It’s big in here.
Stand at the front of the factory – where raw steel is coiled, snakelike and awaiting transformation – and it’s difficult to see the far wall.
It’s clean in here, too. Walk anywhere and there’s only the odd bit of shiny detritus to justify the safety boots and, unlike in a woodshop, the big steel-shaping machines aren’t coated with layers of sawdust.
That’s not to say Green Terra Homes in Trenton, Ont., won’t make you a home out of wood (more on that later); it’s just that they think steel is the real deal. The customer gets a much more rigid structure that lasts 10 generations, and can be confident in the knowledge termites won’t snack on it and that it consumed six recycled cars instead of 50 trees, says Green Terra operations manager Max Broojerd, who points out that a steel home’s only waste product is “the little pucks” that they punch out of the studs.
Yet, he laments, just like the electric car, steel’s superiority is a tough sell: “We have seminars where 200 people come out on the weekend … and we know that 99 per cent of them are still going to buy a wood-frame house; it’s what they know,” the former IT specialist says. “People don’t like change: ‘Is it a Faraday cage?; Will I get phone signal?; Is it going to electrocute me when lightning hits?’” Ironically, he laughs, these are questions usually asked by city folk who work in steel-framed buildings every day.
Give it time, however: Education is more of a slow burn than a lightning strike, and Green Terra has only been in their 100,000-square-foot factory – formerly a General Electric plant built in the 1960s – since April, 2017. And, as Canada’s “first and only” Canada Welding Bureau certified factory, spreading the word will be a long row to hoe, perhaps as they plant one steel seed at a time.
Browsing through their home designs online (all done in-house) might be a better way for the average person to “see” that steel can look just as good as wood, and at a similar cost. To wit: The Ellesworth, a Craftsman-style bungalow of 1,900 square feet with tapered porch columns and the sort of slender dormer you’d expect, is priced at $240,000; with its garage-centric design and traditional gables, the Xavier, at $222,455 for 1,812 square feet, could be dropped into Mississauga without raising an eyebrow; standing on stilts over the sand and with multiple lookout platforms, the 1,890-square-foot, $207,000 Daytona could cozy up to the waters of Wasaga Beach, Ont., or Tofino, B.C., with ease.
Mid-century Modernists will go ga-ga over the many A-frames on offer, such as the Denali, with its wall of glass and 1,280 square feet of living space for $157, 869, or the smaller Denver for $84,243. There’s the striking Narayan, with an interesting asymmetrical roofline and trio of slit windows – here, $140,319 will get you 1,050 square feet – and the Kwasib which features 2,343 square feet under a gently-pitched roofline that would tuck into a Don Mills streetscape without any fuss at all.
Of course, these prices are for fully-built modules; Mr. Broojerd is quick to point out that every home comes in “three flavours” in order to save his customers even more money. Purchase the home as a “shell package,” in which the homeowner (or his or her contractor) does some of the onsite work, and the cost is less; purchase as a “DIY framing kit” and the happy homeowner pays even less while doing even more.
To illustrate this, Mr. Broojerd points to a bundled stack of shiny steel on the shop floor: “This is what a kit looks like. All numbered. That’s going down to Florida,” he says, adding that the company has already shipped product to 37 other states. “Put in some elbow grease, and you have a house,” he continues, his sentence punctuated by the slam of metal as a worker behind him moves house-pieces around. “And we give you step-by-step instructions: if you’ve put together any type of Lego kit for your nephews or nieces or whatnot, it’s easier, all you need is a screw gun.”
And, if you don’t like any of Green Terra’s dozens of designs, they’re happy to work with you: “We’ll build you the pyramid of Giza upside down if that’s what you want, that’s the beauty of our system!”
There are two other beautiful things to note. Should the homeowner go the DIY route, all of the window openings, allowances for countertops, plumbing, and the like are designed to work with standard product offered at the big-box home-improvement stores. Or send them the measurements for your high-end Italian kitchen and they’ll work with that; better yet, drop ship it to them and they’ll install it at no extra charge.
The other beautiful thing is that Green Terra has decided to join the 99 per cent of stubborn stick-framers rather than fight. Recently, they purchased the back-catalogue of Aladdin Homes, the pioneer of the Redi-Cut wooden, mail order home. So, if a Dutch Colonial from 1926 strikes your fancy (Aladdin started in 1906 and went out of business in 1987), let them know. Or they’ll even reproduce one of their steel models completely out of wood should you ask.
But why would you? Steel is the big deal in this factory.