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Modular homes are the perfect solution if you want to build a high-quality, customized home without undue expense or hassle. In this informative guide, Andrew Gianino helps you make the best choices throughout the modular building process, with suggestions for everything from choosing the right dealer and contractor to setting the specs, price, and schedule. Whether you’re looking for a cozy Victorian or want to add a personal touch to a wide ranch, there’s a modular home that will fit your tastes, lifestyle, and budget.
|Product dimensions:||8.46(w) x 10.80(h) x 0.83(d)|
About the Author
Andrew Gianino is the founder and president of The Home Store, the largest dealer of modular homes in the Northeast. He lives in Whately, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
Why Build Modular?
A MODULAR HOME IS BUILT out of boxes, called modules, which are constructed off-site, transported to a building lot, and assembled into a finished home. All of the materials, from framing, roofing, and plumbing to cabinetry, interior finish, and electrical, are identical to what you would find in a conventional "stick-built" home. The most striking thing about a modular home is not anything you can see, nor how it is made, but rather where it is made: in a modern factory designed to build good-quality homes.
Modular homes are one of four building systems that compete with stick-built homes. The other three building systems are precut homes, panelized homes, and manufactured homes. All four systems involve some form of factory work.
Stick-built homes are constructed from individual "sticks," such as 2×4s and 2×10s, that are delivered from a lumberyard and cut to size and assembled at the site. Since stick-built homes are constructed on-site, they are sometimes called "site-built" homes.
Precut homes are assembled out of the same basic sticks as conventional homes except that the correct pieces are preselected and cut to size at a factory. Of the four building systems, precut "kits" provide the least factory assistance to the builder, since the factory does not assemble any of the building materials.
Panelized homes are constructed out of factory-built wall panels that are typically 8 feet tall and 4 to 40 feet long. Some panelized systems include plumbing, wiring, and insulation already installed ("closed-panel systems"), while others include only the framing and exterior sheathing ("open-panel systems"). The panels are assembled into a home by using a crane to set them onto the foundation.
Manufactured homes, known as mobile homes in the past, are similar to modular homes in that they are made of boxes. This similarity accounts for much of the mistaken impression that the two products are identical. The fact that both types of homes are manufactured in a factory also confuses people. The differences between modular and manufactured housing, however, are quite substantial. Manufactured homes are built only to preemptive federal codes governed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which among other things requires that they be constructed on a nonremovable steel chassis. Modular homes, along with stick, precut, and panelized homes, are always built in compliance with state and local building codes, which are much stricter than the federal codes. In addition, state building codes and local zoning regulations significantly limit where manufactured homes can be erected, but they do not constrain where modular homes can be built. Modular homes are manufactured, but that does not earn them the formal designation of manufactured homes. When I refer to manufacturers throughout this book, it should be understood that I am referring to manufacturers of modular homes.
The Factory Advantage
All four building systems combine engineering know-how and factory-production methods to design and build more efficiently and with greater quality control. When done well, the efficiency results in lower costs and the quality control results in a better product. The idea of building homes, especially the components that make up a home, in a factory is not a recent phenomenon. Precut homes have been built in the United States since the 1890s. Americans began buying houses out of mail-order catalogs as soon as it was possible to ship the materials cross-country by railroad. Sears sold about 100,000 mail-order homes from 1908 to 1940. The use of production-line techniques again picked up after World War II and made a sizable contribution to reducing the housing shortage that developed after the war.
Even stick-built houses today use a growing number of mass-produced, factory-built components, including prehung windows and doors, roof trusses, interior moldings, drywall, and kitchen and bath cabinets. More and more aspects of home construction are being completed in factories because the factory environment helps to organize the construction process. By using automatic assembly equipment and repetitive assembly-line techniques, factories assemble component parts more efficiently and with greater consistency in product quality. This is true whether the components are assembled to make a window or an entire house.
Virtually all of the best products in the world, from computers and appliances to automobiles and planes, are manufactured in factories. That is why both consumers and industry professionals in Japan and Scandinavia consider the modular method of home building superior to site-built construction. This makes it ironic that the country that has led the world in the design and mass production of manufactured goods, the United States, took until the 1980s to embrace modular homes. Today, there is still a bit of a romantic notion that building a home on-site, piece by piece, is somehow superior. This belief lingers even though consumers would reject new appliances and automobiles that were built in someone's backyard, with the materials exposed to the weather and no one watching over the assembly.
Yet the romance with custom stick construction is starting to lose some of its bloom. According to the January 2004 issue of Automated Builder magazine, modular home sales grew by 34 percent in the previous four years, while production stick-frame sales grew by 16 percent. Many stick builders have converted to modular homes, driven in part by the severe shortage of skilled construction workers. This shortage is being caused by older, experienced workers retiring or choosing less physically demanding work and by younger people choosing other careers. In an ABC News study of 10,000 high school students that rated their interest in potential careers, the construction trades ranked 251st, right behind cowboy. In addition, those who are entering the trades are doing so with little formal training or mentoring. The problem is particularly severe in some trades, such as carpentry, where few companies have apprenticeship programs. A study by the National Association of Home Builders, which is made up primarily of stick builders, found that two of three builders are now forced to hire workers with skill levels below those expected for their jobs.
This labor shortage has eroded craftsmanship, driven up prices, and caused delays, shoddy construction, and unhappy homeowners. Frustrated by these problems, custom stick builders have turned to modular homes as a way to introduce some control into the building process. Modular manufacturers have, in turn, enticed them by designing homes that meet the needs of builders' style-conscious customers.
Consumers in search of a custom-built home are also giving modular homes a more favorable look. Sometimes they turn to modular homes because they cannot get a stick builder to respond in a timely fashion. More frequently, superior quality, faster completion time, and better prices are the primary inducements, along with greater energy efficiency, extended warranties, and flexible design options. Customers who want high-quality finishes as well as high-quality construction increasingly understand that they can get both with a modular home.
The Quality Advantage
Many consumers assume that the primary advantage of modular technology is lower prices. That is only the third most important reason for building a modular home. Faster construction time is the second, and superior quality is the first. Here are some of the factors that produce the better quality that is the hallmark of a modular home.
A modular manufacturer does not hire carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers, and painters to build its homes, just as an automobile manufacturer does not hire mechanics to make its cars. In both industries, the manufacturer hires and trains people for the specific tasks required by factory production. The people skilled at hanging windows may not have learned to frame a set of stairs, and the people trained to frame the stairs may not be good at roofing, but both of them may be better at their jobs than the typical carpenter who has developed good overall skills but has not had the training or experience to master any one part of his craft. Factory-production workers are also likely to perform better because they are more closely supervised than the typical on-site construction worker.
Factory labor tends to be more stable and reliable than traditional construction crews. The workforce is mostly employees who receive good benefits, unlike most construction workers building a stick-framed home, who are usually small subcontractors without any benefits. Factory production is not delayed or halted because a couple of workers get sick or find another job. When the factory workforce becomes strained, the manufacturer can move workers who have been trained to perform multiple jobs into the vacated positions. When the manufacturer needs to replace or add workers, it has training and supervision systems in place that can bring its new workers up to speed quickly.
By design, modular factories are able to use larger, more powerful, and more sophisticated equipment than on-site construction. Because all main components are assembled with jigs, precision control is ensured. This means that every home is more likely to be built exactly as it was designed, with all corners square and all walls plumb.
The Framing Materials
The framing materials used by modular manufacturers need to be of very good quality to function with the precision equipment in the factory. Only the highest-quality, kiln-dried lumber can be used, because green, warped, badly knotted, or splintered pieces would slow down the finely tuned assembly-line jigs. This means that better materials, applied with tighter specifications, go into modular homes.
In the past, wood used in construction was of higher quality. It was more likely to have come from old-growth trees that produced clear lumber with few knots. Today, the lumber industry uses more unseasoned, juvenile lumber. A higher percentage of this lumber is green, which is more likely to dry unevenly, causing warping, twisting, and splitting. A modular manufacturer can reject lower grades of lumber without putting itself at risk for material shortages because it buys materials for multiple jobs, which requires it to closely monitor and maintain sufficient inventory. The manufacturer has personnel to inspect the materials and test them for moisture content and the time to submit a replacement order to the supplier if the materials are unacceptable. Knowing that a manufacturer will inspect materials more closely than a site builder and return materials when they do not meet the manufacturer's standards, most suppliers will make a greater effort to meet the manufacturer's needs for good-quality materials. The typical custom stick builder, in contrast, orders only enough materials for one job at a time from a supplier that is usually a few miles away from the site. He does not always have the time to inspect the materials before the subcontractors who will install them come to do their job. And the subcontractors cannot afford to wait for replacement materials when poor-quality materials are discovered. Consequently, the inferior materials are more likely to be used.
When materials are delivered to a modular factory, they are stored under cover, protected from the elements, and assembled indoors. Building in climate-controlled conditions enables manufacturers to avoid weather-related defects caused by rain and snow, strong winds, freezing temperatures, and searing heat. After a modular home is built at the factory, it is wrapped tightly with protective coverings for the journey to the site. This prevents unwanted moisture from saturating the lumber, drywall, and insulation. Keeping the moisture content down also reduces the chances for mold to grow. Within hours of removing the coverings, the set crew makes the home as weather tight as possible, even when the siding installation is delayed. This means that the interior materials are better protected from the weather.
A site builder's materials are exposed to the weather as soon as they are dropped off at the site. They continue to be subjected to the elements while the home is being framed. Only when the home is finally closed in, which can be weeks later, is it protected from inclement weather. Even good-quality materials swell when soaked in a rainstorm. Once wet framing materials dry out, they shrink, twist, and bend, causing problems such as bowed walls, drywall cracks, squeaky floors, and protruding nails or screws.
A climate-controlled factory environment offers two more advantages. First, it enables modular companies to avoid weather-related delays that prevent a customer from moving in on schedule. In fact, it allows homes to be built all year long. Second, it eliminates the poor workmanship that can result when construction crews have to work in either very cold or very hot conditions.
Building Codes and Standard Specifications
Modular homes are constructed to meet or exceed local and state building codes. There are several reasons why a manufacturer would exceed the building code. First, it has to build homes strong enough to be transported and set up, which is a factor that does not affect site builders. Second, if a manufacturer sells homes in several states, it may be more economical to build them all to the same code specifications, which means they would be built to the most demanding code. For example, some manufacturers use photoelectric smoke detectors, carbon-monoxide detectors, and housewrap for all of their homes even though only some of the states they serve require them. Third, manufacturers can often purchase materials for a very good price in large volumes. Fourth, manufacturers realize that some customers are skeptical about the quality of modular homes, so they try to appeal to these customers by building their homes better than those of local site builders. This also allows them to distinguish themselves from their modular competition.
Many site builders follow a different logic. They build their homes to the minimum code standards required by the state or local building departments. For many site builders to succeed against their local competition, they have to cut costs by downgrading their building specifications.
In the world of wood-frame residential construction, modular homes offer unparalleled strength. They are designed to be transported safely over long distances at highway speeds and lifted by a crane onto a foundation. Major components such as walls and floors are fastened together with both nails and special adhesive, with the adhesive providing a stronger bond than nails. Site-built homes are typically only nailed together.
Manufacturers employ several special techniques to strengthen the framing system at its stress points. For example, most manufacturers build their floor systems with a double perimeter band rather than the single band used by stick builders. This makes the floors exceptionally strong and rigid. Since they are built on perfectly square jigs, the floors are also perfectly square. The structure of two-story homes is also strengthened by installing both floor and ceiling joists on all modules. Consequently, the first floor of two-story homes has a ceiling that is independent of the floor of the second story above. A stick-built two-story home makes the first-story ceiling do double duty as the second-story floor. In addition to making for a stronger home, the modular method also helps reduce noise transfer between floors.
Many manufacturers also use metal plates to join the tops of intersecting interior and exterior walls. In addition, they use steel straps along the bottom and top of each side of the "marriage wall," which is where the two modules join together. This ties together the wall studs, the bottom plate of the wall, and the perimeter of the floor as well as the wall studs, the top plate of the wall, and the perimeter of the ceiling. The set crews then join each side-by-side module at its marriage wall with carriage bolts in the basement. The resulting basement carrying beam, which is made up of four or six members, is very strong. But strength is not its only advantage. Unlike the large dropped beams that divide most basements and reduce headroom, the integral carrying beam of a modular home sits flush to the ceiling. This is a significant advantage when installing the plumbing and heating systems, since the pipes and ducts can run directly across the basement ceiling without obstruction from a beam.
Excerpted from "The Modular Home"
Copyright © 2005 Andrew Gianino.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Why Build Modular?
2 Selecting a Dealer
3 Designing a Home
4 Specifications and Features
A Modular Home Gallery
5 Selecting a General Contractor
6 Finding and Preparing a Building Lot
7 The General Contractor's Responsibilities
8 Building a Modular Addition
9 Financing a Modular Home
10 Warranty Service
11 Building on Schedule
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is great. It takes you through the process of buying and building a home in great - yet comprehensive - detail. It's really given us everything we need to buy a house. The only way it could be better would be to include a review of the major house manufacturers, or at least a glossary that directs the reader to this kind of information. Overall, a great book.