Problems With Modular Homes (Why Not To Choose One)

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Modular homes tend to offer some design and logistic difficulties due to their construction process. Being built out of prefabricated modules, this type of construction pretends to offer a house that once built looks just like any other site-built home but is delivered at a faster pace and more affordable price. While the size and structure of these modules are designed to offer the most efficient building solution, it is also the cause behind the problems with modular homes.

Main concerns and problems associated with modular homes:

  • Not all building sites are suitable
  • Limited design customization
  • Lack of offer in some areas
  • Negative public opinion

These inconveniences should be seriously taken into consideration before opting for this type of construction. In some situations, modular homes aren’t the most suitable building method and other types of homes will offer a smoother construction with a more profitable result.

The construction process of a modular home

Modular homes are built by putting modules together. These modules are built from start to finish in a factory-like environment and delivered to the site where they will be assembled on permanent foundations. The prefabrication works represent more than 70% of the overall construction process [1] and take around 10 weeks to complete [2].

Every module is conceived as a structural unit by itself that once assembled with the other modules, together will conform the overall structure of the modular home [3]. Treating the modules as structural units reduces the works required on site where the only structural elements built are the foundations. Moreover, during transportation the modules have to resist the vibration and movements caused by the moving truck, having a structure by themselves ensures the stability of the entire module until its delivery to the building site. 

The size of the modules is also defined to optimize as much as possible the cost of transportation, properly fitting in the full-size truck to be able to circulate through the roads. The module dimensions fall in the number of 12 to 15.9 feet (0.6 to 4.85 meters) wide, 60 to 72 feet (18.29 to 21.95 meters) long and 11 feet (3.35 meters) high [4]. 

The success of modular homes as a building method relies on the module’s smart design which enable a fast and cost efficient construction process. However, the same construction process is the reason behind the main problems associated with modular homes, mainly due to the strict measures, shapes and structure of the modules.

Main problems associated with modular homes:

Not all building sites are suitable 

Modular homes can’t just be built anywhere because the considerable dimensions of the prefabricated sections require complex logistics to ensure their delivery as well as assembly. 

The transportation of the modules from the factory to the building site requires a practicable road access given the considerable dimensions of the modules. The roadway from the manufacturing factory to the building site needs to be free from obstacles such as narrow roads, tight bends, narrow tunnels, low bridges, trees or steep hills [5] might not be suitable for the truck to transport the modules.

The assembly procedure on site requires from a suitable location as well since the modules have to be raised and placed on their definite position. To do so a site a crane of considerable dimensions will be strategically position on the building site to elevate the modules from the truck and place them on their exact position on site. The building site must offer the space to place the crane and no obstacles such as trees or powerlines [6]. 

Some modular home companies will offer solutions such as delivering the prefabricated modules by helicopter [5] solving the transportation impediments. While delivering the modules by helicopter could solve any location related issues it could also represent an enormous increase of price and should be carefully analyzed before opting for a modular home.

 

Limited design customizations

The most obvious reason behind the limited design freedom associated to modular homes is the fact that several manufacturers offer predesigned models of modular homes which are customizable only to a certain degree. With an eye on cost reduction and time saving, modular manufacturers tend to offer simplified designs and standardized elements that can be easily mass produced reducing customization choices [7].

However, modular homes are often design from scratch and even so, we can encounter some design constrains as well. Modular homes are built of the combination of modules are always shaped as rectangular containers. Therefore, it is common for modular homes to be designed in a boxy-shape. Designs based on complex or organic shapes such as a circular floorplan are hardly ever an option with modular construction. 

While modular homes offer quite a rigid design, they could be combines with other construction methods obtaining what is known as hybrid modular or on-frame modular [8]. These however, will increase the labor on site slowing down the overall building process and rising the cost.

Lack of offer in some areas

Since modular construction follows a very industrialized process it is common for modular home manufacturers to specialize on a specific style or need. Some manufacturers offer modern looking houses; some specialize in traditional barn styles; and others target specific features such as sustainability or the ability to withstand hurricanes. 

If you live in an area with a wide variety of modular home manufacturers, you’ll be able to choose the company that best suits your needs, style or budget. Yet in some locations the selection of manufacturers might be quite reduced limiting the modular home offer, and reducing the choices.

Even if modules are built in a factory and shipped to the building site, most modular home manufacturers offer a reduced service area. Modular homes are treated just like any other site built house and are therefore required to stick to the local building codes, and permits. 

Restraining their services to certain locations allows the modular home companies to certify the compliance with the building codes and strict requirements of that particular location. Some modular home builders even offer their own contractors to smooth the construction process.

Negative public opinion

It is common to read and hear people who equate modular homes to mobile homes as if they were just the same type of construction. This comparison couldn’t be farther from the truth since it is based in a misunderstanding rather than a solid judgement.

Mobile homes are constructions of such a low quality that their construction stopped in 1976 when the HUD enforced a construction regulation. While the terms “mobile home” are still used in the common language, the new and higher quality “mobile homes” are technically called manufactured homes [9].

Modular homes are in no way similar to mobile homes. Modular homes are permanent and solid constructions that even if most of the building process is carried off-site it is built up to the same standards as any site-built home. However, even if this negative opinion is unfounded, it could become an issue when trying to resell your modular home.

Are modular homes bad? Why not to choose a modular home

Modular homes are not bad and represent a great alternative to traditional site-built construction. Yet there are some situations in which it would be recommended not to choose a modular home since other building methods will offer a more compelling solution.

  • Building site in a location with difficult access: If the plot of land where you are planning to build counts with a difficult access by road, the module delivery will offer difficulties and either the construction won’t be feasible or the cost will increase enormously.
  • Circular or organic floor plan: When aiming for a design that cannot be constructed out of rectangular module addition, a modular home isn’t the right building choice. 
  • Modular home choices that don’t satisfy your needs: The modular home manufacturers available in the location where we are building should cater to our specifics needs or wants. Otherwise other building solutions with greater flexibility might provide a better alternative.
  • Planning to resell: If you are building a home with the intention of reselling it, check your market before opting for a modular home since the negative opinion some people have about modular homes could suppose an inconvenient.

References: 

  1. Hodbe, A., & Sober, R. (2019). Design of Modular Housing. International Research Journal of Engineering and Technology, 06 (09), 734-738. [107]. https://www.irjet.net/archives/V6/i9/IRJET-V6I9107.pdf
  2. FAQ You have questions, we have answers. How long does it take?  BLU Homes https://www.bluhomes.com/fact-sheet
  3. Wilson, J. Design for Modular Construction: An introduction for Architects Building Green, Inc.https://content.aia.org/sites/default/files/2019-03/Materials_Practice_Guide_Modular_Construction.pdf  
  4. Gianino, A. Modular Size: Maximum Length, width, and Height The Home Store https://www.the-homestore.com/blog/2013/03/modular-size/
  5. 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/
  6. Crane for Modular Buildings Your crane company https://craneguys.com/construction/crane-for-modular-buildings/
  7. (October 12, 2021) Laovisutthichai, V., Lu, W. and Xue, F. Modular Construction: Design Considerations and Opportunities. Proceedings of the 25th International Symposium on Advancement of Construction Management and Real Estate. CRIOCM 2020. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-3587-8_92
  8. The difference Between Modular, Manufactured & Stick Built Construction Alpha Mortgage Corporation https://www.alphamortgage.com/differences-modular-manufactured-stick-built-homes/  
  9. Brown, S. Mobile? Modular? Manufactured? What’s the difference and how to choose the right one? New Home Source https://www.newhomesource.com/learn/difference-between-manufactured-vs-modular-vs-mobile-home/