“I’m excited to be at the forefront of high-performance building in a rural market. It’s a great way to distinguish myself while building homes I feel proud of.”
–Keegan Mccauliffe, Kent, Conn.
Like many who have found a calling in the trades, Keegan McAuliffe started down a very different track. Although his dad was a custom home builder in Northern California, McAuliffe was originally drawn to the culinary arts. But working nights, weekends, and holidays in fine dining took its toll, and he was drawn back to a different kind of art—building homes.
“I was able to work 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and the starting money was way better,” McAuliffe says of his career transition.
After moving from California to Idaho and working under another contractor, McAuliffe was able to get his own license and start Capra Home Concepts, focusing on custom new construction. He had an interest in high-performance housing, but the absence of innovative products in Idaho initially made it difficult to adopt any new practices.
“I watched people building all these green-and-black houses elsewhere in the country, and there was nothing I could do about it unless I wanted to drive really far [to get those materials],” he says. But as Idaho experiences a building boom with an influx of people moving in from the coasts, McAuliffe has cornered a niche market, creating one to one-and-a-half houses per year with a focus on building better homes than the nearly nonexistent code requires where he lives.
“I live in climate zone 6, where it’s not cool to be building a barely code-minimum house,” McAuliffe says. “I think we need to be doing better than woven housewrap and compressed fiberglass batts.”
McAuliffe is like a lot of builders looking to balance priorities of budget and practicality with higher performance. This tension is reflected in his experience building his own home, a simple rectangle shape with a shed roof, double-stud walls, ICF stem walls, and a hydronic slab. After drafting drawing after drawing, McAuliffe says a lot of learning has happened on the go as he has calculated the kind of decisions every homeowner must make about views, window quality, insulation, etc.
“It’s good as a builder to build your own house in order to develop some empathy for the people you will be working for in the future,” he says.
—Lana Melonakos-Harrison, digital editor
From Fine Homebuilding #317