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Modular homes hitting market

Simon Whitehouse
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The challenge of bringing unique, eco-friendly homes to the North has convinced a Yellowknife builder to return to provide modular units for the local housing market.

Steven Thomson, project manager with Mod Home Developments, is currently working on two projects in the city which, if all goes well, will provide two new and unique custom-made modular homes for the market in September.

One of the projects is a 1,301-square-foot structure with two units at 133 Moyle Drive, where Thomson and his team laid the foundation June 12.

Projected to be available in September, the units will meet EnerGuide 80 standards, with bamboo flooring, steel and cement board siding, and large windows in every room. The other duplex project at 3614 Pilot's Lane, formerly an Anderson-Thomspon garage lot near Weaver and Devore Trading Ltd., received a development permit last month.

Two more housing projects are expected to begin in September with occupancy next spring.

"Over the next few projects, people will actually see that they can come to us with any ideas and they can pick any kind of house design or house plan and we design it," said Thomson, adding the structure pieces would then be shipped up and erected on site. "It will be completely different than what anyone has ever seen in terms of modular."

Thomson, who grew up in Yellowknife, has experience building in Alberta and more recently in the interior of B.C. However, his team is drawn to the North for the challenge that the climate provides here.

"We are definitely trying to concentrate on the North because of the harsh environment," he says. "It is very energy intensive in Yellowknife and the North and proper building and construction techniques are that much more important because any little mistake is a bigger deal than in a more moderate climate in southern Canada."

Thomson and his company aim to provide authentic green or sustainable buildings, in both residential or commercial markets. To do this, he has partnered with another Yk resident, Travis Arychuk, and structured his company to include building designers, engineers and energy advisers.

"It is unique in that sense because most (house building companies) don't have everybody working together like this," he said. "Typically they hire out an architect or an engineer and then hire an energy adviser.

"With our projects we are being engineers and designers and energy advisers, we are providing our clients with real data, real testing methods to prove that the buildings we are providing them are actually green or sustainable."

Thomson says while every project will be in consultation with home buyers and their design requests, all buildings will be designed to be "low maintenance, easy to live in" and feature a quality building envelope.

"All of our buildings are set up to be able to easily install solar energy systems or wind energy systems, and solar/hot water," he said.

City councillor Cory Vanthuyne, who has been one of the more vocal city councillors for home developers, couldn't speak specifically to the nature of Mod Home Developments. However, he was aware of some aspects of the Pilot's Lane project.

He said that duplex, which will include solar panels on the roof, is a great feature because it will exceed the EnerGuide for Houses standards mandated in the city's building code. Most importantly, it shows it is a good time to build modular homes in the city.

"The opportunity is pretty ripe right now (for modular homes), in my view," Vanthuyne said. "And that's for all kinds of builders. Whether or not it is stick-built modular, now is a good time to be developing and selling in our market. We haven't seen a thrust like this in the market for six or seven years, and even before the economic downturn when times were good."

Vanthuyne says companies that can provide choice and options, as modular home builders traditionally do, are something he tries to promote. Both Vanthuyne and Thomson point out there are still lingering misconceptions among buyers about what defines a modular home.

"We use the term modular, which often has people imagining a typical trailer or modular home going up in Yellowknife or in the North," said Thomson. "It is completely different from that. We are partnered with a facility to provide us with pre-fabbed - what we call modules. Once those modules are erected on site, they don't look like a typical modular that people sometimes think of as the typical trailer in Yellowknife."

Vanthuyne, who designed and lives in his own modular home, said they are in many cases a higher standard of home because they are prepared in a plant ahead of time.

Mayor Gord Van Tighem said the first modular homes were built in town in the early sixties. In recent years a number of them have been built in the city, including three triplexes on McDonald Drive by Wayne Guy.

He noted there are some on Ballantyne Court, School Draw Avenue and Rivett Drive, which are hard to tell from normal houses.

"They represent about 40 to 50 per cent of our housing stock," Van Tighem said.

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