Contractors awarded the job to build new houses in Sioux Valley Dakota Nation have scrapped nails and wood for steel and Styrofoam.
Home Hardware in Virden was awarded the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation contract to build seven much-needed new homes on the First Nation and have opted to use a material they can use to frame a house in one day.
Joe Sopel, who heads the Virden Home Hardware’s contract sales department, said it’s the first time the Structural Thermal Energy Efficient Panels (STEEP) Building System technology has been used in Western Canada and bills it as the future of home building.
Instead of acres of wood to build a home, "this takes four scrap cars," he said.
The insulated steel panels are filled with expanded polystyrene resin, similar to Styrofoam, which can be used for every wall of a home along with flooring and roof. Windows and doors are pre-cut and the exterior frame goes up like a novice-level puzzle.
The product manufacturer, with a production facility in Geraldton, Ont., claims the structures are fully recyclable, non-toxic, and in the event of a fire, produce less smoke.
Sopel heralds the technology as the future of home building and hopes to see the company build a production centre on the Prairies to reduce shipping costs.
Sopel’s not the only person who wants to ditch wood for metal.
On the other side of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border, one recent startup has found a second life for metal shipping containers by morphing them into livable bachelor units, complete with a bathroom and kitchenette.
Saskatoon-based 3twenty Modular has sold repurposed, single-use 40-foot sea cans to a "hotel" on farmland in the Estevan area to house tradespeople in the region plagued with a massive housing shortage and the company has long-term plans to bring a modular way of thinking to any type of home.
"Townhouses, condos, pretty much every multi-unit construction I can see us developing something for those markets," said Evan Willoughby, engineer and co-founder of the company.
"I really think modular (building) is the future of construction, we do it with cars, we do it with everything except homes."
The idea of repurposed shipping containers has drawn interest from First Nation communities in Saskatchewan, but the company hasn’t committed to any projects yet and the company has yet to make its way into Western Manitoba.
The speed and cost of these alternatives to wood-frame homes and traditional trailers are the main selling points.
The STEEP homes set to be built in Sioux Valley can be framed in a day and the first four identical three-bedroom, 1,280 square-foot bungalows will be move-in ready in July with three more ready about a month later.
Each house costs approximately $150,000, a mortgage the band is taking on.
The First Nation’s demand for housing has always outweighed supply and in some cases, two or three families are living in one home, according to Chief Vincent Tacan.
A housing committee uses a scoring system to determine the families in most need for new houses. Tacan said there’s a list of dozens waiting for housing and the committee could only pick seven.
"The committee tries to be fair, they establish criteria based on need," he said.
"We don’t give a four-bedroom home to a single person."
Once the First Nation becomes fully self-governing in the coming months and years following Parliament’s official approval earlier this month, Tacan said he hopes the economy of the area can grow to a point where its members can afford to take on mortgages themselves.
"We’re hoping that will generate the employment and the conditions needed for people to be eligible for a mortgage so they can purchase their own home and the kind of homes that they want, not the kind that the band is willing to build for them," he said.
"The means for someone to purchase and own a home right now is almost non-existent," he said.
Tacan hopes the band’s new self-government will yield laws regarding building standards so homes built at Sioux Valley aren’t substandard.
Once the band governs itself in earnest, it will still be qualified for mortgages through the CMHC, Tacan said.
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