La Scie business manufactures modular homes

Pam Snow
Published on July 9, 2008
A Canmar Industries employee takes a measurement before cutting another piece for this modular home being built inside the La Scie Marine Center. Photo by Pam Snow/The Nor'wester

La Scie - Modern modular homes have taken the place of boat building at the La Scie Marine Center.
The large blue building that stands out among the houses and wharfs has turned into a manufacturing centre for modular homes.
With the changing fishery and the demand no longer there for 65-foot boats, Canmar Group president and CEO Robert Starkes decided to sell his Triton Marine Centre and was thinking about doing the same with the business in La Scie. However, after hearing of a business opportunity on the island, Starkes decided he would find out the necessary information and possibly give it a try.
"I held onto the building because I was thinking about what else we could do in a place like this," said Starkes. "So, then I started thinking about modular buildings, whether it be homes or construction camps. We started digging around, looking at the technology that was behind building the homes and how to move them and we found there were a lot of companies doing them in New Brunswick."
Over 65 per cent of the homes built in New Brunswick last year were built using modular technology. Starkes said the modular homes have been widely accepted there and across North America.
"The only place that we could find that it wasn't the normal way to build a home was right here in Newfoundland," he said.
Starkes traveled to New Brunswick to speak with companies in hopes of partnering in the venture.
"While we were there we spoke with Hospitality Homes and we created a joint venture with them," Starkes said.
Hospitality Homes is based out of Woodstock, N.B. Its modular homes are shipped to the United States and across Canada. After returning from meetings with the company, Starkes said the next big step was to complete a model modular home.
"We came back and just focused on the biggest market, which would be in St. John's, so we built a model home to bring to St. Philip's last fall," he said. "We tried to build a home so that it would break any preconceived notions that someone might have about modular homes and I think we succeeded."
Once built, the modular homes are complete with windows, siding, hardwood floors and even the kitchen sink. Mr. Starkes said most people he has spoken with think modular homes are the 'trailer' style home.
"They think that they are trailers or the conventional box type of a home, but with the new system that just doesn't happen," he said. "You can design a home now that is custom-built with whatever a homeowner would like. The one we built for St. Philip's was a high-end, executive-style home."
Starkes said he's already had many customers approach him about custom designs for a modular home.
"We have in-stock designs, but we also accept plans from customers to do custom work on any plans they have," he said. "The in-stock designs are cheaper of course because the design and engineering work has already been done.
"But we are working on a design now for a customer who pulled plans from the Internet and came to us with slight changes. That design is sitting with the designer and he will look over the changes and we can work with her to build a custom home."
The design and engineering is important with any new home, but with modular homes, transportation is also an important consideration.
"If there is any downside to building the homes, it's the transportation after they are built," said Starkes. "We have to ship them from here to wherever in Newfoundland and there are rules and regulations to follow with regards to the Highway Act. We can't transport anything over 16 feet wide."
With the regulations to follow, each home has to be carefully divided into lengths and widths that are easy for transport.
"So there may be three or four modules that we have to transport to abide by those regulations," said Mr. Starkes. "A two-story home, for example, may be in four modules depending upon the length and width. Therefore, we may have to take a custom plan and revise it to meet those regulations as well."
Starkes said when quoting a price for a home, the transportation costs are factored into the initial cost.
"That way the customer doesn't have to worry about the transportation costs after the home is built," he said. "A thousand square foot home, we can build and put on site for about $100 a square foot."
Canmar Group is currently working on a home to be transported to Pilley's Island by next month.
"Hopefully, as more people order, the idea of a modular home will change," said Starkes. "It was just like when we first started building fibreglass boats. People at that time didn't want what they called a 'glass boat,' but after so many years that's all they wanted. I think that's what is going to happen with the modular homes. We just have to educate people about it."
The company employs seven workers and Starkes suspects that the numbers will double as more contracts become available.
"We are only building one home right now, but we are close to having a few more come under contract, so then we'll double our workforce," he said. "We are a Newfoundland-based company and we are taking it slow.
"We have a specialized trailer ordered for moving the homes and we are also looking at some export markets, but all this takes time of course and that's just fine with us."
Every home made by Canmar Group meets the Canadian Building Code and the company is currently in the process of acquiring certification from the Canadian Standard Association (CSA).

The nor'wester