The U.S. Census Bureau offers the following home construction method definitions:
Defined mobile homes as a one-piece residential unit built on a steel support beam, generally shipped on a wheeled under carriage.
Shipped from the factory as a package of wall panels, roof trusses, and other components to be assembled on site. May include all materials required to finish the house as a complete package.
A package of lumber or timber (logs), precut to exact size, length, and quantity, to be assembled on site. Package may also include plumbing, wiring, and/or heating system elements.
Manufactured or modular homes
Two or more finished 3-dimensional sections of the complete dwelling, built in a factory on steel support beams and transported to the site to be joined together on a permanent foundation.
Built entirely on site except that it may include some factory manufactured components such as roof and floor trusses, wall panels, door frames, etc.
As a professional Realtor I feel compelled to try to help readers, clients and customers make an informed decision regarding the validity of the different types of housing readily available in our area -- mobile homes, manufactured or modular homes, panelized, precut and typical built-in-place, or "stick-built construction."
Since stick-built homes are considered the baseline and my goal here is to show the equality and positive alternative of the manufactured or modular built product, let me reflect on the reasons why manufactured or modular homes should be considered equal or superior in many cases to the accepted norm of "stick-built" homes.
The history of the industrialized, factory built homes is not a recent phenomenon. They have been built in this country for many years--in fact, since the 1890's. Americans began buying industrialized housing out of mail-order catalogues as soon as they could ship the materials cross-country by railroad. Sears took advantage of this and sold about 100,000 mail-order homes from 1908 to 1940. The use of production line techniques again picked up after World War II and made a sizable contribution to reducing the housing shortage that developed after the war.
The distinction between prefabricated homes and "stick-built" homes is not as clear-cut today as is sometimes believed. Fewer than 12% of all new homes being built today technically qualify as "stick-built" homes. It is just too expensive to stick build the old-fashioned way and construction usually takes too long. Almost every house today uses mass-produced, factory built components. For example, nearly all homes-stick-built as well as manufactured or modular--use pre-hung windows and doors, roof trusses, floor joists, baseboard trim, sheetrock, and kitchen and bath cabinets made in factories. More and more aspects of home construction are being completed in factories because the factory environment helps to streamline the construction process. By using automatic assembly equipment and repetitive assembly-line activities, factories can assemble component parts more quickly with greater consistency and higher product quality. This is true whether the components are assembled to make a window or an entire house.
Actually, many historians can argue that the organization of today's "stick-built" construction resembles that of an assembly line. It is certainly true that very few stick builders use the hand tools, which defined the craftsman, carpenter of 75 years ago, since power tools greatly increase efficiency. It is also true that few modern builders have developed the craftsman's skills, since such skills are not needed to install the factory built components. On the other hand, all manufactured or modular homes are actually built by hand, as well as by machine. The personnel who build manufactured or modular homes are trained to do very specific tasks. Although these men and women are not experts in all aspects of home construction, they are specialists who have acquired a high degree of skill to carry out their task. The use of modern technology and factory production systems is only part of the story at a modular factory, since all modular homes still require the hands-on effort of experienced carpenters, electricians, roofers, and plumbers who take pride in their work.
The best built manufactured or modular homes offer better quality for less money. The structural integrity of manufactured or modular homes is its main claim to superior quality. Here are some of the factors that produce superior quality:
Better Equipment: By design, modular factories are able to use larger, more powerful, and more sophisticated equipment. Because all main components are assembled with jigs, precision control is ensured. This means that every home is built exactly as it was designed, with all corners square and all walls plumb. In stick building, the carpenters often have to use "creative" techniques to make things fit because measurements are seldom exact.
Climate Control: Building in a modern manufactured or modular home factory means building under climate controlled conditions. This enables manufacturers to eliminate a major problem which plague stick builders, particularly in the winter states like Wisconsin and Minnesota. It allows them to avoid weather-related defects: moisture saturation by the lumber, drywall and insulation; warping of walls and doors; freezing and cracking of brittle materials; and other ravages of the elements.
Materials: Only the highest quality, kiln dried lumber can be used, because warped, badly knotted or splintered pieces would jam the finely tuned assembly line jigs. This means that better materials, applied with tighter specifications, go into manufactured or modular homes.
Better Construction: Because manufactured or modular homes have to be shipped over the road, they are built stronger than more conventionally built homes. Major components, such as walls, floors, and ceilings, are not only nailed together, as in stick-built homes, they are also bonded with a special adhesive. This double fastening enables manufactured or modular homes to be sturdy enough to withstand miles of travel, something no stick-built house could survive without serious structural damage. Another advantage of using adhesive to secure walls and ceilings is that they are less likely to be plagued by annoying nail pops.
Tighter Construction: The tighter construction of modular homes greatly improves their energy efficiency. For example, hand packed insulation around electrical fixtures and caulking along exterior sheathing seams helps to eliminate infiltration of cold air in the winter and hot air in the summer.
Quality Control: Superior quality in manufactured or modular construction is first ensured by the manufacturer's compliance with national, state, and local building codes. To verify this compliance, each building plan is inspected to certify that the house will meet the most stringent state construction standards. Stick-built plans rarely receive this much expert review. Once construction begins, manufactured or modular homes are subjected to far more inspections than stick-built homes. At each stage - from framing to finishing - there are quality controls set up to monitor the quality of the workmanship.
The US Department of Energy states, in a recent report published by the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network (EREN), that manufactured or modular housing accounts for around 25 percent of annual new, residential construction and home sales in the United States. Millions of Americans live in manufactured homes, which represent more than 10 percent of the total housing stock, according to the Department of Energy. That figure is even higher in rural areas, it says.
Manufactured or modular homes are more energy efficient, more solidly constructed, and safer in the form of fire hazards. Since becoming federally approved in 1976, they have to meet higher standards for snow loads, wind zones, precautions, safety aspects, etc. often exceeding those standards placed on stick-built homes.
In summary manufactured or modular construction has become the construction method of choice for the quality conscious and cost conscious house buyer in outstate Wisconsin and Minnesota. The best-built manufactured or modular homes are not just as good as the vast majority of stick-built homes, they are better. The advantages are many, from better materials, to state-of-the-art construction technology, to superior finished quality, to saved time and money. And the customer and clients gain all of these advantages without sacrificing amenities.
Since 1976 when the manufacturing standards bar was raised, we still find appraisers, lenders, Realtors, experts in the field of code enforcement and inspection officers having an unfounded negative attitude toward these homes. What you have to realize is many of these appraisers, lenders, Realtors and code enforcement officers are home builders, site builders, contractors, etc., and they're more familiar with stick-built homes and uninformed of the manufactured or modular home building standards used today, or they just don't want manufactured or modular homes to succeed in their competitive area. If they were opened minded and knew what went into building manufactured homes today, they would be more sensitive toward them. As a society we need to avoid making premature judgments about people living in manufactured homes. We need a more practical vision of the manufactured or modular home industry today, and to quit having tunnel vision where these homes are concerned.
I'm not trying to convince anyone that manufactured or modular homes are better across the board than stick-built. In my opinion, today they have an equal standing in comparison, but do not offer the array of amenities that stick-built can offer, but at higher prices. The manufactured or modular home industry is at fault as much as anyone for not making the comparative data known and promoting their own cause. But in the real estate marketing field, I am seeing less and less resistance to manufactured or modular housing when compared to stick-built.
In the Northwest Wisconsin MLS and the Northstar MLS of the Twin Cities today, we find most manufactured or modular homes listed as "Single Family" properties competing side by side, foot for foot, dollar for dollar with conventional stick-built homes. And I see no reason why it shouldn't continue to become more that way as the price of manufactured or modular homes makes it more affordable for retired people on a fixed income, young couples just starting out, and couples whose children have left home, where a smaller, less expensive, home is needed.