Modular homes

39 Replies

What are some of the pros and cons of buying a modular home vs stick built?

Depends on if the "Modular Home" is a mobile home are a "stick built in the factory" home.  I don't need to explain the mobile home, but a home built in the factory is probably the most energy efficient and best built home you can buy...depending on the manufacturer.  As an Architect, I used to design custom homes that a few of my Modular contacts could build in the factory for me.

If you are buying them already on site, after market, that poses problems with mortgages for the buyers.  Most lenders, except the ones that are not afraid of them, won't loan for a Modular home.  There are lenders that will, and most modular home builders know who they are...and have them ready to refer theyr buyers to them...logically so.

Thanks Joe, I am talking about the Modular type of manufactured homes.  Looking at the costs and quality today, I really think it is the way to go- but looking for other things I might have missed.

I've been working for a modular builder for 10 years & we rarely build homes except in the multi-million dollar category.  The pros are that they are all Engineered, built in a dry factory out of the weather. The cons is $$$. There is a lot of overhead in Modular building that there isn't in on site construction.

The other kind of factory built home is Mobile, which includes almost all "manufactured" homes. They are build to HUD building code, which is different then the building code that everything else is built to. In my area they are registered at the DMV like a car. Cons: Lower quality, cheaper construction, depreciate in value, Not desirable. Cost about the same as getting a stick built home if you already own the land. Pros: Quick & easy, minimal site work, great for hard to reach or remote locations.

@Rusty Thompson  I thought the Modular homes were typically cheaper than having a house built?

Originally posted by @Pete T. :

@Rusty Thompson  I thought the Modular homes were typically cheaper than having a house built?

 Depends on the size.  @rusty Thompson was talking about larger homes.  Those larger ones have some special issues when built in a factory due to the size.  However, if you keep the homes under 3000 sq ft, you can make it cost effective...and, one of the most energy efficient, well built homes on the planet.

@Pete T.  

Modular home construction has been done in Europe for quite some time.  Many Passivhaus buildings are modular construction these days.

Here in Canada, its only starting to happen and has very low public awareness - though Habitat for Humanity (Canada) has done a few pilot projects over the past few years and announced last year that modular construction was the way they were going:  cheaper, more energy efficient, quicker on-site construction.

We are in the early stages of planning a Passivhaus development (stacked row houses) and have decided on a modular approach.

There are a lot of places that modular makes sense. But SFR's is not it unless site & labor costs are high. I can site some examples. Government projects that pay prevailing wage. The labor costs are so much higher than what we pay that it makes sense. We have been build homes for Alaska for remote areas. They are 1200sq.ft but cost almost 150$ a sqft. To put that in perspective a house in our area costs about build. If you think about it. It wouldn't make sense for modular to be cheaper. All things being the same there are transportation costs to consider.

@Joe Villeneuve  We don't have any special considerations for large buildings, or large homes. We just finished a 65000 sqft STEM school in Washington state. Its one of the things we are the best at. STEM School check it out.  The smaller the project the less it makes sense $$$ wise. Unless it is a large production of Identical buildings. Which we do occasionally. 

@Roy N.  I would be interested in hearing more about your project. I have always thought modular makes a lot of sense for multifamily. We Have build a few assisted living facilities, but that is it. I feel in the next couple decades modular will become the standard in apartment complexes. Because even thought the construction costs might be higher, the project timeline can be a lot faster. Mods can start being delivered in when the site work is finished, assembled in a couple days and ready for occupancy in less then a month depending on he size of the project.

@Pete T.  You might still be confusing Modular and Mobile. You can't  usually tell the difference between modular and site built when they are finished. Mobiles (manufactured) are usually double wide or triple wide & reside in manufactured home parks.

@Rusty Thompson  

I will take partial exception to the premise that modular construction is not economical for SFRs. Yes, the typical stick built to "code" SFR will likely be cheaper per square foot (though I would wager not by more than 15%), but the modular built home will likely be more efficient. Most stick-built homes in North America are built to the base code, sometimes to R2000 (which is almost 40yrs old), and, consequently, have rather poor energy efficiency.

If you were to stick-build to a high efficiency (i.e. offset wall with no thermal bridging, proper envelope sealing, and substantial thermal mass on the inner walls), your cost variance to a modular built home will be much smaller.

@Roy N.  

 You are right. Usually the people buying modular homes are expecting a higher quality building than your standard stick built property. But at that point we are not comparing apples to apples. If you are purely looking at cost per sq.ft. modular doesn't make sense. But neither do Spec homes. When you graduate into the custom market modular makes sense. 

One way you can offset the costs of modular is find a builder in a lower cost are than where you live. The reduction in labor costs will make up for the increased transportation and building costs. Kind of like buying from china.

No matter what type of construction, stick built, modular, manufactured, etc. it's important to compare apples to apples. Just as every builder can build varying quality of homes, etc., so can manufactured and modular builders. Also, a manufacturer of "modular" homes that is set up to build multiple homes, on a production basis has lower costs, therefore; may offer a better product for a lower price. Unless you are looking at the details, you can't say one is better than the other, etc. 

Also, every area of the country has varying definitions of what is considered a mobile, a manufactured, or modular home. Sometimes putting a mobile on a foundation, makes it the same as a stick built home, etc. There are also very expensive modulars that are custom homes etc. 

Whatever niche you are looking at, you need to find out all you need to know to make an educated decision. Compare apples to apples. Type of construction, finishes, etc. 

In fact, there's someone here on BP from Bluhomes, maybe they can chime in. 

@Karen Margrave  

I agree you need to compare like to like.  Here the closest you will find to basic "code" stick-built house in a modular home would be a prefab home {one step above mini-home / mobile home which comes in two halves which are bolted together on-site}.

Even the cheapest modular construction available here is more energy efficient than what most of what are being built for spec homes.

The point I was attempting to make in my earlier post is if you construct a high-efficiency stick built home and a modular home of the same efficiency (apples to apples), the cost difference would be moot ... the modular home may even be less expensive.

We actually build "spec", which means built on speculation. There is no set standard for spec houses per se, each builder builds their own product, and the standard can vary greatly from just passing code to far exceeding code etc. Spec has no meaning when used as a definition in regard to building standard, at least here in America. 

Differences in Modular and Prefab

Blu Homes (These are modulars)   Genisis Homes and Commercial

@Karen Margrave  

Yes, I understand there is a variance in "spec" builds and did not imply it was a standard.  In our area a "higher" end spec home means bigger and luxury finishes with maybe a token "greenwash" nod to energy efficiency.   It's no fault to the builders, efficiency is not yet a market driver, so they have not incorporated it into their product.

The only highly efficient homes around here (2-Passivhaus and a handful of millennial homes) were custom builds and higher end - with the exception of the new Habitat home. Of the 2 Passivhaus houses, the first was built in-place by a builder from away (Québec I believe) and the second was modular.  Both are nearly 3000 ft^2 and cost <$500 /year in utilities where the average 2500 - 3000 ft^2 home around here would be $3000 - $5000 per year in utilities.

Do any of you work with builders in the Virginia Beach area?

What about steel building as a residential use?

I can tell you from experience, modular homes can be a cheaper and better built option in certain situations. At least in California, "modular" is a "prefabbed" home, built to the exact same California building code standards as a site built home, PLUS so extra provisions added because it has to withstand being towed on a flatbed truck. 

I designed a site built home that was 1900 sqf to build on my land, and after it was bid on we discovered it was to expensive with two many upgrades. We went and sat with a modular builder, choose on of their stock plans of around the same square footage, and it was MUCH more cost effective for us. Could we have redesigned a site built home with the same upgrades as the stock modular for closer to the same price? Maybe. But the modularis more streamlined, the builder also is the general and provides a turn key product with cabinets and appliances installed before it even gets to the site. 

@Joe Villeneuve no lenders, at least in California have issues with modulars. Once they are built, they are SFR's and they are recorded with the county that way. You don't even have to disclose that it was built in a factory when you sell it.

@Rusty Thompson  modulars have higher overhead? Not from what I've research. @Karen Margrave  is correct, they are produced in a production line in a factory set up for it, out of the weather. That's how they build them cheaper.

@Roy N.  Actually we do build our homes very energy efficient. Our windows, insulation, roofing, tankless water heaters, HVAC systems, low flow water, dual flush toilets, etc. are pretty much standards anymore. In California we have some of the strictest environmental standards there are. 

Originally posted by @Nick Coonis :

@Joe Villeneuve no lenders, at least in California have issues with modulars. Once they are built, they are SFR's and they are recorded with the county that way. You don't even have to disclose that it was built in a factory when you sell it.

Every state is different.  I wish more states were like California in this way.

Joe Villeneuve

Originally posted by @Karen Margrave :

@Roy N. Actually we do build our homes very energy efficient. Our windows, insulation, roofing, tankless water heaters, HVAC systems, low flow water, dual flush toilets, etc. are pretty much standards anymore. In California we have some of the strictest environmental standards there are. 


Definitely a leader in the U.S.A and much of North America, though there are other places which exceed even California's standards (Australia for water consumption; Germany for renewables; Scandinavia and {part of} Canada for insulation, etc)

Still looking to catch someone familiar w/ steel building construction in the small residential space.

@Pete T.  We've used steel framing on office buildings for interior walls, but never built an entire house or building using steel. For one reason, where we used to live it would get well over 100 degrees, and it just was too hot to work with. Another issue is when you live in an area where there's not a lot of people doing something like that, finding workers able to do it is hard, and it's impractical to spend the time teaching them, etc. 

What's your reason for wanting to use steel frame? 

My husband used to build big steel buildings years ago. For commercial use it makes sense with the large open spans, etc. 

I built this modular house back in 2008 in Temecula CA.  It was about 5100 sf.


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