In the past, modular homes were written off as “glorified trailers,” according to Bryan Hitt, president of Hudson Valley Homesource, LLC, but with the help of computer-aided design software and evolving building materials there are few limitations to creating a totally custom factory built home.
There are three types of factory homes any newcomer should be familiar with: manufactured, modular, and panelized.
Manufactured homes are commonly recognized as mobile and trailer homes built to meet federal regulations. Modular homes, on the other hand, are homes built in sections, transported to the location, and assembled into a home on site, adhering to housing regulations of their intended destination. Panelized homes involve a little more on-site construction. Walls, roofs, and floors come factory-made to the building site and need to be assembled together. Some manufacturers incorporate both modular and panelized components into their construction. Modular and panelized homes can be referred to as prefab homes because they are prefabricated off-site. When complete, these prefab homes are comparable to site-built homes, and are even said to be better after examining the advantages of building modularly.
When it comes to modular homes, there are two construction periods. First is order to delivery, which takes about three to six weeks. The second phase is groundbreaking to the move in, which takes about three to four months depending on the size of the project. On average, a site-built home takes six to nine months to build.
Time savings not only means a faster move in, but also financial savings because the construction period is significantly shorter. According to John Colucci, vice president of sales and marketing for Westchester Modular, modular homes are about 5 to 10 percent more cost efficient than stick-built homes.
Most importantly is the consistent level of quality and efficiency that these homes have to offer. Prefab homes are inherently green according to the National Association of Home Builders. Prefab homes have incredibly tight envelopes and their construction does little to intrude or disturb the environment—delivering up to about 80 percent of a finished home within the first day—all helping to earn a building LEED points.
“The construction waste for the most part is left here [in our factory] and moved down stream to the next projects, all the way to the point of where we heat our facilities with our wood waste,” says Tedd Benson, company steward of Bensonwood Homes. “There’s no need for Dumpsters, and that’s an important part of it.”
Additionally, modular homes themselves are extremely energy efficient. Many manufacturers can build homes that are Energy Star certified, while some manufacturers build to reach LEED status. It’s not uncommon for modular manufacturers to have zero-net-energy homes in their portfolios.
Whether looking to build a home from the ground up, remodel, or add renovations to an existing home, thinking modular makes sense. Here are some facts to keep in mind:
Do your homework
Every manufacturer has a different niche in the marketplace. It’s important to keep in mind different levels of quality, capability, and customization available. Visit different manufacturers and model homes to see what you like and what you’d like incorporated into your home.
Know your dealers and builders
Every factory and builder in a factory’s network is set up differently. Some factories set their distribution up as dealers, while others distribute as builders. When distributing as dealers, most expect the homebuyer to act as their own general contractor. When distributing as builders, they typically have a network of subcontractors who work with the company to do all the on-site work with your home, from prepping the foundation before delivery to electrical and plumbing work once the house is set.
“Most manufacturers go out and find builders to represent them,” says Colucci of Westchester Modular. “Most often, customers end up dealing with the builders and the manufacturer just becomes the material supplier.”
Research the reputation of the modular company
“There are people who market low-end homes, not much different than double wides, and then you have a quality modular home,” says Fred Krol, president and owner of Catskill Modular Homes, LLC. “You want to check that.”
The best way is to get references of people living in that company’s home, find out if they’re happy, and visit any model homes.
Make your budget prominent
If you want to stay on budget, it must be made clear to the representative throughout the process, not only in negotiations, but throughout the sketching, drawing, and planning phases.
If a price appears too good to be true, it probably is. If one quote out of four is extremely low, Colucci suggests customers ask what the company didn’t include rather than thinking it’s a deal.
Get it in writing
Make sure you know what you’re getting and get it in writing. You want to be sure the quote you receive includes everything you want done.
According to Krol, many modular home manufacturers try to undermine the budgets of customers by excluding costs of freight, cranes, and the setting of the house on the site.
“It’s very deceiving,” Krol says. “You want to get a line item of everything that they’re including in their price and if it’s not including freight then you know something is missing, because they’re going to charge you freight. You have to deliver it.”
Be wary of standard specs and pricing
The word standard can mean a full range in quality; buyers should be sure to check carefully. For instance, standard flooring often implies linoleum, from which most will upgrade. However, upgrading can become expensive so it’s best to ask lots of questions and find out what specifically the standard price includes.
Don’t skimp on the long-term items
When putting money into any home—prefab or site-built—it’s important not too compromise on long term items like windows, doors, and roofing material. A buyer should invest in quality with more permanent fixtures.
“If you’re going to cut corners because you’re on a limited budget, you do it with things like light fixtures or countertops,” Krol says. “That you can readily change a year or two down the road if you want to upgrade them.”
Don’t be afraid to customize
“The biggest feature we see nowadays is just the ability for a person to put their own ideas into a project and make it their own,” Hitt says.
Most manufacturers have their own design team and computer-aided architectural software that allow a client to design a home from the ground up. Buyers can take virtual tours of their new homes and make modifications before construction begins.
Fortunately, for most companies customization does not mean custom prices.
Prefab homes are offering homebuyers a way of achieving high quality homes in terms of energy efficiency, construction quality, and architectural integrity. At the same time, building this way allows you to control costs in a more effective way than site-built homes since contingency costs are nearly eliminated because the house is built in the factory.
“Simply put, we’re bringing the craft into the craft studio,” Benson says.
Green by Nature
By their nature factory built homes are high-performance and low-impact. Manufacturers buy in bulk, lowering the overall cost and minimizing pollution.
The climate- and quality-controlled factory environment allows for precision—leaving behind little waste compared to site-built homes. Also, factories have the advantage of “down streaming” left over materials toward future projects, says Tedd Benson of Bensonwood Homes. Once leaving the factory, 80 to 100 percent of a home is delivered within the first day, minimizing site disturbance.
The sheer efficiency of manufacturing, transportation, and on-site assembly can earn a modular home up to 8 LEED points, says John Colucci of Westchester Modular. Many modular companies produce Energy Star and/or LEED certified homes and others, like Bryan Hitt of Hudson Valley Home Source, are NAHB Certified Green Professionals.
Modular homes have tight building envelopes to optimize energy efficiency—but there are many more green options.
Some companies work with renewable energy providers. Michael Provenzano, president of Distinctive Dwellings, works with his son Nick, a certified geothermal professional, to install geothermal systems with their modular homes. For those who opt out of geothermal, they use boilers with an efficiency rating of 80 to 90 percent, like Buderus. Westchester Modular hopes to partner with a solar provider so its builders can quote prices for PV panels on their homes.
New World Home’s LEED Platinum homes, called “New Old Green Modulars” due to their familiar architectural styles, use no alternative energy sources but can still save thousands of dollars per year in electricity and heating costs and use 60 percent of the energy of a code-built house due to superior building materials and insulation, the company says. “It’s all in the building science,” says Mark Jupiter, co-founder.
To maintain indoor air quality, use low- or no-VOC paint and seek low-VOC flooring and carpeting options. Bamboo floors and formaldehyde-free carpets can be installed onsite if not available from the manufacturer.
Choose low-flow water fixtures, dual flush toilets, occupancy sensors, programmable thermostats, and Energy Star appliances. Lastly, choose products made from recyclable materials, renewable sources, and found locally.
Locally sourced manufacturers and materials reduce pollution from transportation and support the local economy.
Resource List Advantage Modular Homes (845) 331-0880; advantagemodular.com Bensonwood Homes (877) 203-3562; bensonwood.com Catskill Modular Homes LLC (845) 657-6851; catskillmodularhomes.com Distinctive Dwellings (845) 339-3035; prodistinctivedwellings.com Hudson Valley Home Source LLC (845) 294-5663; hvhomesource.com New World Home (800) 841-5042; newworldhome.com Westchester Modular Homes Inc. (845) 832-9400; westchestermodular.com