Quality Of Modular Home Constructions (Good or Bad?)

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Following the building codes only certifies the minimum requirements and to be able to ascertain that a particular construction is of good quality we need to assess different aspects of it. 

Most modular homes are good quality constructions and since they are required to adhere to the same building codes expected in any other permanent construction, they are certainly built up to, at least, the same quality standards as any site-built home.

To evaluate the quality of modular homes we have to analyse:

  • The quality of the materials used to build the house.
  • The skills and attention to detail of the workmanship.
  • The ability of the design to enhance comfort.
  • The safety of the occupants during Earthquakes, Hurricanes or Tornadoes.

Most of these aspects offer an advantage to modular homes due to the fact that they are prefabricated structures built off site. Prefabrication, in general, allows a more thorough construction process that facilitates achieving an overall superior building quality. 

Modular homes are prefabricated in a factory-like environment

Modular homes are prefabricated constructions built per modules or sections that are entirely manufactured in a factory like setting; and while prefabrication offers the ideal setting to offer an improved quality, sometimes the term prefabricated brings up doubts.

These doubts about the ability of building a quality 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 of its construction [1]. 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, modular homes share more similarities with traditional site build construction than with mobile homes. 

Prefabrication is an actual advantage in modular construction and in most cases even the source of an improved quality, since prefabrication means that most of the building process takes place in a controlled environment.

The construction works are safely carried without weather disruptions in comfortable spaces that are designed just for this purpose; this setting provides access to sophisticated equipment, tools and machinery for a finer work quality and finishes [2]; and even if the building regulation established for modular homes are the same ones the construction would have to follow if carried on-site, a factory environment allows more recurrent as well as efficient quality controls.

Evaluating the different quality aspects in a modular home 

The quality of the materials used to build the house

While a house built per modules isn’t necessarily a guarantee of an improved quality material selection, being built in a controlled environment ensures a better protection of the materials’ integrity and the preservation of its initial quality.

Utilizing high quality materials is the first step to acquire a quality home, since building with low quality materials usually translates into easier to crack, break and wear off [3].

The materials used to build modular homes aren’t specific to this type of construction and these kind of buildings can be built with an extensive variety of different materials independently of its quality standards. Therefore, while it is perfectly possible to select high quality materials to build a modular house, the fact of being built modular doesn’t imply that the materials used are of outstanding quality. 

However, the quality of the materials isn’t only defined by their initial properties. When exposed to the elements –rain, snow, changes of temperature or humidity- their properties can be easily altered and the initial quality downgraded [4].

While this is a common event in traditional site-built construction, most modular home manufacturers avoid this deterioration by storing all materials in the same indoor controlled environment where fabrication takes place. Building in a factory-like setting offers the advantage of sheltering the materials and maintaining its initial quality standards. 

The skills and attention to detail of the workmanship

Workmanship is reflected in the quality of a construction since even structure failures could be directly related to workmanship negligence or a lack of quality control during construction; hence the importance of responsibility and expertise in manual labor. [5] 

In general, the nature of the modular home construction process is a guarantee of higher quality workmanship; being built in a controlled environment that is sheltered from any unexpected weather events offer the excellent conditions to work in comfortability and safely. 

Moreover, the industrialization and mechanization of the modular construction process is increasing in the factory setting [6]; and the access to sophisticated equipment and tools offer higher work results that are more accurate, cleaner and offering finer finishes.

Quality control plays a very important role in the overall workmanship quality and modular construction also counts with an advantage in this area; offering extensive quality control, monitoring and testing every construction stage, which facilitates identifying any possible human or computer mistake.

Besides, the centralization of the overall construction and workforces enhances a more effective communication and coordination among the different workers and stages [7].

The ability of the design to enhance comfort

Outstanding materials and workmanship won’t be enough to provide an outstanding quality home unless the design of the house is smartly thought out in allowing a comfortable living between its walls.

Most modular home companies offering predesigned structures and floorplans count with an advantage in this area, since it is likely that these sample designs are meticulously thought and tested.

Furthermore, a good definition of the construction details during the design process is key to provide an optimal quality house. For example, a wooden wall built with the best quality timber but lacking a proper insulation will make it very difficult to maintain the heat indoors during the cold winter days, creating an uncomfortable environment indoors

Safety of the occupant during Earthquakes, Hurricanes or Tornadoes

Modular homes as well as any permanent house, are required to adhere to the building codes established by their state and local governments at the moment of their construction, and one of the main purposes of the building codes is to ensure the safety of the occupants.

Every state will require a different set of rules and building codes, though they all follow the guidance of the International Code Council® (ICC). While some states’ regulations are stronger than others, as a general rule, all building codes guarantee a minimum safety parameter to protect the house and it occupants from fires, floods, earthquakes, wind, rain and snow among others [8].

Yet often modular homes offer slightly stronger resistance in front of earthquakes and strong winds than traditional site built constructions built up to code, because every module is design not only according to the house needs but contemplating the tremors and forces to which it will be exposed during the transportation from the factory to the building site. [9]. 

Modular homes offer a good quality construction

Modular homes are often of higher quality than traditional site built homes because in addition to adhering to the required building codes the nature of its construction process offers some benefits:

  • Weather protection: Building in a factory-like setting that is sheltered from any weather events provides the ideal conditions for the works to be performed in a safe and comfortable way, as well as protected location to store the construction materials avoiding possible damages and quality downgrades.
  • Machinery access: The access to sophisticated tools and machinery eases a neater and finer work quality and finishes. 
  • Predesigned homes: Predesigned modular homes may offer designs that are thought carefully and even tested for better quality results
  • Transportation: Having to be transported to site, every module is built to withstand the tremors and forces to which they are exposed during the shipping, ensuring a structure with a higher tolerance to earthquakes and strong winds. 
  • Quality controls: Having been built on an assembly line setting grants further inspections and quality controls throughout the whole construction process. 

References

  1. 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/
  2. Wiedemann S. J. (1990, April) Modular prefabrication versus conventional construction as a cost effective alternative for the construction of single family detached housing in the Montreal area School of Architecture McGill University, Montreal. 
  3. Importance of Quality Materials in Construction Heritage Builders Ltd http://www.heritagebuilderslimited.co.uk/importance-of-quality-materials-in-construction/
  4. 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 
  5. Poor workmanship leads to construction defects Cotney Attorneys & Consultants https://www.cotneycl.com/poor-workmanship-leads-to-construction-defects/
  6. 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 
  7. (2019, December 18) Modular Buildings Northgate Industries Ltd. https://northgateindustries.com/how-modular-buildings-enhance-construction-quality-control/
  8. (2018) IBC International Building Code ® ICC International Code Council https://www.ci.independence.mo.us/userdocs/ComDev/2018%20INTL%20BUILDING%20CODE.pdf
  9. (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/