East Coast Panelized Wall Systems – Combining time-tested building methods with modern technology

We look back at our conversation with Tim Clattenburg, owner of East Coast Panelized Wall Systems in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, and learn about the lack of innovative in the construction industry, especially on the residential side of the industry.  He has an interesting take on the way most companies go about a stick-frame job, as he says, “The job is exposed to the elements the whole build. I mean, you wouldn’t build a car out in the parking lot.” Panelized wall systems, or prefabricated “pre-fab” wall systems, combine time-tested building methods with modern technology which are built in a quality and climate-controlled environment, this innovative method delivers customizable, energy efficient, beautiful new homes and structures all while saving the customer money and time.

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So often here at Spotlight on Business magazine we chat with successful business owners like Tim Clattenburg and learn that it was necessity that brought them to where they are today. “Necessity and a lot of time and patience, too,” he laughed. “I started a construction company 19 years ago. We were doing a lot of new homes, a lot of framing, things like that, and we built all year round. But in a lot of cases working outside in this part of the world just isn’t feasible in winter. I always thought there must be a better way, a faster way to frame buildings so I did a lot of research and invested a lot of money into a pre-fab wall panel facility for both commercial and residential wood-frame projects. Everything is done inside in a climate-controlled environment. Off-site building really is the future and it really is the way to go. I’ve been at this for 28 years and there are still times when I do things the old way but what you want is quicker when it’s your own buck and that was the thinking behind East Coast Panelized Wall Systems: be more efficient.”

East Coast Panelized Wall Systems provides “a complete system,” Tim explained. “It’s pre-fab walls and floor panels, everything you need up-to the trusses. We also have options for exterior sheathing, an insulating sheathing that can be applied to the walls. We also do rain-drain systems and prepare openings for windows. When you stand these walls up they’re completely ready for siding installation and window installation. There are only a few tie-ins that need to happen but it completely eliminates the need to put-up staging all around your project. It’s a lot easier – and safer and cheaper – when everything is flat in front of you on the tilt tables at our facility.”

If you’re a fan of How it’s Made, the YouTube video of the Panels Plus system that Tim and his team use at the East Coast Panelized Wall Systems worksite in Liverpool is worth a look. From the component table, to the framing table, to the squaring table, and then finally the sheathing bridge, the whole process is mesmerizing. The YouTube video is embedded at eastcoastpanelizedwalls.com. 

The Panels Plus employs computerized cutting and marking which provides better detailing and improves durability and air-tightness.

“We’re trying to save people money and time and one of the best ways to do that is cut-down on the framing time,” Tim explained. “Say you’ve been given a 14-week window to frame a building as an estimate – we can knock eight weeks off of that. In an 1,800 to 2,000 square-foot house, we can be up to the roof in one day on-site. We’re talking about having a building up, completely framed in three days compared to three weeks. You can also look at it this way: you’re not only seeing a savings of 20 percent with us; you’re also saving two months on a project. You’re not going to see a bunch of guys constantly on-site; the electricians and plumbers and everyone is getting in sooner than they would have and you can get in your place quicker.”

Tim continued.

“If you look at what home owners and business owners invest in these projects – I mean we’re talking anywhere between $200,000 and three-quarters of a million dollars and then you consider the safety issues that come with contractors, it gets expensive fast. We eliminate so much time, so much waste, so many of those safety issues – not to mention other labour-related issues like skilled workers shortages. I live in a rural area and that means that every guy on my team is a Jack of all trades. We don’t have the sub-trade positions, the specialty guys like you have in a big city who just focus on one element of a build – we have to do it all. We don’t have the siding guys or the roofers, or the trim guys, or the foundation guys, or the window specialists. We’re the old school carpentry in that we do everything but we’re ahead of the curve at the same time because of what we’re offering.”

For Tim, it’s buyer beware in the residential and commercial construction industries.  The lowest bidder isn’t always the most economical choice, he explained. “A lot of developers only care about finding the cheapest labour they can so their bids seem better and the framers are working for peanuts, I’ve seen it. They don’t care if it takes two weeks or two years, they’re paying the per square-foot price for their workers. I was on these sites as a young man, I know how it works: you’re there six-weeks and the work starts going slower and slower and then weather becomes a factor for days on end. You just have to wonder why so many people still choose to do it that way,” he said.

If you’re wondering if anything gets lost in translation, as it were, with the Panels Plus system, Tim assured me that the process is “exactly” the same. “You’re standing on a floor, you put two plates down, some studs on it, you put plywood on it and then what do we do? We stand a section of the wall up. Then we put more plates on the floor, more studs, a window opening, more plywood, then we stand that section up and nail the two together. We can make these walls as long as you need or as short as you need – it’s completely customizable. If we’re talking a standard room that’s 30-feet deep, that’s three 10-foot panels, which can be manually stood-up by two of my guys. Sometimes, depending on the height of the wall, they might need help from a backhoe or a small crane. But in many cases they can just take the bundles and put them right on the floor and fit them and just keep going. There’s no difference between panelizing and stick-framing on-site but if you go our way you save weeks of on-site labour, you get around a bulk of the safety-related issues that slow down a build, and you reduce on-site waste-related issues.”

Tim is serious about East Coast Panelized Wall System’s guarantee of faster occupancy for the home owner. His homes are built 40 percent faster than site-built homes and a big reason for that is in the details, he explained. “As a builder myself, I know how to bundle these up. I’ve figured out a reverse order; the one my guys need to start isn’t going to be on the bottom of the pile. When us old guys get out of the trade, all the young guys are going to want something easy,” Tim laughed. “They’re not going to want to stand out in the minus-thirty degree weather with their eyelids sticking together like we did. They want the job done yesterday!”

East Coast Panelized Wall System guarantees quality, safety and customer satisfaction as well as guaranteed pricing and delivery.

“And I’m available 24/7 for all our clients. We’re local first; but I can export, I can do all those things. A lot of people in New Brunswick are really getting on board with panelization; a lot of businesses in Halifax also see the benefits of panels. It’s exciting moving forward.”

by Jamie Barrie