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Tech Talk
B.C. builders and renovators share their thoughts on
technology and social media

By Judy Penz Sheluk

The theme of this issue of Home BUILDER is Technology, and our provincial focus is British Columbia. Rather than our typical “one builder” profile, we decided to pose some questions to a handful of respected builders and renovators in B.C. Sort of a mini survey, if you will, on how technology and social media have impacted the way they do business in 2011.

Home BUILDER Magazine: How has technology changed the way you build homes?
Bob Deeks, president, RDC Fine Homes, Whistler
Technology has had the greatest impact on how we frame and insulate our homes. Ten years ago we used traditional 2x6 framing and fibreglass insulation with a plastic vapour barrier. Most of our framing was dimensional lumber and windows were simple double-glazed units.
Today we are using pre-manufactured Structurally Insulated Panels for all our exterior framing and insulation, and the structural lumber we use is typically of the manufactured variety: gluelam beams, TGI’s, microlams, etc.
Most of our windows are now triple-glazed gas-filled units with UV coatings to match the orientation of the building: one coating to maximize solar gain on the south face and a different coating on the remaining faces to limit gain and enhance the insulation values. Improvements in design software have helped us design homes that better maximize solar gain and adjust overhangs to maximize summer shading.

HBM: How has technology changed the way you communicate? And how much has it impacted consumer knowledge?
John Friswell, president, CCI Renovations, Vancouver
We are light years ahead of where we were 10 years ago. We started with cell phones back in 1986 that cost $1,200/month to operate. Today we have smartphones in the hands of every one of our employees (currently 18) and we are paying less than $2,000.
We now have a server, use double monitors on all workstations, use common web-based calendars and project management software and have more computers and laptops than I can count! 
Almost all of our internal communication is done by e-mail, and employees are clocking in using a smartphone app, which eliminates time sheets and ties directly to our accounting software. All of our drawings — right from our initial “sketches” through to our working drawings are done on the computer.
The movement toward energy efficiency and sustainability has combined into the “green” movement, and clients are now on top of every aspect of the products in their homes. Consumer awareness and education means that we, as professional builders and renovators, have to be ahead in our own education and systems.

HBM: How has technology changed the way you do business?
David Adair, director, Blackfish Homes and Construction Limited, Vancouver
With today’s everevolving technology we are able to communicate effectively and rapidly from office to site and back to the client. With a smartphone, we now snap a picture or a shoot a short video at the job site, e-mail or text it to multiple recipients, and get almost instant feedback.
We post all important job files on an Internet-based server, which allows all parties to have access to the same paperwork at all times. Our budgets are all developed with digital takeoff software and estimating software to minimize the risk of incorrect math or missed portions of the budget. This also allows for easy reference for current needs or future projects.
Our crews check in at work on a digital time clock with a key-tag fob registered directly to them and their job classification, thus ensuring our clients are only truly paying for the time our crews are on site. Looking back four to five years, the management of these needs was double or triple the amount of time needed today. It allows me to spend more time with my current clients, or to put together bids for future work.

HBM: How have online management systems changed the way you do business?
Steve Kemp, Certified Renovation Professional, owner, Kemp Construction Management Ltd., Vancouver
At Kemp Construction we use an online management system (Cloud computing) to communicate with our clients. The system manages items such as: change orders, PDF design files, documents, progressive photos, client selections, scheduling and messaging. The project information is managed, stored and shared on one site, ensuring that we and the client are working from the same information. Additionally, it allows the client to see design files or photos of selections, and sign off online, using a tablet, a laptop, or a smartphone—no matter where they (or we) might be at that moment. Time is saved, miscommunications are eliminated. The contractor’s productivity has increased substantially using these communications tools.

HBM: How important is social media to your business?
Todd J. Senft, president, reVISION Custom Home Renovations Inc., Vancouver
With the vast amount of people using computers and handheld devices coupled with the “need to know now” desire, it is becoming increasingly important for businesses to become somewhat savvy with social media. Consumers have access to large amounts of information at their fingertips; you want your company to be the one at the top of the list that pops up on their screen (and their minds).
Using social media can be a very powerful tool if used properly to reach and teach your target market. For example, Facebook is quite popular and using it effectively will enhance the brand of company; it can be used to provide a plethora of information, from photographs of projects and new products to the latest details on government rebates, tax changes or building code changes. A company can quickly become “the” source of information for a particular segment of the residential construction industry based solely on the value of information it provides.
Twitter is also becoming popular because it provides an avenue for people to send quick short communication much like a text message. This type of communication is very to the point and needs to have quick responses if you want to keep your audience captivated. This may take some resources to manage but if done effectively, Twitter can be a very powerful tool for improving the service a business provides.

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