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Laneway Expert Series: R-Hauz




Ever since the inception of the laneway suite movement, forward thinking

professionals in the building industry took a leap of faith by using their knowledge

and fundamentals of design and construction to pioneer the development of

laneway suites in Toronto. As the interest in laneway suites among the general

public grows, experts in this field, (including designers, suppliers, and builders) are

being provided with new opportunities to showcase their innovative visions and

technical prowess. We at TurnKey wanted to highlight experts who have made

significant contributions in the new and innovative laneway industry in Toronto. In

this segment of the Laneway Expert Series, we’re featuring R-Hauz.


What happens when 30+ years of sales and marketing, construction, and approvals

are packaged into a forward-thinking development company? Well...you get the R-

Hauz team piloting affordable and scalable laneway housing. The company was

founded by Leith Moore and Michael Barker in 2017 with an emphasis on employing

innovative building methods to make the next generation of housing more feasible

for homeowners. We had the privilege of interviewing Francesca Mackinnon

(Marketing Director) and Catherine Krug (Product Director). Together they shared

wonderful insights on the company’s humble beginnings and experiences thus far.

Catherine previously worked on large scale development projects as an urban

planner and was drawn to the laneway space because of the opportunity to make a

significant impact quickly which is a bit different when compared to the 10+ years

cycle time of many high rise buildings.


Their first design project posed unique complexities because their approach is

different from a traditional build. Traditionally, new builds leave the collaboration of

contractors until the end of the project — this increases the risk of coordination and

scheduling issues. Instead R-Hauz uses Building Information Modeling (BIM) to

collaborate with trades (mechanical, electrical, plumbing, etc.) early in the approvals

process. This combined with their off-site production reduces the build time,

improves the quality, and makes the suites more affordable. However, a tremendous

amount of planning goes on in the background to provide a beautiful and realistic

model that homeowners can visualize upfront. Additionally, R-Hauz’s building method offers a high quality alternative to the current building code and therefore

went through a rigorous approval process.


"Clients appreciate the cost and time savings that pre-set options offer."

Within the laneway space, a popular question is the impact that 3D technology has

on the design process. This technology makes the process more accessible to

homeowners because they can see a representation of the suite virtually versus

having to interpret 2D design drawings — this can be more difficult to conceptualize

and render the process less accessible to the typical homeowner client. Francesca

indicated that the challenge lies in communicating to homeowners that the on-

demand visual options must still be supported by the prefabricated methodology,

therefore some elements may not be as customizable as clients are used to. Despite

this, many clients enjoy the options that are presented and appreciate the cost and

time savings that these conveniences offer.


A second misconception stems from the terms ‘Modular’ and ‘Prefabricated’ as

they’re sometimes thought to compromise quality. However, this could not be

further from the truth, and the team at R-Hauz is taking it further by utilizing mass

timber in their builds. Although the rate of adoption is moving as expected,

Catherine believes that prefabricated construction will continue to prove itself over

time as misconceptions are quelled and mental barriers are broken. Given the

significant demand for new construction in the city, she feels like the industry was

primed and ready to make a shift to a remote style of working so the pandemic just

accelerated this change. Francesca mentioned that anyone used to a high rise

condo can go see their Queen Street East project and immediately experience the

wonderful smell, airy feel, and improved quality that it offers. Nearby residents

who’ve seen the project have had expectations blown away as it draws similarities to

that of a luxury rental.


"Once more people see them being built the value will become more apparent."


The infancy of the laneway space is paving the way for innovation and challenging

designers, builders, and the city to scale existing processes. We asked the R-Hauz

team if they could rate the amount of homeowners who have utilized their laneway

eligible properties to build laneway suites from 1-10 (10 being the majority of eligible

homeowners). The R-Hauz team said the city has done a great job in pushing

the by-law to make it more accessible to homeowners trying to build laneway suites

and this is creating a lot of demand. Despite this, they rate the uptake of

homeowners seeking to build laneway suites as a 5/10 because Toronto is only on the

brink of seeing the suites built in volume. Francesca especially thinks that once more

people see them being built the value will become more apparent.


Their current clients are most attracted to laneway suites because of the versatility.

Laneway suites can first be used to house a family member, and as time elapses, the

space can then be used as a rental. As real estate prices continue to soar, people buying new houses will look for a house on a public laneway due to the possibility of

income generation — especially if the property doesn't have a secondary unit or

basement. As a matter of fact, Francesca expects that many prospective buyers are

seeking properties that offer a secondary unit or basement apartment. As property

prices rise, it becomes more attractive and necessary to have an option for rental

income from a secondary unit, whether that be the potential for a laneway suite,

garden suite, or in house apartment.


The team understands that not all homeowners seek income and mentioned that as

Garden suites become a reality they can satisfy multigenerational housing needs.

Their side yard access offers a more integrated feel as opposed to a separate

laneway access and this is an advantage when keeping aging relatives close. Garden

suites present the opportunity to delay placing relatives in public or even private

homes which can be absurdly expensive. Francesca mentioned that three

generations existing on one property is not uncommon in other countries so

providing this opportunity along with increased independence of a backyard seems

better suited for the Toronto culture. The team believes the laneway space lacks

awareness and the sensitivity of certain neighbourhoods can introduce an element of

fear since building a suite may be seen as a bold endeavour. As laneway suites

become more normalized, the question of impact in a neighbourhood will gradually

be a thing of the past. With increased demand, issues of supply chain may become

more prominent which will lead to price uncertainty similar to what we’re

experiencing now from the pandemic.


Zero to Laneway Suite in one day

One of Catherine’s best moments was going through the process and being able to see the first suite come to fruition. Francesca fondly remembers being in an interview with Catherine as they toured features of the first suite. She gained monumental appreciation for their technology after that experience and it has fuelled her ever since. In addition, both Catherine and Francesca recall the expression on neighbours’ faces having left for work seeing no laneway suite in the morning then returning home to a building envelope before sunset.


If they could do it all over again, the team noted that they would’ve adopted a

mindset of patience earlier on and let the growth of this unprecedented typology

speak for itself. Whether it’s urban planning, production, sales, or construction the

new opportunity the laneway space provides allows professionals to display the very

skills and innovation that have contributed in making Toronto the great city that it is

today.


Key lessons the team shared were:


1) Have patience — Progress can go unnoticed when you're so caught up

on your project going perfect.


2) Trust the process — There is often complexity in new builds and a level

of chaos in construction, however, great processes provide certainty

and alleviate stress.


#Toronto #LanewaySuites #TurnKey #AffordableHousing #TorontoDoesItDifferent #3DDesign #Prefabricated #BackyardHomes

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