|Sage Creek in Kelowna is a good example of the use of modular homes|
Imagine if cars were built like houses.
One day, sheets of steel arrive on site for metal workers to cut and weld in the rain. Wheels show up, but unfortunately, the axle installer is sick so they are left lying around. Rolls of vinyl for the seats are delivered, but that installer is delayed because of an accident on the Second Narrows Bridge. You get the picture.
I thought about the differences between building cars and houses on a recent tour of a Kelowna manufactured housing factory organized as part of the 2017 Manufactured Housing Association of British Columbia’s annual conference. I was invited to offer the perspective of an architect and developer on factory-built housing to an audience comprising manufacturers, dealers, transporters and government officials.
I have had a longstanding interest in manufactured housing dating back to 1970 when I was one of seven architectural students from across Canada to win a CMHC travelling scholarship. Our travels took us across the U.S. with guide Warren Chalk, one of the founding members of Archigram, an avant-garde 1960s British architectural group, with projects that included Plug-in-City, a massive framework into which modular dwellings could be slotted and removed.
For six weeks, we toured mobile home parks and housing factories on a government initiative to promote manufactured housing on a major scale.
In my university thesis, I focused on a factory-produced relocatable housing system, and proposed that just as schools set up portable classrooms, governments could install modular housing on vacant lots. This could then be relocated when the property was needed for redevelopment, effectively eliminating the cost of land.
That interest continued after I joined CMHC in Vancouver as assistant architect/planner. In the mid Seventies, CMHC was building seniors’ housing around the province and I proposed factory-production for smaller communities. Soon, modular housing was delivered and assembled in Keremeos and Chase.
Today, BC Housing continues to build seniors’ housing projects in smaller communities using factory-built modular housing.
In recent years, BC Housing and the City of Vancouver undertook a feasibility study of a concept to promote relocatable modular housing as an alternative to housing people in shelters. A team led by NSDA Architects and housing manufacturers Britco and Shelter Industries examined technical issues and costs associated with building, setting up and relocating private sleeping rooms and bathrooms.
Recently, the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency, with financial support from CMHC, completed a factory-built modular housing demonstration project at Main Street and Terminal. The modules will be relocated in a few years when the site is ready for redevelopment. Hopefully, other vacant sites around the region will be similarly used.
Throughout B.C. today, thousands of attractive permanent homes are being built in factories. Companies such as Triple M, Moduline, SRI and many other manufacturing plants are constantly improving assembly-line procedures to build complete homes in days, rather than weeks or months.
By building in climate-controlled settings, workers are not dealing with rain or snow. Waste is considerably reduced, and consequently factory-built homes are cost-effective, environmentally smart, and able to be customized as on-site construction. For this reason, many of the PNE show homes have been built using modular construction.
At the Kelowna conference, I learned there are two basic types of factory-built housing: manufactured homes and modular-built homes.
Manufactured homes are typically constructed on a steel frame in one or two sections and are virtually complete when they leave the factory. Thus, they are ready for move-in the same day or a few days after arriving on the site. These homes can be installed on simple foundations and even relocated, although most are never moved from their original site.
Modular-built homes do not have a steel frame. A typical bungalow consists of one or two modules, while multi-storey homes or buildings are created with multiple modules. These homes are typically set on full-perimeter foundations with a crawl space or even a full basement.
Insulation, air/vapour barrier, plumbing, wiring, exterior siding and other construction details are largely completed in the factory. Interior work, including drywall, trim, flooring, cabinets and bathroom fixtures, is usually well advanced. Finishing the home on site can include adding pitched roofs, and an attached garage or stone facing. This generally takes a couple of weeks.
While I am surprised that factory-produced housing is not more popular in Canada, expect this to change, since it is cost-effective, energy- and resource-efficient, and well suited to a variety of housing forms. It could be an affordable solution for infill and laneway housing, and multi-storey apartments.
Imagine if houses were built like cars.