Building a new home is a milestone in one’s life. So, it’s important to have a dependable construction firm direct the homebuilder from one step to the next, and even make the process enjoyable, too.
One of the first decisions the potential new homebuilder needs to make is which building method is best suited for his/her new custom home.
Homes are traditionally “stick-built” entirely, or in large part, on the site where they are intended to remain forever. Stick-building is the time-tested means of home construction that’s recognized and accepted by most everyone in the new home business, from construction firms to lenders.
And while most of the homes in the U.S. are still stick-built, there is another way to build a new home, most often referred to as prefabricated or modular construction.
Okay, let’s say I run a construction company and I have a client interested in a modular home. What are the essentials?
There are advantages and disadvantages to opting for modular homes and knowing these pros and cons can help potential homebuilders make the decision that will best fit their budget, their specific circumstances and the long-term livability of the home they are going to build.
In this blog, we’re going to take a closer look at a number of the benefits and drawbacks of modular housing.
First, what exactly is modular construction?
A modular or prefab home is a structure that’s manufactured and preassembled off-site, usually in a climate-controlled factory. This contrasts to a traditional stick-built or site-built home that is constructed entirely on-site.
Fact is, such modular homes are not a new concept. In the early 20th century. Sears & Roebuck sold tens of thousands of prefab housing kits. After World War II, however, veterans, many wanting to start their own families, were more bent on building a traditionally constructed home.
But modular housing has come a long way from the Sears catalog and trailer parks of the past. Today, top architects are getting into the game and many clients who have both the time and means for traditional stick-built homes are starting to look to prefabs again.
“The interest or the promise of prefab is nothing new, but it’s been reignited, and gasoline continues to be poured on the fire,” says a prominent New York-based architect whose firm has been developing modular housing for nearly 20 years. “And because more architects are participating in this base, the level of design is increasing across the board,” he adds.
“We think the recession actually benefited our industry,” says an executive with the Modular Building Institute. During the last recession, many skilled laborers left the construction industry and did not return, he states. That, coupled with developers needing to hit upon greater efficiency, made prefabricated building more attractive.
One thing that needs to be cleared up right away is that a modular home is not the same as a mobile home, although the term “modular” is sometimes used incorrectly to describe mobile homes and double-wide trailers. No doubt, it’s because mobile homes are also manufactured in a factory and transported to a location with no on-site assembly or customization. Such mobile homes are also referred to as manufactured homes.
A true modular home is made from higher-quality materials than a mobile home and is built as a permanent residence rather than one that can be moved from site to site.
Let’s review the pros and cons of modular construction.
- Fast construction. Since a modular home is built in a factory, fast construction is one of its big plusses. Because the parts of a modular come pre-made, all the contractor need do is assemble them and hook up the home to the essential utilities. Hence, the name “modular.” Moreover, building inspectors are onsite in the factory to review the work once it’s finished.
Another thing: Weather doesn’t hamper the construction company’s work, so there are no such delays. The modular homeowner could be sitting in his/her backyard sipping a Mai Tai long before the neighbor building a stick-built has their drywall up.
- Affordability options. Of course, since the modular home is built faster and with fewer complexities involved, the price is adjusted. Yes, there are different pricing levels because of customization, but when a stick-built and modular of the same construction is compared, the modular is often less expensive.
The homebuyer will want to compare the costs between builders and also want to consider the local market.
- Energy efficiency. Prefab or modular homes are apt to be highly efficient. Their tight seams and state-of-the-art windows keep heat in and warm air out, reducing energy bills. As more homebuyers begin to hunt for sustainable home features, modular home architects and contractors are beginning to design models that include everything from solar panels to rainwater catchment systems.
- Zero waste. After being created in the factory, modular pieces are transported to and assembled on site. As such, they don’t generate waste as all the needed materials for construction arrive already installed in the modular pieces. It would be like assembling a Lego home, except all the pieces are rooms designed to the homebuilder’s wishes.
Considering that over 500 million tons of construction and demolition debris is generated annually just in the United States, finding ways to cut back on that waste is not only good for the environment, but also easy on the homeowner’s wallet.
- When it comes to choosing a modular home, a homebuilder has plenty of design options to choose from. Don’t think for a second that a prefab home has to consist of four panelized walls nailed together to create a dwelling. Modular homes come in all designs, both traditional and modern.
Some of the best architects in the U.S. now design modular homes and you may be surprised at some of the unique and stunning concepts available. These custom modular homes can fit perfectly into most any location, unlike a manufactured home.
- Strength and durability of construction. Prefab homes have proven to be safe and durable in weather emergencies, surviving hurricanes in Florida and other such natural disasters. Because prefabs must be built to survive transportation by truck, the interconnected design of these homes provides a rigid system that in most cases is as good as or better than conventional house framing.
The fact that a modular home is factory-built means it’s tightly constructed and able to keep weather out.
Modular homes are not without complaints or issues. Every building method has its own pros and cons, but it’s important to explore and know the cons of these structures before purchasing.
- Perception is everything. As with anything new, a modular home’s advantages must overcome deep-seated attitudes before becoming mainstream. The leading mindset that holds it back is the perception that modular construction is a low-cost inferior product that doesn’t offer much chance for customization. Unfortunately, this perception has stuck with the industry for decades, even though advances have placed modular on an even keel with other construction methods.
- Land costs. If you want to put up a modular home, you’ll need to own the land underneath it. If you don’t already own land, you’ll need to buy it. Unlike a traditional house in which the homebuilder builds a home on property he has pre-purchased, most modular home dealers sell only the house. That means you need to find a piece of land or a lot in a neighborhood you like, arrange for financing and negotiate the purchase. And, importantly, if you do choose to build in a specific neighborhood, you’ll need to make sure that they allow modular building.
- Initial money. When you’re building a new modular home, you must pay the builder in full before the home is completed. This means you have to pay for work as it’s being done. This gives the builder the peace of mind that the work will be paid for. In order to do this, you’ll have to either pay for the work using personal savings or obtain a construction loan from the modular home dealer. The loan will cover the work for up to one year. Once the construction is complete, the dealer will pay off the loan and a mortgage will be issued.
- Transportation and assembly problems. The logistics of transportation can be an issue to consider with modular construction. Depending on where you live, the cost of transporting the different parts of your future home can become expensive. If you live “off the beaten path,’ transportation companies might very well charge a hefty fee to get all the parts of your home to the construction site.
Additionally, if you haven’t hired a contractor with experience in assembling the specific model of modular home that you’ve chosen, you always run the risk of faulty assembly which could lead to future joint failure, leaks and other issues. Or, if the contractor doesn’t have the correct equipment on hand, the different modules of the prefab can also be severely damaged during delivery and on-site assembly.
- Room size. One of the other drawbacks to a modular home is that, while the home can be very large, the room sizes are typically limited. The units in a modular home can’t be too large to transport on roads, which means they usually can’t be more than 14 to 16 feet wide and 60 to 75 feet long. While the length isn’t usually a limitation, the width is. On the other hand, modules can be 11 feet tall which makes10-foot ceilings possible.
- Utilities hook-up. One of the other disadvantages of a modular house is that it can be tough to arrange for utilities and other site details. If your site is uneven, you’ll need to have it leveled. Then, you’ll need to lay the foundation and arrange for sewer strikes and electrical connection, not to mention connecting to city water of finding well water.
If this sounds too daunting, look for a modular home that comes with the option to have the modular home company take care of utility hook-ups for you.
- Reduced resell value. Let’s face it, modular buildings have historically been associated with lower quality. If you decide to sell your modular home, you may be fighting the preconception of some buyers that a modular home is similar to a mobile home and that both are inferior to stick-built homes.
So, what does the modular home industry have to say about these objections?
“We’ve found it helpful to think about modular as a construction process rather than a specific type of building,” says Tom Hardiman, Executive Director of the Modular Building Institute.”
Moreover, industry proponents have noted that with the shortages in skilled labor, off-site construction is a way to build projects in less affected areas, and to provide workers with safer working conditions in a prefab factory than out in the field.
Another modular industry executive says, “We have more controlled outcomes in a shop with less exposure to elevated working areas and things like that. It’s less strain on the workers.”
For Hardiman, the benefits of building off-site make its value a no-brainer for general contractors and developers. “No one would question how we build cars today. It would be comical to have all the parts delivered to your driveway with a dozen workers to build it. Yet we build our homes, schools and offices in this inefficient manner.”
So, we posed the initial question, “Modular or stick-built?”
We’ll leave the answer up to you, the reader.
PDDM Solutions invites you to contact them regarding any issue you might face in your next construction project. Contact us at (724) 788-4040 or visit us at https://pddmsolutions.com/contact/