First six-storey wood-frame housing comes to market

Developer Tien Sher Group cites greater affordability as biggest selling point for potential buyers

Suites in the Surrey building sell for $330 to $370 per sq. ft, while suites in concrete buildings go for $425 to $450 per sq. ft, Quattro3's developer says.

Suites in the Surrey building sell for $330 to $370 per sq. ft, while suites in concrete buildings go for $425 to $450 per sq. ft, Quattro3's developer says.

Photograph by: Les Bazso, PNG , Vancouver Sun

The first of two six-storey wood-frame buildings to be built in Metro Vancouver is ready for people to move in, and developers around the province will likely be watching closely.

Quattro3, part of Surrey's largest residential and commercial development, is the Lower Mainland's first six-storey wood-frame condominium to be completed.

Before 2009, wood-frame buildings were capped at a height of four storeys. In 2009, the province changed the building code to allow the construction of six-storey wood-frame buildings as part of the B.C. Wood First Act, aimed to stimulate the province's timber industry as well as the construction industry.

The entire development community will be weighing the pros and cons of six-storey wood-frame buildings.  The advantages are that the per-unit land costs and construction costs are reduced, so the consumer benefits from lower prices than for similar apartments in concrete or four-storey wood-frame buildings; a disadvantage is that they are a bit more complicated to build.

The suites in concrete buildings in Surrey sell for about $425 to $450 per square foot, while those in wood-frame buildings sell for $330 to $370 per square foot.

"Today's market is all about afford-ability, We need products that people want and they don't want anything expensive, but they want nice homes."

Peter Simpson, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association, said other builders are considering building six-storey wood-frame buildings.

"There are builders and developers who will be watching the one in Surrey with great interest. They will be watching this and learning from it - we might see more of them now," Simpson said.

Anne McMullin, president and CEO of The Urban Development Institute, agreed. "Clearly it represents a future trend in B.C. construction," McMul-lin said, adding that the lower cost for consumers is the big advantage offered by this type of building.

"Some people would be willing to pay double for a concrete building, but some might like to pay less and buy in a wood building. It's providing more options for people," McMullin said.

A 425-square-foot studio apartment in Quattro3 sells for $159,000, while a 567-square-foot one-bedroom suite sells for $208,000.

The only other six-storey wood-frame building in the Lower Main-land is the Remy project in Richmond, which is in the process of being rebuilt after a 2011 construction fire destroyed it. The Quattro development also had a fire in 2008, though it was in a different four-storey building.

Len Garis, Surrey's fire chief and president of the Fire Chiefs' Association of B.C., said the fire safety of people living in six-storey wood-frame buildings should be equal to the safety in any other building.

"These buildings are fully sprinklered and our research suggests to us that in a sprinklered building, a fire is likely to never leave the room of origin, has historically never left the floor of origin in a building," Garis said. "Where the sprinkler system needed to operate to put the fire out, it put the fire out."

Garis did have concerns about construction fires in six-storey wood-frame buildings in 2009 when the rules were changed, because protection systems like sprinklers are not usually in place during construction.

After the devastating Quattro and Remy fires, Garis brought in a set of recommendations to improve construction safety, including measures such as having a live security guard, the earlier installation and activation of sprinklers and fire doors and having a detailed safety plan in place during the permit stage.

"These are guidelines, and it's up to the local authority what rigour they're going to put around ensuring they are done," Garis said.

These procedures were all followed at Quattro3, and Garis said his concerns have been addressed.

"But in life, there are no guarantees," Garis said.

"There will be outliers and failures, but those can happen in concrete buildings too. I'm not overly concerned about it."

The Quattro development has another lot that will be developed in the future, either with a four-or six-storey wood-frame building.  The height will depend on the parking requirements put in place by the city.

The Quattro3 is 75 per cent sold, and people started moving in on Thursday.


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