“By the time I’m done talking, I think you’ll have your article.” Doug Tarry Jr. was right. The self-proclaimed “building science guru” has an undeniable passion for saving energy, lowering utility bills and improving the comfort and health of homeowners. A former punk rocker and chef, Tarry says his passion for conservation was handed down to him by his parents. Now, it’s his turn to pass it on as director of design and marketing for Doug Tarry Homes, an energy efficient homebuilder in St. Thomas, Ontario.
Tell me about Doug Tarry Homes.
We take a holistic approach to development. We’re trying to minimize your carbon footprint, but we also want to ensure nature can move and flow through it.
As a builder, we pride ourselves on using building science. We do right up to net-zero. We find that we have to work with manufacturers a lot because of how tight we build our homes. In some cases, we’ve had to find solutions that don’t even exist yet.
What’s your role in the company?
I’m actually a co-owner with my siblings and our mom. I also advise the province on energy efficiency and water conservation. Doug Tarry Homes wrote the first Net Zero Ready Guideline for Natural Resources Canada. I’m heavily involved in building codes.
So, where does your passion come from?
I think originally it came from our dad. Up in Algonquin Park with us as kids, he always used to say leave your campsite better than you found it. He would make us clean up a campsite even if it wasn’t our mess. We got the understanding of stewardship of the land. He was a developer, but he was a conservationist. That kind of trickled through to all of us and became part of the fabric of who we are.
Did you and your siblings take over the family business with your mom?
When Dad died, Mom had us all come back and work for the company. There’s my brothers Greg and Bill and my sister Kathy, who just retired.
Is this what you envisioned for yourself back then?
No. I thought I was going to be in a punk rock band. When that didn’t work out I became a cook’s apprentice and eventually a professional chef. Then I ran the London Knights for six years after our dad passed away. The design and energy efficiency stuff just happened once I came back to the construction company. After we sold the team to the Hunters, I was on the marketing side. I kept trying to explain to my brother what clients were asking for. Finally, he said, “there’s this house design program called Softplan. Go buy it and learn it.” Three weeks later, my first plan was on the jobsite. I’ve been doing designs ever since, although my role is changing.
How big is the company now?
Between land, marketing and design and construction staff we have about 30 employees. We build between 50 and 70 homes a year. I’ve got the sales staff plus the designers. My sales manager Suzie basically runs all of them, and I just try and stay out of the way. I’m more like a coach nowadays.
I’m the building science guru for our company, but I also train other builders and building officials on this stuff too.
How many people have you trained?
Oh, well more than a thousand. I did about six hundred last fall for the new code changes. That’s almost a career on its own. It just doesn’t pay me very well.
But it could be a career for other people in the future?
If I was to target any one area people need to look at going into as a career, it would be the inspection side. That would include independent energy evaluators and the like. There’s huge growth that’s going to happen there. We don’t have a capability issue, we have a capacity issue. We’re just crying for skilled trades. Period. Bricklayers are a big one and the need for framers is huge, but as an industry we have to address the shortage of building inspectors.
What’s next for you, the company and your vision for the future of Doug Tarry Homes?
We’re actively debating right now when would be the appropriate time to go with our first net-zero community. I think the big thing is trying to keep grinding the cost down because affordability needs to be a factor.
What is it like working with your family?
I’m the youngest so I usually have to push them to get them to listen, even though I’m over 50. I’m not the baby anymore. But when I have their support we can do some really amazing things.
We were going to do this house-build called Project Hope. We’re actually making a documentary film about it as well that’ll be coming out next year. I went to my brothers and said we need to help this family. We just got the news last week that our project is up for six awards at the Ontario Home Builders Awards of Excellence this coming September. When I was telling my team that, my brother was sitting at the other end of the table and he started to choke up. He was getting pretty emotional about it. It means a lot to get that type of recognition.
Tell me more about Project Hope.
It’s the family of Johnny Nooren. Johnny was a building inspector in this area. I knew him a little bit because he would come to my training sessions. The last time I saw him was actually at my first net-zero home. Then in the next spring he was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma and ten weeks later he passed away.
His wife Angela was only 39 at the time and he left behind two beautiful little babies, a seven-year-old boy and a two-year-old baby girl. So they needed support from the community emotionally and to help them get back on their feet. I decided we should build them a net-zero ready home. I went to her and said I’d really like to do this and if you’ll let me do it, it’ll be great for me, because I was in a bit of a dark place myself. She said yes, and it’s been a real blessing for me.
We actually did a video demonstration of window flashing while we were building the home. It was like the Top Gun Academy. That’s the level of skill that came to the table. All the trades brought their best A-game, and it was just a thing of beauty to watch. When the brickies got held up for a little bit because we were a little bit behind getting the roof all settled on, and then finally it’s just like unleashing the hordes and they’re singing “Amazing Grace” as they start. Just incredible watching the framers first thing. The one director, Ryan Grams from Uptop Films in the States, he said it was like watching Cirque du Soleil but with bricks and sticks.
If you want to follow the film, it’s called HOPE: A Story That Builds More Than A Home and you can follow its progress at facebook.com/projecthopedoc.
Angela Nooren with son Luke and daughter Aleida at the Project Hope construction site.