Modular Homes Vs Stick Built (A Full Walkthrough!)

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The main difference between modular and stick built homes remains in the building process: most of the modular home construction takes place off-site while the stick built houses follow a traditional building process performing all the works directly on-site.  Despite following such a different construction process, both modular and stick built homes are conceived in a very similar way.

What’s Cheaper: Modular or Stick-...
What’s Cheaper: Modular or Stick-Built Homes?

An already built modular home looks just like a finished stick built home, the building technology doesn’t affect the face of the house and it would be quite challenging to identify if a completed house has been built off-site or on-site.  They are both built to be permanent constructions and as so are required to acquire the same building permits and comply to the requirements of the same building codes. Both types of homes offer a high quality housing option offering very similar specs.

Main differences between modular and stick built homes:

  1. Duration of the construction process
  2. Construction quality
  3. Cost of the construction
  4. Design modifications during constructions
  5. Shape of the building
  6. Location possibilities

Since both modular and stick built homes are good quality constructions offering a very similar housing option, modular homes are definitely as good as stick built homes. Furthermore, in a number of situations modular homes are even a better solution than stick built would be thanks to the unique peculiarities offered by its building process.

Modular and stick built homes are built with very different construction techniques

The procedures followed to build modular and stick built homes are unique and completely different from one another. The construction of a modular home takes place mainly off-site, while stick built constructions are raised directly on the building site.

The modular construction technique follows a pretty structured procedure that is more commonly found in industrialized assembly lines than in traditional construction. Every module is manufactured in a factory-like setting through a highly mechanized technique. Every detail from electrical wiring to the installation of the kitchen cabinets is finished in the factory. Once all construction is over, the module is delivered to the building site and assembled on the permanent foundations.

Stick built homes on the other hand, are raised the traditional way, materials are delivered to the plot of land where the house is going to be built and all the construction works take place right on site. It is the building location what creates the differences between these two types of structures.

Duration of the construction process

Modular homes are built faster than stick built, from the moment the module manufacturing starts until the house is ready to be lived in home can take just as few as 4 months [1] [2]. Stick built home construction on the other hand, will rarely last less than 8 months [3].

Being built in a factory-like setting allows modular homes to follow an industrialized construction process, offering access to sophisticated equipment and mechanizing many of the steps [4] resembling an assembly line. Moreover, the controlled environment of the factory is sheltered form any unexpected weather events which offers the excellent conditions for a comfortable and safe workmanship, as well as ensuring the compliance with the building timeline.

Stick built homes are raised directly on the building site where the access to sophisticated tools is more limited, demanding a work force based mainly in manual labor which often takes longer to complete. Besides, building outdoors requires adapting to the climate and delays become frequent due to unexpected weather events or external factors.

Construction quality

Often modular and stick built homes are designed to be built up to the same quality standards. However, there are some small elements that can easily alter the overall finished quality of the house.

Modular home manufacturing companies build each one of their homes in one same centralized location which ensures an effective monitoring of every stage of the construction, reducing the possibilities of overlooking any possible mistake that could jeopardize the overall quality of the house [5]. In addition, this centralization in a factory-like environment offers a sheltered storage location where all materials are protected from the elements such as rain, snow and changes of temperature or humidity [6].

The initial quality of the building materials can easily deteriorate when stored outdoors. Stick built homes, being built on-site can’t guarantee the maintenance of the initial properties of the wood applied since it will be openly exposed to the elements during the period of time required by the construction works to be completed.

Cost of the construction

In general, the overall construction cost of a modular home is lower than the cost required to build the same house with stick built technique. Since modular homes are built in a shorter amount of time and with mechanized building techniques, the workforce needed is lower and therefore the price is cut. In addition, the centralization of the works allows reusing the material leftover from one construction to the other, reducing the material’s cost as well [7].

Stick built homes can’t benefit from this centralization and mechanization of the works. Their budged usually grows due to the added human workforce labor, the extra time needed and the requirement to transport workers, machinery and materials to each individual building location.

 

Design modifications during construction

While both modular and stick built homes are carefully design before the construction works start, stick built homes have an advantage that modular homes don’t: the design can be modified during construction if needed.

All the important design details regarding the house are decided before construction starts over a floorplan and it is common for owners to realize they would rather approach some details differently once they can perceive the physical space of a slowly growing home. The owner of a stick built home is able to undergo design modification while the construction works are on.

The owner of a modular home however, doesn’t have this benefit because the whole module building process takes place in a factory-like setting and once the modules are delivered to the building site the overall home construction is finished.

Shape of the building

The design and shape possibilities that stick built homes offer are more extensive than those available with modular homes which are more limited. This modular design limitation derives from two factors: on one hand it is common for modular home manufacturers to offer already predesigned houses; but on the other hand, even those modular homes that are designed from scratch are constrained by the module’s structure.

Modules are restricted in size and shape being always build as rectangular containers to optimize the transportation needs [8]. Since the overall shape of the modular home is defined by combining modules together, the design possibilities are restricted to the shape of the modules. It would be very difficult to build a modular home with a design based on complex or organic shapes: circular floorplans are hardly ever an option with modular construction. It would be possible to design such homes with stick build construction instead.

Stick built home however aren’t restricted to any shape, being built directly on site the materials used to raise the structure which are mainly wooden sticks, can be easily cut and shaped as desired to satisfy any design possibilities.

Location possibilities

Stick built homes can be built anywhere, since the overall construction process takes place on site it is possible to adapt the transportation needs and construction procedure to the needs of pretty much any location. This is not the case with modular homes.

Modular homes can only be built in those locations that can be reached by the full-size track that carries the modules from the manufacturing factory to the building site. It is imperative that the roads leading to the site are in good conditions, wide, without tight curves, not too steep and free form obstacles such as tunnels, narrow bridges, trees or steep hills [9].

Are modular homes as good as site built homes?

Given that modular homes are constructed up to the same building regulations as any other stick built construction while offering a finished house that looks just like any traditionally built structure, modular homes are as good as site built homes.

Moreover, the process followed by modular construction offers some extra benefits that in some situation make modular homes stand out and become even a better building solution than stick built would:

  • Shorter building time: Modular homes tend to offer a faster construction timeline in comparison to stick built homes. Given that their construction process resembles an assembly line, the building works are optimized and the required time is lower. Furthermore, when building with the modular technique the irritating delays that are common in the construction industry often disappear since the weather doesn’t alter the indoor construction rhythm.
  • Improved quality: A house built with the same design and materials will often become a product with a better overall quality if built with modular technique than it will if built on site.  The consistent quality controls as well as the optimal maintenance of the construction materials grant modular construction the ideal setting to outperform the stablished quality standards.
  • Lower cost: Since modular homes are cheaper to build they represent as well, a more affordable purchase. The price reduction is usually a direct result of centralizing all the construction works in one same location which optimizes the building materials and transportation needs. 
  • Option to buy a predesigned home: Modular home manufacturers often offer homes that have been already predesigned, built and tested with previous clients. A number of future home owners will benefit from the simplicity of choosing an already designed floorplan and customizing its details instead of having to define a whole house from scratch.

Most of the doubts related to the quality offered by modular homes are based on the common misconception that compares them to mobile homes. However, all these two types of homes share is the fact of being prefabricated and in no ways their quality can be equated. 

References:

  1.  Discover a better way to build your home. Plant Prefab https://www.plantprefab.com/homebuyers/#process
  2. You have questions, we have answers Blu Homes https://www.bluhomes.com/fact-sheet
  3. Zhao, N. (2015, August 17) How Long Does It Take to Build a Single Family Home? https://eyeonhousing.org/2015/08/how-long-does-it-take-to-build-a-single-family-home/
  4. 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 
  5. (2019, December 18) Modular Buildings Northgate Industries Ltd. https://northgateindustries.com/how-modular-buildings-enhance-construction-quality-control/
  6. 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 
  7. Why Are Modular Homes Cheaper? Home Smittenhttps://homesmitten.com/why-are-modular-homes-cheaper/ 
  8. Modular Homes Section: Size Limits of Modular Homes Construction Modular Today. Consumer Reviews for the Modular World https://www.modulartoday.com/modularsizelimits.html 
  9. Semler, K. How can you get a modular home to my site Impresa Modular https://impresamodular.com/how-can-you-get-modular-home-to-site/