ORCA LGS CANADA established their Courtenay factory and headquarters in April 2019, bringing their innovative building and design process to the Comox Valley. Their methods of light gauge steel construction and cutting edge manufacturing and design technologies have been developed, tested, and refined over more than two decades by UK-based ORCA LGS.

Since opening the Comox Valley location, ORCA LGS CANADA has fulfilled custom orders for diverse structures around the Valley and beyond, including homes, auxiliary buildings, and workshops. Times continue to change, and ORCA LGS CANADA meets new industry, environmental, and housing challenges with the rollout of their cutting-edge modular units — ORCA PODS.

CEO of ORCA LGS CANADA, Kirk-Michael Fraser, answers some questions about the company’s newest direction:

Q: To this point, ORCA has been know for custom builds. What brought about this change in direction for ORCA? Why the focus on pre-built, modular units?

A: We saw a need in the market for sustainable, healthy homes with a contemporary finish that were still affordable. The demand for this product has been outstanding so ORCA has decided to focus on this market.

Q: Tell me a bit about these PODs. What makes them different from traditional modular housing structures?

A: The ORCA PODs are all built in a controlled ORCA site located in the Comox Valley. Unlike a traditional modular build, however, the homes are built with high quality finishes very similar to a custom home. We include wide plank engineered hardwood, quartz countertops, large porcelain tiles in the bathrooms and custom tiled backsplash in the kitchens. The PODs include well-thought-out storage and integrated furniture throughout.

The most important factor in our builds, however, starts with the way the home is finished internally. The LGS frames do not rot, mould, or have any damage from insects and the exterior steel allows for a very low maintenance home.

Q: There are many known benefits to using light gauge steel over traditional construction methods (time, cost, sustainability, flexibility, longevity)—do you see the PODS as a way to enhance these benefits?

A: Yes, the PODs can be built quicker than a traditional build and because of the shortened timeline the labour cost is substantially reduced. Because we purchase in larger quantities for the PODs the cost of materials is also reduced. Finally, we choose the best quality materials, steel and metal, that have a longer lifespan than traditional build materials. This reduces maintenance cost in the future for homeowners and also reduces our carbon footprint on the planet.

Q: Are the PODS a one-size-fits-all offering, or are there some options available?

A: We have six floor plans ranging from our smallest unit, the Jay, which is our one bedroom, one bathroom 375 square foot POD to the Osprey, which is our three bedroom, two bathroom 1505 square foot unit. All of our units can either be finished to lock-up stage (completely weather and watertight) which allows customers to custom-finish the POD the way they want, or we can fully finish the unit, complete with ORCA’s beautiful fixtures and design palettes.

Q: ORCA’s existing plans, such as the Blackbird, feature a sleek, West Coast Modern aesthetic, with striking combinations of natural and manufactured elements and an attention to merging indoors with outdoors. Will this ORCA “look” extend to the PODS? And in what ways?

A: We have maintained the West Coast Modern look with our ORCA PODs. The homes are finished with an exterior standing steel metal that not only looks clean but is low maintenance. We also include a natural wood finish with a high endurance stain in either a natural or driftwood colour that complements that standing steel. The homes include sliding doors and large windows to allow for a lot of natural light. Finally, the interiors are finished with natural stone and wood to bring the outdoors in.

Q: Are these units fully customizable or are there set design palettes for customers to choose from?

A: Many choices have been made as far as kitchen cabinetry and countertop options; however, there is the ability to change up some of the design elements between Daybreak and Twilight, our colour palettes. For example, if a customer is looking for light cabinetry and countertops this can be interchanged. If a customer desires full customization, ORCA will complete the unit to lock-up stage and customers can finish the interior from that point.

Q: Are there opportunities to upgrade certain aspects, for example in a traditional build a client might choose particular fixtures or finishings that are higher quality than the “base” model?

A: There are different flooring options (e.g., vinyl verses hardwood) or the option of custom tiling for the bathroom walls. There are upgrades to different bathroom sinks and fixtures available as well; however, we have chosen high quality fixtures, lighting, and flooring so that customers can be guaranteed a great quality product no matter which unit they choose.

Q: Can you share a bit about the key elements of the process? What are the stages a customer can expect their ORCA POD to pass through from sealing the deal to finished structure?

A: The first stage is finding the right floor plan for the customer which depends on the needs of the customer and needs/restrictions of the site. ORCA can look at site location and determine which unit will work best.

Step two is to look at the design option (Daybreak or Twilight) and make decisions on some of the finishes that we offer. We have streamlined this for customers, choosing beautiful, high quality fixture and finish options to help make decisions easier.

Once this is complete, we put the build into our production calendar and source the materials we need.

The next step is to produce the POD in our factory. Frames are built. The exteriors are finished and then the interior finishing stage begins. We keep our customers up to date within these stages by sending photos of the PODs as they are built, all the way up to the final step—delivery day!

Q: ORCA is known for excellent communication with customers throughout custom builds. Can potential clients expect a similar experience with an ORCA POD?

A: Yes, like I mentioned, we want to keep our customers involved in the build process. We map out the full build so customers are aware of what is happening with their home, what needs to be happening on site, and we keep on top of timelines on both ORCA’s side and the customer’s side so we can stay on track. Photos of the build process allow customers to see their homes being built.

Q: A key concern on everyone’s mind these days is cost. Can you point out one or two cost benefits of choosing an ORCA POD over a custom build?

A: Building set products in a controlled environment means we can purchase materials in bulk, allowing for cost savings to be passed on to customers. Having a factory allows ORCA, not weather or site delays, to control timelines, which reduces labour costs. As they say, “time is money,” so keeping that timeline in check in the factory means that we can keep costs down, and pass those savings on to our customers.

Q: Another issue that people are thinking a lot about is our environment and how we are increasingly affected by changes in Earth’s climate. Can you share a bit about how choosing an ORCA POD over a traditional build can help mitigate current environmental concerns?

A: ORCA is highly committed to the health and sustainability of both the planet and our products. Our affordable, quality homes are designed and built to last (longer than 100 years!). LGS framing is fire and flood resilient. Interior environmental concerns such as mould and vermin are not an issue as they can often be with traditional wood framing. There is very little waste generated from LGS construction and what is can be recycled. Less wood used in construction means more trees in our forests doing their important work of keeping our planet healthy.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add or highlight about ORCA PODS or your vision moving forward?

A: We at ORCA have spent a lot of time, expertise, and creativity dreaming up our beautifully designed homes. We are excited to bring our sustainable, green, healthy PODs to the Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, and beyond. Come down to our showroom and take a look at our design options!