Going modular

Terry Roberts
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Competitors unite to establish modular home factory; employees thrilled with opportunity to work close to home

Todd Clarke bounces the power nailer along the oriented strand board (OSB), skilfully fastening the four-by-eight sheets to the floor joists beneath.

This is a job Clarke and many of his co-workers would normally do outside, but not anymore.

This resident of Roaches Line is one of the few carpenters who specialize in home construction who can now say they do all their work in a controlled environment, away from the rain, snow and the sun's hot rays. They also come to the same worksite each day, and for many, it's just a few minutes from their homes in places such as Bay Roberts or Clarke's Beach.

Todd Clarke of Roache's Line uses a power nailer to secure oriented strand boards to floor joists. - Photo by Terry Roberts/The Telegram

Makinsons -

Todd Clarke bounces the power nailer along the oriented strand board (OSB), skilfully fastening the four-by-eight sheets to the floor joists beneath.

This is a job Clarke and many of his co-workers would normally do outside, but not anymore.

This resident of Roaches Line is one of the few carpenters who specialize in home construction who can now say they do all their work in a controlled environment, away from the rain, snow and the sun's hot rays. They also come to the same worksite each day, and for many, it's just a few minutes from their homes in places such as Bay Roberts or Clarke's Beach.

"It's a blessing," he offers, outstretching his bare arms.

Clarke and about 30 others work at a unique new factory in Makinsons, just off Veteran's Memorial Highway. They'll be joined by 10 or 15 more employees in the coming weeks as Builder's Edge Manufacturing, a company that specializes in the construction of modular homes, reaches full production.

The factory was officially opened Monday, but has been in production since earlier this year. It's the result of an unusual partnership between three highly competitive leaders in the home construction business in the St. John's region - Greg Hussey, Elmo Russell and Dieter Staubitzer.

For people like Clarke, the plant is a godsend, providing employment for people who might normally make the one-hour commute to St. John's or head to the mainland for jobs.

"I spent a couple of years in Alberta. It's nice to come home and work. I see a great future for me here if they'll keep me," he says.

In addition to creating much-needed employment in a rural area, the plant is bringing a whole new dimension to the home construction sector in Newfoundland.

Traditionally, homes are built on a building lot, and there are several factors that determine the speed and quality of the job, including weather, availability of workers and materials, and the sometimes tedious inspection process.

It can take between seven to nine months to build what those in the business call a "stick-built" home. But a modular home from Builder's Edge can be completed and occupied in three to four months, and is of better quality, said Russell.

"This is the future of homebuilding," he said.

Russell, Hussey and Staubitzer have known each other for years through their involvement in the home builders' association. They had each been investigating the potential of modular home construction on their own, but decided a joint venture was the safest and surest way to make it work.

With help from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency's (ACOA) business development program, the company hopes to eventually employ up to 60 full-time workers.

"We realized that the three of us could make this a guaranteed success because we're our own market. And once we satisfy ourselves, we'll spread out and sell to someone else," Staubitzer explained.

Staubitzer expects the company will need to expand within a year, and they have their sights on exporting to places such as Iceland.

The company is operating from a building owned by prominent Newfoundland businessman Ches Penney. Staubitzer hopes Penney's record of achievement will rub off on the new business.

The company's production target is 80 homes annually. To date, some 15 homes are nearing completion, with the first family to take up occupancy in Paradise in the coming days.

Building modular homes is not new. It's been done before in this province on a small scale and about 30 per cent of homes in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are made in modular home factories, Russell explained.

So how does it work? The modules are built inside the factory, using engineering plans that detail every last aspect of the job. The modules are built on a factory line, with workers assigned to each station. About 70 per cent of the work is completed in the factory, including electrical, plumbing, plastering, shingles, windows and insulation.

Once transported to the site, the modules are hoisted into place by a crane and final assembly and construction is completed. Russell said the structures are stronger and more durable because of the controlled environment, a rigid quality assurance program and standards that meet or exceed the national building code. And because of advances in engineering, the factory can produce any style of home. The only limit is the imagination of the customer, Staubitzer said.

But don't get the idea that on-site construction is coming to an end. Staubitzer said the modular homes will take some of the pressure off companies like his as they struggle with high demand and labour challenges.

"I'd build them all like this if we could, but we simply don't have the capacity," he said.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Geographic location: Makinsons, St. John's, Bay Roberts Newfoundland Alberta Iceland Paradise New Brunswick Nova Scotia

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • just
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    Have no idea of the quality, but it does seem like a good idea. I just wonder, if the different communities that these end up in have any say in the inspection process. Onsite houses must meet milestones and specific standards, what about these.

  • Curious
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Great work huh? - you must be a disgruntle ex- employee. The employees in there work hard each and every day and get the job done right. Take a look outside their building and see all the homes they have produced and look at the quality. I am not an employee but I live near by and see what is being done and I have to say they are doing a great job.

  • Brad
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Typical Newfoundland style there Great work huh. Put down anyone who has more than you or are trying to get ahead. It is people like you that make it nearly impossible to be successful on the island. For example, there are people out there who would rather drive a hundred clicks over the highway to avoid using Come by Chance gas, yet all of the gas suppliers at some point in time buy their gas from CBC, morons.

  • George
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    I've been away from NL for 35 years, but I see that attitudes have not changed for some people.

  • Great Work huh?
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    They couldn't nail a paper to the wall.
    I'd never buy a modular home of these staff.

    Normally the assembling of a single story modular home should be done in 2 -3 days, but with Building Edge's staff, the on site framing (building on the site) gets the house completed quicker.

    Buyers better do their homework before purchasing this type of home.

  • Think Positive
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    i think it great to see a new business started, regarless of the type of work. Its employing workers, its helping the economy, it providing a service, its providing a product, maybe they will start exporting their product if they havent already.

    With respest to Great work Huh , whats you problem, you sound like your mad at the world, are you jealous of someone involved with this business. did they turn down your resume?
    And, i have no involvement in this business, nor do i know any one working there, i work out of province, and i am very content with that.

    the last thing nl needs are people putting other people trying to get ahead in life. its typical though.

  • just
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    Have no idea of the quality, but it does seem like a good idea. I just wonder, if the different communities that these end up in have any say in the inspection process. Onsite houses must meet milestones and specific standards, what about these.

  • Curious
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    Great work huh? - you must be a disgruntle ex- employee. The employees in there work hard each and every day and get the job done right. Take a look outside their building and see all the homes they have produced and look at the quality. I am not an employee but I live near by and see what is being done and I have to say they are doing a great job.

  • Brad
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    Typical Newfoundland style there Great work huh. Put down anyone who has more than you or are trying to get ahead. It is people like you that make it nearly impossible to be successful on the island. For example, there are people out there who would rather drive a hundred clicks over the highway to avoid using Come by Chance gas, yet all of the gas suppliers at some point in time buy their gas from CBC, morons.

  • George
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    I've been away from NL for 35 years, but I see that attitudes have not changed for some people.

  • Great Work huh?
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    They couldn't nail a paper to the wall.
    I'd never buy a modular home of these staff.

    Normally the assembling of a single story modular home should be done in 2 -3 days, but with Building Edge's staff, the on site framing (building on the site) gets the house completed quicker.

    Buyers better do their homework before purchasing this type of home.

  • Think Positive
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    i think it great to see a new business started, regarless of the type of work. Its employing workers, its helping the economy, it providing a service, its providing a product, maybe they will start exporting their product if they havent already.

    With respest to Great work Huh , whats you problem, you sound like your mad at the world, are you jealous of someone involved with this business. did they turn down your resume?
    And, i have no involvement in this business, nor do i know any one working there, i work out of province, and i am very content with that.

    the last thing nl needs are people putting other people trying to get ahead in life. its typical though.