead of destroying her vehicles. "'Are you gonna pay us?' they asked, so I said maybe." That exchange sparked the launch of an outreach program called Enfield Earthkeepers, just one of many ways Bona and her building company have had a positive impact on their  community... and overseas.
Bona actually runs three companies. Besides the multiple-award-winning building company she took over from her father five years ago, she manages the international branch of Scotian Homes as well as Enfield Home Hardware Limited, the original base for the business. "As owner, running the company doesn't allow me to be involved in every aspect of the business every day," she says. "But I  still get out on job sites, meet with clients, select products and land, and help with marketing."
Bona's passion for building homes is undeniable. Born around the same time the business was, in the late 1960s, she has been involved with company all her life and says, "It's a part of who I am, and I love what I do." It must be in the genes. Bona's father, BOB, was a shareholder of Scotian Homes but bought out the company in 1983 and started the tradition of winning prestigious industry awards. When his health began to fail in 2001, his daughter, then sales manager at Scotian Homes, stepped in as vice-president and by 2003 had taken over.

Energy Experts
Named R-2000 Builder of the Decade in 1996, Scotian Homes started building energy efficient homes long before it was the popular thing to do. In 1995, Scotian Homes was selected to build Canada's demonstration homes for the G-7 Summit. The Canadian Home Builders' Association named Scotian Homes Canada's R-2000 Builder of the Year in 2007, not long after the company won a Peak Award from the Nova Scotia Home Builders' Association for Building the Most R-2000 Homes in 2007.
Many other honours have come Bona's way, including Builder of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year, Renovator of the Year and various marketing awards. "Over the years, we have tried to stay ahead of trends, making sure we were doing best quality work that we could," says Bona. "We try to lead with energy efficient homes and believe that clients need to know their home is good for them not just for today but in the long term."
Bona says the base of specifications for any Scotian Homes project is EnerGuide. "R-2000 is an option that we appeal to them to consider." She adds that, in the last year, she has seen a lot of interest alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power. "We've been selling Electric Thermal Storage (ETS) systems for many years, and we aggressively push heat pumps, which offer great air quality and energy efficiency. More and more of our customers are asking for these things. They come to us with those questions because we're already out there talking about energy efficiency."

Customizing for Customers
Bona estimates that about 65 per cent of the homes they build are custom. "We're constantly taking away the designs that don't work for us and adding new homes to our selections," she says. Scotian Homes now builds duplexes as well as single-family homes and Bona expects that, with rising prices and people looking for affordable housing,  the company will get more involved with multi-unit buildings.
Scotian Homes builds about 80 houses a year in Nova Scotia, and between 12 and 20 projects internationally. "We have chosen to concentrate in certain areas," she says. "The availability of skilled trades has certainly had an impact on how many projects we can take on. It's not all about quantity, but quality."

Building Canadian... Overseas

Scotian Homes' commitment to energy efficiency isn't limited to Canada. "We got into international business when we started building homes for European vacationers here," says Bona, who now speaks German, along with French and some Spanish. "It was interesting what they understood or didn't about wood houses, and we started going over there to building shows and picking up clients."
A Super E(r) Certified Member, Scotian Homes now has 16 employees in Europe and an agent in the United Kingdom. Super E, a program backed by the Canadian government, in partnership with Natural Resources Canada, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and Foreign Affairs & International Trade Canada, is designed specifically for Canadian exporters of energy efficient and healthy housing.
Scotian Homes builds Super E houses in Iceland and Germany, but has also built homes in Lithuania, Poland, Switzerland, Holland and the Ukraine. In addition, the company has supplied product to Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates. "We didn't go after the projects in Iceland, but pilots from Iceland Air started stopping in here and looking at housing," Bona says.

It's About Community
Even with its strong business connections with Europe, Scotian Homes remains committed to its local community. "We name all our home plans after places in Nova Scotia to keep it 'Scotian'," explains Bona.
Bona belongs to the Better Business Bureau for the Atlantic provinces, serves on the Atlantic Home Warranty board, is a Nova Scotia Community College board of governors member, and sits on both the local and provincial Home Builders' Association boards - among others. "When you're part of an industry, it's as much about giving back as what you get. There's always a balance you have to strike."
In addition to the awards already mentioned, Bona received the 2006 Progress Club's Woman of Excellence Award in recognition of various projects she was involved in. In 2005, her company won the Maritimes Philanthropy Award for its work with Adsum House, a respite house for women and children. "All our sub-trades and suppliers helped, donating either time or materials, and it was a fabulous experience for us. The icing on cake was that someone recognized what we did."
The non-profit Enfield Earthkeepers program, which was inspired by the rock-throwing youths, gives local 12- to 16-year-olds an opportunity to work alongside tradespeople, explore career options, and give back to the community. For every four hours of work they do - mowing lawns, planting flowers, painting, walking dogs, and other odd jobs - the young teens donate one hour of service.

Looking Ahead
One challenge builders in the Maritimes have faced is seeing many of their young trades move to Alberta or British Columbia. "The building boom out west five years ago had builders coming here to recruit trades," Bona explains. However, as a migration reversal begins to takes shape, Bona says they are now building homes for people moving back to the east. "The lifestyle in Nova Scotia is special. People enjoy it and usually want to come back to it. We're also seeing a slowdown in the west."
Bona's goal is to continuously improve the business. "We're not interested in sitting back. We want new challenges, to find new ways of building, engaging our trades to be a bigger part of our success, and being able to know that every day we turn the lights on here, we're making a difference somewhere somehow in a positive way. Every day is an opportunity to make better on the day before."

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