Durability Of Modular Homes (How Many Years Do They Last)

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Modular homes are high-quality constructions built to last for about 50 years, though this number is just an estimate. Being a prefabricated structure that is built faster and cheaper than traditional on-site construction raises the question of quality and durability. However, the construction process of modular homes is an advantage that rather than reducing its durability it often extends it. Still, when analyzing a construction type duration can only be estimated in a generalized way because the durability of every modular home will depend on a variety of factors.

Factors that influence the durability of a modular home:

  1. Material selection 
  2. Quality control and workmanship during construction
  3. The capability of the house to withstand the weather

The way we built a modular home has a direct impact on its longevity, though the actions of the user will determine how many years the modular home will last. High maintenance and upgrades over the year, will definitely extend the durability of a modular home. 

Are modular homes durable?

Modular homes are permanent constructions that are required to adhere to the same building codes expected in any other permanent construction. Following the building codes ensures the building’s quality, safety and performance for the following years. For example, the foundations and envelope of a house build up to code will last 50 years [1].

It is common though, to hesitate about the durability of modular homes because they are prefabricated constructions. Modular homes are built per modules or sections that are entirely manufactured in a factory-like setting; and while prefabrication offers the ideal setting to offer improved quality, sometimes the term prefabricated brings up doubts. These doubts about the ability to build a durable house off-site are a direct consequence of a common confusion between modular and mobile homes, which over time have gotten a bad reputation regarding the quality and durability of their construction [2]. 

However, even if all modular homes are prefabricated, not all prefabricated homes are modular since prefabrication only refers to a construction process that takes place offsite.  The similarities between mobile and modular end in the fact that they are both prefabricated structures; though when it comes to quality and durability, modular homes share more similarities with traditional site build construction than with mobile homes. 

Factors that influence the durability of a modular home

The durability of a modular home is mainly influenced by the decisions taken during its design and construction. The way we build a house determines its quality and capability to resist its usage and exposure to the elements.  Below are the three main factors that influence the longevity of a modular home.

Material selection

The materials chosen to build a modular home will directly impact its durability since building with low-quality materials usually translates into easier to crack, break and wear off [3]. The most important materials to consider are those used to raise the structure since it is what keeps the house standing. Materials such as concrete, steel or even timber frame, have a longevity of over 100 years [4] when no damage occurs to them. A good quality structure is key, though when looking for a long-lasting house we can’t forget about the finishes. 

Low-quality finishing materials will offer a degraded look to the house quite early on its lifespan, though the most important factor to consider is that finishes are the coating of the house and when they degrade, it is easy for water and other elements to filter into the different layers of the house until they reach the structure and slowly deteriorate it shortening its durability. The materials chosen to finish the roofing vary extensively in their durability and while a clay, concrete or slate roof can last for over 100 years, an aluminum coating has a life as short as 3 to 7 years [4]. When choosing the materials to build a modular home, don’t let the initial price blind you, look beyond that and consider the quality and durability this material offers. 

Modular homes are built with a variety of materials and having been constructed with the modular technique isn’t a guarantee of a high-quality material selection. However, since modular homes are built in a controlled environment the materials used in the construction are kept in a sheltered environment which ensures the materials’ integrity and the preservation of their initial quality. This protection is key because when materials are exposed to the elements –rain, snow, changes in temperature or humidity- their properties can be easily altered and the initial quality downgraded [5].  

Quality control and workmanship during construction

Despite the material selection, the durability of a house can easily be downgraded by a lack of quality control during construction or poor workmanship [6]. Since modular homes are built in a factory-like environment the construction process is highly industrialized easing the quality control. Commonly modular homes are monitored and tested at every stage of their construction, which facilitates identifying any possible human or computer mistake. 

Moreover, the sheltered environment where construction takes place offers excellent conditions to work comfortability and safely without any disturbances from unexpected weather events, which is in general, a guarantee of higher quality workmanship. Additionally, the industrialized environment where modular homes are built offers access to sophisticated equipment and tools allowing more accurate, cleaner, and finer finishes [7].

The capability of the house to withstand the weather

The construction of a modular home should be adapted according to the climate because the weather events the house is exposed to can easily downgrade the life expectancy of the house. Humidity is one of the most damaging elements, capable of damaging the house’s materials and reducing the durability of the house itself. Modular homes placed in areas that are damp, easily flooded, or affected by heavy rains, should be built with special attention to ensure that the overall exterior of the house avoids water infiltration. This can be achieved by installing an uninterrupted water-resistive barrier covering the whole house, including the roof, walls, and floor [8]. 

Freezing temperatures can easily freeze the water in the plumbing systems which often results in cracking the pipes. Therefore, areas with very cold temperatures should consider this fact in the construction of modular homes because pipes that leak don’t only affect the plumbing systems but can easily damage other parts of the house with water leakage. To ensure the durability of a modular home placed in cold weather it is key to properly insulate the plumbing pipes during the house’s construction [9].

The most damaging weather events however are hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, since they could completely destroy a house regardless of its age. Modular homes are in general safer in front of these extreme weather events than traditional housing, given the nature of their construction. Since every module conforming to the modular home is designed contemplating the tremors to which it will be exposed during the transportation from the factory to the building site, a module home is naturally more resistant to earthquakes or strong wind [10]. Still, a house built in an area where these extreme weather events are common should offer a structure that is flexible and resistant to ensure its durability.

 

How to extend the durability of a modular home

All the factors listed above are set during the construction of the modular home and have a direct influence on its durability. However, the overall longevity of a house isn’t only determined by how the house is built but by how the owner treats it. Here are some of the actions that you can do as a user to help your modular home last longer.

  • Fix water leaks right away: water can seriously damage the house, especially if it reaches materials that aren’t naturally water-resistant. A small leakage in the roof could cause severe structural damage to the house. Therefore, always fix water leakage right away, no matter how small it may seem. 
  • Keep the drainages clean: clog drainages can cause severe damage, especially on terraces and balconies. When drainage is blocked water can’t leave and may get in the house causing damage. Once a year, inspect the drainages to ensure they are clean and properly working.
  • Maintenance and renovations: Every house requires some maintenance over the years, even modular homes, failing to properly maintain the modular home will lower its durability. Replace broken elements and pay special attention to the siding and roofing of the house.
  • Regular indoor cleaning: Cleaning your home isn’t only necessary for hygienic purposes, keeping it clean prevents the growth of mold, fungus and bacteria; which can eat away some construction materials [11]. 

References:

  1. (2013, September 30) Report | The Value and Impact of Building Codes EESI Environmental and Energy Study Institutehttps://www.eesi.org/papers/view/the-value-and-impact-of-building-codes
  2. Adkins, C. (2019, September 30) The Top 4 Reasons For Manufactured Home Complaints Mobile Home Living https://mobilehomeliving.org/the-top-4-reasons-for-manufactured-home-complaints/ 
  3. Importance of Quality Materials in Construction Heritage Builders Ltd http://www.heritagebuilderslimited.co.uk/importance-of-quality-materials-in-construction/
  4. InterNACHI’s Standard Estimated Life Expectancy Chart for Homes InterNACHI International Association of Certified Home Inspectors®https://www.nachi.org/life-expectancy.htm
  5. Misron, N. & Khoiry, M. A. & Hamzah, N. (2018). A Framework of Efficient Material Storage Management on Congested Construction Site. E3S Web of Conferences. 65. 03005. 10.1051/e3sconf/20186503005. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329185666_A_Framework_of_Efficient_Material_Storage_Management_on_Congested_Construction_Site  
  6. Poor workmanship leads to construction defects Cotney Attorneys & Consultants https://www.cotneycl.com/poor-workmanship-leads-to-construction-defects/ 
  7. Martinez, S., Jardon, A., Navarro, J.M. and Gonzalez, M. (2008, April 18) Building industrialization: robotized assembly of modular products. Assembly Automation,  Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 134-142. https://doi.org/10.1108/01445150810863716  
  8. (2019, September 9) 3 Essential Features of a Hurricane Resistant Home Barricade Building Products https://barricadebp.com/news/3-essential-features-of-a-hurricane-resistant-home
  9. Mitchell, S. (2018, August 17. Updated 2022, November 30) 5 ways extreme weather can affect your home Admiral Group plchttps://www.admiral.com/magazine/guides/home/ways-extreme-weather-can-affect-your-home
  10. (2015, April 17) Modular Homes Provide Advantages in Severe Weather Supreme Modular https://www.suprememodular.com/residential-construction/new-jersey-modular-homes/modular-homes-provide-advantages-in-severe-weather/
  11. How Mold Can Damage Your House MOLD ANSWERS Homeowner’s Guide To Mold Removal https://www.mold-answers.com/mold-damage.html