Situated at the north end of Howe Sound, nestled between the mountains and the sea, Squamish is roughly halfway between Vancouver and Whistler. Squamish has become very attractive with Vancouver and Whistler residents looking for a more affordable place to live, with less than an hour’s commute either way via the scenic Sea to Sky Highway.
If you’re considering building a custom home in Squamish, it’s a vibrant community with a growth rate of 22.2% during the last census period, more than quadruple the national average. The town capitalizes on its breathtaking scenery, forests, lakes and ocean to attract lovers of the outdoors, recreation and adventure. The close-knit community has a small town feel, while offering most big city amenities.
Squamish is a vibrant, growing community: Over the recent 5 year period, the District of Squamish grew 22.2%, to 23,819 residents (2021 Census), which stands out against the national average of only 5.2%. During that same period, there was a 26.7% increase in the private dwellings occupied, to 9,191. But in the previous two census periods, from 2006 to 2016, Squamish grew faster than any other municipality unconnected to a major population centre, a whopping 30.5%.
Lifestyle: Capitalizing on its breathtaking scenery, with snow-covered Coast Mountains, waterfalls, lush green rain forest, pristine blue lakes and the green sound that connects the town with the Pacific Ocean, Squamish attracts lovers of the great outdoors. It’s become a world destination for rock climbing, hiking and mountain biking.
The surrounding forests and mountain meadows offer a vast trail network, with trailheads that are often within walking distance. Squamish offers thousands of climbing routes, with top ropes, multi-pitch challenges and bouldering problems to solve. Of the granite cliffs and bluffs that overlook Howe Sound, the most notable rocky outcrop is the Stawamus Chief, a towering 700-metre monolith.
The waters of the sound offer easy sailboat access to the waters of the wild west coast, kiteboarding or windsurfing off the windy Squamish Spit, or quiet days of kayaking, canoeing and standup paddleboarding (SUP). For those who prefer fast water, there’s river rafting on the Elaho and Squamish rivers. During the winter months, visitors and residents have their choice of Nordic skiing, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
Small town feel, but with city amenities: Squamish is still small enough that when you stop at coffee shops and restaurants, or the little shops that dot Cleveland Avenue, they remember your name. There’s a strong sense of community, and that’s been essential to the town’s growth as it’s evolved from a small logging community to a medium-sized town.
Squamish’s population is projected to grow at an annual rate of 3%, to reach more than 36,000 by 2040. The local workforce and support services will need to expand to nearly 10,000 workers, according to the District of Squamish, and that will create many opportunities for entrepreneurs, investors and supporting organizations. The most in-demand services and amenities are expected to be quality childcare, affordable housing, indoor activities and entertainment, and health and wellness services.
Unique location and infrastructure: Squamish is a place where people buy or build a home and put down roots. The average age is 37.9 and 43.5% are married. The average median household income is $111,000, and 70% of the households are owned properties. The town has seen strong population and income growth, which has led to a demand for more services and amenities.
Skilled and educated workforce: Squamish’s outdoor recreation lifestyle and small-town vibe attract a vibrant and skilled workforce. Based on 2021 census stats, 21.3% of Squamish residents have a college or university diploma, and 34.7% have a university degree. The post-secondary-educated population has nearly doubled since 2006.
The size of the workforce has increased to 15,400, a 30% increase over 2016. Roughly 19% of residents commute outside of Squamish, which represents a significant opportunity for new businesses to attract those locals.
Community that welcomes economic growth, with community partners: The District of Squamish has many potential residential, commercial and light industrial land development opportunities, which include downtown and oceanfront revitalization initiatives.
The District of Squamish’s economic development team and Chamber of Commerce are available to assist businesses in starting, growing and making a move to the community.
Squamish has five English-language public elementary schools: Brackendale Elementary, Garibaldi Highlands Elementary, Mamquam Elementary, Squamish Elementary, and Valleycliffe Elementary. École Squamish Elementary and École Garibaldi Highlands Elementary are dual-track schools, offering both English and French Immersion.
At Brackendale Elementary, 80% of the students performed to expectations and the school has a Fraser Institute rating of 4.9. At Garibaldi Highlands Elementary, 80% of the students are meeting or exceeding standards in grade 4, and 88% of the grade 7 students are meeting or exceeding standards. The Fraser Institute has given the school a 6.8. Academic scores overall for Mamquam Elementary are average to above average, and the school has a Fraser Institute rating of 5.2.
Squamish Elementary is known for its extracurricular programs and its students meet or exceed standards in reading, writing and numeracy. The school has a Fraser Institute rating of 5.7. Valleycliffe Elementary students are performing at reading, writing and numeracy levels average or above average and the Fraser Institute rating for the school is 6.4.
There are two public English-language middle and secondary schools: Don Ross Middle School and Howe Sound Secondary. Both are dual-track, offering English and French Immersion.
The Fine Arts program at Don Ross Middle School allows children to participate in art, band, choir, dance, drama, media and social responsibility. In their Applied Arts program, students have access to the home economics, info technology, junior outdoor education, and trades/technology programs. Howe Sound Secondary offers the ACE program, with accelerated credential industry training. The school also offers extensive sports programs that include Cycling Academy, Hockey Academy and Outdoor Leadership.
St’a7mes School: Cultural Journeys and Learning Expeditions offers programs that seek to help Sea to Sky School District #48 meet its goals for Aboriginal Learners, as laid out in our School District 48 Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement.
Squamish is also host to three private schools: Cedar Valley Waldorf School, Squamish Montessori Elementary School, and Coast Mountain Academy.
Capilano University will open a new campus in Squamish with $48 million in funding from the provincial government. The post-secondary school purchased the former Quest University campus with an investment of $63.2 million after the private institution closed in April 2023. The new campus for Capilano University is scheduled to reopen in the spring of 2024. Cap U is a Vancouver-based university with over 100 education programs.
The most accurate way to determine your total construction budget will be to work closely with your design-build team and Realtor®. That being said, according to the Altus Group’s 2023 Canadian Cost Guide the cost of building a single-family residential house with an unfinished basement currently ranges from $180 – $290 per square foot in Greater Vancouver. Their building costs included the above-grade scope of work only, complete with foundations. Land prices will typically be lower in Squamish, but the construction costs should be in that range.
Here are some things to consider. Architectural style will affect the cost, as will features like multiple garages, elevated decks, etc. The level of energy performance is also a consideration. A home with an airtight building envelope, minimal thermal bridging, superior insulation, high-efficiency doors and windows, efficient HVAC systems and an on-site renewable energy source is a much better home than a spec house. Net zero homes may cost only 10% more to build but they will significantly reduce energy costs while delivering improved performance over their entire life cycle.
Square footage and the size of your project will be a determining factor. A larger project will benefit from economy of scale, with a reduced cost per foot. The layout and topography of the building lot will also have a bearing on the cost. A level property will be more cost-effective to build on than a view lot perched on a steep slope, where blasting is required.
If your contractor is building your custom home from a bare lot, you can expect the build to take between 10 and 16 months with the standard platform/stick framing method. If your home is being constructed with sustainable traditional joinery, such as post and beam or timber framing, you can expect the construction to take between 18 and 24 months.
It’s important to establish a realistic, achievable schedule. A good builder won’t cave to customer pressure and deliberately underestimate the schedule to give you a completion date you want to hear. Quality work takes time. Your team’s project manager should be walking the job site and updating the project status every day, to keep the project on schedule. However, even with meticulous planning and the finest project systems in place, there can be unexpected delays such as inclement weather.
The biggest factors to impact the completion date are requested customer changes and potential scope creep. Cancelling the materials and trades to accommodate changes; and then producing new estimates and the necessary change orders for signatures, before ordering new materials and re-scheduling labour, will almost certainly extend the completion date.
When it comes to designing and building your custom home, there are two main approaches. With the first, you have an architect draw up your vision and produce the architectural plans, and you locate and hire a general contractor to build the home. Alternatively you might approach the contractor and have them select the architect they want to work with to produce the building plans.
The architect, in this approach, makes certain the home adheres to local building codes and complies with health and safety issues. With a separate designer and builder, you will have access to professional advice offered from two sources. In other words, the pool of ideas will be larger. However, you will have two businesses to pay, more people to work with and potential communication challenges and delays.
With the second approach, the designer and building contractor are the same company. When the design and construction are managed by the same crew the workflow is streamlined and can move along quicker. You’re covering a portion of the overhead and administration costs for only one business; not two. As a homeowner, you will only have one contact to work with.
The certification labels “Net Zero” and “Passive House” in Canada both identify extremely energy-efficient buildings, representing minimal energy consumption for heating and cooling. With a passive house, the focus is on building a home that adheres to precise design principles to achieve a stringent and quantitative level of energy efficiency, while delivering optimal comfort for the home’s residents. The passive house standard requires the heating/cooling load to be no more than 15kwh per square meter of living space. The aim of net zero energy (NZE) homes is to create enough renewable energy on-site to equal the total energy used annually.
Both approaches typically have an air-tight building envelope, minimize thermal bridging, use energy-efficient doors and windows, and super-insulate the envelope with thick continuous insulation. These high-performance buildings require mechanical ventilation to deliver fresh, filtered air throughout the house, while removing stale air because the building is sealed. They are heated and cooled with an energy-efficient system like a heat pump.
With a shared goal of reducing energy requirements, building a passive house can be a logical path in achieving either ‘net zero ready’ or ‘net zero’ certification.
According to the Homeowner Protection Act, all new homes built in British Columbia by licensed builders must be covered by third-party home warranty insurance. The 2-5-10 Year Warranty covers a minimum of 2 years on labour and materials (some limits apply), 5 years on the building envelope (including water penetration), and 10 years on the structure of the building.
In the Residential Construction Performance Guide you’ll find an explanation of how your new home should perform, and which defects are covered under home warranty insurance in BC, including defects in the design, labour and materials.
Before meeting with a prospective architect, designer or building contractor you want to visit the company’s website, view their portfolio and check them out on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website. If the website looks dated, has display or link errors, or it’s in a general state of disrepair, it’s equivalent to a contractor arriving in a very rundown, dented-up and rusty pickup. A professional, up-to-date website with a beautiful, well-organized portfolio is usually a good indicator of how the company runs its business and manages custom home projects.
Here are some opening questions you might ask:
2021 Census of PopulationSquamish, District municipality | Statistics Canada
How Much Does it Cost to Build a Custom Home in Squamish?
Should You Call an Architect, Interior Designer or Decorator?
Choosing a Custom Home Builder for your Dream House
Homeowner Protection Act
Net Zero vs Passive House: What Are the Similarities and Differences?