Ground is expected to break this summer on a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing plant north of Parry Sound that will produce cross-laminated timber (CLT) house kits for use in residential construction.
Andrey Vovchenko, general manager at Eco Development Group, said the company plans to introduce European technologies and building concepts that will modernize Canadian home design, elevating both the calibre of the construction and the quality of life for residents.
Although less expensive, the light-frame technique most commonly used in Canada doesn't offer the same quality as more advanced European design methods, he said.
“Coming from Russia and Europe, I can see the difference,” said Vovchenko.
“We have mostly brick houses in Europe, and there are wooden houses here in Canada, so it's a really different style and technologies.”
A strong but lightweight engineered wood product, cross-laminated timber (CLT) is prized for its resistance to fire, good acoustic qualities, and thermal performance.
Panels are assembled and cut to exact dimensions at the plant and then pieced together at the build site. The process eliminates much of the debris and noise associated with most construction projects, while also speeding up the build time.
Vovchenko estimated that a six-storey building could be assembled in just 20 days.
“All the small details have to be accounted beforehand, because everything will be done with a CNC machine,” he said. “It's better to make it quick and precise at the factory rather than at the construction site. It saves a lot of time.”
Included as part of the 'house kit’ are all the interior workings.
The homes will feature Reynaers aluminum windows and doors, of the type approved in passive homes, and heat pumps to provide the heating, cooling, and hot water supply. Roof-mounted photovoltaic solar panels will offset the homes' energy consumption, while rainwater will be captured for grey water applications.
"The idea was to reduce running costs as much as possible,” Vovchenko said.
The privately-owned development group specializes in the design, manufacturing and construction of CLT buildings. The production site will be at the Parry Sound Area Industrial Park in Carling Township, just north of Parry Sound.
Vovchenko and his three partners bring a unique combination of skills and experience to the project.
Oleg Gromov runs Italian Art Interior, a Vaughan-based business selling kitchens, home equipment and furniture, while Atlanta-based Oleg Volkov runs three factories in Russia, one of which processes wood.
Roberto Cappellazzo is the owner and CEO of WoodCape srl, an Italian construction company specializing in CLT technology.
Vovchenko adds to the mix a background in power energetics engineering and economics, with experience in banking and investing, and knowledge in the development and production of solar heating systems.
Eco Development Group began, in 2019, as a modest proposition, Vovchenko said: import CLT panels from Europe and build an assembly plant in Canada.
But with European demand for CLT construction soaring, their provider could only guarantee them a steady supply of CLT for two years.
"That's pushed us to the idea to start with the production of CLT panels here in Canada,” Vovchenko said.
When it came time to find a location, the Parry Sound Area Industrial Park offered a winning combination. Property is inexpensive, the lots are already serviced, and it's situated just off the highway, which eases the logistics of transportation, Vovchenko said.
“It's located on the 400 highway and it's not so far from Toronto – it's 200 kilometres from probably the most developed area for construction – and at the same time, it's closer to the forest source,” he said.
During the first of a two-phase plant development process, the company will import CLT panels from their European supplier and cut them to size at the Parry Sound shop. A dedicated construction crew will then be deployed to build the houses on site.
In the second phase, Eco Development Group will start manufacturing its own panels at the Parry Sound shop, sourcing the wood from Northern Ontario forests.
At full capacity, Vovchenko estimates the plant will be able to produce one single-family house per day.
The total estimated value of the project is $47 million – $7 million to implement the first phase, and $40 million for the second – "so it's a really big investment,” Vovchenko said.
It will also create jobs – about 50 of them – for the shop's production line.
To aid in their setup, the partners have applied for $1 million each from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund and FedNor, assistance Vovchenko said is invaluable.
“That's great support from the government, both Ontario and from the federal,” he said. "Canada's the only country I know with such good conditions to support business.”
With construction getting underway shortly, Vovchenko said he and his partners will travel to Italy to undergo training in how to build with CLT, with the goal of establishing a baseline of expertise that can be shared with the local industry.
The company is in the process of acquiring two more lots at the industrial park to be able to extend the building, but he anticipates the foundation and the first part of the building will be complete by year's end, allowing the company to start with the cut of panels.
Construction will also begin this summer on a trio of model buildings in Parry Sound – a single-family home, a five-storey residential-commercial unit, and a smaller unit – which will mark the first buildings in Northern Ontario to be built following the European CLT model.
They'll provide visitors with a glimpse into the composition of CLT and how the advanced technologies work inside a home, Vovchenko said.
It might still be a fairly new concept in Canada, but with its versatility and many benefits, Vovchenko predicts it won't take long before Canadians jump on board the CLT bandwagon.
“In Europe, the market grows about 20 per cent per year,” Vovchenko said. “In Canada, we'll do the same.”