Prefabricated cottage designs

While not the most unique-looking cottages, these models are greener and easier to build



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If you’re not into the nitty-gritty details of developing a design or sniffing out the structural process up close, or if you’re desperate to take possession of your new cottage in mere months, buying a prefabricated or modular structure is an enticing option. For Shirley Hudson in Port Carling, Ont., prefab turned out to be the best bet. “I tried for five years to get a contractor to renovate my old thousand-square-foot cottage,” she says, “but I couldn’t even get anyone to come out and do an estimate.” Lloyd Alter, a Toronto architect who has worked in the prefab industry but now devotes most of his time to writing about sustainable design, says some cottage-country builders “don’t get out of bed for jobs under a million bucks.” Okay, we know that’s not true everywhere, but his point is that not every contractor is willing to take on renovations. And contractors are in such demand these days, they can be choosy about the jobs they take on. After checking out a slew of kit-home manufacturers, Hudson tore down the old cottage and put up a structure built by Royal Homes, a company based in Wingham, Ont., that uses pre-engineered, factory-made walls and other components in its construction projects. “I signed the contract and designed the floor plan in May 2006 and moved in November the same year.”

Some cottagers might object to the cookie-cutter aesthetic, but the obstacles to building are few

What customers get for their money depends on the manufacturer. Some companies subcontract the installation to local builders, who will often handle the paperwork with the municipality; others ask that the customer liaise with the municipality for some permit applications and approval. Make sure you know what’s offered and that you get what you need. The level of design customization also varies considerably. “I can’t speak for other manufacturers, but we specialize in custom design,” says Pieter Venema, president of Royal Homes. “We look at the client’s current and future needs and make suggestions for a unique final design,” he says. Rather than buy a standard catalogue floor plan, Hudson controlled much of the layout and picked the finishes. The only stipulation was that each module couldn’t be more than 16′ wide by 62′ long.

Prefabricated cottages are greener, with very little waste produced and a smaller carbon footprint compared to traditional construction

After preliminary site visits, and approval of the building permit, the manufacturer dispatches a technician to inspect and prepare the site for the foundation; this same person may become the site supervisor for the duration of the project. While the foundation is being installed, the cottage is built in the factory. Some cottagers might object to the cookie-cutter aesthetic, but the obstacles to building are few: The insurmountable ones are when the lot is on an island not served by adequate barge or ferry service and if the access route or site can’t accommodate large trucks and cranes. The biggest advantage? “Theoretically, you’re getting the cottage you asked for, at the price you contracted, on the date that was promised. You can’t always get that with conventional construction,” says Alter. “Plus, it’s greener. The waste on a normal cottage construction site is extraordinary, with an estimated thirty per cent of material being burned or dumped. In a prefab factory, nothing is thrown out — even the sawdust is used for heating. And with large pickup trucks travelling back and forth to the construction site every day, the carbon footprint of a conventional cottage is huge compared with a prefab, where transportation is only carried out at the time of installation.”

Whether you choose to go the prefab route, build from scratch, or renovate and expand, the project you’re embarking on could well turn out to be one of your biggest investments. No wonder then that tradespeople stress the importance of hiring a provider you’re comfortable with. “Knowing you’ve found the right person is often a gut feel. Meet with the person enough times before you get serious to make sure you click,” urges Jutta Court, the building designer. After all, enjoying what might be a long journey is as important as the destination. “You may only do this once in a lifetime,” says architect Trevor McIvor — “make it fun.”

This article was originally published on April 8, 2008

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