The difference between a modular home and a sectional home

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The main difference between modular and sectional homes is that modular homes are conceived as permanent constructions while sectional homes are built to be easily transportable. Modular homes are a specific type of permanent prefabricated construction that is built per modules: every module is prefabricated in a factory-like environment and delivered to the site to be assembled and set on the foundation. Once they are built, modular homes look just like any traditionally built home. Sectional homes on the other hand, are comparable to an upgraded version of a “mobile home”, a common terminology used to describe this type of construction, however the correct label for it is “multi-wide manufactured home”. 

Main differences between modular homes and sectional homes:

  1. Building regulations they adhere to
  2. Quality of the product
  3. House design options
  4. Affordability and financing

Despite the considerable difference between a modular and a sectional construction, these two are often mixed up due to the one similarity they share: both modular and sectional homes are built by putting prefabricated blocks together. However, since both constructions are built to serve very distinctive purposes, it is essential to understand their differences in order to choose the type of house that best respond to our specific situation and needs.

Main differences between a modular home and a sectional home

To analyze the differences between these two types of construction, the main aspect we need to consider is the permanency of the construction. Permanent and non-permanent constructions follow completely different building processes.

Building regulations they adhere to

Every house built today is required to follow some sort of building regulations to guarantee the minimum quality and safety standards are met. However, these regulations differ from permanent to non-permanent constructions. Permanent constructions and therefore modular homes, are regulated by the Building Codes. These codes are based on the International Code Council® (ICC) which is modified to adapt to the specific needs of every location. Therefore, the building codes modular homes adhere to depend on the location where they are built [1].

Non-permanent homes and therefore sectional homes, aren’t built with one specific location in mind and therefore can’t be requested to stick to any local building code. Being originally designed to be transportable instead of fixed to a permanently set spot, once a sectional home is out of the manufacturing company it could be placed anywhere around the U.S. territory. Then, the building regulation of these types of constructions is done at a national level by the Federal Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards, following the HUD Code [2].

Quality of the product

Despite both modular and sectional homes being built under some sort of building regulations, there are some differences between these two and the minimum quality requirements of the HUD Codes can’t be compared to those established by the Building Codes. The HUD Codes are a generalized rule applicable to the overall territory of the U.S. while the building codes consider any local requirements. 

For example, those areas that are commonly affected by extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, or earthquakes; take these circumstances carefully into consideration and contemplate them in the Building Codes. This is the case with Florida’s Building Codes, which are rigorously strengthened to ensure the safety of the buildings placed in hurricane-prone areas [3]. 

The HUD Code acknowledges the need to consider these events and integrates them in a more generalized way. For example, factors such as strong winds are taken into consideration differentiating between three different wind zones [4]. Every manufactured home is tagged according to the wind zone it has been built to withstand. Still, in circumstances such as extreme weather events, the quality of a sectional home is lower than that of one of a modular home. Moreover, regardless of the building regulations, the fact that modular homes are attached to permanent foundations ensures a higher quality construction with better stability.

House design options

Modular homes can be designed in a variety of different shapes, sizes and styles, similarly to site-built houses, and they are often fully customized to fit the exact requirements defined by the client. Sectional homes, on the other hand, have limited design options. Having to be fully transportable, every section of the multi-wide manufactured homes is enforced to be built on a steel chassis which sizes that are usually standardized. 

While with modular construction you can obtain a home of any style, shape and size; with a sectional home, the customization options are reduced to smaller details. Additionally, contrary to modular homes, manufactured homes are often delivered turn-key and fully furnished, which may reduce the indoor design possibilities. 

Affordability and Financing

Both modular and sectional homes are often advertised as affordable constructions. However, the difference between the two is considerable. While modular homes are considered affordable when compared to traditional construction because the industrialized building process slightly cuts the construction costs, manufactured homes were conceived from the very beginning as a low-cost housing solution. To give you an idea, building a modular home has a cost per square foot of $50 to $100 while the average price per square foot of a sectional home is around $30 to $60 [5].

Financing a modular home also differs from financing a sectional home. To finance a modular home the process is very similar to that followed to finance a traditional site-built home. However, since manufactured or sectional homes are transportable constructions, they are purchased as personal property and can’t be financed the same way as real estate property. The most popular way to finance mobile homes is with the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, which covers the house without requiring the ownership of the land where they are based [6].

Which is better modular or sectional?

Both modular and sectional could offer a great housing solution when chosen according to our specific situation. There is a common misunderstanding regarding prefabricated constructions that is especially concerning among those types of prefabs built per sections such as modular and sectional homes. However, these two types of houses are completely different constructions conceived to satisfy very distinct needs. To choose the best type of home it is key to identify our needs. 

Below we have listed the most important requirements to take into consideration when evaluating if it is better to build a modular or a sectional home:

  • Restricted budget: If our budget is limited, sectional homes might be a better housing solution. Additionally to a cheaper building cost, the total price of a sectional home often includes all finishes and furniture, highly reducing any extra costs required to move in.
  • Wanting a specific design or shape: Modular homes can be designed in a huge variety of styles and shapes. If we are looking for very specific or unique designs, modular construction will grant us the most flexibility.
  • You don’t own land and would rather rent it: Since sectional homes are always built as transportable units, they are considered personal property and can be acquired independently from the land where they will be placed. It is common for sectional home owners to rent land or even settle in a trailer park.
  • Extreme weather requirements: If the area where you will place the house is affected by extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or strong snowfalls; it is recommended to opt for a modular home. A construction built according to the building codes will offer a safer construction in this case.

References

  1. I-Codes Code Adoption Map The Wagner Companies https://wagnercompanies.com/i-codes-code-adoption-map/
  2. Manufactured Housing and Standards – Frequently Asked Questions U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/housing/rmra/mhs/faqs  
  3. Florida Building Codes Panel Built https://www.panelbuilt.com/blog/hurricane-rated-construction
  4. Basic Wind Zone Map Manufactured Home Institute (MHI) https://www.manufacturedhousing.org/wind-map/
  5. How much does it cost to build a modular home? Home Guide https://homeguide.com/costs/modular-home-prices#vs
  6. Financing Manufactured (Mobile) Homes U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/housing/sfh/title/repair