What is a modular house? “Modular” or “mod” sounds pretty cool, on par with the “mod” aesthetic. This term conjures images of flexible furniture, like small little square tables configurable in lots of different ways.
While a modular house is not that flexible, it is made of different parts attached together like Legos. Seriously. The modular house is constructed inside a factory, rather than on the lot itself. It is then transported in pieces from the factory to the lot. The pieces are then attached together onsite. The finishing touches are completed on site and voila! A house.
Source: Method Homes
This construction method piqued my interest. Here’s why: small houses can be constructed in one to two pieces, the design aesthetic is simple yet complete, plus weather delays are completely avoidable! But are these houses solid and well constructed? Are they visually appealing? How flexible are the design and floor plan options? Will they look and sell like their site-built brothers and sisters?
The answer to all these questions is *yes.*. Here is why modular construction is green and pre-fabulous:
#1 Modular construction takes about half the time to build compared to on-site stick contruction. The average construction time is 3 months (versus 6 months for on-site construction) Reason? While your house’s foundation is being formed on-site, the construction of your house has already started simultaneously in the factory. There are zero weather-related delays because the home is built inside in a controlled environment. This is particularly appealing if you don’t want to delay construction waiting for winter to end. It is also very appealing if you, like me, do not want to have to pay regular visits to a construction site for 6+months.
#2 The factory build process is green and eco-friendly by nature. Building material is not wasted because it is recycled within the same factory. Lumber isn’t ruined by a rainy day. There are no gas costs associated with daily transportation of “stuff” back and forth to your lot during 6 months of construction.
#3 The construction is more precise. Programmed cutting devices and the controlled factory environment make it easier for assembly, measurment, air-sealing, and quality control measures.
#4 There is minimal disturbance to the neighbors and the physical environment. Most modular homes arrive on site 80-90% complete. That greatly reduces the length of time workers are on-site and minimizes just general trashing of the environment with construction debris and noise.
#5 There is improved site security. Once the prefab house is set, it can be locked and secured immediately, whereas an open contruction site is vulnerable to theft and vandalism .
#6 Modular houses are built to be stronger than traditional stick-built homes because they need to stand the stress of transportation. FEMA constructed a study of a hurricane devastated area in Florida, and found that modular homes suffered significantly less damage than traditional stick built homes. Ref: http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=2765
#7 Most modular builders can custom design a floor plan. Design possibilities are endless, with a caveat that the more extravagant the design, the more expensive the house. Modular builders can work with you and/or your architect to design any home. In other words, you are not limited to glorifed rectangles and squares 😉
#8 These homes are appraised and have a resale value equal to that of their traditionally built counterparts.
Here are a few caveats to keep in mind:
– Modular construction is not less expensive. The reduced cost associated with less build time and less surplus material is offset by transportation cost or “freight”, the cost of the cranes to set the house in place, and in the city the cost of redirecting traffic for a few hours while the house is being set.
– Not all modular homes are equal. Cars are built in factories as well, but there’s a huge difference between a Porsche and a Kia (no offense to Kia drivers out there). You have to choose a modular builder with a track record of quality and success.
If you decide modular construction is a strong option, here is how to choose a modular builder:
– find one within a 100 mile radius to reduce freight costs.
-If you value energy-efficiency, sustainability, and green construction practice, find one who shares the same values and demonstrates it with his/her end-product.
-Visit the factory and watch their process. Get a tour of one of their homes already built and on-site.
– Ask if there is a third party independent rater of the final product.
– Make sure your personalities mesh as you will have to work together closely.
One parting thought – prefabricated homes have been a long part of the American dream. “Kit homes” were very popular from 1910-1940s, with Sears and Aladdin Homes as leading manufacturers. They shipped lot owners a “kit” that consisted of numbered/marked pieces of lumber and other building materials. A 75+page assembly instruction booklet were provided, which homeowners used to assemble their kit and build their dream home. The ultimate in DIY house building. I predict that the factory built method will undergo a renasssaince as we realize its advantages!