National Post: How factory-built homes are exploding in popularity - Royal Homes National Post: How factory-built homes are exploding in popularity - Royal Homes
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National Post: How factory-built homes are exploding in popularity



After more than three decades in her Toronto bungalow amid growing mildew problems in the 1940s-era home, Ruth Wiens decided it was to start fresh.

She still loved her East York neighbourhood, so the IT professional decided to demolish her existing house and build a two-storey, three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot home from scratch.

But instead of hiring a builder to construct her new home, piece by piece, Ms. Wiens ordered one from a factory, based on a design she saw in a magazine. She didn’t want the harsh Canadian weather to pummel the shell of her home during construction, as her neighbours’ new homes had been over the years.

Ms. Wiens wanted a house that was constructed indoors, under controlled conditions.

“There would never be in an unexpected rainstorm that just soaked everything,” Ms. Wiens said. “And having watched my neighbourhood over the years, I just thought, there are alternatives. You don’t have to be the lucky one that has the two weeks of good weather.”

Most new homes are built stick by stick, brick by brick, by a construction crew on-site, but a growing number of Canadians are buying homes right off the factory floor to be assembled on the lot within days.

However, the stigma of the earlier, shoddy iterations of these prefabricated or modular homes still lingers and the Canadian construction industry is reluctant to change, industry insiders say.

These factory-built units accounted for 11% of all the single-family homes started in 2012, up from roughly 3%-4% in 2000, according to Kathleen Maynard, the chief executive of the Canadian Manufactured Housing Institute.

Last year, some 12,970 factory-built single family homes were started in 2012. This ranges from modules which are put together on site, such as Ms. Wiens’ home by Royal Homes, to homes assembled from smaller factory-built components, IKEA-style, or fully built homes.

This marks a drop of 10% from the year before, according to the CMHI, but the decline was offset in part by an uptick in factory-built multi-family homes, such as apartment buildings.

The factory-built home is gaining traction among Canadians as the construction method is embraced by architects and as technology makes way for more innovative designs on the factory floor, said Ms. Maynard.

“As technological advances introduced into factories allowed them to build anything, that has enabled them to compete,” she said.

Factory-built homes, or prefabricated homes are nothing new.

It has always been labelled in the U.S. as [for a] trailer park

As far back as the 17th century, pre-engineered housing kits were being shipped to North American East Coast ports, but it wasn’t until the late 19th century when ready-made wood frame-houses were first being produced in Nova Scotia, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. It was during the Second World War that the factory-built housing era began, the crown corporation said in the latest Canadian Housing Observer.

Homes needed to be built with as little material as possible in a bid to divert the least amount of resources from the war effort. These factory-built houses were later needed to meet the severe housing shortage when the troops returned home, according to the CHMC.

That image of a prefabricated home as a shoddily built, boxy structure made of poor-quality components, even decades later, is still hard to shake.

“It’s always been labelled as cheap,” said Marc Bovet, founder of Bone Structure, a Quebec-based company which produces homes that can be assembled from several factory built-components without any nails. “It has always been labelled in the U.S. as [for a] trailer park. It’s the label that comes with it, and that has to change.”

This perception has evolved as prefabricated homes give site-built houses a run for their money. The factory-built home of today comes in sleek and airy, energy-efficient designs made of high-end materials and fixtures, he said. In a factory, the company can produce precise, custom components for a more efficient way of building, Mr. Bovet said.

“Compared to wood structure houses out there, we don’t create any garbage… For a 2,500 square foot house, the traditional home construction we have right now in Canada is filling up five of those humongous garbage containers.”

Also, architects are “embracing” industrialized building, says Pieter Venema, president of Wingham, Ont.-based Royal Homes.

“It’s got more of an upscale cache to it,” he said. “People are really beginning to understand the concept and see the benefits of it. It’s slow to change but we do see it.”

One major barrier is the construction industry’s reluctance to change, says Mr. Venema. Plus, homes built in the factory, as opposed to on site, means fewer jobs for construction workers to the chagrin of some unions, he added.

“The industry is traditional, with strong unions and owners who prefer it that way,” he said.

In Ontario, factory-built homes are typically purchased in smaller communities and rural settings, rather than urban settings.

Geography is another big factor, as some regions of the country are more open than others to purchasing an industrialized home.

About 75% of all factory-built, single detached homes were shipped to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Alberta and Ontario.

However, in Ontario, factory-built homes are typically purchased in smaller communities and rural settings, rather than urban settings.

“Only in the last five years or so have they made in-roads into urban areas,” Ms. Maynard said. “Before, it was more difficult to transport a great big house into an existing neighbourhood.”

Consumers in rural areas are more likely to be able to purchase a vacant lot, which is difficult to do in established subdivisions, said Mr. Venema.

Industrialized homes are also popular among seniors and empty nesters looking for a smaller house, according to the CMHC.

Mr. Pieter says their custom-built modular homes are “very competitive.”

“Our solution is not a cheaper option, it’s not a more expensive option,” he said. “If you go to a subdivision builder, it’s probably cheaper. But you’re getting a house that’s not customized, and usually not to the same spec as well. It’s just a different type of product.”


The passion and attention to detail that the Royal Homes team has is incredible. Their pre-fab homes and cottages and have never been anything short of stunning and top quality. I would recommend this company in an instant, without a shadow of a doubt.Jessica
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    Where can I get a price list or How come your website doesn’t show pricing?

    Prices vary geographically, depending on where you are building. With the amount of options available, price lists run into thousands of options. Prices change with the options you choose. The best way to get an idea on pricing would be to contact our Design Centre nearest to where you are building.

    Why should I buy from you over a conventional or "Stick-Builder"?

    The advantages of prefab include building in a climate controlled environment, using environmentally friendly products which reduces waste and a CSA monitored quality controlled program. There is less time start to finish, with less disruption to neighborhood. We also sell at a firm price.

    Do your homes include a foundation?

    Yes our homes include full foundation and basement.

    How long does it take to build a Royal Home?

    It takes less than two weeks to build a home in our factory, but the process from start to finish is very dependent on the timing of obtaining a building permit. For most of our clients the process from start to delivery is twelve to sixteen weeks with move in eight to twelve weeks thereafter.

    What size homes do you build?

    As a custom builder we can build any size home but generally the average size range is between 1300 and 3500 sq feet.

    Do you build garages?

    Yes. Garages are built on site after the home is delivered.

    Are the homes energy efficient?

    Building a prefab home in a factory assures the highest attention to sealing the building envelope and ensures that the cold stays out.

    Since your homes are so energy efficient and air tight, how do you get fresh air?

    All our homes have HRV heat recovery ventilator air exchanger to remove stale air, and introduce fresh air.

    Where can I put a prefab home?

    Anywhere in Ontario you like.

    Can I really customize my prefab home?

    Yes, we use state of the art custom design software, today no two homes are built alike.

    Do you finish the basement?

    Yes. We can customize your basement to the finishes you desire.

    Are Royal Homes built to code?

    All Royal Homes are individually designed to meet all provincial and municipal building codes for your specific lot location.

    Do you build stick-built or conventional homes as well?

    We are a custom home builder first and use prefabricated components wherever we can, because it is a better way to build. If you have a remote site or custom home design with large open spaces we would look at what makes most sense for that design and location. This could include prebuilt panels or partially site built specific rooms.

    What makes the building process environmentally friendly?

    Waste in the factory is separated and recycled, reducing the impact on landfills. This has less disruption in terms of noise and time at job site. Building prefab allows for higher energy efficient homes and reduced heating costs.

    How is your home delivered?

    Our home is delivered by way of custom designed hydraulic flatbed trailers and precisely craned onto the foundation.

    Can you make changes or custom design?

    Yes, clients are given preliminary plans to review and changes are welcome and easily accommodated.