Myth Busters: Modular Edition

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Modular homes have become the target of some pretty tall tales over the years. Much of this has been derived from a general lack of understanding, or a general misunderstanding, about what they are and how they are built. In its infancy, 40-50 years ago, modular construction had humble beginnings. However, with building technology today and the engineered products available when constructing today’s homes, modular homes are superior in almost every way. Traditional site built homes are still using construction methods that have existed since the 18th century and before. Let’s bust the top seven modular myths.

Myth #1: A Modular Home is a Manufactured Home (or mobile home)

Busted: A modular home is very different from a manufactured home. The industry hasn’t done itself any favors by having each of these terms start with the same “M” letter and sound the same! A mobile home is a home that hasn’t existed since before 1976. It was eliminated by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and a new Federal Building Code was created to offer an affordable class of homes to the masses called Manufactured Homes. These home are built to a performance standard which can be built at a lower cost and be easily manufactured.

The term “modular home” is somewhat of a misnomer. It is a home that is stick built, it is just built offsite in modules. Modular is technically a type of construction, not a type of home. A modular home follows the International Residential Code for construction of Single Family Homes. This is the same minimum code that site built homes are required to meet. The difference being that modular homes are built in a factory, delivered to a home site, and placed on a foundation. The home must be built with additional strength to be able to withstand the rigors of the transportation and set process.

Myth #2: A Modular Home is Half the Price of a Site Built Home

Busted: Maybe this has to do with the confusion between a manufactured home, which is built to a building code that allows it to be cheaper, and a modular home which is built to the same building code as a site built home. A modular home does take advantage of some economies that can make it somewhat more cost effective. Factories can take advantage of items such as higher buying volumes, concentrated labor forces, and assembly-line construction.

Geographic area can also play a role in some of the cost savings. For example, central Pennsylvania is home to many modular home factories. They build and ship homes to higher cost of living areas such as Long Island, NY and the Washington, DC metropolitan area. The labor costs much less in central Pennsylvania thereby creating a significant labor cost savings in the home while at the same time delivering a better quality product. Overall savings for a modular home are typically 5-10%. While this makes modular homes a great value, it’s not a 50% savings.

Myth #3: A Modular Home isn’t Built as well as a Site Built Home

Busted: Most homebuyers today have done the research and discovered on their own why a modular home is built just as well, if not even better, than a site built home. A site built home is just that, built on site. It is exposed to the weather, subject to availability of materials, and suffers from inconsistencies in workforce. It gets wet and most all materials are cut outdoors one piece at a time making the whole process inconsistent and more subject to human error.

Modular construction takes place indoors. It is always summer in the factory. The same people perform a consistent task each day. Materials are ordered so they arrive just in time as needed to produce a home. The materials are kept dry throughout the process. The home’s floors never get wet. In addition to building code inspections, quality inspections take place throughout the process. In addition, a modular home is built to structurally handle the additional transportation and installation process.

Myth #4: Modular Home Design is Rectangular and Boxy

Busted: While most standard traditional home plans are rectangular, modular construction is not limited to traditional design. Modern construction materials such as Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL), floor trusses, roof trusses, and even the sophistication of Computer-aided Design (CAD) systems are propelling modular design to the forefront of the building world.

Modular homes can support chalet style homes, contemporary/modern architecture, and just about anything in-between. Combine modern modular construction with panelized construction and you have a recipe to create some truly inspired homes designed and built completely within a factory environment.

Myth #5: Modular Construction is Temporary

Busted: In the commercial world, there are two types of modular construction. Some is relocatable; think school classrooms, banks, construction offices. Relocatable modular products serve a needed purpose by providing a low cost temporary option for a specific need. Permanent commercial modular construction is an entirely different animal. Think about things such as hotels, schools, offices, assisted living facilities, and even high rise buildings.

RELATED: WHY SETTLE FOR A SITE BUILT HOME?

Residential modular construction is always permanent. By building code in each state it is required to be placed permanently on a foundation just as a home built onsite. Other than where it was built, modular homes and site built homes have to conform to the same minimum building code.

Myth #6: Modular Homes are Built with Low-Quality Products

Busted: Again, some of this goes back to the confusion between manufactured homes and modular homes. A manufactured home is designed to structurally cost less to manufacture to make it available to more people as affordable housing. Another way to do that is to complete a manufactured home with lower quality items such as thinner carpet, cheaper cabinets, and thinner walls. Products and fixtures such as faucets and lighting are all designed to be cheaper to make the home more affordable.

Modular homes, on the other hand, are built in most factories using the exact same items as you would find in a home built onsite. Structurally, the home is even built to a higher standard than is built onsite. However, the exterior and interior products used are the same. Hardwood flooring, tile, and high quality cabinets are installed in modular homes the same as site built homes. Lighting and plumbing fixtures are the same name brands you would find at a local lighting or kitchen and bath showroom. You can choose the options you want when it comes to meeting the budget for your new home.

Myth #7: Modular Homes aren’t as Safe as a Site Built Home

Busted: After every hurricane, tornado, or other natural disaster we are barraged with news footage of the damage and devastation that was just unleashed on a nearby mobile home park. Again, this isn’t modular construction. Even the U.S. government completed a study after Hurricane Andrew in Florida and noted the superior construction of modular homes that held up better than site built homes in that same disaster.

Following Superstorm Sandy that hit New Jersey and New York, pictures came back showing that homes that withstood the storm the best were modular homes. After that storm, a large part of the homes replaced were replaced with a modular home. Modular homes, being built in modules, are assembled into a more sound structure that is just better able to withstand Mother Nature’s forces.

When it Comes to Busting the Myths, Modular Construction Delivers

Better quality, higher energy performance, and design flexibility are now the hallmarks of modular homes. The technology of modern modular construction is propelling modularly constructed homes to the forefront of home design.

With labor constraints that are only growing in the construction industry, modular homes are finding their way into the mainstream of construction. In some areas of the country, a modular home is the first thought that comes to mind when building a new custom home. The days of myths that hold back this new standard of building are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

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 2

  1. Thank you for this helpful blog. One of the biggest obstacles for modular style construction is going to be removing itself from the imagined category of “manufactured” or “mobile” Homes. I am going to use this blog as part of a presentation I am putting together for the home owners association I am a member of. They currently will not allow modular style construction in our subdivision. Our CC&R’S don’t expressly prohibit it, but because the design committee isn’t familiar with this style of building, they are refusing to allow me to build. I own a plot, and want to build a modular style home, but they HOA, even in our meetings use the terms modular and manufactured interchangeably.

    1. Ken Semler Post
      Author

      We have had to go before architectural review committee’s in very high end commnunities. Once they allow the first modular home in, they realize even more why they will like them. Reduced construction timeframes onsite means less noise, less trash blowing around, less mud on streets, and less outsiders/strangers in the community. All this in perhaps half the onsite timeframe with a home that is indistinguishable from a site built home. One day these may be the very same reasons they won’t let a home into the community that is isn’t built using modular construction! I hope you get to be the first!

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