A PROFILE ON BEN KLUNDERT
BY PERRY J GREENBAUM

One thing that characterizes BEN KLUNDERT is his love of building quality and affordable homes, a trait he learned from his father, FRANK, who began building homes in 1959 in Belle River, Ontario, a town about 50 kilometres southeast of Windsor on Highway 401. “My father did everything himself — electrical, plumbing, drywall — the whole nine yards,” Klundert, 44, recounts. “I ended up learning the whole trade from him.” (His father died about a year-and-a-half ago.)

That passion ran deep. Klundert formed his first company with an older brother, JOHN, right after graduating from high school in 1979. They built four houses, selling three rather quickly. Then the recession of 1981-82 hit hard. “We carried that fourth house for four-and-a-half years,” Klundert says, “which was a valuable lesson.”

The brothers closed the business and went their separate ways. Both ended up working for a number of years in the automobile industry in nearby Windsor, an automotive hub. However, Ben Klundert was only waiting for the right moment to return to his love. He formed Ben Klundert & Son Contractors Ltd. in 1987 and, for almost 20 years, has never looked back.

That company lasted until 2000, when Klundert and his right-hand man, KEVIN BRADY, decided to form BK Cornerstone in 2001, mainly to change direction. “The previous company was a small concern, building between 10 and 18 homes a year,” Klundert says. “Part of the change was to increase the number of projects we undertook.”

Maintain Customer Service

BK Cornerstone has 20 employees and sells an average of 70 homes each year, generating annual sales of about $11 million. The company builds homes that sell for between $184,000 and $500,000. It has been a steady and controlled development, chiefly to ensure the company maintains excellent customer service. “One of the things that we can boast about is that, after almost 20 years in business, we haven’t had anyone get into their new home a day late, ” Klundert says. “Each year we grow a little bigger.”

To be sure, BK Cornerstone is building homes, even when many other builders in the area are facing tough times. The company has between 15 and 20 homes on the go at any given moment. It’s very much a family business. Klundert’s wife SUE and son BRENTwork for the company. Brady, 34, is a full partner in the business and his wife TAMMYworks parttime at the office.

Much of the fate of residential construction is inextricably linked to the health of the automobile sector in nearby Windsor. The automobile sector is currently undergoing its own insecurities and trials, and thus the market is very soft for used homes. That greatly affects the new home market. Klundert, past president of the local CHBA chapter, has met many builders in the region who are deeply troubled about the economy. As he puts it, “Some builders haven’t done a thing since September 2005.”

EnviroHome Project

One area that differentiates this builder from many others is the focus on energy conservation and environmental sustainability, chiefly as a way to reduce energy costs. For example, Klundert built his first R-2000 home in 1985, when energy costs were not as high as they are today. “Then, it was difficult to convince people to spend an additional $10,000 to $15,000 on R-2000.” The company was also named an Energy Star builder in 2006, the first builder in Essex County to gain this distinction. “That may be one of the reasons we are so busy right now.”

One of the company’s noted ventures is the EnviroHome project that it is building in Belle River, the first such project in Essex County. Once completed, the 1,900-square-foot, twostory house, which sits on a 60-foot by 121-foot lot (7,260 square feet), will have a market value of $300,000.

The R-2000 home is expected to reduce the cost for heating and cooling by 50 per cent. Among its innovative technologies are the following:

  • A 1.2-kilowatt solar array consisting of eight solar panels to generate electricity.
  • An in-floor hydronic heating system for basement radiant heat, which uses a combination heat source — natural gas boiler and solar hot-water heating. The latter consists of Energy Pack and two solar collectors.
  • Main floor supplemental heat is generated from a dual-stage natural gas furnace with an ECM-DC driven fan motor. The furnace is rated at 95 per cent energy efficiency.
  • Supplemental heat also comes from two 4- ft x 7-ft solar sheets on the south side of the building, attached to solar-driven fan motors for air distribution.
Tilting at Windmills

The house’s plans include installing a 2.3- kilowatt wind turbine that sits atop a 50-foot tower, at a cost of $12,000. The town’s current by-laws do not permit such a structure, but that may soon change. “The town will probably change the by-laws,” Klundert points out. “The town officials know that these structures are stationary and sturdy. The likelihood of one of these structures falling on someone’s house is slim to none. They are built to last.”

Depending on the lot size and setbacks allowed, wind turbines either are attached to the house or sit atop a high tower that is encased in concrete as a supporting base. The footprint of the concrete based depends on how deep the tower goes into the ground. Part of the problem is that the house is being built in a subdivision. If it were not, there would likely be little concern about liability or aesthetics. Even so, everything is on schedule for the completion date of September 29, 2006

Klundert takes all such problems in stride, part of being in the home-building business. He enjoys golf, hockey, volleyball and working out in the gym. The best way to describe Klundert is a man of the people. “He’s very social. He likes to drink beer and tell jokes with the employees after work,” says PAULINE BROCKMAN of BK Cornerstone. “He’s lot of fun to be around. He’s well respected and well liked. He’s not afraid to work alongside the guys and get dirty. ”

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