Shortages of skilled construction labour, coupled with steadily increasing material and energy costs, make meeting construction deadlines and budgets a challenge for residential developers and renovators. Private land owners who need accessory structures may be faced with similar problems if they want to add permanent buildings to their real estate. One innovative Ontario-based company offers technically "temporary," but still long-lasting, shelter solutions designed for simple do-it-yourself-assembly.
Although Multi Shelter Solutions Ltd. (MSS) does not build houses, its plastic-covered, metal-frame structures can expand the living area around cottages, patios, pools, trailers and docks, and provide shelter for a wide range of business and agricultural activities. Since no concrete is used in construction, most building permits class the structures as "temporary" and enact less stringent requirements.
"We started out only catering to nurseries and greenhouses, and a little bit the home owner," said shelter designer Norm Eygenraam, President of MSS. "This has really evolved so that anyone who needs an economical shelter is a customer. There's nothing that is so bizarre that we haven't done it already. We regularly get requests from people who need shelter for a boat and trailer and need some height. Then one man said 'not park my boat in it, I want this to go on my boat -- 20 foot wide by 68 feet' -- and I showed him how to modify it on-site -- on the converted fishing trawler he was living on. He puts it on in late fall to keep the weather off and expand [the] living area so he goes sailing down the St Lawrence with a greenhouse on [board]."
MSS has designed economical, erect-it-yourself shelters for many who wanted an out-building to meet their need for waterproof storage, sheltering livestock, adding a workshop, creating a greenhouse, or increasing covered space at home or at the cottage. Shelter applications are as varied as MSS clients. Agriculture Canada has installed rails on the MSS greenhouses it uses for toxicology research, so that the shelters can be quickly moved to protect test areas at the first sign of rain. Farmers report that raising livestock within greenhouse-like structures has advantages, too. Lambs and calves born and raised in natural light grow faster, stay cleaner and require less medication, which makes them attractive at livestock sales.
Eygenraam spent almost 15 years constructing greenhouses and a few more selling for a manufacturer before circumstances led him to start his own business.
"It evolved into something that I saw as a very specific need–into what I saw as a specific product, and now we only sell what we manufacture -- a response to what I found irritating about other companies' products,"said Eygenraam.
The durable, easily-erected MSS greenhouses and other structures are affordable and adaptable for many reasons:
- In greenhouses, the most costly component is the light-filtering covering. Glass is expensive, partly because its weight must be supported by reinforced frames. Plastic sheeting is usually cheaper even though it may have to be replaced in about 6 years. Single ply plastic is used for seasonal applications, while expansion applications, usually employ the 12 millimeter, 3-ply waterproof material available in clear, opaque for storage or white for rearing livestock.
- Frame designs eliminate wear points like bolt heads and rib attachments that could shorten the life of the plastic covering, and include roll-up sides for natural ventilation.
- The rectangular steel used provides strength and flexibility of design. For instance, the type of arch used allows it to be bent to accommodate customer criteria. In an 18-foot fixed space, a standard 20-foot frame can be "squeezed down" or a 16-foot opened up.
- Practicality is key. Designs maximize space by using straight walls and by including variable height options. Extra strength can be achieved simply by decreasing the rib spacing. Peaked roofs facilitate rain and snow run off.
MSS structures start at 10-foot wide and approximately C$500. A kit for a 16 foot by 40 foot greenhouse would cost about C$2,000 while a 30 foot by 148 foot double plastic shelter with roll-up sides may cost about C$8,000.
"There's almost no end to the variations we can offer," explained Eygenraam who has developed a building system with so many standard options that each customer's unit appears to have been customized to their needs. "It's a big Meccano set and one thing that we really stress is the simplicity of our product. We don't have a crew putting these up for people. We give you a set of very detailed instructions -- a 28-page booklet."
Eygenraam cares about the success of his structures. When a Nova Scotia group bought a number of structures, Eygenraam loaded up his truck and went east to reduce shipping costs and ensure the job was done right.
"It's the little things that you don't see, and you don't say these things as it sounds nitpicking, but people realize after the fact that it is a big deal," said Eygenraam, explaining he did not aim to make his structures the strongest or the cheapest, but the most adaptable. "The strong point of my company is the flexibility of the product. When a customer calls, we ask 'What are you trying to accomplish?' and 'What is your wish list?' We can accomplish a wish list without adding to the price."