Meander Valley Gazette

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High-end product at a mid-range price

BusinessJoanne EisemannComment
Warren-French.jpg

JUNE 2018 | Cody Handley

A SMALL Westbury business is revolutionising the way we build.

Valley Workshop is a prefabrication business that designs and constructs buildings that are quite advanced by Australian standards. Their most recent project was the hiking hut at Frenchman’s Cap, paid for in partnership by Dick Smith and Parks and Wildlife.

Make no mistake, these buildings are no ordinary, mass produced pre-fab jobs.

Every building is uniquely designed, with every component individually made to fit the whole. Materials are highly prefabricated to include insulation, cladding, windows and allowances for plumbing and electrical, all ready to go.

Take the Frenchman’s Cap hut, for example. The hut is an energy efficient, highly insulated building with its own mini hydro system to supply heating and limited power.

The hut had to be extremely versatile to cope with erratic weather conditions. During construction, the crew experienced snow on site where the day before had been 37 degrees!

Due to the location, materials were flown in by helicopter in bundles weighing no more than 800kg. The material is designed to fit together for quick construction; so much so, that the floor went down in roughly one hour!

Owner, Warren French, said the design process has to comply with two simple criteria: “is it a manageable weight?” and “will it fit on the truck?”

“The way it works is fundamentally different to traditional building and tends not to be the realm of regular, traditionally trained carpenters,” he said. “We’re almost better off with a complete novice than trying to retrain someone with preconceived ideas.” Warren said he chose to start his business in Westbury as he was a local, and deliberately sources local, Tasmanian materials. Their plywood comes from Smithton, their hardwood from George Town, with the aim of offering a high-end product at a midrange price.

The benefits of Valley Workshop’s designs are that they are much better for the environment by way of superior insulation which increases performance and comfort.

“The housing debate is all about insulation and reducing reliance on electricity. Carbon footprint awareness is starting to happen at a grassroots level but isn’t influencing the mainstream building industry yet,” said Warren.

Warren has 30 years of pre-fab experience. He seriously started researching advanced pre-fab in 2008, and won an award which included $10,000 which he used to travel overseas to learn from other countries.

“Australia is a long way behind with the way we build,” he said. “Condensation is damaging a third of all new houses as it’s not a well understood problem.”

However, Warren says the TV show Grand Designs has changed the way people think about pre-fab. “That program has been good for my business. It makes people think beyond the ordinary.”

Warren runs the business with his daughter, who handles the building operation. Warren said he is hoping to recruit a young architect but is having trouble finding someone who wants to stay local.

Valley Workshop is currently in the preliminary design phase for a house to be built in Deloraine.

Photo | Mike Moores