Ben Labbe Construction Ltd.
By Goody Niosi
Ben Labbe Construction Ltd. in Comox is building a reputation as a first rate quality custom home builder and renovator. In 2009 Ben Labbe Construction entered a home in the Canadian Home Builders Association CARE awards and came away with Silver.
Company president Ben Labbe says he’s very happy about the result. This year he has entered The McPhail Residence in the category Best Renovation $300,000 – $400,000.
Labbe says he’s very proud of the company’s latest project which took an old post-war bungalow and turned it into the owner’s dream of a West Coast Craftsman style home. “The home had been in the family for generations,” Labbe says. “They wanted to upgrade it.”
The home’s location overlooking the Comox Marina was ideal and made the home very deserving of a major facelift. The owners and Labbe saw eye to eye on the vision of making the entire project as green as possible. Reuse and recycle were the watchwords through every stage of the process. Wherever he could, Labbe reused what he tore down. What he couldn’t reuse, he recycled at places like Habitat for Humanity. Many of the upgrades the company made are invisible today but they make all the difference in how the home operates and how cost effectively it runs. Labbe installed new perimeter drainage, new studs, new insulation, new triple glazed windows – everything that would make it as sustainable as possible. “We brought it up to standards that we’re going to have to meet in 2014,” Labbe says.
Essentially, Labbe and his team gutted the house, taking off all the siding, installing a new roof and adding a garage and a new master bedroom suite above the garage. He notes that he used local suppliers and materials wherever possible. New fir trims on the windows and fir floors were locally made. New windows were also built on the island. He took up the old brickwork from the front of the house and reused it, with particular effect around the fireplace with its timber frame mantel. The home features low flow toilets and showerheads and a top of the line heat pump to make it as energy efficient as possible.
Custom millwork is one of Ben Labbe Construction’s specialities. The custom stained oak kitchen cabinets are face-framed to give them the look of fine built-in furniture. The finished home is a showstopper. The deck off the master bedroom takes full advantage of the water views and vistas of the Comox Glacier. Labbe notes that the owners – and the neighbourhood – seem well pleased with the result. “Recently people were stopping as we took pictures and saying that they loved the house,” Labbe recalls. “It’s getting lots of comments.”
Last year’s award winner also received many comments. The Hamm Residence was entered in “Best new single family detached custom home over 3,000 square feet.” Because the clients lived out of town, much of the consultation process took place through emails. Many items in the home such as the elegant teak doors were imported from the Middle East. But despite many Middle Eastern touches, the home is distinctly West Coast with Arts and Crafts and European influences. At 4,200 square feet, Labbe says it’s one of the largest homes he has built, yet the interior is warm, inviting and cozy and features timber frame construction, polished teak floors, marble walls and floors in the master ensuite, and an artful stained and polished eastern maple handrail for the staircase that Labbe milled in his shop. Creating one-of-a-kind pieces like the handrail is one of Labbe’s signatures in building a home.
Currently Ben Labbe Construction is putting the finishing touches on one of the largest custom homes he has built yet. At 6,200 square feet, the oceanfront home offers a myriad of features including a heated deck, regulation size sport court, swimming pool, hot tub, much custom millwork and stonework, coffered ceilings and an array of intricate details. Labbe says it’s a home he will enter in the 2011 CARE Awards.
Labbe says that his approach in building and renovating is quality, custom and creative. Ben Labbe Construction is noted for custom homes of all types and sizes with quality taking centre stage even in homes that aren’t necessarily grand.
Labbe founded his company seven years ago, after working for a high quality custom builder for many years. When he retired, Labbe decided to strike out on his own. Labbe notes that his employer was his former woodworking teacher in high school and helped him develop a deep appreciation for his craft. “I like hands-on,” he says. “I like being a part of the project. I like dealing with people and creating something beautiful. In each home I like to come up with something different that nobody else has.”
In his woodworking shop he custom mills elements unique to each home. When Labbe founded his company he started off with small jobs including cabinet work. He quickly moved on to custom homes and each year he says he has seen the company grow. His clients come to him almost exclusively through referrals. “Everybody knows I’ll do good quality work,” Labbe says. “It’s not in me to do otherwise. I can’t do that. I want to create a good product and have happy customers at the end.”
For Ben Labbe Construction the building process begins with a plan. Often people come to Labbe with an idea or with drawings. Labbe can also refer people to designers he works with. A custom home can often take a year to complete, Labbe says and customers stay as involved as they like, trading ideas back and forth. “Communication is paramount,” he says. “I like everyone to be clear during the entire process.”
Currently Labbe is upgrading everything the company does. He is obtaining his Built Green Certification and taking every course offered on sustainable building including working with solar energy. “I want to be able to build a house and make it ridiculously inexpensive to live in,” he says. “Already, most of the houses we build that are tested are exceeding the standards that we will have to meet in a few years.”
Sustainable building is important to Ben Labbe. “We want to do the best we can,” he says. “We want to put out a good product. Our philosophy is quality before quantity.”
Ben Labbe Construction is also a Renomark certified builder, a guarantee to clients, that his company does high quality renovation work.
Labbe says he not only wants to continue building custom homes and doing quality renovations, he also wants to enter his homes in more award competitions. “I like solving problems and overcoming challenges and I take tremendous pride in building something unique – in building very special homes for my clients. And I want to make the building process an enjoyable one for my clients. Building is my passion and creativity is my strength.”
He also wants to branch into spec homes in the future. “I would like to build some nice energy conscious homes,” he says. “I just want to build the odd special home that is
true to my vision. Eventually I will do that.”
Ben Labbe Construction Ltd. is in Comox.