National Post (Latest Edition)

Cre­ative sp a c es

HOME­OWN­ERS ARE TURN­ING TO STAND-ALONE AD­DI­TIONS TO AD­DRESS THEIR BURN­ING DE­SIRE FOR MORE ROOM

- Jean Grant

Just be­fore COVID hit, Trevor Gil­bert of Modeco Con­struc­tion had been plan­ning on build­ing pre­fab bath­rooms for rental de­vel­op­ments. When those projects were put on hold and, like ev­ery­one else, he was stuck work­ing from his Etobicoke home with his wife and tod­dler, he started brain­storm­ing ways to cre­ate more space. His so­lu­tion in­volved piv­ot­ing his busi­ness, us­ing his ex­ist­ing ma­chin­ery to pro­duce eightby-eight to eight-by-12 all-sea­son of­fice stu­dios that don’t need a per­mit and can be in­stalled in most back­yards. His first client was him­self. He made his fam­ily a kit­ted-out pod with a built-in desk, a pull-out bed for guests and a climb­ing wall for his son.

Since then, the re­quests for sim­i­lar — al­beit usu­ally sim­pler — ver­sions have poured in, and he’s book­ing into 2021. Modeco’s pods ar­rive with fin­ished in­te­ri­ors, elec­tri­cal and light­ing, and can be com­pleted in about two months for un­der $10,000. Gil­bert thinks that once Toron­to­ni­ans re­al­ize the po­ten­tial of th­ese kinds of struc­tures, they might start to plan and build more ex­ten­sive laneway projects on their prop­er­ties. Right now, he says, the de­mand has been mostly due to pandemic-in­duced frus­tra­tion: “Peo­ple just need a pri­vate space as soon as pos­si­ble.”

I RE­AL­IZED I COULD BUILD IT FASTER, FOR LESS MONEY, AND ALSO TO THE HIGH­EST STAN­DARDS WE HAVE FOR EN­ERGY, THER­MAL AND SUS­TAIN­ABIL­ITY. THAT WAS THE LIGHT BULB MO­MENT FOR ME. — LEITH MOORE, VETERAN BUILDER AND CO-FOUNDER OF R-HAUZ

For the past six months, Toron­to­ni­ans have been forced to use every inch of their homes for remote learning, fit­ness classes, Zoom con­fer­enc­ing of every sort and makeshift work­from-home of­fice set­ups. And as the light at the end of the tun­nel gets fur­ther and fur­ther away, over­loaded home­own­ers are search­ing for ways to af­ford­ably ex­pand their square footage with­out the dis­rup­tion, or dis­place­ment, of a ma­jor ren­o­va­tion, a boon for lo­cal builders of stand-alone back­yard units like Modeco.

Leith Moore, a veteran builder and de­vel­oper, co-founded r-hauz three years ago. Af­ter 35 years in the in­dus­try, he was crav­ing a sim­pler process, so he started of­fer­ing pre­fab home­build­ing so­lu­tions di­rectly to cus­tomers. “con­struc­tion is the last in­dus­try to adapt to in­no­va­tion and pro­duc­tiv­ity en­hance­ments. It’s all based on old tech­niques,” he says, ex­plain­ing the frus­tra­tion that pushed him in a new di­rec­tion. An­other ma­jor is­sue in the in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to Moore, is that there’s no in­cen­tive for de­vel­op­ers to scale down, re­sult­ing in what’s re­ferred to as the “miss­ing mid­dle” in Toronto: a lack of op­tions be­tween sin­gle-fam­ily dwellings and dense high­rise condo tow­ers.

That’s part of the rea­son he’s fo­cus­ing on two-storey laneway suites with a oneor two-bed­room apart­ment unit above a garage, as well as six-storey town­homes. He’s spent the past 2½ years per­fect­ing his sup­ply chain, adapt­ing car man­u­fac­tur­ing lo­gis­tics and ap­ply­ing it to con­struc­tion. The re­sult is a pan­el­ized, fac­tory-built kit of parts that can be mass pro­duced but also cus­tom­ized to suit a client’s style. His process saves money, he says, by re­duc­ing in­di­vid­ual project de­sign costs and con­struc­tion waste. “I re­al­ized I could build it faster, for less money, and also to the high­est stan­dards we have for en­ergy, ther­mal and sus­tain­abil­ity. That was the light bulb mo­ment for me,” he says.

One sil­ver lin­ing of the pandemic, as Moore sees it, is that houses have gone from be­ing val­ued as com­modi­ties or in­vest­ments back to be­ing val­ued as shel­ter. “My think­ing is that we should be de­sign­ing our homes to change with us, in­stead of mov­ing each time our life­style shifts,” he says. For ex­am­ple, adding a laneway suite means it can be rented out for sup­ple­men­tal in­come or used to house fam­ily mem­bers when the need arises. The r-hauz process can take less than six months, in­clud­ing an eight-week in­stal­la­tion process, and a price tag that hov­ers around $400,000 for ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 square feet of liv­ing space. r-hauz’s six-storey town­homes, mean­while, have been de­signed with those who own store­fronts on main streets in mind. The main level can house re­tail, while the ad­di­tional five floors can be used for the own­ers’ liv­ing quar­ters, a sep­a­rate of­fice space or more rental units.

Joel camp­bell of Laneway cus­tom build, who started a con­struc­tion com­pany back in 2013, builds stand-alone hous­ing the tra­di­tional way. Af­ter a car fire in his laneway burned his ron­ces­valles garage down, he de­cided to re­build a fancier ver­sion, with a built-in shop where he could op­er­ate his busi­ness. So many of his neigh­bours ap­proached him about build­ing sim­i­lar garages for their prop­er­ties that it be­came the fo­cus of his busi­ness. This was be­fore laneway hous­ing had been ap­proved by the city. He mostly built garages that could dou­ble as stu­dios, wood­work­ing spa­ces or of­fices. “I was look­ing for that lit­tle spark that made it some­thing more than a garage,” he says. When the city passed its laneway hous­ing by­law in 2018, he nat­u­rally moved into con­struct­ing laneway suites too.

Since COVID, he’s seen a surge in de­mand — he fields three new leads a week, he says. He un­der­stands the need for more space, and that laneway hous­ing can be less dis­rup­tive to fam­i­lies than an ad­di­tion. “I think the at­trac­tive thing about build­ing in your back­yard is it’s some­thing you can add with­out af­fect­ing your main space or your daily life,” he says. It can still be a costly en­deav­our. Since the work is tak­ing place in what is usu­ally a con­stricted space, camp­bell says, the cost per square foot for laneway builds can be higher than typ­i­cal con­struc­tion, to make up for some of the tech­ni­cal chal­lenges in­volved. At the start of the pandemic, camp­bell saw an un­ex­pected rise in de­mand for his old-school garages, mostly to be used for ex­tra of­fice space. “Laneway houses are a good long play, if you have the fi­nan­cial abil­ity,” he says. “but right now, I’m find­ing peo­ple are look­ing for a quick win.”

even though it’s been two years since laneway hous­ing got the go-ahead from the city of Toronto, camp­bell ad­mits that the ex­pected ex­plo­sion of growth hasn’t hap­pened. Moore thinks part of that is due to a lack of fi­nanc­ing op­tions. r-hauz has part­nered with cibc to pro­vide fi­nanc­ing ar­range­ments to home­own­ers, but Moore thinks more tier-one banks should get in­volved.

“Find­ing ways to let peo­ple build on their own lots is re­ally key, es­pe­cially right now,” he says. “It’s the cheap­est rental hous­ing stock you can get. When you put 70,000 laneway units into the hands of home­own­ers, that’s a hugely ef­fi­cient sup­ple­ment to tra­di­tional build­ing.”

In the mean­time, for fam­i­lies who need some­thing cheap and fast, pop-up pods and souped-up garages will prob­a­bly do.

 ?? PHOTO COUR­TESY Of R-hauz ?? R-hauz builds pre-fab pop-up units for back­yards, to help home­own­ers find ways to max­i­mize their liv­ing space.
PHOTO COUR­TESY Of R-hauz R-hauz builds pre-fab pop-up units for back­yards, to help home­own­ers find ways to max­i­mize their liv­ing space.
 ?? PHO­TOS cour­tesy OF R-HAUZ ?? R-hauz also builds six-storey town­homes that can be stacked over a com­mer­cial space.
PHO­TOS cour­tesy OF R-HAUZ R-hauz also builds six-storey town­homes that can be stacked over a com­mer­cial space.
 ??  ?? Leith Moore, a veteran builder and de­vel­oper, co-founded R-hauz three years ago. He was crav­ing a sim­pler process, so he started of­fer­ing pre­fab home-build­ing so­lu­tions di­rectly to cus­tomers.
Leith Moore, a veteran builder and de­vel­oper, co-founded R-hauz three years ago. He was crav­ing a sim­pler process, so he started of­fer­ing pre­fab home-build­ing so­lu­tions di­rectly to cus­tomers.

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