Modular vs Conventional Construction

Why build modular?

Modular homes have become a much-discussed topic over the last ten years.  Company’s like Blu Homes, Plant Prefab, Connect Homes, and hybridCore Homes have made waves with new technologies and a new way to build.  What makes a home modular and why is it better?

First, to completely recognize the benefits of modular, it’s helpful to understand the vocabulary.  Terminology like modular, manufactured, mobile, prefab and panelized get tossed around as synonymous but they are quite different.

Manufactured homes or mobile homes are not placed on permanent foundations. Their building code is governed by the HUD code and is of a lesser quality than modular homes.  The buyer and builder should be very discerning of the difference between manufactured and modular.

Panelized houses or kit homes are projects where the walls or portions of the home are constructed off-site and delivered to be assembled.  Often times pricing of these panelized or kit homes is seemingly very attractive but negates the additional cost of assembling and infrastructure like plumbing, electrical and HVAC.

Modular homes encompass the category of prefab.  Prefabricated homes, or prefab for short, are homes that are built off site and transported to be set on the foundation.  Modular homes are built to the same conventions and materials that stick built homes would be.  Modular homes also allow the same flexibility in design such that there are no limitations when it comes to designing a modular home.  When it comes to financing, modular homes appraise and finance the same as conventional construction.

The Benefits of Modular Construction

Now that you know the difference between the options, what makes modular better?  Most importantly, modular homes are built in a factory within a controlled environment.  The build is not subject to weather or delays commonly associated with conventional construction.  Crews can work year round and produce the modules at incredible speed.

The time it takes to complete a modular build is about half the time of conventional construction.  Once the factory is finished, the modular is set down onto the permanent foundation often using a crane.  Homes may consist of any number of modular boxes.  Most of the modular home is completed in the factory including windows, cabinets, countertops, plumbing fixtures, lighting, and paint.  This reduces the amount of time that the contractor spends on site.

Since modular factories are often high volume producers, home builders can get an economies of scale they wouldn’t normally receive building a single family home.  This often translates to cost savings of modular homes vs conventional construction.  It is especially highlighted in areas where the labor force is constrained resulting in extremely high build costs.  Modular factories are not subject to local labor rates and shortages that can impact build costs.

So, the question facing all new construction, why not build modular?  For a process that doesn’t require any design concessions, ends up being faster and cheaper to construct, and appraises and finances the same as conventional, it seems like a no brainer to pursue modular.  We will continue to educate people about the benefits and how they can build their dream home the better way.

Modular Construction 101

There’s still a lot of confusion as to what modular construction is. After writing about prefab construction for quite a few years, I hear all types of theories about modular construction. Many believe the word is synonymous with prefab itself and is often confused with manufactured houses, which meet the HUD code rather than the Universal code and arrive on wheels on a steel chassis.

Modular construction is actually the most complete type of prefab construction. Boxes or modules are produced in a factory and shipped on a flat bed truck to the construction site. There is a wide range of completeness of the boxes. Some people order just an empty box, which they prefer to complete on site. Other boxes are ordered almost complete with flooring, built-ins, appliances, etc.

One of the important advantages of modular construction is the speed of construction. Depending on the size, location and complexity of the house, it can be built in far less time than a site-built house. Modular construction allows for the building and the site work to be completed simultaneously, reducing the overall completion schedule by as much as 50%.

Assembly is independent of weather, which increases work efficiency and avoids damaged building material. The modules are built in a protected environment, which shelters the materials and also prevents pilferage on site.

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Santa Rosa Housing Project Embraces Modular Construction

Kitchens and bathrooms often are among the last parts of a new home to be completed. But at The Residences at Taylor Mountain project in southeast Santa Rosa, they have started arriving before the first foundations are ready for them.

An often-touted benefit of modular construction is acceleration of a project timeline by as much as double, as work on site and in the factory can happen simultaneously. But in the case of this 93-townhome project, the production plant got ahead of the on-site work.

“The challenge had with fires is it has stressed the factories and the local labor market pool,” said Will Oswald, CEO of Kawana Meadows Development LLC, the Kentfield-based developer of the townhomes and a future phase with 67 single-family homes, called Taylor Mountain Estates. “‘Half the time’ is now down to half the half the time, because there is so much work out there.”

Santa Rosa-based HybridCore Homes has delivered over a dozen of its “wet cores” — modules with ample plumbing such as bathrooms and kitchens — to the townhome project site at 2880 Franz Kafka Ave. from factories in the Central Valley. But with thousands of homes destroyed in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties in October and hundreds more destroyed in wildfires in Southern and Northern California in the months since, such factories are getting to be as busy as local subcontractors.

“We get production that’s good and consistent out of the factory, but the problem is if you’re not in their schedule, there are 100 projects ahead of you,” Oswald said. “Two years ago, it was not hard to do, but now the timelines are getting longer.”

HybridCore alone has about 20 postfire rebuilds underway in Santa Rosa’s devastated Coffey Park neighborhood and the Larkfield community just to the north, according to Matt Hernandez, director of operations. The company contracts with factories in Sacramento, Woodland and Corona operated by Clayton Homes, a Berkshire Hathaway company. Those plants operate six day a week, rain or shine.

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KTVU Channel 2 Interview

Live interview discussing modular building in Santa Rosa.



Sonoma County Wildfire Residents turn to Modular

When construction workers raised the white plastic sheet to reveal a portion of his new house, Art Ramirez had to take a closer look.

Clad in a white hard hat, Ramirez strode across his cleared dirt lot to peer inside his nearly finished kitchen, with its white cabinets, quartz countertop and stainless steel refrigerator already in place. The room belongs to one of two 50-foot-long sections of his factory-built house, each part of which was lowered by crane last week onto a concrete foundation on Ramirez’s property in Coffey Park.

Ramirez, a registered nurse, said he’d been thinking for months about the idea of a house assembled in a factory near Sacramento and trucked over in two 30,000-pound sections to Santa Rosa. But, he said, “to see the actual product on site is just crazy.”

The three-bedroom, Craftsman-style house is the first installed in the North Bay burn areas by Santa Rosa-based HybridCore Homes. The houses combine the benefits of factory and on-site construction, company officials said, and can be completed at prices that compare with or beat those of standard, “stick-built” residences.


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