Innovation that helps a community build affordable housing

A short 20-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay lies the quiet and alluring tourist attraction of Bowen Island. A hidden treasure near Vancouver, BC, this small island is a haven for relaxation seekers. Full of enticing eateries, hiking trails, shops, and hotels, this enchanting getaway draws many visitors to its shores each year.

Trouble in Paradise

Creating an idyllic atmosphere oftentimes comes with its own set of challenges. For example, the main challenge on Bowen Island is providing affordable rental housing for the staff of the local businesses. Rondy Dike and Oydis Nickle, the owners of the Union SteamShip Co. Marina (USSC), consequently found themselves in this particular predicament. With few homeowners among its staff and many without access to cars, USSC and other local businesses made the decision to limit their operating hours to stave off staff burnout. Limited housing for staff threatened not only the functionality of the businesses, but also the service they would be able to provide the island’s economic driver: tourism. The Bowen Island community had to find a way to create affordable housing for their numerous staff members, they had to do it quickly. [1]

An Innovative Solution

Float Homes were built on Bowen Island as affordable housing

USSC proposed a solution; to construct floating micro homes and moor them to the docks in the marina. Rondy Dike, an architect, and his daughter put their heads together to design the homes themselves. “I was just scratching my head thinking about how we could find more housing, and then I turned on the television and saw this show about micro-homes,” says Nickle. “We started discussing the idea and realized that the dock we are currently using for dinghies could be the perfect location. We don’t have to break ground so it would be much easier than construction on land.”

These homes presented an excellent solution to the housing problems USSC was facing. They offered a build time of a manner of months and would take up little space. In addition, the two- or three-bedroom homes contain a built-in wastewater system. They would also be constructed from pre-fabricated panels and assembled at the marina. [1]

To get the approval of the local municipality, there were specific stipulations that these float homes would have to meet. To begin with, the tenants must be employed by a Bowen Island-based businesses. Secondly, rental rates need to be affordable and capped or linked to wages by a percentage calculation. Finally, conversion of the float homes to commercial use in the future is prohibited. With the eventuality of these homes being used by staff members of businesses not under control the marina, there was a push to make this project as affordable as possible. That is when Insulspan® came into the picture. [2]

Modular Construction

Craning float home into place

As a floating structure, weight and movement from a rolling sea was a paramount concern. Typically, a float house is constructed on a heavy, concrete-covered, foam base float that acts as a foundation for a standard wood frame. Because Insulspan’s Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) Building System is light weight and has sheer strength, the need for a heavy concrete base was eliminated. As a result, this saved approximately 50% of the total cost to construct each unit. With the shear structural strength of the SIPs mounted on two non-structural pontoons, the float homes were very easy to construct.

The new float homse used SIP wall and roof panels. The panels formed a total boxed structural element that a crane could easily lower into the marina. Thus, existing staff and equipment resources were used to launch the house in the marina. As a result, the need for major off-site construction logistics was eliminated.

Award Winning Innovation

Affordable housing float homes in the harbor

By adding two float homes, the USSC was able to alleviate some of the housing strain on Bowen Island. Furthermore, they are hoping to acquire additional provincial permits to add more units to the marina. Little by little, this quiet community is banding together to create innovative solutions to their housing dilemma.

The USSC’s innovative solution is not only helping Bowen Island businesses, but it has also earned them recognition by the Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). At the 2020 SIPA Annual Conference, the Bowen Island Float Homes project won top honors in the Affordable Housing category and was the runner up for Small Houses Under 900 square feet. In 2021, this project earned recognition for Excellence in Home Design for Panelized Homes by the NAHB’s Building Systems Councils. These awards recognize excellence in SIP built projects and honor them for their innovative and energy efficient qualities. In conclusion, the float homes are a perfect example that innovation and with the increased staff housing availability, the USSC will be able to better serve the needs of relaxation seekers.[3]






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