NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Is Nunavut's future prefabricated?
Proponents say lower costs, faster turnaround can help relieve housing crisis

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, April 12, 2012

If the bank will give someone a mortgage and they have the land, they could move in to your new home in three or four months, a group of Nunavut companies says. But can prefabricated homes solve Nunavut's housing crisis?

NNSL photo/graphic

More than 300 people stopped by a prefabricated model home open house hosted by Red Boat Properties and Igloo Nunavut, April 6 and 7 in Iqaluit. - Casey Lessard/NNSL photo

"It's one of the solutions," said Greg Cayen, president of NCC Investment Group. "You can certainly put a lot of product on the market very quickly by using pre-fab, especially in the communities, where the great crunch is."

The investment group's development division is helping longtime supplier Igloo Building Supplies bring modern pre-fab to the North. Igloo builds homes in its Valleyfield, Que. shop, NCC facilitates the construction, and Red Boat Properties does the sales and marketing.

"Pre-built was very popular in the early days of Northern construction," Red Boat CEO and manager Kirt Ejesiak said. "In the 1950s, if you talk to anybody in the North, you'll hear people brought in houses that were mostly prefabricated in the south. Today, it hasn't been very prevalent, but we're offering a new model and the North is ripe for this type of housing solution."

Ejesiak recently built his own house and wondered how others could afford to get into the market.

"Originally, the builder wanted $200,000 up front for materials," he said. "You can't just walk into a bank and get $200,000 unless you have other property or a sizable investment. We ended up getting a larger builder who asked for a sizable deposit, but they took care of the rest. They financed the house, brought up everything on a boat, built the house for us and gave us the key once the deal closed. I really found that process easier, but it's not open to everybody. I thought, how do I provide that opportunity not only to folks in Iqaluit, but also all across the North?"

Red Boat and Igloo showed off a model home in Iqaluit April 6 and 7, garnering interest from more than 300 visitors. With prices starting at about $275 per square foot, Ejesiak said modern pre-fab housing is "not going to take as long, and it will be a bit cheaper," than stick-built homes.

Those factors, and the availability of the service, attracted Pond Inlet's Abbas Parks, who is in the market and leaning toward buying through Red Boat.

"(There are) no houses for sale in Pond Inlet," Parks said, echoing the concerns of Tununiq MLA Joe Enook, whose struggle to find private housing in the community temporarily forced him to move into a shack. "If you want to own your own home, you basically have to build it. This seems like the best way to do it."

"There's definitely a demand (for private housing) and there's a housing shortage," Igloo marketing manager Steve Gravel said. "Some reports say the entire territory requires 3,000 homes as of now. There's definitely a need."

As a result, Pond Inlet's contractors are always busy, Parks said.

"We were looking at something easier to put together. Modular homes came up, and we really like one of the units. Instead of waiting eight to 10 months, or a year, for a house to be built, you could have one put up in a few months to six months."

Once the design is approved, Igloo's builders can make a home in two months, Gravel said. The pieces are shipped during the sealift season to the community, and assembly should take about two weeks.

The speed helps cut costs, which often involve builders' expenses for hotels and living expenses, for extended periods of time, Cayen said.

"The cost of producing one or two houses in communities is exorbitant," he said. "Because of the length of time it takes, the construction season generally gets its materials in September and you're building in the wintertime, which drives up costs. With the pre-fab solution, we'll be able to complete a house in two weeks, which saves costs."

That's the main reason NCC is involved, although it isn't abandoning traditional methods.

"We also build stick-built homes, but giving clients options and different price points gives them more choice," Cayen said.

The Nunavut Housing Corporation, which has not been approached about using Igloo prefabricated homes, supports expanded opportunities for affordable housing, president Alain Barriault said.

"The NHC is open to exploring all forms of affordable housing options for Nunavummiut, including prefab housing," Barriault wrote in an e-mail. He noted that as a government agency, the housing corp. needs to consider both cost and impacts on local employment in its construction decisions.

"For its future provision of public housing, the NHC intends to concentrate on multi-unit construction which is more economical than single-family detached houses. The NHC will be exploring all available options in fulfilling its mandate."

The investment group is currently managing Igloo's two single-family detached homes on the plateau and a six-unit multi-plex near the Road to Nowhere, Ejesiak said.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.