Toronto just got a new laneway house that takes only four weeks to build

Toronto just got its first modular container laneway suite in the east end.

Ballance Containers, a company specializing in modular display structures, built the modular container laneway suite in Leslieville. The suite is a modern, compact 225-square-foot studio suite with a kitchenette and is connected to the main home’s electrical, water and sanitation systems.

The container laneway suite itself cost $80,000. Additional costs included delivery, permits, site preparation, connections and landscaping which totaled approximately $52,000. In comparison, rental prices in the GTA for a small bachelor or one-bedroom are closer to $2,000 per month plus utilities.

Laneway suites have been touted as a housing solution in Toronto, allowing homeowners and builders to add an additional laneway unit on land for the purpose of renting out, creating additional space in the form of home offices or gyms or to move in family members. But these suites can take months to construct, whereas this modular unit took just a month to build.

The homeowner in this case was looking for an affordable housing option for her retired brother with health issues. In a press release, Ballance founder Eric Ballance explained that the client’s brother was currently renting an apartment in Riverdale for $2,000 a month. As a younger senior, living on a fixed income, his rent was too expensive to be sustainable over the long term.

 

The container laneway suite ended up being a more affordable option for the family. Ballance designed the compact suite based on the client’s needs and property zoning. The laneway suite was fabricated in Ballance’s Mississauga fabrication facility and the suite was delivered by a flatbed truck to the client’s property and craned into position. A road closure permit was required.

“The installation is easier, quicker and a less taxing process for all parties involved,” Balance said.

Modular construction also allows homeowners to add a second level in the future providing they abide by zoning and permit rules.

Ballance Countainers started out in the event and retail industries. Then five years ago, the company began building modified shipping containers for outdoor music festivals. When the COVID-19 pandemic halted the events industry two years ago, the company pivoted again to residential builds. Their first residential product was a backyard office, for a client transitioning to working from home during the pandemic.

Ballance Containers then began building out larger suites, including a small cottage in Muskoka. “Right now on the books for 2022, we’ve got a 3,000 square foot building,” Ballance said. “In our first year, we’ve built 12 [modular homes] and we’ve got over 20 slated for 2022.”

Ballance likes to compare the builds to adult-size lego blocks, because one of the benefits of the modular fabrication process is that they are able to play around with the shape. “They vary in size,” he said.

“The suite downtown was a single unit. But that’s the size that we think is going to be the sweet spot in the garden and laneway suite initiatives in the cities that are docking these as affordable housing solutions for densely populated areas,” Ballance said.

Ballance suspects there is a long way to go before modular container suites are adopted by Toronto and beyond as a potential solution.

“There’s a misnomer that container homes are aesthetically problematic,” he said. “Townships that have not adopted them compare them to how people use storage containers for storage on their property – rusted old eyesores. We’re actually building new containers and finishing them on the inside and outside the way you would a traditional building.”

With faster build times andmore affordable prices for the owner and the builder, it might only be a matter of time before more modular laneway suites pop up around Toronto.