The prefabricated steel company is currently building an eight-storey tower in Langley.
Growing up watching his dad build houses for a living, Harv Sidhu had higher ambitions—quite literally. “At a very young age, I told my dad, I’m going to build towers, even though my dad was building houses,” he says with a laugh.
The first time Sidhu built a house with his dad, he was just 18 years old. And now, as the founder and CEO of Delta-based Build Smartr, Sidhu is building an eight-storey tower in Langley for BC Housing. The Crown agency recruited Sidhu’s prefabricated steel framing company after the initial construction project, which started a number of years ago, caught on fire.
“It was being built out of wood,” Sidhu explains. “They were mid-construction, maybe six storeys up, and then it burnt down during construction and two people actually died in that fire.” So, when the city decreed that the building had to be non-combustible, Build Smartr’s business of using recycled steel to prefabricate buildings fit the bill just right.
For Sidhu, it’s about watching things evolve from conception to reality. His company makes 3D models of homes and buildings before assembling processed steel into panels for all walls, joists and trusses. Each prefab panel is labelled and shipped to sites, and then installed like big Lego blocks at the site.
It also builds fully furnished prefab outdoor rooms that can be placed anywhere, like your backyard. These 100 square foot rooms—which have LED lights, hardwood floors and outlets for electronics—can be used as office or leisure space, and would set you back around $14,000.
“It’s a lot of fun to build houses,” Sidhu maintains. But having built a number of them in the Lower Mainland, he felt the need to address several problems in the industry, including waste, delays and inefficiencies.
“When they send raw wood to the site, 33 percent of it is not actually used in the house—it’s sent to the landfill right away,” he says. “And then everything is made on site. So, depending on how much experience your tradesmen have, and how good the skilled labor is, it’s really up to them as to how well your house is built and how well they follow the engineering plan.
Prefabricating structures using recycled steel in a controlled facility is a sustainable way for Sidhu to tighten loose screws in the construction business. But not everyone sees it that way—especially his dad, who has been building homes out of wood for over 20 years.
“We’re chopping down trees, we’re sending this lumber to the job site and we’re building this house. That’s been true for hundreds of years. So, in [my dad’s] eyes, it’s like, what makes you think you can now change this? He’s supportive, but almost like a very staunch critic.”
There’s a chance that Sidhu’s dad might come on board soon, seeing how Build Smartr has scaled from one project in 2018 to 20 projects in 2023. The company also upgraded from a 3,000 square foot facility to a 5,500 square foot space in 2020.
“We can build these homes faster and cheaper and more sustainably,” Sidhu adds. “We want to use recycled materials and create this kind of circular economy.”