Using Prefabrication In Housing

Summary | How the Strategy Works | Advantages and Issues | Sources | Case Study #1 ]

Lahave Heights — Bridgewater, Nova Scotia

Goal

Offer affordable manufactured houses in a variety of styles.

Target group

Seniors and empty nesters looking to downsize.

Synopsis

LaHave Heights is a land-lease housing community in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, that offers 215 manufactured homes developed by the Home Centre Group of Companies. The community is targeted to seniors and empty nesters wanting to downsize. The Home Centre bought the units from Kent Homes, a producer of manufactured and modular housing with plants in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, transported them to the site and placed them on surface-mount foundations. The Home Centre then completed the homes, adding a porch and/or garage as required. The units are energy-efficient and come in a range of sizes and designs, but a typical home is approximately 104 m² (1,120 sq. ft.).

 

The typical home at LaHave Heights is around 104 m² (1,120 sq. ft.)
Source: The Home Centre Group of Companies

Description

Background and context

A manufactured home on one’s own lot or in a manufactured home community can be an affordable alternative to renting. While not as prevalent in Canada, manufactured homes are the largest source of affordable housing in the United States. In Canada, manufactured homes have a much higher penetration in the Atlantic region than in other parts of the country, with several fairly large-scale producers. Improved quality, energy efficiency and a wider range of design options have increased the appeal of manufactured homes. Market segments for which they have become a popular option in the Atlantic region include empty nesters and seniors seeking to downsize. For many of these people, a manufactured home community provides a number of advantages. It provides affordable homeownership in a single-family dwelling, while reducing the chores associated with living in a large single-family home, and can give residents the benefits of living with like-minded neighbours of the same generation in a secure community.

LaHave Heights, with 215 units, was the second manufactured home community developed by The Home Centre Group of Companies in Bridgewater. The Town has a detailed set of bylaws governing land-lease communities to ensure that such communities look and feel similar to conventional freehold tenure communities. The bylaws dictate a minimum frontage of 12 metres (39.4 feet) and a minimum site area of 366 square metres (3,940 square feet). All houses must abut a private or public street. Other matters regulated include street layout, lighting, open spaces, storm sewers and speed limits.

The partners

The manufactured houses were supplied by Kent Homes, the largest home builder in Atlantic Canada. The company was founded in 1958 and has offices in Atlantic Canada and Maine. Its two plants in the Atlantic region have 19,510 square metres (210,000 square feet) of space dedicated to building manufactured and modular housing.

The developer, The Home Centre Group of Companies, is an integrated real estate group comprising a developer and manager of manufactured home communities (Community Living), a real estate sales company (Holm Realty Ltd.) and a supplier of manufactured homes (Hospitality Homes—although the LaHave houses were provide by Kent Homes under an earlier arrangement). The Home Centre also developed and now manages Eisenhauer Place, a similar affordable manufactured housing community in Bridgewater that has the same community guidelines as LaHave Heights.

Construction and design

As is the case with the manufactured housing industry as a whole, the high precision manufacturing process and the protection from the weather achieved a significant reduction in waste compared with conventional construction, and construction was made even more environmentally friendly through an emphasis on the use of recycled materials.

Energy-efficient features in the homes include:

  • a ductless heat pump for improved heating efficiencies and cooling;
  • heat recovery ventilators to provide air-to-air heat exchange while delivering fresh filtered air, reducing dust, odours and indoor contaminants and managing the internal moisture in the home;
  • large low-emissivity, argon-filled windows to minimize the solar heat gain in summer, while keeping out the cold in winter; and
  • special framing techniques such as a continuous air barrier and the sealing of the building envelope to reduce leaks and drafts.

The homes were drywalled, trimmed, painted and carpeted or tiled throughout before being shipped to LaHave Heights. They are installed on a surface-mount foundation, which includes custom-moulded patio stones and metal stands, and fixed to the ground with tie-down straps. The Home Centre put the finishing touches to the exterior, added a porch and/or garage as required. Delivery time for the homes was six to ten weeks, with year-round installation possible.

The affordable housing created

The houses in LaHave Heights come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 65 to 102 square metres (700 to 1,100 square feet) or more. Most are custom-designed with a choice of floor plan, layout, finishes, trims, kitchens and bath options. A typical house at LaHave is approximately 104 m² (1,120 sq. ft.). With an average cost of around $100 a square foot, this translates into a typical price of around $112,000.

After the homes are installed, their EnerGuide rating of 83 is verified by a third party. According to the National Research Council, new houses built to building code standards have ratings varying between 65 and 72, while the ratings of typical new homes with some energy improvements range from 73 to 79. Compared to such houses, LaHave homes can achieve around 25 per cent savings in heating costs.

The lease of the site is governed by the provincial Residential Tenancies Act, which provides protection both to the owners of the land and to the homeowners. The leases at LaHave Heights include community guidelines to maintain the appearance of the community, the property values, and the safety and security of the residents. For example:

  • lawns must be mowed and maintained regularly by the residents (lawn mowers are supplied);
  • residents are responsible for clearing their driveways and walkways in winter (roads are ploughed for them);
  • no subletting of homes is allowed without written approval from management; and
  • a 30 km/h speed limit must be observed at all times.

The rules and the presence of a caretaker are attractive features of the development for many residents. The developers of LaHave Heights point out that 80 per cent of the community moved there as a result of referrals.

 

The Bridgewater bylaws for land-lease communities govern the street layout
Source: The Home Centre Group of Companies

Costs and financing

LaHave Heights is purely market housing, with no government financing and no subsidies for purchasers. One component of the cost for every home is the $5,000 to transport it from the factory to the site and install it. The Home Centre works with a number of lenders to assist purchasers in arranging financing for the $100-a-square-foot homes. Since the homeowner does not own the land, financing in the form of a traditional mortgage is not available. CMHC’s chattel mortgage insurance is one option to assist buyers in obtaining a loan for purchase of an owner-occupied manufactured home where a traditional real estate mortgage may not be possible.

Impact on the provision of affordable housing

How the project created affordable housing

Factors enabling the creation of the affordable housing included:

  • the ability of the manufacturer to use its buying power when purchasing materials;
  • the mechanization of the production, reducing labour costs;
  • less waste, spoilage and loss through theft;
  • lower insurance cost for workers, thanks to increased safety compared to on-site production; and
  • land-lease arrangements, which reduces the purchase price.

Suitability for replication

There are a number of factors that suggest potential for replication across Canada:

  • The quality of manufactured housing has improved considerably using modern prefabrication techniques.
  • Advances in building information modelling (BIM) are reducing costs through better inventory management as well as allowing for greater customization.

Impediments to replication

  • Perceptions about the quality and durability of manufactured housing have not kept pace with actual improvements.

Related strategy

  • Providing Land
  • Shared Equity

Sources of further information

  1. For additional information regarding LaHave Heights, see the CMHC Project Profile at https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/inpr/afhoce/afhoce/prpr/upload/LaHave_Heights_En.pdf.
  2. For additional information regarding The Home Centre Group of Companies, see http://www.thehomecentre.ca/community-living.
  3. For additional information regarding Kent Homes, see http://www.kenthomes.com/kent-homes-home.aspx.
  4. For additional information regarding the Canadian Manufactured Housing Institute, see www.cmhi.ca.
  5. For additional information regarding the Bridgewater land-lease community bylaws, see http://www.bridgewater.ca/component/com_docman/Itemid,254/gid,49/task,doc_view/.
  6. Manufactured Housing: Updating and Rewriting Local Regulations, ACT Case Study, prepared for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), CMHC, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) and the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA), July 2000, available from the Canadian Housing Information Centre (CHIC) through contact e-mail: chic@cmhc-schl.gc.ca.

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