Technology helps cut the cost of steel framing in new projects

Steel resolve

Wood products are enjoying a moment in B.C., where engineered timbers have grabbed the spotlight and provincial regulations are taking them to new heights – 12 storeys, to be exact – in residential construction.

But technology is giving new life to steel, making it a cost-effective option versus wood, according to advocates. Unlike in the past, steel studs can be tailored to each project, reducing costs and waste.

One proponent is Alessandro Ferrari, president and CEO of Burnaby-based framing company Fins Group Inc. (“Fins” is short for “Framed in Steel”). His firm works closely with builders during the design process to develop renderings for the studs a project requires. They’re manufactured in the U.S. and shipped to the site for assembly, saving time on construction. The integrated design process means the net cost of the studs matches that of wood.

“With our technology we produce the steel-stud framing structure tailored to the specific project,” Ferrari said. “Having the production in-house, it helps a lot in being competitive.”

Conventional wisdom holds that steel delivers the most value in projects higher than four storeys; in B.C., steel is typically used for framing buildings of up to 10 storeys. However, some developers have asked Ferrari to evaluate proposals for projects of up to 16 storeys.

Ferrari’s primary focus is on affordable single-family and multi-family development, including rental and institutional projects in B.C., Alberta and Washington state.

However, any project that requires non-combustible materials and is seeking to reduce maintenance costs related to the building fabric is a candidate.

Dairy churn

Vancouver’s Main Street corridor has a venerable history of industrial uses. Travelling south from False Creek to Broadway, there were meat packers, dairies and breweries. Building-supply companies operated showrooms and auto dealers had their lots. Many of the old businesses have decamped to South Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby. The premises that remain have been redeveloped to accommodate the industriousness of the post-industrial era in the form of mixed-use projects with office space, retail and other uses.

The loss of industrial space has put the squeeze on artists, a key issue that artists raised with those attending the Eastside Culture Crawl this year. If property taxes are hitting neighbourhood retail hard, artists that depend on cheap space are taking an even greater hit. Some of those at this year’s crawl are optimistic Planning Vancouver Together, the citywide planning process the city recently initiated, will fulfil Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s ambition to foster “a new form of city that’s going to work for everybody.” However, social proprieties and land economics mean there’s a better chance the result will more closely reflect one of former city planning director Brent Toderian’s favourite sayings: “Nobody gets everything, but everyone gets a lot.”

Housing, after all, continues to be the hot-button topic, and the fate of the nondescript industrial premises at the corner of Ontario and West 17th is emblematic. Originally home to Turner’s Dairy, then a jam plant, luggage factory and uses ranging from candle making to publishing, it’s now set for redevelopment with 13 townhouses. Turners Dairy, as the project is known, will incorporate timbers and trusses from the original 1913 structure.

According to Paige Kraft, who is handling marketing with Ruthie Shugarman, the project is attracting interest from those seeking smaller units and distinctive home design. All units remained available as of last week.

Rising inventory

A report from real state consultants Altus Group Ltd. indicates that the supply of unsold apartments in Metro Vancouver is in line with the seven-year average through 2018.

The end of June 2019 saw eight months’ worth of units available to buyers, based on the current pace of sales. That works out to about 7,000 unsold units in active projects. This is up from five months’ worth of inventory at the end of December 2018, and two months’ worth at the end of June 2018. Supply pressures have now eased, according to Altus, and it considers the supply of new homes “balanced” relative to the market. •