Somewhere outside Erin, Ontario, about an hour’s drive from Toronto, and surrounded on all sides by farmland, a house like no other in Ontario has almost finished being constructed, or to put it more accurately, has almost finished being assembled. There was no cutting, piercing or welding on this building site. Instead the galvanized light steel frame, as well as the floors, roof, windows and insulation for the 3,450 square foot structure, were snapped together using little more than a bag of screws, a hand drill and muscle. It is billed by its designers as “a house without nails” and it is their hope that it will revolutionize the home-building industry in Canada and beyond.

BONE Structure Erin OntarioThe back of BONE Structure's Erin, Ontario home as it awaits cladding, image by Craig White

This is BONE Structure’s first home in Ontario. The Laval-based company, which was founded in 2005 by former Bombardier executive, Marc A. Bovet, and which has designed over 150 homes in Quebec, is now expanding across Canada. They currently have almost 40 homes planned for Ontario this year, including 10 in the GTA, the first of which is to be completed in Don Mills. Last week UrbanToronto was invited to an open house held by the company at its unfinished Erin, Ontario building site.

BONE Structure Erin OntarioThe front of the home with a billboard displaying how the project will look when complete, image by Craig White

Understanding what makes BONE Structure homes unique requires a basic understanding of the growing trend of prefabricated homes. ‘Prefabricated home’ is an umbrella term describing any type of home in which the principal building components of the home are manufactured off-site, and includes a wide variety of building methods.

Perhaps the most well-known is the 'modular home' in which factory-made sections or “modules” consisting of whole rooms (or more) are transported to the building site then assembled by crane. With 'panelized homes', whole finished walls or “panels”, complete with windows, doors, insulation, wiring and siding, are manufactured, transported to and assembled on-site, rather than entire sections of the home. A third type, 'precut homes', arrive on-site the least finished. They are essentially homes in a kit, in which all the timber and other building materials required to build the building’s basic structure are measured and “pre-cut” at the factory, but are otherwise unassembled. Like precut homes, the components of a BONE Structure home are prefabricated and are fully assembled on-site.

Unfinished BONE Structure wall light steel frame and rigid insulation panelAn unfinished BONE Structure wall showing the light steel frame and rigid insulation panels, image by Craig White

What distinguishes BONE Structure homes from precut homes is that they are made of a light steel rather than wooden frame, making them more durable. Furthermore the steel beams, rigid wall insulation panels, plywood decking and joists in every BONE Structure home are standardized and designed to snap together much like Lego. And like Lego, BONE Structure components can be combined in a virtually unlimited number of arrangements.

Compared to conventional stick-built homes, BONE Structure homes are easier and faster to build, minimize opportunities for human error and reduce waste. The company claims that the steel structure of a typical BONE Structure home can be assembled and insulated in just days, and that a completely finished home can be built in less than 12 weeks. The company also claims that a typical BONE Structure home produces the equivalent of three 40-cubic-yard dumpsters less waste than a conventional build, thereby saving the owner money on building materials.

Additionally, BONE Structure provides buyers with the option of having their home sealed with a spray foam urethane, which they claim is better at keeping out moisture and potentially hazardous moulds than conventional vapour barriers that are secured by staples.

BONE Structure floor decking and floor joistsSpace for pipes and other services between the floor decking and floor joists, image by Craig White

Because of the steel frame design, BONE Structure enables buyers to design spaces measuring up to 25 feet in length without any load bearing walls or pillars. This allows home owners to transform the inner partitions of their home more easily over time. The steel frame design also allows for expansive windows and customized ceiling heights.

Ground floor of BONE Structure homeGround floor of the BONE Structure home, image by Craig White

Though the home pictured in this article is only one floor with a basement, BONE Structure homes are capable of reaching up to four floors.

Basement of BONE Structure homeBasement of the BONE Structure home, image by Craig White

Though the construction methods of modular, panelized and precut homes vary, to the casual observer the building materials and structural configurations are often indistinguishable from your typical stick-built wooden home. This is not so with BONE Structure homes, which due to their steel frames and standardized building components, feature contemporary modern designs with clean lines and rectangular forms.

BONE Structure offers buyers a catalogue of model plans from which to choose, but because of the versatility of design offered by this method of home building, approximately 80% of their buyers choose to either modify an existing plan or to design a fully customized plan. Additionally, all finishing materials and building mechanical systems that are used in the construction of traditional houses can also be used with a BONE Structure home.

BONE Structure Model 85BONE Structure Model 85, image courtesy of BONE Structure

Depending on the design, a BONE Structure home consisting of only the steel structure, insulated wall panels, ceilings and floor decking will cost approximately $40 to $45 per square foot for each floor and $20 per square foot for a basement. This does not include the costs of windows, doors and other finishing accoutrements which may vary in price. BONE Structure can also deliver a turnkey home costing approximately $200 to $225 per square foot for each floor, $135 to $150 per square foot for a basement and $100 to $115 per square foot for a garage.

BONE Structure designs are also not limited to homes. In the last year the company has built four commercial buildings with plans for more in the future. Though BONE Structure’s designs do not come LEED-certified, the company will provide buyers who wish to apply for the certification with the relevant data.

BONE Structure BRIO Smart CarwashBRIO Smart Carwash built using Bone Structure technology, image courtesy of Bone Structure

UrbanToronto will be following BONE Structure's expansion into the GTA and will have further updates for our readers as they come. Stay tuned!

Rami Kozman is a commercial real estate lawyer in Toronto and can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/ramikozman.