Future solutions often rely on old ideas.
Take, for example, Dave Loeks’ new approach to building timber-framed homes.
He likens it to Lego. For adults.
And he believes his Haven Timber Homes may solve First Nation housing problems in the Yukon and across the country.
Canada is 89,000 units short for First Nations housing, according to Loeks.
“This is Zimbabwean proportions right now,” he said from his own timber-framed home along the Takhini Hot Springs Road last week.
“To me, the crisis among First Nations is a national embarrassment.”
Loeks wants to change this, and make a little money in the process, by offering First Nations a better deal than they’re used to.
“Other businesses try to eke every dollar they can out of the sale,” he said.
“If we can offer something that’s of better quality, but less cost we’re all going to win.”
Loeks designed the new building system 15 years ago.
He did a forestry project in the Yukon and was paid with the wooden remains of the old Tagish Bridge.
He decided to use the old timbers to build himself a home.
Because he was doing it on his own, he didn’t want the timbers to be too long, otherwise he’d need cranes and other heavy equipment to move everything into place.
So he cut everything down to eight-foot lengths, which were easier to transport and handle.
Loeks knew he was onto something and worked on a few prototype structures.
But construction was time consuming and, as a result, costly.
The system didn’t become economical until he met his partner Lindsay Flett down in Lac La Hache, BC.
Flett designs and builds sawmills. He proposed they build machinery to create uniform timbers for the panels.
This cut the cost and the construction time.
A four-person crew is able to put up all of the entire exterior walls of a simple 24’ x 24’ cabin in just a day.
Vertical posts with grooves cut up and down their length go up at eight-foot centres.
Then the timbers, which have all been specially milled at eight-foot lengths, with notches, are inserted horizontally in between.
“Anyone with any sort of building experience usually catches on pretty quickly,” said Loeks.
“It’s like adult Lego.”
Building a traditional timber frame homes have a tendency to drag on and takes a large amount of expertise.
Often, the home ends up costing $350 per square foot, he said.
“What we did was substitute machinery for skilled labour.”
Doing this, Loeks is able to get the cost of his homes down less than $100 per square foot.
Once the wall goes up you apply finish to the inside and the outside and it’s done.
You don’t have to worry about drywall, insulation or vapor barrier, which tends to puncture easily and cause mold.
The finished project is durable and low maintenance.
And that’s one of the reasons why Loeks thinks it might be great for First Nations housing.
The typical lifespan of First Nations housing is about 20 to 25 years, he said.
The homes are usually built of shoddy, prepackaged materials.
“As a businessman, I saw an opportunity: there’s a huge demand and they’re so far behind,” he said.
“And most of the options presented to them aren’t that good.”
These other options also tend to be far too expensive.
“Often the people that can afford it the least are paying some of the highest costs,” said Loeks.
“Part of this is because they are often situated in remote locations, but I also think there are big markups going on because they figure that housing dollars are federal money.
“We have not found it difficult to compete, certainly not in terms of price.”
Haven is currently in its second year of operations and has some serious momentum going.
In the first quarter of this year, the company has sold 40 houses.
And it has also sold a number of commercial buildings, including a ski lodge, a preschool and an administration building.
The Kwanlin Dun will be building five of these timber-framed homes in the near future.
And Loeks hopes other First Nations buy into the idea.
The company could produce enough timber for 900 units per year if demand was there.
So it may not be long before Haven Timber Homes start showing up across North America.
By why stop there?
Loeks envisions timber-framed homes in the Caribbean.
He thinks the system would be a great solution for Haiti’s rebuilding after the earthquake.
Instead of using cement, which is dangerous in the event of another earthquake, Loeks thinks Haitians should build sturdy timber-framed homes.
He has already made a pitch to Ottawa to see if they’d fund his program.
For more information go to www.haventimberhomes.com.
Contact Chris Oke at