Modular Homes: Evolution of Housing?

18 Replies

The concept of modular homes is fascinating. The production efficiency is much greater than traditional home building due to the ability to manufacture rooms/homes indoor, mass replication of standard designs, high durability of materials (so I’ve heard), and the ability to drop it on a slab without the need to dig out a foundation. It seems like a great fit to meet the housing demands that are being called for, especially in urban areas, by adding housing faster and at a lower cost. Some of the companies manufacturing them are even designing energy efficient / carbon negative homes to appeal to a generation that is increasingly trying to reduce its carbon footprint. Modular housing seems to be an interesting idea to meet several growing needs at once. Does anyone have experience with modular homes? What are your thoughts and what do you see as a potential future for this?

@Scott Passman

I agree with all of the benefits you just mentioned and think that modular building has the capability to completely disrupt real estate investment/development. It allows you to plop a unit on a slab foundation and start cash flowing really quickly. The installation can take less than a week, and in many cases the projects are cheaper and higher quality then traditional stick built structures. The only issue is the ease of access and process (get plans, compare builders/manufacturers, understand process of site prep and permitting).

I’m a student at Syracuse University and I’m building a startup that will address those issues and make modular accessible to more people. I love seeing that people are understanding the benefits of this type of building & and it inspires/pushes me to work even harder.

@James LePage - I’m a fellow SU alum (law 96). And I’m a buy and hold investor in Syracuse. I’ve been looking at modular building for a while, specifically, shipping container homes (though I’m not wed to containers for modular building). I would love to chat with you about it. And maybe do some sort of project together. I sent you a connection invite. Let’s talk. 

@Parker Eberhard I'm sure stick built is still cheaper in many parts of the country and for many different structures.  But I know there are some uses where it makes a strong case to outperform traditional developing and when the industry works out some of the initial kinks in design, manufacturing, and transporting I think there is tremendous upside and possibilities.  The Chicago area is starting to see more of this and I'm interested to see its evolution and involvement in impacting commercial and residential development.   

Just like the OP, @Scott Passman , I find the concept of modular super fascinating and have read all the theoretical advantages. It seems like it should be great. I have looked into it in several situations, from complete new homes, to additions, to just garages....and although it seems like it should work...I find exactly what @Parker Eberhard said, it is actually more expensive than on site, stick built and even the overall build times are not faster in most instances I have seen. I have no idea why, but it just doesn't seem to work in most instances.

PS I am not referring to shipping containers or other repurposed or unique structures. I am talking about generally stick built....on site/traditional vs off site/modular.

@Eric M. the one thing that the per sq ft costs that the proponents of pre-fab NEVER TALK ABOUT OR HAVE IN THEIR COSTS is any of the site work / utility work / and foundation work. These three things can easily account for 20-30% of a stick built structure (and are factored into the sq ft costs of stick built)

The ‘myth of pre-fab’ has been going strong for years, yet has never proven to be a better / cheaper method of construction

I've been working in the modular construction space my entire career. It's all I do. Ideally modular is better built, more sustainable and faster. In some cases it can be cheaper. As manufacturing becomes more automated it should go that way. The challenges are that as in all manufacturing scale is king. Single family housing may not be the best application for modular building. Single family modular housing is much more prevalent on the East Coast than it is going further West.

The problem I see with deploying vast amounts of modular single family or 2-4 unit housing is that it doesn't make for quality built environment. Automating housing design isn't good architecture, and that's something that's already sorely missing from our communities. All building should respond to their specific locations, site conditions, views, breezes, daylighting, etc.

In multifamily housing, student housing, senior care, etc. modular is likely to become the dominating construction method in this country as long as manufacturing keeps improving.

Please check out a modular success story I posted a few years ago of a 3 unit project I completed in San Diego:

@Scott Passman Hello Scott. Have you checked out what Skender is doing in Chicago? If you're really into learning about modular building, I highly reccomend listening to Andrew Weinreich"s podcast - predicting our future:

This gentleman has investigated modular to the nth. Degree. Excellent to listen to.

@Jamie Moyer A friend of mine was just down at their facility last week and was recapping his experience for me.  We have been loosely talking about modular homes for a bit but his experience down there is what triggered me to start this thread.  He came away very impressed. Thanks for the podcast recommendation, I will have to give it a listen. 

@Henri Meli 3 units was the maximum allowed by zoning on this property. I'm developing an 18 unit modular apartment project now I hope to start construction on in 2020. I'll post about it once I do.