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Whistler builder wins $1M for housing library idea

Innovation Building Group is one of 18 companies across Canada to progress through the CMHC’s Housing Supply Challenge
Innovation Building is creating a library of de-risked housing designs to improve housing in Canada.

Whistler business, Innovation Building Group, is one of 18 across Canada to receive a nod from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and its Housing Supply Challenge to increase housing in Canada.

Through its proposal to create an open-access library of standardized, high performance, low-cost, multi-unit residential building designs that are permit-ready across Canada, Innovation rose to among the top of 254 applicants for funding in a national competition.

Innovation’s manager and founder, Rod Nadeau, said it was a good feeling to be recognized among companies rising to the challenge of housing affordability in Canada.

“It’s recognition that we’re on the right track on housing solutions that are going to make a difference in the country,” he said in an interview with Pique.

The Housing Supply Challenge is a national program that rewards and supports companies that submit proposals with the potential and proven ability to move the needle on housing. By advancing through the first stage, Innovation’s proposal for a library of housing designs qualified it for a $1-million prize Nadeau said would be used to get the idea going.

Speaking to the concept of the library of designs that could be bought as off-the-shelf housing blueprints, Nadeau said Innovation had done all the trouble-shooting in producing cheaper, more efficient and comfortable living space in its decades as a homebuilder.

“We’ll have a dozen designs, and they’ll range from fourplexes and eightplexes up to 60-, 70-unit buildings, and on the bigger buildings they’ll have a range of mixes you can utilize within them,” he said.

The intention was to reduce the cost of developing housing proposals, and assist developers through the process.

“Not-for-profits are whom it can benefit the most,” Nadeau said, explaining that while templates would be off-the-shelf, each could be customized to fit a customer’s need such as adding office or commercial space, underground parking and more—and all based on designs of buildings Innovation has already constructed in British Columbia.

“Not only are we offering a library, but our designs are proven high-performance, energy-efficient buildings,” he said. “We’ve already paid the price of innovation—we’ve found the unintended consequences of using some new products, new materials and utilized them in a different fashion. We’ve worked out the problems in our designs. If someone uses our designs, they have a lot less risk than a brand-new design.”

In essence, Innovation wanted to create a library of risk-free designs that had all the kinks already worked out, while also helping clients through site-utilization planning so designs were appropriate, and possible for each site.

With designs off the shelf, Nadeau said Innovation Building Group’s proposal could shave months off development schedules, and tens of thousands off budgets for housing proposals across Canada.

“These plans will cost substantially less than designing a building from scratch, and that process can take six months to a year, easily—with this you just download it from a library, work with us to generate a site plan, and do a few preliminary studies to make sure your project works to your feasibility, and then you’re ready to go to a development permit.”

Development permit secured, the company could then sell fully-developed plans, ready to go, to a contractor.

Nadeau said the concept was ideal to help increase projects in the pipeline by reducing costs with back-to-basics designs that stayed ahead of step-code requirements while providing livable spaces.

“Rather than making them more and more complex to reach energy targets and carbon targets, we’ve actually made them simpler than what a builder is doing today to accomplish that,” he said, adding another benefit is opening up the development market to more players, filling that “missing middle” in Canadian cities.

“If we can substantially reduce [costs], that opens up the market for small builders and small housing providers in the missing middle to make these projects financially feasible, because it costs about the same to design a 15-unit apartment building as it does to design a 115-unit one,” Nadeau said.

With the $1-million cheque from CMHC, Nadeau said Innovation Building Group is working on developing its concept further by creating a business plan, networking, and working with municipalities themselves to understand development processes further and ensure the library is furnished with designs that are essentially pre-approved.

It is expected to be available in November 2024, at which point the company will be in the running for an additional infusion of money from CMHC, with up to 10 of the 18 companies eligible for a $3-million prize to take their idea even further. A further level of funding will be available to the top three proposals, which will get $5 million for “game-changer solutions.”