Factory-built homes offer all the amenities of traditionally
built homes, often at reduced cost and increased quality.
Modular homes are like the hybrid car of the house-building
industry. They save money, they make sense, but they haven't
caught on yet. General misconceptions keep many from considering
going modular, and the confusion between modular homes and
manufactured (mobile) homes has led to regulations and restrictions
being placed by towns that have new home builders scared into
going the traditional route. But the word is getting out.
It turns out modular homes are in many ways superior to stick-built
homes, and, once assembled, cannot be distinguished from their
traditionally built counterpart.
What is a Modular Home?
"There is no such thing as a modular home," states
Dave Boniello, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Simplex
Industries, a Pennsylvania-based modular home manufacturer.
It is a matter of the literal meaning of the word modular,
which insinuates a standardized unit or repeatedly used structural
component. "The modular homes industry uses a system-built
technology," Boniello explains. "The homes are built
in a factory in a controlled environment. They are built in
Simply put, a modular home is one that is built in a factory,
usually in assembly-line fashion, and then transported to
a site in large units. These units are then lifted from the
transport by crane and rested on a pre-built foundation and
fastened together. The entire process takes a fraction of
the time it takes to build a house on-site, and the finished
product can cost a good deal less.
Customize, Customize, Customize
"There is nothing you cannot do with a modular home."
So says Chad Harvey, the Assistant Director of Government
Affairs with the Modular Building Systems Association. Harvey,
who splits his time between apprising Association members
of any new industry regulations and seeking new ways to educate
the public on the benefits of modular homes, is a firm believer
in the industry he represents. "Anything you want in
a modular home, you can have."
Many people incorrectly equate modular homes with manufactured
or mobile homes. To these people a modular home is a one-size-fits-all
boxy construct made of low-end materials and generic products.
"The biggest public misconception on modular homes is
that you can only build what is in the brochure," Boniello
explains. The ability to fully customize is just one of many
distinctions between modular and manufactured housing that
Boniello wants the public to be clear on.
Modular homes today can be built to any specification and
any size. From a simple one-and-a-half split-level ranch to
a grand, three-bath, 3000+ square foot two story – the
industry has it covered. And any amenity one can think of
can be included. Think whirlpool bath in the master suite,
granite countertops in the kitchen, or even structured wiring
in every room. Although most modular home companies use the
same product for each component of each house on the assembly
line, it is still possible to substitute another brand to
suit a homeowner's desires.
The Process of Building a Modular Home
Once a potential homeowner has decided to go with a modular
home, there are a few steps to take that are relatively consistent
regardless of which modular home building company one is working
First a homeowner must select a modular home manufacturer.
The majority of manufacturers are located on the East Coast,
and some are very specific as to what states they will ship
their homes. Since it is usually necessary to include a local
builder or developer in the process it may be helpful to consult
with this party for advice on manufacturers. Many local developers
have established relationships with certain manufacturers,
so this is a good place to start.
After a local developer and manufacturer have been decided
on, the homeowner must choose a floor plan and select from
a wide range of options. When these decisions have been made
and an initial contract is signed, the manufacturer's engineering
staff overlooks the plans and the factory can go to work on
constructing the home.
Once the manufacturer has begun building the home in the
factory, it is usually just a matter of weeks before the units
are ready for transport. As the work in the factory is taking
place, on-site construction of the home's foundation by the
local builder is being done to ready the site for the arrival
of the home. "Because the foundation is being laid on-site
as the home is being built in the factory, the overall construction
time is dramatically reduced," says Harvey.
The modular home is then shipped to the site on flatbed trucks.
The units are then placed by crane onto the foundation, and
the entire home is fastened together. At this point, the amount
of time until the homeowner can move in depends on a number
of things. "Some customers want to put on custom trims,
or finish the basement," says Boniello. There are plumbing
and electrical tie-ins to address as well. Completion time
after the units have been placed can be anywhere from a couple
weeks for simple designs to 90 days for complex custom jobs.
The average completion time from initial order to move-in
is roughly three months, compared to an average completion
time of about six months to a year for a site-built home.
While this may seem a matter of opinion, there are a few areas
in which modular homes have stick-built homes at-large beat.
"Modular homes," Harvey declares, "are built
with 20 to 30 percent more materials than typical stick-built
homes because they have to withstand the transport from the
factory to the site." In a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management
Agency) study following the Hurricane Andrew in 1992, it was
found that wood-frame modular homes in hard-hit Dade County,
Florida, stood up to the devastating winds better than stick-built
homes. The finding states: "Overall, relatively minimal
structural damage was noted in modular housing…"
The report also points out that the construction method of
modular homes "provided an inherently rigid system that
performed much better than conventional residential framing."
The use of more materials also equals greater energy efficiency
– another money-saver.
Modular homes are built in a factory. This is a controlled
environment that is unaffected by variables that plague site-built
homes, such as poor weather and theft or vandalism. Not only
does this cut down on construction time (which saves money)
it can lead to a better product. A quality modular home is
assembled using top-shelf products that can be purchased by
the modular home manufacturer from suppliers in large quantities
at reduced costs. "We're not ashamed of the products
we use," says Boniello. "We can guarantee brand
names. Site-builders use what's on-hand…what's available.
They don't have a Purchasing Department who can source products
like we can."
Modular homes are built to the state and local regulations
of wherever the home is to be transported. In order to assure
that each home passes inspection, every manufacturer's factory
has third-party inspection. This means every step of the home's
construction is reviewed and checked by inspectors who are
up-to-date on the state and local codes of the home's final
destination. "Our homes do not leave the factory until
they meet or exceed state code," says Boniello.
Purchasing a modular home can save money. While it is impossible
to affix an exact figure, Boniello suggests savings can be
anywhere from 5 to 25 percent over building traditionally.
Right now the modular home industry accounts for 7 to 8 percent
of all new home sales. But that number is on the increase
as the public becomes more educated on the superior qualities
of the modular home. "Modular housing is coming into
its own," Harvey summarizes. "The South and West
coasts are largely untapped frontiers [for the industry].
There is no reason why sales won't continue to increase. The
future outlook is very strong."
Text by Benjamin Hardy
Copyright BobVila.com © 2004