By Kerry Turner
Randy Spracklin, co-owner of Newfound Builders and crew boss on HGTV Canada’s Rock Solid Builds, embraces the opportunity to proudly showcase his province and his work. About to enter its third season, the series features Newfoundland’s unique housing styles and stunning rugged terrain as Spracklin and his team complete historic renovations and new builds. Pride in creating was always in his blood and the opportunity to join Newfound Builders, the family business, was available to him but Spracklin did what many young people do. He struck out on his own before returning home to work in the third-generation company.
“I did a lot of work with my father and grandfather over the years, but it was one of those things. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I went to Alberta like a lot of Newfoundlanders do and tried that out. I went to school for something totally different and found myself coming back around in 2008, jumping in with two feet and giving it all I had,” recalls Spracklin. That decision turned out to be the right one for him. “I love being creative. What I was trying to do with other stuff was because I paint a fair bit. I was trying to get into automotive doing custom paint jobs, but didn’t really like it. Because I like building stuff, combining carpentry work and building and renovating homes worked. I definitely love every morning to come around to go at it.”
While there are some large developments happening on the east side of the island, Spracklin has never gravitated toward that type of building. “I like to do something unique. And even on new builds, still keeping that little bit of old flare, along with something new and different is what I enjoy.”
Up for the challenge
Thanks to the temperate marine climate, Newfoundlanders typically didn’t have to contend with extreme temperatures. Despite that, the construction style and recent unpredictable weather events present challenges for the Newfound Build team.
“In the older homes what you’ll find there’s no insulation into them, there’s probably a double layer of board. So, trying to keep the integrity of the home plus get a good heating system is a challenge. A lot of them are built on the ground,” says Spracklin.
“Coming up with a clever way to heat these older homes, it’s a challenge for sure, especially here in Newfoundland. There’s so much wind and cold weather. It can be really cold, but the wind I find is even more impacting here, especially on older homes, because it can get in every little crevice, which will drop the temperature into the minuses if you got into bitter cold.”
In recent years relentless wind has become more of a factor. “Wind is the thing that we’re starting to see a lot more of and I don’t know if it’s due to climate change, but it’s really windy. A lot of older people say our winters weren’t as harsh before. The Snowmageddon was a shocking thing that happened in 2020. This winter, we had no snow, but it was pretty much windy every day. And high, high winds were normal at 80 and 90 km, but recently the wind has been up to 160 km/hour − very, very bad on the heating bill,” says Spracklin.
All of this means heating systems tend to be hybrid, calling on all forms of technology to try to maintain indoor comfort, notes Spracklin. “My house here now in Brigus is 140 years old. When I renovated, I ripped up the floor, did a concrete slab and did electric infloor heat. I am also running mini splits and baseboard heaters. Plus, I have a wood stove and a propane stove. Basically, I have all sorts of heat in one residence and many more homes have the same thing.
He says that “heat pumps are definitely a winner here” and adds selling customers on heat pumps has involved familiarizing them with the technology, explaining the energy savings versus the capital outlay, and finally having them get used to a different heat.
“I used to use my own house as an example. We had a heat pump and our heat bill was really low and I was heating 3,000 sq. ft. People have to understand the heat pump produces a different kind of heat. When you’re going from the intense heat of wood stove to any other source it is a little bit different, but once they know the savings that come with it, and plus you have air in the summertime. You don’t have to use it too many times but it’s good when you need it. A lot of people jump on board. I don’t find it a hard sell at all.”
Clean slates and opportunities
While his passion is restoring historic homes, new builds offer a clean slate and the opportunity to design systems that suit him. “When you have a clean slate it’s definitely a lot easier to design a system. You’re not working with something that’s already there and trying to change footprints. You’re making the footprint adjust to the system because that’s the heart of the home − you can’t have a home without heat. It’s definitely advantageous going new.”
At times though, clients may want to take advantage of views or position their home in a particularly harsh setting. He has come up with strategies to counter the realities of living on the Atlantic such as window positioning and the landscaping. “But if you’re in the wide open, you know, we’re on the edge of the Atlantic. If you’re building on the side of the cliff, you’ve got no break from it, but you do clever stuff such as going with the triple pane windows. We recommend having the insulation on the outside, that is definitely a big damper from all that wind trying to get through.
“You can point the house in a direction where you don’t need big windows with a beautiful view because the view is the other way. So, there are things you can move, but sometimes people really want to be on the edge of the cliff. You just have to try to adapt, and hope the place is not going to blow away,” jokes Spracklin.