Drowning in Decisions – Choosing How to Build Your Custom Home

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When you build a new custom home today there are hundreds, if not thousands of decisions you will need to make. Most home buyers are ready to focus on the fun ones; picking kitchen cabinets, flooring colors, bathroom tile, and even developing or finding their new homes floor plan. However, there is an even more fundamental decision that has to be made: how will you actually build your new home? Gone are the days where you have to build it outside using the old, traditional methods. Modern construction techniques now exist that offer you a better, healthier, more efficient way to build.

What Are My Custom Home Building Choices?

A building system is a highly engineered process of building a home, or a component of a home. Because it is system, it is done in a very efficient and cost effective way. Custom builders have been using components when they build homes for years. Almost every custom home builder uses roof trusses and floor trusses. Why? Because they can’t build them as efficiently or cost effectively onsite. They are engineered to be stronger, use less lumber, and are faster and easier to handle at the construction site.

In addition to traditional onsite construction the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) defines four types of building systems when it comes to home construction:

Panelized Home Building – There are several categories when it comes to panelized home building but two of the popular ones are basic open panels and Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS). Open panels break every wall and roof area of the home into sections that can be framed in sections offsite and then brought to the site on a truck. Once erected, the normal site processes still take place onsite. A SIPS panel is an outside and inside structural facing sandwiching a foam core. They are considered airtight when installed but the home building process still needs all of the normal onsite process to take place to complete the home.

Concrete Home Building – Most think of using concrete construction for commercial buildings but there is a growing use of concrete in residential construction. Just like with panels, there are a number of variations within concrete construction. Two of the major ones are Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) and Removable Forms. ICFs are typically smaller blocks that are hand laid and then filled with concrete forming the exterior wall. All of the rest of the construction still takes place to complete the home as with traditional construction.

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Log and Timber Home Building – Log and timber home building is the very first way that homes where constructed in the U.S. However, the process has improved a lot since those early days. Log and timber frame homes are very much a niche building system and fills a role in small section the home building industry.

Modular Home BuildingModular construction is a method of dividing a home’s plan into sections or modules and then building them individually in a factory. The factory process allows smaller assemblies to be built indoors in a controlled factory environment and then efficiently assembled into larger modules at the factory before they are transported to your site for assembly. Modular construction takes the home construction process and turns into a highly efficient manufacturing process much like is used to manufacture cars, computers, and cell phones.

Is Building Onsite an Option?

Traditional onsite home construction is still an option. Most of the methods used today are still the same ones that have been used since the 1800’s. It hasn’t changed much in over 150 years. The custom home building industry is slow to change and adopt more energy efficient, faster, and cost effective ways to build. Imagine selecting your new car at the dealership and signing on the dotted line. A few days later a thousand car parts are delivered to your drive way and a few days after that a crew shows up to build your new car in your driveway. You would think they were crazy! However, that is exactly how traditional home construction still works today.

There are times when you just have to build your home onsite. Many off-site methods require large truck and cranes to deliver and assemble modules. Some sites just aren’t conducive to off-site construction and the only way to build a custom home is to use the older, traditional building methods. In most cases, even if modular building can’t be used, one of the other building system methods can be used to help with costs and efficiencies when building your new custom home.

Does a Building System Make Your Custom Home Better?

The short answer is yes. When you think about building a home outside just think about the last home you drove by one that was under construction. The home is subject to the weather, materials are still cut outside one board at a time, and all of the waste is going into that big 30 cubic yard dumpster in the front yard. While traditional custom home builders pride themselves on the term “stick-built” (modular homes are stick built), do you really think you can cut every board by hand and get a consistent quality standing on the dirt and mud to cut it?

A factory is a highly efficient environment. It is designed to consistently and cost effectively build modules or components with the least amount of waste and effort as possible. The factory is a controlled, indoor environment. Your homes floors will never see rain, snow, or any bad weather. Moisture that can cause mold growth and mildew odors in a completed custom home never gets introduced into a factory built home. The factory is super-efficient because it concentrates the construction of so many homes in one location.

With today’s engineering and construction flexibility, a home can be offered in just about any style with all the features most home-buyers desire. Dormers, porches, open floor plans, cathedral ceilings, and multiple roof lines are just a few characteristics that can be included in today’s modular home plans.

The Factory Built Home Confusion

There is a lot of confusion between a mobile/manufactured home and a modular home. While a manufactured home is a member in the family of factory built homes, it was created for a very specific purpose. It was meant to offer affordable, low cost, owner occupied housing to the masses. Because of this, it makes some significant deviations from the International Residential Code (IRC). The IRC is the building code that all other new homes that are built in the U.S. must follow. HUD, by permitting homes to be built to a reduced standard, allows factories to build this type of home at a much lower cost.

Modular homes are the top level in factory built homes. They are ONLY built to the local building code, just as a traditional, site built home. And while a modular home does take advantage of the efficiencies of factory construction to deliver great value, they also take advantage of many other opportunities.

Energy efficiency has become more important to today’s custom home buyer. In addition, the most recently enacted building codes have increased the requirement for energy efficiency in modular homes to a level that far exceeds that of it entry level cousin. This means lower overall energy usage for the home that enhances comfort while simultaneously saving money.

Building Your New Custom Home

When it comes to choosing how to build your new custom home, you have many choices. Today you don’t have to choose to build your home the way it has always been done. Technology and building systems have provided better options. Do the research, use the resources at your disposal and see what your options are. While choosing your floor plan is fun, the next decision is probably one of the most important ones you will make for how you and your family will live in and enjoy your new home.

Choosing modular construction is the modern way to build your new home giving you energy efficiency, healthy living, and great value. Add to that the amazing design flexibility and you have discovered the best way to build your new custom home. We discovered it years ago and we won’t provide our custom homes any other way!

About the Author
Ken Semler

Ken Semler

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Hi, I am Ken Semler the founder of Express Modular. I am passionate about this industry, our company, and the products we provide. Modern modular construction provides the ability to deliver healthy, safe, and energy efficient living spaces. Express Modular is a licensed builder/contractor in almost every state. I believe that modular homes provide the best way to deliver virtually unlimited design flexibility at the greatest value.

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