At BrightBuilt, we are lucky to get a chance to work with many different builders based across New England and beyond. We love building these relationships, and getting to know each outfit well enough to determine who might have the most impressive tool collection, who might have the cutest shop dogs, or who would be most likely to win in a local potato sack race (and of course practical things, like who would be the best fit for a given client).
In this round of “meet a builder of BrightBuilts,” we wanted to take a moment to chat with Chris Quinn, one of the General Managers and Co-owners of Red House Inc., of Burlington, VT. Having completed both modular and site-built BrightBuilts, among many other high-performance homes, Chris has some great insights on both the high-performance world and off-site construction.
What is your history with building high-performance homes? How did you get started?
We like to think that we have been building high performance homes for over 25 years, however the standards have evolved and become more measured. One of the big shifts for us has been adjusting to alternate envelopes with reduced use of foam products. Now the big shift is moving to homes that are free of fossil-fuels. There has been a lot of growth for us in that market and now it is the norm for our projects to meet the High-Performance standard and also be Net-Zero or ‘Near-Zero’.
Personally, I started as a carpenter apprentice in Bowdoinham Maine while in college. After college at Cornell University I was a teacher, climbing instructor, and NOLS guide. I also did a stint at Shelter Institute in Bath Maine while living in an old yurt compound in Bowdoinham. In my early 20’s my first independent jobs were in coastal Maine. First was a summer camp renovation on Mackworth. Next summer was building a summer camp while living in a Tee-pee on site. Our jobs now have professional job trailers, no more Tee-pees. During this period, I also worked in the Franconia, New Hampshire area and the ‘High-End’ market in Telluride, CO. I then moved to Vermont to attend graduate school at the University of Vermont for Historic Preservation. While in graduate school I worked in a custom furniture shop building commission projects. During that time, I met my current business partner Dunbar Oehmig who had a small building company. I joined him and after few years we considered an alternate business model. We reached out to South Mountain Building Company in Martha’s Vineyard as a model. They were a helpful resource in our restructuring as an Employee-Owned Cooperative business. Currently I am a General Manager of Red House along with Dunbar.
In your mind, what are some of the primary benefits of off-site construction?
The off-site building approach has been appealing to us because it offers an opportunity to build high-performance homes at a more affordable level. It also enables us to work a broader geographic area due to less time on site. I personally like that the off-site approach forces most decisions to be front loaded in the planning process. This helps avoids delays and changes. We work a broad range in the residential market in terms of scale, style and budget. All of our projects are custom architect designed homes and we are always adjusting building approaches to best meet architectural demands and employ best practices with current building science. It can get pretty complicated to be honest. From a management perspective the off-site build approach can streamline time by employing established and proven construction approaches. Less reinventing the wheel on every project.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
I really like the relationships we have formed with clients, architects and subcontractors. Many of these relationships have long outlasted the initial jobs and generated genuine friendships. We have a loyal tribe of employees and it has been fantastic to be part of their growth as we mature as a company. We are moving close to year 20 at Red House and we employ over 45 people. Within our company I have witnessed young entry level carpenters progress into lead project managers which has been rewarding. I really enjoy the high-level of camaraderie that is present in our company and on our jobs.
What are your other interests you pursue when you are not on the job site?
Outside of work I am very active with outdoor sports such as mountain-biking, backcountry skiing and rock climbing. My kids are growing up to be very talented rock climbers and now they join me on backcountry skiing which has been awesome. I am also on the Board for the Vermont Huts Association, which is an organization that is developing a network of backcountry huts for skiing, bilking and general recreating. We are really looking forward to travel opportunities again and loading the family into the camper van for outdoor pursuits.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Chris. Looking forward to our projects with you this coming year!