The building industry has settled on continuing to provide their products in the same way for generations…all parts and pieces delivered and  built on site.  As other industries seek to become more efficient and work towards increasing their top and bottom lines, construction continues as it always has.

There is an alternative and it has been used successfully all over the world, yet surprisingly  to a lesser extent here in the United States. That alternative is factory built housing, more commonly referred to as modular building construction.  Modular homes are not manufactured or HUD homes or mobile homes or trailers, but rather wood or steel framed structures constructed to the same codes and same materials as site built construction. One of the major differences is the construction takes place in a factory where inspections occur during the various stages of the construction and then “signed off” by a State inspector or approved 3rd party.

Modular residential and commercial building solutions are built indoors, out of the elements, in typically half the time of conventional construction.  The speed to market can save on interest carry, general conditions, early rent up or occupancy with a product built using the latest factory built technologies to ensure straight and true construction techniques. In many areas of the country, building out of the rain or snow can add to the quality and livability of the product. An added benefit that often goes unmentioned is neighborhood disruption is significantly reduced when choosing modular construction.  If an energy efficient building is preferred, the off-site construction method has minimal environmental impact which is a step in the right direction to achieve a “green” to net zero structure.

Despite the benefits of the technology, this alternative form of construction has received little attention by builders, contractors and developers, particularly west of the Rocky Mountains.  Why is this?  If a product can be constructed using the same materials, the same building codes and could be delivered to your job site in half the time, which in turn translates to both construction and cost efficiencies, why not explore the possibilities?

There are always justifications for not trying something different, yet this concept is not new, and it has been proven, for decades, to be very effective. When discussing  modular construction with various construction industry professionals and get turned away, I often ask this simple question  “Would you rather have your truck constructed in a factory under controlled conditions or have the parts all brought to your front yard and dumped there for you to assemble piece by piece?" You can imagine the answer. So tell me…why not modular?

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I posted the following at the latest Residential Architecture Magazine, that is relevant to the Modular/ Pre Fab industry;

There are some beautiful pre-fab type projects around, including this issue.
HOWEVER, it drives me crazy to see theoretical $/sf and know that they usually are not total costs, and fair comparisons to site built. What does the $/sf include? Just the box? I have consulted for prototype designs for numerous modular companies in the western US and Canada over last 20 years. You have to include site built decks, roofs, foundations, "normal" site work, etc. The dwell-type modern homes are usually about $300-350/sf by the time you are done with steel moment frames, foundations, decks, etc.
In this market, a prefab's advantage is time, and quality control. Not cost. It is also good to have the owner want it. If there is an Architect involved, they want to keep their crew busy designing the home with all the details, instead of letting the modular mfg. use their CAD staff, adding to the cost. And, if there is a builder involved, he usually convinces owners that is cheaper and more reliable to have them custom build it, because they can keep their crew employed. Additionally, the prefabs usually want 50% money down and 100% upon completion. Lenders do not like this because they do not get draw fees every month during course of construction. So, you can have the Architects themselves, the Builder, and the Lender working against the process, if $ count. It is a HUGE disservice to readers and potential clients when they bring in a Dwell or Residential Architect magazine and want this cool modern design (Or traditional) for less than $100/sf all in. It cannot be done (You have to count all labor: retail cost), and they think you are a dummy. The magazine dudes can do it. See this cool 3D rendering?
Meghan Drueding wisely included the proper caveats about the the costs being higher. But the examples are a bit deceiving.
Now that I have said some of the downsides, don't get me wrong. I am a strong proponent. The current economy is a bit of an anomaly perhaps. As much as i love modern design, it is still a niche design desire by the public. In Europe a modular home is a very desired home, and has high resale value and prestige. In America, it is sometimes lumped with manufactured / mobile homes as inferior. The appraisal industry does not help either. Pre Fab and modular can be the future, but an entire industry and public needs to be educated about the advantage. Of course...price is everything. That has to be solved. It can start by being truthful about true total costs, in comparison to a site built home. Builders always much/sf? Well, how much is a car/sf? (Credit to my friends in the Modular industry)


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