iN VIDEO: Getting creative to attack housing crisis in Kamloops, Okanagan
New housing isn’t being built fast enough to ease the rental shortage let alone revive the dream of home ownership for many.
Some estimates are that the pace of construction needs to triple in the Thompson-Okanagan region.
While conventional builders are hindered from picking up the pace, in part, due to the shortage of labour, there are some interesting alternative options popping up in the market.
A new Surrey company has created a folding home that can be set up in hours. An Edmonton company manufactures steel homes that can be shipped on a tractor trailer anywhere in North America.
There’s even a Calgary company that builds tiny homes on wheels.
“We’re in a housing crisis,” Ryan Smith, the City of Kelowna’s community planning department manager, told iNFOnews.ca. “I think that sometimes, we have to take more extraordinary measures to get (through this). The time may come when we explore other ideas like: what about a home on wheels? Does that even work, maybe temporarily? Maybe that’s somewhere we need to go. If we are in a crisis, I think, everything should be on the table.”
Right now the tiny home option in a city like Kelowna is limited to a building on a solid foundation, so the wheeled version is not on the table.
Its basic model is called the Lotus Mini and it’s a 530 square foot, one-bed, one-bath home that’s ideally suited as a carriage house or cabin.
It’s prefabricated in Surrey, folded up and shipped on a single trailer. It can be unfolded onto a foundation in less than a day and fully finished in about a week, depending on the availability of local trades workers.
“A lot of time, we’re lumped in with mobile and manufactured homes but there is quite a significant difference in terms of the way the product looks and even the dimensions,” Salik Khan, head of customer experience at Rohe Homes, told iNFOnews.ca. “A single-wide trailer, the material that goes in and layout is very different than what we do. The whole idea behind our product is that it’s a long-lasting home. The life cycle we’ve estimated is at least 50 to 70 years with the materials we put in.”
It's made of structurally insulated panels.
“You take two OSB boards and they’re pressed very very tightly with insulation,” Khan explained. “When pressed together, it kind of looks like an ice cream sandwich. That’s the best way to describe it.”
It meets all local building codes and energy efficient regulations. Plans are to make it even more energy efficient over the next couple of years.
The basic Lotus Mini starts at about $250,000. Site preparation, permitting, delivery and assembly can add $80,000 to $100,000, making it a reasonably affordable housing option.
The Lotus Ranch combines two containers for 1,050 square feet, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms starting at about $350,000.
Rohe Homes just started production last year so it has only completed half a dozen builds. It has one scheduled for Lake Country this fall and is looking into stacking options that could create four-plexes as the province gears up to expand the properties where those can be built.
A more expensive option for a similar sized home is the HO2 rigid steel structure by Honomobo out of Edmonton.
That company started in 2017 repurposing shipping containers but found that too limiting and expensive so started manufacturing its own in a format that can fit onto a single flat bed truck for shipping anywhere in North America.
The HO2 is 640 square feet with two bedrooms and one bathroom. Its base price is also, around $250,000 but with things like site visits, design and engineering, a buyer is looking at $450,000 to $500,000 for the base unit.
“We’re definitely on the higher end and our product and pricing reflect that,” Mark Kohlen, director of sales for Honomobo, told iNFOnews.ca. “We’re not going after the affordable or low income solutions. A lot of our clients are professionals. For some, it’s their primary home but, for a lot, it’s their second, third or fourth home.”
Half the company’s sales are in California and many are in Colorado. Their appeal includes speed of delivery and construction.
“Since COVID happened, contractor availability has been somewhat scarce,” Kohlen said. “That's been pretty true to form across North America so people are starting to look outside the box. They’re looking at going outside site-built construction and looking at modular.”
Some Honomobo homes have been built on the Gulf Islands of BC where they can actually be cheaper than convention buildings since it’s expensive to ship conventional materials to remote areas.
But there are a handful already up in the Thompson-Okanagan region and a showcase home is coming to East Kelowna in the fall.
It will combine two of the HO5 units on one foundation with a site-built screen room to connect the two structures.
Each standard HO5 unit is 1,600 square feet with three bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms so the overall structure will be about 4,000 square feet.
They are also working on designs for stacking their structures to, possibly, get into the fourplex market.
At the other extreme is Calgary based ZeroSquared that markets “a tiny home which we would want to live in,” according to its website.
"We believe we can help people live happier lives with less stress. We can give you comfort, functionality and freedom, allowing you to downsize without downgrading your life.”
Their homes range from a 178 square foot Weekender starting at about $100,000 to the 511 square foot Cascade that offers three bedrooms over two floors.
The main floor is 323 square feet with two upstairs rooms that fit queen sized beds. The only catch there is that the rooms are just four feet high.
On the positive side, prices start at only $175,000.
“Living in a tiny home is a great way to minimize the stresses of everyday life,” the ZeroSquared website says. “Cleaning is easier, repairs are less expensive, not to mention people can now actually own their homes and take it with them if/when they move.”
Given that they are towable, they are not likely to be approved by local governments as permanent homes.
All of the prices cited above do not include the cost of the land or things like development cost charges local governments collect.
For Kelowna, those range from about $23,000 to $28,000 per unit, no matter what the size.
“I’m actually surprised we haven’t seen more modular construction where you pre-pour the foundation and pre-do the sewer and water connections and just drop it on,” Smith said. “We’re going to see more innovation coming as the provincial government and the city get into having to pre-zone properties for four to six units. I think we’ll see innovation on the modular side of things to get an extra unit or two on a property in an affordable way.”
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