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Foldable pre-fabricated housing pops up on the Sunshine Coast

Rohe Homes, a Vancouver-based start up, unveiled their first model in Sechelt

Home is where you unfold it? For one Sunshine Coast tenant, that statement recently became true when a start-up company based in Vancouver finished its first installation of a foldable pre-fabricated home in Sechelt.

The Lotus Mini, as its creators call it, is a 430 square-foot home (and can be increased up to 530 sq. feet) with one bedroom and one bathroom being sold by Rohe Homes. The Lotus Rancher being installed next door in a West Porpoise Bay neighbourhood will offer a three-bedroom, two bathroom option. Eventually, the company hopes to offer 10 by 10 rooms to expand units.

Rohan Kulkarni, the CEO and originator of Rohe Homes’s design, and Salik Khan, the head of customer experience, gave Coast Reporter a tour in late July as the tenant settled in, and as the property owners awaited the installation of a second model. 

“It’s a rapidly deployable home,” Khan says, and can be set up within a week of delivery. “What we're trying to focus on is accessory dwelling units and increasing the amount of housing stock in smaller communities. So places like the District of Sechelt, Gibsons, the Sunshine Coast [Regional District], they're looking at housing options, and we're seeing with the new bylaw change, that there's an opportunity for people to put down a home. What we're trying to do is create accessible dwellings that are put down in people's backyards.” 

That bylaw is Sechelt’s Bylaw 580, currently under review by the District. A recent staff report said the bylaw opens up the potential for more than 1,300 new “infill” dwellings, some of which comes from new allowances for auxiliary dwelling units (also known as laneway homes) in most residential zones. Those auxiliary dwellings would need to meet a maximum size requirement of 120 square metres, with height and setback requirements according to each zone, Michaela Sugars, administrative assistant of Sechelt’s planning and development department told Coast Reporter in an email statement. 

“This new zoning bylaw is not updating the building code, which sets a specific certification requirement for these types of pre-fab homes,” she added.

In July, representatives of the Sechelt and District Chamber of Commerce, Sunshine Coast Regional Economic Development Organization (SCREDO) and the Mayor of Sechelt, Darnelda Siegers, also toured the unit in Sechelt. 

Rohe Homes started in 2017 before commercializing in 2019, and is currently focusing on properties that already have a sewer connection and existing services. “We just drop our product down, unfold it, and then it just covers the perimeter” of a concrete foundation, Khan said. The costs of each unit — $200,000 for the Mini, $350,000 for the Rancher — includes the structure, finishes, and on-site assembly.

The structure still goes through a standard building permit review, but Rohe Homes hopes its standardized design will be able to be pre-approved to expedite the process. The units received Canadian Standards Association (CSA) certification, meaning they don’t require any inspections, and meet the B.C. Building Code. 

So, how is it different from other pre-fabricated units? Khan says the product is almost fully finished upon arrival, and its smaller size — the ability to fold to 11 feet wide by 20 feet long — means it can be transported on BC Ferries and reduces the transport load or method required. The mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems are already built in, and connected once the unit is unfolded. Then the appliances are integrated. The white roof helps reflect the sun’s rays, helping reduce energy needed to cool or heat the building. An energy recovery ventilator helps clean the air in the air-tight, water-tight space. The design does not require stairs. The facades can be customized to match the primary home’s exterior and character, and the interior is also customizable.

Wendy Henri has worked in health care on the Coast for years. When her family sold their multi-generational home in Sechelt, after owning it since the mid-1990s, she was looking to downsize. But she was having a difficult time finding a rental for herself and the dog until she crossed paths with Mary and Rick Harris, who had purchased the first Rohe Homes model sold. Mary said the couple came across Rohe Homes on Facebook, and were intrigued by the product, particularly in light of the housing crisis on the Coast. They’d never purchased a pre-fab before, but had space on their property overlooking West Porpoise Bay, and wanted to provide housing to first responders and health care workers.

“There is a need — and I don't care about tourists — it’s more filling [the needs of] essential workers that we can't find because we don't have housing for them,” Mary told Coast Reporter

Mary said the installation hit a few bumps in the road — delays caused by flooding and storms last fall and winter — but has served as a learning experience. 

As she showed Coast Reporter around, Henri said she already feels at home. She spoke of the model’s potential for the Coast’s aging population, people retiring or downsizing, and as something her children’s generation could afford. 

“I think this might be a way for the future,” she said.

The creators are hosting an information session at the Seaside Centre on Sept. 12 at 6 to 9 p.m. for the public to learn more, followed by an open house tentatively set for October. More information and registration is available by calling 1-866-764-3466, emailing info@rohehomes.com or visiting www.rohehomes.com

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