INSTANT HOUSES

THE CHEAP BUT GLAMOROUS WAY TO SPEND WEEKENDS IN THE WOODS

GRATTAN GRAY July 14 1962

INSTANT HOUSES

THE CHEAP BUT GLAMOROUS WAY TO SPEND WEEKENDS IN THE WOODS

GRATTAN GRAY July 14 1962

INSTANT HOUSES

THE CHEAP BUT GLAMOROUS WAY TO SPEND WEEKENDS IN THE WOODS

GRATTAN GRAY

WHEN CANADIANS build weekend and vacation houses in the woods, as they have been doing in increasing numbers during the last ten years, they do it with imagination and daring that are in sharp contrast to the slab-sided style that still dominates the streets of their cities. In the Kawartha Lakes, a summer holiday area between Toronto and Ottawa, there is a habitable cone that grows larger by sprouting wedge-shaped additions. A drum-shaped shelter near Ottawa may soon have a dome on top, if the owners’ interest in astronomy waxes any stronger. At Lake Winnipeg there's a cottage that looks like a Creek cross from the air. At Nanaimo, B.C., there's one that looks like an M from the front. On an island off Vancouver there's one with sand dunes for walls. T he shapes that will next spring up in the play country depend only on imagination and the limits of the local building inspector's credulity.

Whatever the new shapes turn out to be, chances are you'll be able to find them in a catalogue two years after they’re invented, prefabricated in a choice of sizes and materials at prices that compare favorably with used cars.

Something called the A-frame is a case in point. Five years ago C anadian Homes magazine showed on its cover an A-frame cottage with three tiny bedrooms, a kitchen and a soaring living room with an all-glass wall. An Aframe, as anybody who has been near a lumber yard recently knows, is a wedge-shaped building that combines its side walls w'ith its roof and looks like an A. It's simple to build, economical of materials, and all but impervious to snow loads. The magazine offered to sell plans for the structure and hoped, by paying the architect a royalty, to compensate him for drawing the plans. Since then, the architect has collected $2.195 from the magazine. This is the first time a Canadian architect has collected more in commissions than the structure he designed costs to build. He even made a profit on the sale of the cottage itself— an impatient reader who couldn't wait to build it himself called the architect and bought the original for somewhere over $3,000. all found. Today, any prefabricated-house manufacturer who doesn’t have an A-frame in his catalogue will precut one for you, almost on the spot, at prices starting at close to $1.000 for a cabin sixteen by twenty-four feet, and going up (usually in multiples of four feet) to the size and price you want to reach.

The dome, to turn to another shape, has been a feature of the Canadian scene since the first Eskimo figured out

HOW A FAMILY RAISED THEIR ROOF IN SOUTHERN ONTARIO’S CALEDON HILLS

how to pile up blocks of snow to make an igloo, but it didn't make much headway among the summer cottage set until I960. Then, two Toronto men. their imaginations fired by contact with R. Buckminster Fuller, the persuasive American apostle of geodesic domes, built a couple of domes of plywood on the rocks overlooking Go Home Lake, 110 miles north of Toronto. Unfortunately, both domes collapsed that winter under the weight of snow and the pressure of wind. The brother of one of the dome-builders, undaunted, built a dome himself in 1961. It withstood the snows of last winter, although two other cottages on the lake didn't—one of them an «//-/wz-impervious A-Frame. Heartened, the two original dome-builders are planning to try again. One of them has built an A-frame to live in while he does it. Anybody else who wants to build a dome has only to pick up the phone and call Geodesic Structures Ltd., in Toronto, and ask for their catalogue. Geodesic Structures deals mainly in commercial buildings, but they sell prefabricated cottage domes now. Prices start at $1,470 for a dome which could enclose three small rooms and a bathroom, has only forty-five separate panels, and can be taken down and built elsewhere if you don't like the neighbors on the lake.

Most prefabricated cottages are not nearly so exotic as A-frames and domes. The majority tend to look like small suburban houses, and less often they look something like garages, which in fact many of them are — adapted for cottaging by the addition of a floor and the replacement of the garage door with a house door and a window. The Halliday Company, in Burlington, Ont., one of Canada's biggest prefab builders, CONTINUED ON PAGE 35

THE HOUSE THEY BUILT: SIX ROOMS FOR EVERY SEASON

THEY PUT THE CHILDREN TO WORK AND BUILT TWO A-FRAMES IN FIVE DAYS

CONTINUED ON PAGE 35

INSTANT HOUSES

continued front page 25

Walls go up, roof goes on and the door is locked — in one day

sells cottages ranging in price from $795 (the converted garage) to $10,009, with most of their sales in the $2.000 to $2.500 range. Three quarters of Halliday’s cottages are now erected by builder-dealers or local professionals, a complete reversal from the situation of three years ago when seventy-five percent of the buyers did it themselves and paid about $1.500 for the package. Halliday cottages are prefabricated, rather than precut—the walls are delivered complete with doors, windows and exterior siding, and it is Halliday’s boast that once the foundation is complete and the floor deck is in place, the walls can be tilted into place, the roof can be put on and the door locked — all within one working day.

Most prefabricated cottages are pretty raw' inside at this stage, with tw'o-by-four studs and the rafters showing, and the partitions finished on one side only. The raw' condition is seldom permanent. Canadians are taking to winterizing their cottages for all-year weekends and winter holidays. This entails filling the spaces between the studs with insulation and finishing the cottage walls, even if it's only to hold the insulation in place. This can all be done at the factory, for a price, but the manufacturers say that hardly anybody orders a cottage completely finished.

The house without nails

There is one firm, however, which sells only disassembled but otherwise completely finished cottages, and the reason they do so is because they can't make them any other way. The firm is Pan-Abode (1951) Ltd., of Vancouver. which supplies cottages coast to coast and has shipped its buildings to Baffin Island, Hawaii, and a site 200 miles north of Yellowknife. The buildings are not unusual to look at—people use words like "snug” and “cosy” to describe them — but their method of construction is startling. There are no nails in the walls at all; they're made of Western red cedar logs, factory-cut to a patented design with a tongue on top and a slightly smaller groove on the bottom. The logs fit together like an educational toy, one on top of the other, interlocking at the corners. The tight tongue-and-groove fit leaves no cracks, and the nail-less construction leaves the logs free to expand and contract with the humidity. Since the logs are solid, the inside is the same as the outside, and the place is finished as soon as the building is complete. The thickness of the logs — three inches for most of Canada; four for the Arctic — makes further insulation unnecessary. The roof, of three-inch thick cedar boards, is nailed to solid fir purlins (see below) resting in notches cut in the walls. Like most prefabricated cottages, these are so meticulously engineered and precisely cut that, once the pieces are sorted out, a man with no building experience

whatever can put them together without difficulty, provided he reads the instructions first.

Instruction booklets all have one thing in common; they don't appear to make sense at first. You just have to keep reading over and over again until the instructions do make sense. These booklets also rely on words not found in most vocabularies. “Purlin,” for instance, which I had never seen before, is scattered like fly specks throughout the Pan-Abode instruction booklet. Sooner or later one realizes that a purlin is what anybody else would call a roof beam.

People are by no means equal in their ability to assemble prefabs neatly and accurately. As a group, teachers seem to be best at it, followed closely by doctors. Walter Dean, the general manager of Pan-Abode (Ontario Sales) Ltd., attributes the teachers' ability to their bookish backgrounds. “They read the instructions thoroughly before they make a move," he says. “As for doctors, they’re good because they admit they don't know it all at first, and read the book.” The w'orst group is professional builders, who think they understand all there is to know from the sketch in the catalogue. “I have seen cottages built by builders,” Dean said recently, “who have nailed cabinets solidly to those walls, with a nail in every log. As the moisture content in the wood changes, either the cabinets are pulled askew or the nails keep the logs apart as they shrink, leaving gaps between them.”

Architects, naturally enough, do not build prefab cottages, but architects remain the richest source of innovations in Canadian cottaging. Jim Craig, a Peterborough architect, has a cottage that is very close to being an A-frame, but not quite. The top couple of feet of his roof, from front to back at the peak, is glass. “Nice for watching the stars,” Craig says. Waisman-Ross & Associates. Winnipeg architects, designed a cottage in a Greek-cross shape—the four arms are

bedrooms, kitchen and veranda, surrounding a living room in the centre— and won a Massey Architectural Medal for the design in 1961. Michael Bach, a Toronto architect, built a cone-shaped cottage in the Kawarthas “to continue the line of a massive pyramid of rock" on which it is located. At first, Bach built only the cone, on an octagonal floor plan, and it looked something like a glass-and-shingle tepee. The point of the building rose twenty feet, and it got hot enough at the top to kill flies. The cottage had a metal fireplace hood suspended over an open hearth in the middle of the floor, but as Bach's children reached the creeping stage he had to remove it. “They kept crawling into the ashes." he says. Bach eventually found the place too small for his growing family and, like most cottagers, he had to enlarge it. But he had foreseen this, and he simply senta wing jutting out from one of the cottage’s eight faces, adding a kitchen and two bedrooms. He can add two more wings the same way.

No cottager, whether he can stop with his first building or has to go on adding wings like Bach, can admit to himself what it really costs him. Parkinson's Law, applied to cottages, reads thus: cottages increase in cost to use up all the money available.

Here is an example drawn from recent experience:

Original cost of cottage, a sixteen - by - twenty -foot Pan-Abode with all doors, windows, screens and a cedar shake roof, f.o.b. Lake-

field, Ont.........$1677.75

Cartage, Lakefield to

Anstruther Lake .... 75.00

Haulage, across lake to

lot ............... 100.00

Concrete block, cement,

bricks for foundation 20.00

Tent to live in while

building cottage (used) 5.00

Adequate tent to live in

(new) ............ 60.00

Wiring .............. 252.00

Lumber for steps and

railings ............ 105.58

Local man to finish steps, add landings and build

outhouse .......... 101.46

Pump (electric) ...... 100.00

Plastic pipe for pump . 20.00

Dock ............... 85.00

Refrigerator (used) . . . 75.00

Stove (new) ......... 100.00

Sink unit ............ 65.00

Canoe .............. 90.00

Early Canadian stone crocks (for three

lamps) ........... 1.50

Adapters to make lamps

of above .......... 7.50

Shades for lamps...... 25.00

Set of dishes ......... 25.00

Motorboat and motor

(used) ............ 650.00

Lumber for deck beside

cottage ............ 38.70

Lumber for deck in front

of cottage ......... 29.60

Washing machine (used) 35.00

Miscellaneous ropes.

chains, buckets, funnels, connectors, adaptors, clamps, ring bolts, pipes, pipe supports, tool rentals, dunnage, selvage, rummage,

damage and incidentals 200.00

Total .................. 3.944.09

Less payment for allowing one hydro pole on

the lot ............ 10.00

Grand total ............ 3,934.09

To this must be added the price of the land you, yourself, arc going to build the cottage on. Summer cottage lots in Ontario within three hours drive of a city usually start at about $10 a foot and go as high as $50 a foot in the choice locations of Muskoka, 120 miles north of Toronto. Crown land is the cottager’s best bargain, and it’s available in all provinces and territories except Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. You can lease it in Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. You can buy it outright in Ontario (the usual price is $2.50 a shoreline foot plus $150 survey charge). In Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories you can either buy it or lease it. And in every province and territory, you'll probably find a cottager there ahead of you. putting up a prefab that is immeasurably more exciting to look at and live in than the full-time house he just left in the city. ★