|Maybe you have seen a portion of a pre-built house moving
— hopefully slowly — along a highway to a site
that a family will one day call home. It likely was part of
a modular home, which offers builders and home buyers advantages
about which you should know.
For years, modular homes have been confused with U.S. Department
of Housing and Urban Development code homes, also known as
“manufactured housing.” Unlike HUD code homes,
which have a permanent chassis to allow towing to the home
site, modular homes usually comprise several sections assembled
on the home site. And like a site-built home, modular homes
must meet local code requirements.
A product of systems building, modular homes are constructed
on an assembly line in a climate-controlled factory setting.
Despite a lingering misperception of factory-built housing
as inferior, these homes account for a growing percentage
of new construction.
According to a recent study by The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based
industrial market research firm, the amount of factory- or
systems-built housing will grow 1.2% annually through 2005.
Modular homes account for one of every 10 homes built in
the Northeast, according to the NAHB’s Building Systems
Council. That region ac-counted for 29% of the nation’s
modular activity in 2001. The South Atlantic region was a
close second with 26%, and the Great Lakes region ranked third
The most popular states for modular construction in 2001
were North Carolina, Michigan and New York.
A good many of the homes you see today — perhaps some
of your competitors’ — are modular homes. In 2001,
modular homes accounted for 3% of all single-family homes
constructed, the BSC says. Outside of metropolitan areas,
that figure jumped to 11%.
How They’re Made
In a highly engineered manufacturing process, modular homes
are built in sections called modules. Once built, the modules
undergo a series of quality-control checks in the factory.
After the manufacturing process is complete — typically
with interior finish on the floors, walls and ceilings —
trucks transport the home to its site, place the modules on
a prepared foundation with a crane and join them to the foundation
and each other.
While critics have charged that modular homes are too boxy,
that refrain is beginning to fade with growing flexibility
in design and customization options.
Also, the emerging trend of hybrid modular panelized construction
— adding site-built garages, porches and other custom
add-ons — gives modular housing a fresh face.
Some factories can build modular homes in as little as one
to two weeks. The home’s arrival at its site and placement
on its permanent foundation can be even more astonishing.
Mark McLendon, special projects engineer for modular manufacturer
All American Homes, says it’s not uncommon for neighbors
to come home and find a two-story home on a lot that had only
a foundation when they left for work in the morning.
In another two to four weeks, a local builder or contractor
can connect the utilities and complete the home. “It
takes approximately 90 to 120 days for the entire process,
from the time the customer places an order until it’s
ready for the family to move in,” McLendon says.
Saving Time and Money
Modular homes usually cost less per square foot — 5%
to 25% less, one manufacturer estimates — than site-built
homes, thanks to shorter, more organized and more predictable
Aside from cost savings, buyers of modular homes also benefit
from the accelerated on-site assembly time. The associated
advantages — reduced chance of weather damage or home-site
vandalism — make modular construction a smart choice
for infill development.
McLendon says the quick turnaround cycle is modular construction’s
foremost attraction to builders and consumers, who prefer
not to have their money “sit on a house lot for months.”
The Comfort Factor
Modular homes are “overbuilt” to withstand travel
from the factory to the home site, so they often are sturdier
and tighter than conventional homes. They also make it easier
to insulate areas hard to access in a home constructed with
conventional building techniques. Reduced air infiltration
and more complete insulation often make modular homes more
comfortable than site-built homes while lowering heating and
Increasingly, modular construction offers builders a competitive
alternative that might be worth a departure from traditional
Kia McLeod is a communications associate with the energy
and environmental consulting firm D&R International in
Silver Spring, Md. The Partnership for Advancing Technology
in Housing is dedicated to speeding the development and use
of advanced building technologies to improve the quality and
affordability of America’s homes. For more information
and technology resources, visit www.pathnet.org.