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I spent Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on a trade mission. Our group of Minnesotans – four architects, one home builder, and three representatives of a window distributor – spent two days in Steinbach and Winnipeg, meeting with Canadian manufacturers and architects working with sustainable materials. After I spent Sunday biking around Winnipeg, I met up with the mission Monday.

We departed for Steinbach, Manitoba from the historic (and allegedly haunted) Fort Garry Hotel. For those of you living beneath the 49th parallel, you’ll be relieved to know that summer road construction is not limited to our interstates. We were kept to one lane, pretty much the 65 km from Winnipeg to Steinbach. Fortunately for us, the woman driving our van was a native Austrian, and like most Europeans, knows how to get the most out of a rented Dodge minivan.

We poured out of the vans into the Loewen parking lot around 9. For the next five hours, we watched douglas fir and mahogany get shaped, cut, culled, inspected, clamped, hammered, fitted with aluminum extrusions, and outfitted with hardware and glass in Loewen’s 580,000 square foot facility (that’s 13+ acres). We talked about custom sizes and shapes, quality and optimization, specifying FSC wood (which can be had for about a 20% premium), sustainability, and how Loewen assembles their own glass on the premises. At Locus, we’ve bought Loewen for a half dozen years (through Doug Truax, now of Synergy Products) and have been pleased with the product line. Part of the tour outlined how waste material was handled in the process. Wood offcuts heat the plant in winter, sawdust is collected and sold as animal bedding, and aluminum and glass offcuts are sorted and recycled. We were told even the water used for storm and pressure testing in the research lab is collected and reused. It all makes financial sense of course, but comforting to see it in action.

Loewen Windows in a recent Locus project

Loewen Windows in a recent Locus project

On Tuesday morning, we met with other product manufacturers and inventors in Winnipeg. In a rapid-fire-10-minute-dating type format, we met with other Canadian manufacturing interests. We’ve not used any of these, so the following isn’t an endorsement, but I think we will be following up with these companies.

J Neufeld, Wood Anchor
J offers wood flooring and mouldings from wood that has been reclaimed, landfill diverted, or from trees cut down in urban areas. We’ve been looking for someone that is already doing this for years. Most of the manufacturing is done in Minnesota, at a mill in Cook, north of Virginia.

Neil Krovats & Kristina Yurkiw, Clearline Technologies
Neil & Kristina will unveil a line of products this year at Greenbuild in Phoenix (the link above will show the products after November 2009). Will we see particle board and acoustic tile made from hemp fiber or “hempsulation” in the aisles of Home Depot in the near future? How about hemp cement? These two would like to see it happen with products they are currently bringing to market. As you might expect, Neil had to say, as he handed me the hempsulation sample, “You can’t smoke it.”

Ryan Schade, Terry Johnstone, & Paul Loewen, Accurate Dorwin
Al Dueck, Duxton Windows & Doors
Accurate Dorwin and Duxton (two separate companies) both manufacture windows and doors using pultruded fiberglass. Fiberglass manufacturers argue that the material inherently makes for a window that is more energy efficient, structurally stable, less expensive, and longer lasting than their clad aluminum and wood-based competition. In theory, all these claims may well be true. In a residential application where the window is to be painted, fiberglass is definitely an option to consider, with U-values (inverse of R value) lower than wood and aluminum versions. In our office, we’re more excited by the commercial potential of fiberglass windows and doors in storefronts and curtain walls. Fiberglass conducts much less heat than the more prevalent aluminum.

Special thanks to Pam Olson, Christa Andraos, & Charles Hatzipanayis (Canadian consulate & trade) for transportation, setting up our meetings, making sure we were properly fed and caffeinated, and keeping the conversation stimulating.

Lastly, if you find yourself without your skateboard in Winnipeg (it could happen), stop by the Green Apple skate shop. When I stopped, Mike McDermott, a pro boarder and shop owner, came out from the back to show off his new space. We talked about business while he rung up a couple of autographed Green Apple T-shirts for my boys. As we walked out on Sunday evening, Mike joked while pointing at his sign, “If it doesn’t make it, I’ll just change the word ‘skateshop’ to ‘pub’ and I’ll have plenty of business.” Seems Winnipeg has something in common with Wisconsin.

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