Modular Construction: Some Assembly Required

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Most parents purchase large toys for their children and dread the phrase: Some Assembly Required. But, when it comes to building your next home, that phrase should be exactly what you want to hear. With modular construction, only some of the work is done onsite. Most of the work is already done off-site. It is more than just a shell. You are getting walls, doors, windows, insulation, drywall, trim, plumbing, electric, kitchens, bathrooms, and flooring up to 75-85% complete off-site. For you, Some Assembly Required means that most of the assembly has taken place in a factory where quality is better controlled and construction takes place indoors. Modular offers the most complete off-site building method for your new home.

Modular – The Most Advanced Off-site Building System

Even today, most homes are built onsite. It’s hard to believe, but home construction hasn’t changed much since 1830. Up until that point, you built a timber frame home (large timbers assembled into a home’s skeleton) or a log cabin. North America has lots of trees so U.S. construction is a wood based construction industry. After 1830, homes started being built the way you see them today, 2’x4′, 2’x6′, or light wood stick frame construction. About 1900 we saw a small improvement when we updated the way we frame houses from balloon framing to platform framing. Other than that, it has remained virtually unchanged in almost two hundred years.

Other methods of construction have been created over the years in the quest to find a better way to build homes. Each of these systems have attempted to do some portion of the construction off-site to either decrease onsite build time, improve quality of construction, and/or reduce costs. Here are several popular off-site building methods in order from least completed to most completed off-site:

Concrete Construction – In its most basic form, a concrete block is used for concrete construction. Blocks are manufactured by the millions and delivered to job sites to be assembled into any number of building types. Other methods include taking concrete that is mixed off-site and delivered to be poured into forms assembled onsite to form some part of the building: walls, floors, ceilings, etc. Once done, all of the utilities, finishes, windows, doors, etc. must be completed onsite.

Panelized Construction – This method of construction takes a plan and divides it up into panels. There are various methods of panelized construction. In commercial construction, these panels can be made of concrete and delivered to a site for installation. In residential construction, they are typically made of wood. Open wood panels are the entry level of panelized construction. While they frame a home quickly, the rest of the process falls back into the method of typical onsite home construction… building outdoors and subjecting the home being constructed to the elements. In addition, all of the work still requiring all of the same subcontractors is needed. Some forms of panelized construction, such as Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), offer a more complete panel doing more of the work off-site with final completion still left to be done onsite.

Modular Construction – Modular is a type of construction, not a type of home. Modular means a home plan is divided into modules that can built in a factory, shipped to a site, and assembled. This could be as little as one module or more than a dozen depending on the plan. These modules are typically completed within themselves. Drywall, insulation, walls, floors, trim, kitchens, countertops, bathrooms, lighting, plumbing and electrical are almost all done off-site. A typical home built using modular construction is 75-85% complete once it is set on a foundation. This construction takes place in parallel with the site work that is needed when building home. In today’s construction environment, labor is the number one issue facing home builders. The advanced modular building method minimizes onsite construction by maximizing off-site completion of a home’s components in a factory.

Modular is a Process

The modular construction method is a process, a process of dividing a home plan into modules that can be cost effectively built in a factory, delivered to a home site, and then completed quickly. It does this by turning home construction into an efficient manufacturing process versus the current inefficient process of construction in the field. It gains even larger efficiencies because construction is happening at two locations simultaneously. Onsite construction still has to take place. Driveways, utilities, and foundations have to be built… onsite.

Modular moves most of the rest of a home’s construction indoors and constructs it at the exact same time the site work is happening. In traditional construction, these processes have to happen sequentially. You can’t start building a floor if there is no foundation to place it on. Modular minimizes total time to completion by maximizing off-site construction of the home.

Getting the Home You Want

Advancements in modular construction mean that virtually any home plan can be divided into modules, built using indoor off-site construction, and assembled onsite. The Modular Home Collection at ArchitecturalDesigns.com displays over 6,000 home plans from architects and designers that can be “modularized” and built using this advanced method of construction.

RELATED: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF MODULAR HOMES

Can any custom home plan be modularized? Technically, the answer is yes. There is a way to divide any home plan into modules, build those modules in a factory, and then assemble them onsite. However, the practical answer is that sometimes it just doesn’t make sense. A plan may have to be divided into many modules to be transported to a site or a home plan may have tall ceilings requiring additional modules to stay true to the design. Yes, these homes can still be built using modular construction but the cost to do so outweighs the benefits. In some instances, with slight modification, a plan can be modified to work efficiently with modular construction and at the same time maintain its design integrity.

Bringing Value to Custom Home Building

Modular construction offers the way forward for custom home building. Construction labor in the U.S. is evaporating. The skilled craftsmen from years ago have retired. The process of modular construction instills quality in the home building process that is difficult to duplicate with today’s construction in the field. Homes are the only thing that we use today that aren’t built in a factory.

A modular home factory is efficiency. The onsite building process has perpetuated the inefficiencies of construction for years. Other building systems take a step in the right direction. Modular takes home construction to the next level. Modular means more!

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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Comments 9

  1. Hi Ken, this is a very interesting article. The only problem I have is whenever I look for a modular home, either it is price so high that I could build a custom home or two with the amount I will pay for a modular home and the fact that I can never find these nice looking modular homes that you show in your pictures. I usually see ones that look exactly like mobile homes with that squared off roof that gives them away as a mobile home every time. Going to architectural digest and picking out some house that I then have to have custom made into a modular home sounds very expensive. Do you have any companies that make actual modular homes were you can buy the modules and do the rest of the finishing yourself?

    1. Ken Semler Post
      Author

      Hi Debbie,
      One of the advantages of working with Express Modular is that we aren’t your typical modular home builder. Because we work nationwide, our experience helps us create great plans using the right factory with the right capabilities. Most standard plans from factories are basic with little architectural interest. Just keep in mind that the reason you are drawn to many home plans is their multiple roof lines and various design details. Building those into any home will cost more, whether building onsite or building using modular construction. Just know that building in a factory means your home isn’t built in the rain and has better quality control in its construction. We can help you work through a design and help point out where you can find cost savings and not completely sacrifice the reasons that made you fall in love with a plan.

      If you are able to participate in the onsite portion of the construction that can help save you money. Please contact us and we can answer your questions and review how we can design your home, provide the modules, deliver them to your site, and install them on your foundation. You can do/manage the rest of the work and take advantage of the savings!

      Regards,
      Ken

  2. Ken Semler Post
    Author
    1. Ken Semler Post
      Author

      Dameion,
      Modular construction allows us to provide homes at a great value. That doesn’t necessarily mean cheap. Because of the efficiencies of building in a factory and depending on your geographic location, modular construction will typically cost slightly less that onsite construction. In higher cost of living areas, homes built with modular construction can be significantly less. Registered users on Express Modular’s website have the ability to create Express Project Estimates for most of our standard home plans. If you find a Certified Modular Friendly home plan at ArchitecturalDesigns.com you can purchase an Express Estimate buy selecting Buy an Express Estimate button on that site.

      Regards,
      Ken

  3. Ken,

    We’re considering a true modular home (no axles or wheels on it), crane set on permanent foundation, with a “DEED” (not car title) to put in Tennessee on a waterfront lot. We are told that the value will drop and we will never get what we paid for it, should we need to move out in a few years , because appraisers don’t appraise them as “stick built”. I know that is the case with “mobile” homes, but is it true on Modulars. I get mixed info. from different lending companies and appraisers.

    1. Ken Semler Post
      Author

      Christine,
      Modular is NOT a mobile home. Modular is a type of construction, not a type of home. Building a home with modular construction means it is built to the same building code as a home that is built onsite. The difference is that it was built offsite in a factory for better quality control and better value. Confusion comes when someone sees a home being delivered on a carrier to a site. With modular, the carrier isn’t permanent, its just the delivery mechanism to get modules to the home-site. Here is a link to a page on our site that compares and contrasts the two: https://expressmodular.com/modular-homes-vs-manufactured-homes/ Please feel free to share this link with real estate agents, appraisers, and lending companies.
      Regards,
      Ken

  4. Ken,

    Have you completed the construction of a modular home within Florida’s HVHZ (specifically within the Tampa Bay area) that meets all wind-borne debris requirements?

    Thanks,
    Andrew

    1. Ken Semler Post
      Author

      Andrew,
      Our homes must be built to meet local building code. Specific high-wind requirements vary by zip code within FL. Please contact Matt at Matthew.Cooper@expressmodular.com. He can help you with any questions you have on how our homes are built to meet Florida’s tough requirements for wind-borne debris for your area.
      Thanks,
      Ken

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