Based in Hobart, Justin O’Connor Builders is an industry leader in building energy-efficient homes and renovations. They can build any type of house to meet any budget. No matter the obstacle, they can overcome it while still meeting the highest possible energy efficiency standards.
“We look outside the square,” explains Justin O’Connor, founder and owner of the business. “We research options and push the boundaries, and do the best we possibly can to achieve an end result that makes our clients happy.”
Justin, who comes from a legacy of industry workers, established the business in 2000. “Building is in the family,” he says. “My grandfather was a carpenter, my great uncle was a carpenter, and my brother’s a carpenter-joiner. My father was in the other side. He used to be the assets manager for Housing Tasmania, with responsibility for all capital works.”
Justin himself has been in the building industry since 1995. His career began in the commercial sector, where he completed his apprenticeship doing major projects and project management. Soon after, he formed his own business where he was involved with a number of commercial projects for large developers. After three years working with a particularly large developer in Hobart, he moved into the residential sector.
From the start, Justin had been interested in making homes more energy-efficient. The difficulty was finding a market for that interest, as energy-efficient products tended to be costly and not readily available. As time passed, his interest began to be realised within the industry and products like double glazed windows became more accessible. That process is continually evolving, Justin says, as more energy-efficient products enter the mainstream and more hearts and minds are won over.
“I just thought there was a better way of building,” Justin adds, recalling what drew him to his green focus in the first place. “The industry had been constructing standard buildings for so long, and they were so inefficient. I knew there must be a better way.”
Energy-efficient homes are often a better option, he adds – even if most people don’t tend to realize it initially. “They are more economical for the user of the building, and more comfortable,” he says. “Nobody ever includes the comfort factor into their considerations, but it’s important.”
“Over the years, I’ve just grown more and more passionate about building energy-efficiently,” he continues. “The more I’ve researched it, the more I’ve taken notice and tried to do something about it. I’m always trying to make customers more aware about what products are currently available and what’s under development. ”
Today, Justin O’Connor Builders uses thermally broken double glazed window units in all of their passive solar-designed homes throughout Southern Tasmania. All of their thermally-efficient homes are designed and built to optimally utilise solar energy, and are cross ventilated to minimise the need for cooling in summer and heating in winter.
Striving for perfection
Justin O’Connor Builders is a small business, which means customers deal with Justin directly on all projects. He says he enjoys working with clients, and is happy to take them through every step of their building project. That personalised focus – and the quality control it ensures – is what sets the business apart from their competitors, even the ones who also have green capabilities.
“I strive for perfection,” Justin says. “Quality is my number one priority, and I am a perfectionist about what I do.”
All of his subcontractors possess that same drive, he adds. Every contractor he works with is a “regular” that knows the level of quality expected of them, and is more than capable of delivering it. “We’re like a big family,” he says. “We know each other inside and out, and we look after each other. When I need them, they’re there.”
Justin’s perfectionism – and the matching perfectionism of his contractors – has been recognised many times in the form of industry awards. In 2012, the company won a national HIA GreenSmart Award for Energy Efficiency, and was a finalist in the category of ‘GreenSmart Custom Built House.’ The year before, they achieved success at the Tasmanian HIA Awards, winning in two categories for ‘Best Custom Built Home under $400,000’ and ‘Energy Efficient Home of the Year.’
“I value that kind of thing a lot,” Justin says. “It’s recognition of the hard work we’ve put in. I know that I can do what I do, but an award gets other people to understand that without even seeing one of our projects. An award for energy efficiency really means something to a potential client.”
The 2012 GreenSmart Award, he adds, was particularly satisfying. He collaborated with the designer and owner throughout the entire process, from when the owner purchased the block of the land all the way to the final handover. They worked on that project for 18 months to get it right, and were even able to increase the energy efficiency of the project throughout the building process, as new products came on line and new engineering methods were proven effective.
“That was a very difficult project,” Justin says. “It was on a very steep north-facing slope – pretty much on top of a mountain. It snowed at least half-a-dozen times while we built the house. It was quite a difficult site to manage, but the end result totally exceeded the owner’s expectations, which is what I always aim to achieve.”
Quality is king
Currently, Justin O’Connor Builders is working on a unique project – the kind that Justin says he’s unlikely to see ever again. It’s a round building with massive double glazed curved glass walls, which he describes as essentially a boat on land. “That’s the sort of stuff that I like to do,” Justin says. “The stuff that other people say is too hard I thrive on. I prefer not to build conventional houses as I really thrive on being challenged in what I do.”
Justin O’Connor Builders does roughly two projects a year. Because their jobs tend to be complicated – and because Justin likes to be intimately involved throughout – that’s a number that they are satisfied with. They have had the opportunity to grow, Justin says, but he has chosen not to.
“Quality is king, and I’m pretty anal so I like to be involved with every project we do,” he explains. “I want to maintain the quality that I strive for and keep an eye on everything.”
“You can lose your edge if you grow too big,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of people working for me in the past, and I’ve become less engaged than I wished and therefore became a manager – and that’s not what I’m about. I’m about always achieving the best result.”