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Centre of excellence.


Thanks in part to the "energy crisis" of the mid-1970s, and the relative stability of the provincial economy, Manitoba is rapidly developing an international reputation of being a Cenre of Excellence in housing technology.

Good news for consumers here! It means Manitobans can buy high quality, affordably-priced new homes which are not only comfortable and energy efficient, but which have all the design features any discriminating buyer could want.

It's Manitoba's economic stability that's a key factor here. It's allowed a relatively large number of new home builders to stay in business for the long-term. That, in turn, has honed the competitive edge. And, strong competition has kept new house prices down, while also increasing the number of innovative features that go into those homes.

Many of those features are hidden behind the walls, in the technology that's been used to make Manitoba houses among the most energy efficient in North America. For instance, Manitoba builders were among the first on the continent to build walls with 2" X 6" studs and higher insulation levels, a response to Manitoba's frigid winter climate--but also an important marketing tool in a relatively tight market. Today, virtually no homes are being built in Manitoba without 2" X 6" walls, (at no additional cost to the buyer). That adds to the quality of the house, and lowers its lifetime operating costs.

It's that kind of basic innovation which is making Manitoba a Centre of Excellence in housing technology.

"Manitoba has a variety of large, professional builders, companies which have gone head-to-head for the past 20 years," notes Bryan Fenske, president of the Manitoba Home Builders Association and of Lifestyle Homes Ltd. "They're constantly thinking of ways they can get a competitive edge to maintain their share of a relatively limited market. And here, the competitive edge is in the quality of the product".

That's not the case in other areas, like Toronto or Calgary, where in boom times builders "drop out of the sky," build a number of houses, then vanish--leaving consumers with a sometimes inferior product. "I've seen some new houses in the Toronto area that I frankly would not allow my customers to move into," Fenske says.

A lot of that quality stems from the R-2000 Home Program, in part pioneered by Manitoba builders. The Program's emphasis on the airtightness of the home--a house can have no more than 1.5 air changes per hour to be registered--means that more care is taken in installing the air/vapour barrier to prevent air leakage. Manitoba builders routinely erect some of the tightest houses in the country (the tightest house built in Manitoba to date had 0.06 air changes per hour).

More care has to be taken while building the house to ensure airtightness, says Bruce Maybank, president of the Flair Group of Companies, and that translates into quality construction as well as energy efficiency.

In fact, it's gotten to the point where all that would be needed to make a conventional Manitobsa house meet R-2000 specifications would be to increase insulation levels slightly, install a mid-efficiency furnace, and a heat recovery ventilator. The conventional Manitoba home "is far in excess of what is being built in the rest of the country," Maybank says.

Because Manitoba builders have experience in constructing energy efficient homes--the first tract-built super energy efficient home went up in Winnipeg in 1981--they can do it more economically, says Gary Proskiw of UNIES Ltd., a firm of Winnipeg consulting engineers with extensive experience in residential construction.

Proskiw says that building an energy efficient house means a change in framing methods. "When change is first introduced, it takes 25 percent longer to frame the house, and that means higher costs," he says "but as framers gain experience, the incremental time required drops, until by the third house, no additional time--therefore no additional expense--is required."

Today, there are Manitoba builders offering to build an R-2000 home (on selected lots) at no additional cost--a tremendous marketing tool indicative of just how far cutting-edge technology has entered the mainstream of Manitoba residential construction.

In Toronto, for instance, the major R-2000 home builder not only charges more for that kind of house, but builds it by "retrofit." He'll erect a standard model, upgrade the insulation and heating system, land seal the house during the blower door test until it just meets R-2000 airtightness specifications. And that's as far as he goes.

But it's not only construction techniques whichmake Manitoba a Centre of Excellence. The components and mechanical systems used here are also on the cutting edge of technology.

Dramatic strides have been made in the past few years to improve the quality of windows, for example. It's almost standard that triple-glazed casement, awning or sealed units are installed. Thanks to microprocessor-controlled machines, Manitoba window manufacturers like Willmar, Loewen and Paramount are producing some of the highest-quality windows in North America. And many new homes feature energy-saving low-E or Heat Mirror windows, which reduce heat loss by preventing radiant energy from passing through the glass.

Windows generally are now so resistant to air leakage that they can be used as design elements, allowing a great deal of natural light into the house--an important psychological consideration, given Manitoba's long winters.

Builders are using a technique called "windowscaping," in which masses of windows form an often dramatic architectural statement in a house. Windows will run from floor to ceiling, or will be combined in pairs, trios, quartets and even gatherings of six and nine units. Garden and bay windows are also increasingly used to give more space inside the house without significantly increasing cost.

In mechanical systems too, Manitobans are leading the way. Ground source heat pumps, which take heat from ground water for use in space and domestic hot water heat, are growing in popularity and are reducing home energy costs. In summer, these same units can provide air conditioning.

While improved windows and mechanical systems are important components in making Manitoba houses better, it's in the basic construction techniques that this province shines. The Manitoba trades are a stable group, and so are committed to the builders they work for. For example, Fenske says he knows most of the carpenters who work for him on a first-name basis, dealing with them on site. Conversely, in places like Calgary, a builder deals with a business manager in an office and never talks to the on-site person.

The trades here have made great strides in keeping up with construction technology as it develops, and are generally enthusiastic when improvements are introduced. That's critical in improving the quality of homes, for it's the person who drives the spike who has ultimate control over the final product.

Another factor is that the Manitoba new house market has undergone a major shift in the past five years. Whereas 40 percent of new homes used to be geared to the first-time buyer, now over 40 percent are being marketed for second and third-time buyers. The homes are larger, contain more features, and are more towards the higher end of the price range. That in itself allows builders to incorporate more technological and design features, which the Manitoba market demands.

Experienced homeowners know what they want in a new house. And when the market demands a highe r quality product, builders respond, and search for better ways of building houses. That's one advantage of having a stable economy. And that's one of the reasons why Manitoba has become a Centre of Excellence in housing technology.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Manitoba Business Ltd.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:housing and construction industry in Manitoba; includes a related article on an energy efficient demo house
Author:Park, Kip
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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