PCL to deliver modular home units to Habitat for Humanity

May 3: Workers at PCL Constructors Canada Inc. install drywall in two modular houses slated for delivery for Habitat for Humanity Tuesday. (Karen Ho/YourMBiz)

At PCL Constructors Canada Inc’s modular house-building plant in Mississauga, two homes for Habitat for Humanity are nearly finished and being drywalled.

It’s just in the nick of time because the units are slated for delivery Tuesday down the QEW to the Niagara Region, where volunteers will assemble them into houses for two families in need of homes.

PCL has been a longtime backer of Habitat for Humanity projects, but also hopes to gain valuable expertise in the rapid assembly of modular housing at its Haines Rd. plant in central Mississauga.

The 40,000 square-foot building has been open about six months and employs fewer  than a dozen skilled tradespeople. But the plant is so efficient that the Habitat for Humanity homes are going to be installed in St. Catharines this week barely a month after the project launched.

“When you’re working here, it’s a completely controlled environment, and you never get a rain-out day where you can’t work,” PCL team leader Trevor Cooney told YourMississaugaBiz.com during a tour of the plant.

“It’s a great way to build,” Cooney added, citing the building’s safety features, additional security and high-efficiency manufacturing. “It’s unbelievable what you can build modular.”

In the shop area, floors and rooms of the two 1,500 square-foot Habitat homes are laid out next to each other.

Mark Taylor, PCL’s vice-president of permanent modular construction, calls the process “Lego-blocks” often suitable for projects like hotels, apartment buildings, seniors’ homes or student residences — all with identical rooms.

There’s a common misconception that modular construction only means portable classrooms and site trailers.

But Taylor envisions hotels as one of the biggest places for growth. The PCL executive said every project has opportunities for pre-fabrication, especially since there is no minimum order required.

“From building a piece of wall, all the way to building an entire building. Sometimes you can’t tell they were built off-site,” he said.

Choosing modular and/or off-site construction for remote locations like Canada’s Far North or the oilsands in Alberta also solves the challenge of a limited supply of local labour in those remote regions.

“It’s either going to take a long time or you’ve got to bring people in to do that work, which gets very expensive,” Taylor said, citing travel, accommodation, living and premium labour costs.

So far the Haines Road plant is PCL’s only modular and off-site construction location. However, the company intends to find a larger, more permanent location, also likely in Mississauga.

There are also plans to ramp up hiring and expand this specialized construction division into Western Canada, the United States and Australia.

“There are opportunities to take some of the work that would be done on-site and build it ahead of time in a factory,” Taylor said. “Small, smart, but huge potential and we expect dramatic growth.”

PCL committed $1 million to Habitat for Humanity for builds over two years. More than 100 volunteers from the community and the company’s Mississauga regional engineering head office on Hurontario Street just off the QEW participated in the construction.

Following the installation in St. Catharines, local volunteers will paint, decorate and finish the homes over the next two months.

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