For years, David Saulnier shook his head at his mother’s perennially weathered deck in the rural coastal fishing community of Saulnierville, N.S.
Blustery weather and the freeze/thaw cycle that comes with living near the Atlantic has never boded well for the longevity of wood, but Mr. Saulnier, a builder of composite commercial fishing boats, felt frustrated, nonetheless.
“Everyone around me here, especially living on the water in Southwest Nova, everything is either rotting, dying or being replaced and it’s just pathetic,” he said during an interview while parked beside a church with rotting windows and an oxidized foundation in Barrington, N.S.
Mr. Saulnier, with 20 years’ experience building composite fishing boats, knew how fibreglass vessels survived rough powerful swells and lashing winds, often for decades, before eventually being resold. “I basically said, ‘That’s it,’ ” he said. “Why don’t I just bring this on land and build the same way?”
He and business partner Joel German launched JD Composites in 2018, building their first beach house in 2019 made of composite panels constructed at the company’s factory in Meteghan, N.S., an Acadian fishing community about 300 kilometres southwest of Halifax.
The panels, made with foam created from recycled water bottles, were tested twice to withstand a category five hurricane, by ASTM standards, an international physical and mechanical standards organization, which is accredited by the standards council of Canada. Mr. Saulnier, the president of JD Composites, said the hard-wearing, hurricane-proof material is something customers are increasingly interested in as climate change brings more variable weather and climatologists predict an above normal hurricane season this year in the Atlantic region.
Interest piqued following post-tropical storm Fiona in 2022, he added. The post-tropical storm ravaged Atlantic Canada last September, killing one, destroying hundreds of homes, uprooting forests and awakening the region to the reality of climate change. Fiona remains the costliest extreme weather event recorded in the region with insured damages of more than $800-million, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
“All the things that are taxing on conventional homes, people are realizing it when they ask or inquire about my stuff,” Mr. Saulnier said.
“My homes are basically like a piece of Lego – wall, roof, floor, interface – as opposed to regular homes, which are relying on mechanical attachments like nails and screws.”
The factory uses foam – or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – fabricated from recycled water bottles to make structurally insulated panels, which are built to measure and put together on site to construct homes, sheds, roofs and decks. The foam is manufactured in Brampton, Ont., by a separate company, Armacell, whose headquarters are in Belgium. It’s produced by melting water bottles into plastic pellets, which are put into a hopper. Gas renders the material into a durable foam that is rot- and mildew-resistant.
At the 4,500-square-foot workshop in Meteghan, Mr. Saulnier uses the same type of computer-guided cutter he did to build fishing vessels to cut fibreglass panels. But here, the panels are bonded on either side of the foam like a sandwich, a proprietary process that is patent-pending, he added.
The panels, independently tested and verified in Mississauga by Element Materials Technologies, withstood sustained wind force that is twice the strength of a category five hurricane.
“It’s pretty near impossible to destroy one of my homes with wind,” he said, adding that the testing machine maxed out at 525 kilometres an hour. “In fact, they can’t even tell me when my walls would fail because their testing equipment wouldn’t go that high.”
This is much more than Mother Nature is able to throw at the homes – the highest recorded wind speeds on Earth are in the 400-kilometre-an-hour range. But Mr. Saulnier says he’s not overbuilding, it’s just the nature of the panel that yields that result.
Since 2019, the company has constructed about a dozen custom houses – most recently a 3,500-square-foot home in Yarmouth, N.S., made up of 2.5 million recycled water bottles – as well as a variety of decks, sheds and roofs. Now, Mr. Saulnier says he and his eight employees are working on batch manufacturing and getting other companies to help build panels.
Despite his growing success, Mr. Saulnier has one potential client who is still holding out: his mother. She’s still hanging onto her wood deck – the same one she’s replaced three times in 15 years. Her son has offered to install one of his own, to no avail. She simply likes the look of boards and planks.
“She’s old-fashioned, I guess.”