Efficient, strong, and time-saving: Adapting modular construction to Net Zero standards

July 9, 2020

Updated 11 January 2023.

To the untrained eye, a modularly constructed building looks nearly identical to one built using traditional methods, but Grandeur Housing hopes that people will take notice of the role that factory construction played in bringing the National Affordable Housing Corporation's Willowview Heights Net Zero Ready project to fruition.

“The Willowview Heights project shows the modular method to the world,” said Jeff Enns, former business development manager for Grandeur. “There wasn't a lot of change required from the way we typically build modular units to attain that classification of Net Zero Ready."

Since 1976 Grandeur Housing has been building high-quality housing out of Winkler, Man. Specializing in modular construction, their factory creates custom single-family homes as well as multi-unit residential buildings that are then transported and set up across Canada. Always innovating, Grandeur has brought their expertise in modular construction and adapted it for Net Zero Ready construction in partnership with Big Block Construction.

Reducing the environmental footprint

While this Net Zero Ready build was their first, Grandeur is no stranger to green initiatives. Jeff shared how the planning that goes into factory construction leads to a more efficient build.

“The biggest efficiency has to do with a reduction of environmental footprint, creating less waste on-site. Everything's been fully designed along the way. There's processes for processes and it's just a complete lack of material waste,” Enns said.

The efficient use of materials is not to be confused with a light build, however, as the nature of modular construction actually leads to thicker walls. Jeff explained that’s because modularly constructed housing has to be over-engineered.

“It's got to endure transport and craning so it's not just engineered for downforce but uplift as well. But then the long term sustainability of that building is all the better because it's overbuilt. It ends up being, once it's on-site, an overbuilt product — which is excellent for the end-user,” Enns said.

Double wall framing makes for a stronger end product.

Essentially this means that most of the walls in a modular build are built up to be like exterior walls. Thicker walls provide two main benefits: a higher sound transfer classification rating, and more insulation on average. All of this makes for a quieter home that costs less to heat. 

None of these benefits cause an increase in construction time, though. In fact, a key benefit to factory-built construction is the opportunity for a massive time save.

“Modular construction offers time savings in the amount of work that you can be doing at the same time. So for instance, using Willowview as an actual example, we were building modules in the factory at the same time that they were putting in civil works and foundations on-site.” 

Being able to complete those two steps at the same time saves three to four months in the development schedule, Enns said. Plus, the factory-built timeline is fast: It only takes 21 days from the time a module begins to be built to the day it leaves the factory — fully finished with paint, trim, flooring, cabinets and appliances.

Net Zero projects have some of the highest standards for building in the industry, and Jeff says he and the rest of the Grandeur team were excited to be part of this project. 

“To prove Grandeur’s quality construction is very satisfying. It's a very big deal, I hope people stand up and take notice that you're sacrificing nothing except being traditional when choosing modular. There was a great team working on this modular project and Grandeur was proud to be one of its members.”

Grandeur was a partner on the Willowview Heights project. We're so grateful for all the amazing partners who helped to make this first-of-its-kind project a success.

Read more from our Net Zero journey:

breaking news
While Big Block is busy building like Bigfoot...
(Read also: blurry in photographs and causing double-takes when our beast of burden, the crane, makes a flash appearance in the outside world.)

. . . you can scout for more evidence of our expertise in community-minded housing development through our archive of multi-family and mixed-use residential construction projects.