Wood has become a major construction trend during the last decade because of its inherent beauty and sustainability. However, wood construction has always taken a back seat to concrete and steel when it comes to muffling sound transference between floors.
As pioneers of multifamily wood construction, Adera Development needed to create a building system that could compete with those less sustainable materials, and buffer sound just as well.
The company, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019, has a marketing strategy that includes a proprietary technology called QuietHome.
It is a floor joist system that uses dense cross-laminated timber (CLT) to drastically reduce airborne sound and impact sound, such as high heels on a floor. As a result, sound is no longer a customer complaint for the Vancouver company which was founded by certified accountants Ken Mahon and Al Wolrige in 1969.
Ken’s son Kevin Mahon is now Adera’s chief executive officer, carrying on the tradition since the deaths of Wolrige (2011) and his dad (in 2017). The company currently has a staff of about 40 to 50, including site staff.
Adera focuses on condos, townhomes
Adera specializes in condominium and townhouse construction, with hundreds of units currently underway in North Vancouver and Coquitlam.
Its North Vancouver Crest project is 90 per cent sold out, and Duet in Coquitlam is about 60 per cent sold.
It is about to market a townhouse complex in Coquitlam, called Duet Cityhomes.
Adera has also built commercial rental and has recently added residential rental to its portfolio, with projects getting underway in North Vancouver and Coquitlam.
It made sense for Adera to include a conservative long-term rental investment in its portfolio, and municipal approvals on rentals are agreeable in the current climate, said Adam Weir, the company’s vice-president of construction and service.
“I think it is, long term, a great investment for the company and maybe a way to recession-proof the company,” Weir explained.
“It’s to diversify. A lot of companies are doing that right now.”
However, it’s the ability to dampen sound that has been a game-changer for its strata projects, especially during a pandemic when work-at-home spaces have become a key part of marketing.
“This (technology) lets us go head-to-head with standard concrete construction,” said Weir. “And we certainly have testing to back this up, that (shows) we are equivalent, if not better, than conventional concrete construction.”
Weir, who’s been with Adera 29 years, starting with the company as a carpenter recently arrived from the U.K. He recalls acoustical testing as far back as 20 years ago.
A more recent test took place at its Eastlake office and light industrial property, where a two-storey mock-up of a floor and ceiling was built for sound tests. Over a period of six weeks, they tested seven different floor surfaces, including a tapping machine that detected different frequencies.
They continued the testing onsite, at one of the condo properties, and realized they’d finally struck upon the right formula for acoustic damping.
Although the company has built with steel and concrete in the past, its main focus has been wood-frame construction. An increased use of mass timber construction products, including CLT and glulam, was perfect timing in the creation of the QuietHome system.
Embracing wood-frame construction
The company has embraced mass timber as the way forward. It is also a shareholder in Structurlam, a Penticton-based fabricator and designer of prefabricated mass timber products.
Weir said that it was during their 2017 condo project Virtuoso, at the University of B.C., that Adera discovered the efficiency of mass timber construction.
They trucked prefabricated panels for quick placement onto the site, reducing noise and disruption to the surrounding neighbourhood.
Weir said their wood framing efficiency has increased by about 30 to 40 per cent. While crews used to build at a rate of 1,000 square feet per day, it’s up to 1,400 square feet with engineered CLT panels.
“Once you get into working with CLT and mass timber, you realize that it is the evolution of wood frame,” said Weir. “There is a learning curve and there is a lot of upfront work, and a leap of faith that has to be taken, too.
“Nobody had done it with market condominiums before, so we were the first to do so with Virtuoso, and we found where there was a lot of standardized details and methods for conventional framing, there wasn’t for CLT.
“We had to research and develop some systems, and implement some systems, and from doing so, we learned lessons.
“But, it didn’t take us very long to realize even halfway through our first project at Virtuoso that, ‘OK, this is something very different. This is something that is way more efficient, and has a lot of benefits, not only for the course of construction but ultimately to the customer’.”
“The overall quality of the product is far superior to anything that we had worked with before.”
Cost certainty, speed and efficiency
Cost is a benefit, since the price of CLT panels can be locked-in for a year, compared to around three months for dimensional lumber, said Weir.
That can backfire, he added, if the price of lumber falls. And although they are part-owners of Structurlam, they still shop around for competitive prices and the number of worldwide fabricators of CLT is growing.
The biggest benefit, he said, is speed and efficiency of construction. A floor plate assembly that would take a crew of 12 to 16 is done in a day with one crane operator and four CLT placers.
The only problem Weir has these days is that walls take too long to get into place. They’re heavy because of seismic requirements, and as a result they require a crane.
“Now the problem is we can’t stand the walls quick enough to keep up with the CLTs.”
But, the move into prefabricated construction has enabled them to stay on course during the pandemic. They used to be about two weeks ahead of schedule on their projects, and now they’re on schedule, said Weir.
Crest is still set for occupancies in January 2021.
“We are going to be able to hold to all our original dates, and I don’t think we would have been able to do that if we hadn’t been using mass timber,” he said.
“When COVID-19 came down . . . we had a blip for about a week or two, where our manpower on site dropped by about 20 to 30 per cent, and then they started coming back.
“But the beauty with mass timber and CLT construction is you don’t need a great deal of manpower to keep things going.
“As long as we had the right guys there, and we did, we were able to keep it going.”