Why Settle for a Site Built Home?

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Modular Homes and Site Built Homes are Both Stick Built

I see custom home builders use this in their ads and billboards all the time, “Why Settle for Modular?” They are trying to imply that a modular home is inferior to site built. However, their ploys are misleading. First, all modular homes ARE stick built homes. They are built one board at a time. However, they are just built offsite and then transported to the site in modules and assembled on your building lot. What they don’t say is that a modular home has to be built much stronger than a home constructed onsite because otherwise, it couldn’t take the stresses of being transported on the highway and lifted safely onto your foundation.

The Fear of Change

Why don’t all builders convert to using modular construction for their homes? That is actually a very good question. Today many contractors are struggling to hire, keep, and train employees. The best craftsmen are retiring or have already left the construction field. This means that those builders either can’t do as many projects or that the quality of what they do provide suffers. In most cases today, it is both.

Building technology changes all the time. In most cases, site builders are already using a form of modular construction. Almost every home today makes use of prefabricated roof trusses. Most homes are also built using prefabricated floor trusses. They are engineered to be stronger, better, and cheaper than their site built counterpart. Why, because they are built in a factory using high quality materials and under controlled building conditions. They also have to undergo rigid inspections to ensure they meet quality and code requirements.

RELATED: WHEN IS A MODULAR HOME NOT THE BEST CHOICE?

The main enemy of change is the adage, “We have always done it this way”. While using a more efficient method of construction sounds good to the home buyer, the home builder now has to learn a new building process. The new process can cause stress and then add to it the fear of the unknown and most site builders become trapped using a construction process that hasn’t changed much in over 150 years. Building codes change all the time. Modular construction, because of its process, ensures that a home built in a rural area with no inspections is built to the same code and quality standards as a home built in an urban area with a dozen code inspections.

Modular Construction versus Site Built – 5 Factors to Consider
  1. traditional built vs modular homeHow are the homes constructed? – The on-site builder doesn’t have the luxury of buying materials in bulk to be price competitive so they use the lowest cost methods to build the structure of a home. For instance, most tract homes use a cardboard type exterior sheathing for the exterior of a home. There is no wood to protect you. It’s cheap and meets code but someone can walk through a wall with nothing more than a utility knife. Modular construction is built strong using OSB and strapping to maintain its stronger structure for transport and set.
  2. Are Modular Homes Built Faster? – The answer is yes. However, you have to take into consideration the overall construction timeframe. Modular homes can take more time to plan. You have to make all of your structure and design changes up front. This can take longer. However, your home shows up 75-85% complete and is finished within weeks of placement on your foundation. With site built construction, your builder starts as soon as he can but you get to make changes along the way. Many use the term allowances in their contracts for things such as flooring, cabinets, fixtures, etc. This means that your home will cost more because the allowances are almost always lower than the product you actually want. It’s not uncommon to see a site built home’s finished price exceed the original contract price by 10-30% to get the home you actually want.
  3. Is a Modular Home the Same Quality as a Site Built Home – Do your own research. Most would argue that a home built indoors without getting rained on, using materials that have been stored indoors, and built by workers that have been trained and working indoors would always result in a better product. While building outdoors in the elements is the way it has “always been done”, the ability to get the same quality outdoors as can be achieved indoors is nearly impossible. A well-worn example is: Could you achieve the same quality building your new car in your driveway as you could in a factory? Probably not.
  4. Can Both Homes be Energy Efficient? – The answer is yes. However, the cost to get a site built home to achieve the same performance level as one built in a factory is more difficult and more expensive. Rain warps boards causing leakage in expanding and contracting areas. Different trades aren’t coordinated to ensure constant attention to the details of maintaining a tight thermal envelope. With modular construction, homes are precision built and materials can be kept dry avoiding high moisture content in walls and floors.
  5. Are Modular Homes Cheaper? – This answer varies. While modular construction can provide you with a home at a great value, it really depends on the region of the country you live in. In some areas, a modular home will cost the same as a home built onsite. The primary reasons a home buyer chooses to use modular construction is because of the faster build time and the better quality of the home. In other areas with a high cost of living a home built using modular construction can save 5-30% over the cost of a similar home built onsite.
Is There Ever a Situation Where Site Built Homes are Needed?

The answer is yes. Because modules are large and cranes are heavy, there are times when it just isn’t feasible to deliver a home to some home sites. In addition, there may be power lines, trees, fences, bridges, and narrow roads that cause a location to be unreachable. In those cases, a home buyer will just have to settle for a site built home. However, there are other building systems that offer alternatives that can still help gain some efficiencies to improve on the home building process. These can include panelized construction and concrete construction.

We No Longer Settle for Site Built, We Do Better

When it comes to choosing a method to building a new home I hope you will do your research and perform your own evaluation. We already have. Many years ago we decided that building on a site just wasn’t the most efficient, healthy, and cost effective way to build. We decided that modular construction offered the best way to deliver quality custom homes to our customers. We believe in modular construction so much that we won’t work for a customer that will accept anything less than the quality and flexibility that modular construction provides. Modular is the only building system we use today to deliver our custom built homes!

About the Author
Kenneth 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. G E Morgan

    I’m convinced that factory-built homes are superior to so-called “site built” homes in just about every way.

    My wife and I are in the feasibility phase of planning to build a vacation home. A huge problem that we are running into is that nearly all of the subdivisions where we find raw land have covenants requiring that all homes “be built on site.”

    Seems the best lots are all in neighborhoods that will not allow homes to be pre-fabricated to any degree.

    How do we handle this kind of prejudice?

    1. Kenneth Semler Post
      Author

      We do occasionally come across subdivisions that have covenants that focus on barring manufactured (or mobile) homes. However, rarely to they bar modular homes. If so, then it is nearly impossible to change them to allow modular. In our experience, once a community has worked with modular homes they embrace them. Gated communities that once frowned on modular have learned that modular construction solves many of their problems with new home construction: less trash blowing around, less mud on the streets, lower noise, and a reduced timeframe of construction workers and their vehicles impacting the roads. Overall modular construction has been embraced once they learn of the quick build times and the reduced interference in the community!

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