The arrival of pricey modular comes in West Virginia as the overall industry is growing nationwide. Modular still accounts for less than 3 percent of new, single-family building, but the benefits of assembly-line-style construction are winning converts amid labor shortages, and rising land and material costs. Modular also is getting a boost as mobile homebuilders look to replace business lost when the industry tanked a few years ago. And modular's rise is bringing big house-building factories.
"There's not much question that modular is the wave of the future," said Don Carlson, who for 40 years has published Automated Builder magazine, covering the industry. And by the way, he added, "They're all overbuilt. If you have to be some place in a hurricane or an earthquake, you want to be in a modular home."
Some communities ban factory-built housing, but it's possible to get a reprieve by working with residents and local officials. Modular construction in West Virginia also might make future remodeling more difficult, experts say, because components interact somewhat differently than site built.
`Why isn't this bigger deal?'
Modular builders, developers, investors and consumers often have a story of surprise about their first experience with the housing. Grant Smereczynsky of Building Systems Network was blown away. He figures he could only do about half that without modular because it's faster. But he says what really sells it is the strength and quality. Modular has to be extra sturdy to withstand being jostled hundreds of miles down the road then outfitted with slings and hoisted into place by a crane.
Modular can have as much as 30 percent more lumber than a traditionally built house. Still, modular builders know they face a skeptical crowd. To help overcome that, some say they put factory-built cost savings -- as much as 15 percent, experts say -- into extra amenities.
"We're going into the finest neighborhoods and building modular next to site built," said Smereczynsky . "We can't just be competitive. We have to be better."
"You can't drive by one of my houses and say `Oh, that's one of those mods.' "