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Modular Housing: Nice Designs, Neat Installations--and Affordable Prices

Whether you are a first time buyer looking for an affordable home, a homeowner who wants to trade up, or an almost-retired builder who just doesn't want to deal with all the hassles of running an entire construction company, you should consider the advantages of modular housing.

Modular homes, also known as factory-built homes, are available as customized houses that look like site-built structures. The houses, delivered to a site as modules, are assembled quickly, saving time, money, and aggravation. They are no longer just the simple one-story rectangles that characterized early modular homes. If money is a factor you can still buy a standard design, but you can also purchase a more elaborate home, designed by your favorite architect. If you are a builder or developer who is tired of the intense dynamics of site building, you will find the reduced demands of installing modular homes an attractive way to stay in the homebuilding industry while reducing your stress.

Advantages of Modular Housing

  • Affordability - Since the houses are built in a factory by a stable work force under controlled conditions with more predictable raw material inventory and supply, assembly is much more efficient, resulting in structures less expensive than site-built housing by at least ten percent.

  • Sound Construction - Modular construction is tighter than the average site-built construction, owing to the practice of gluing and conventionally fastening the components together for road-worthiness. This results in energy efficiency through decreased air infiltration, as well as less squeaking and structural movement. The controlled indoor environment and stable, experienced labor are conducive to assemblies with consistent quality. Workers familiar with their product can more easily integrate unfamiliar materials and techniques into the process when working side-by-side with individuals of other trade backgrounds.

  • Quicker Schedule - Modular homes are assembled in a factory while earthwork, foundations, and utilities are prepared on-site. When properly scheduled, the modular sections can be installed on-site within a week or two of delivery. Also, the quick building cycle of modular construction can reduce or eliminate job site vandalism and theft. Complete hook-up, final grading, and landscaping can usually be completed within one month, often sooner.

  • Reduced Waste - Waste materials are minimized, and the waste generated is much more easily reused and recycled in a factory environment.

  • Less Site Impact - Since the site schedule is compressed, far fewer materials are stored on-site, fewer workers are on-site for less time and make less noise, and there is generally no need to have large dumpsters sitting around for extended periods--if at all. This all makes for happier neighbors.

Multifamily Housing

The scale and repetition that characterize many multifamily buildings lends itself to an automated solution, especially in areas located near factories. Modular multiple dwellings can usually be delivered and installed for less than $50/sf.

Limitations of Modular Housing

Modular building does not lend itself to large clear spans; however, this is not a problem for most homes. The limit is about 20 feet due to the need to provide supporting walls for shipping. Also, some modular manufacturers use up to 30 percent more lumber than site-built structures to ensure strength and complete the six-sided boxes required for shipping.

In addition, cranes must be used on-site to offload the sections and place them on the foundation. Cranes are expensive; so this process must be carefully planned and coordinated.

Although trailers can carry sections up to 64 feet long and 16 feet wide, extra-large sections can be awkward in the factory and may require re-engineering framing, such as changing to 2x12s.

More Information

PATH is conducting a field study of modular housing, and has prepared a comparative study of factory and site-built housing. PATH is also sponsoring the 2004 NextGen Demonstration Home, a modular home that will be on display in January 2004 at the International Builders' Show (IBS) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Manufactured Housing Research Alliance (MHRA), a PATH partner, and the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) are also excellent resources for gathering data on modular housing.

For additional information, contact the following modular home suppliers:

All American Homes
Avis America
Haven Homes
Penn Lyon Homes Corp.
Signature Custom Homes
Simplex Industries

Content updated on 8/1/2003

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